The canyon air is cool and feels a blissful relief from the heat in the valley. I’m not sure where we’re going. I won’t know until we get there. Just as I confirm this is the right place and the right direction, we break through an opening in the trees, and the narrow path we followed to this place opens to a two rut road banked by high grass on either side. Beyond the grass is a dense thicket. I’m beginning to wonder if I should have followed the trail down by the lake. I want to be in the trees. This area feels exposed and vulnerable. I’m thinking of turning back, but I just don’t know.
Then, I see him. A small buck is standing on the road in front of us. He pauses to stare, just before leaping the road’s width and vanishing into the thicket beyond. I turn from the road to follow his path.
Following the edge of the thicket, we eventually spy an opening and bury ourselves in the woods once again. I’m still nervous about people who might be around. I’m always worried about people. I feel as if I could be alone anywhere in the world and be unafraid if I knew strangers would not have access. I guess it makes sense. No animal has ever caused me serious injury, has it?
We do not travel far before we find the perfect clearing. There are those places in nature sometimes, where everywhere you turn it is so beautiful it seems it must be unreal. I cannot imagine Heaven to be a place of castles and gold, and those words I’ve heard to describe it. It must be a place like this with soft mossy earth, surrounded by rich green trees and deep brown wood. There are flowers here and there, boasting beautiful colors. This is the place where I would spend eternity if I could. This is bliss.
We each select a place to sit. Maria is in the North while Sandra and I settle in the South. I lay my blanket under a felled log, thinking only for a moment about the spider web over my head. This is the right spot. I know it is.
Finding a comfortable position, I listen to the drums’ beat as Sandra and Maria begin to create a rhythm. Their cadence is not the same, and at first, I wait for them to find harmony. Then, I realize, we are each here for our own journey, each with our own rhythm. So, I forget their individual paths and go further into my own experience. I hear something deep within call me away from the drums. In the end, the last thing I hear before going on my journey is a squirrel or maybe a mouse on the branch over my head. Then, there is nothing but the call.
I lift myself from my resting body, and I climb under the tree and into the thicket beyond. Entering a hollow, the world around me turns magical, like a place where fairies would live. I see IEO sitting with his legs crossed, facing the South. I begin to speak, but he holds his hand against my words, and I wonder to myself if I will ever learn the patience he teaches.
He gestures, asking me to come and sit in his lap, and like a small child, I curl myself into his arms. He wraps himself around me and slowly begins to rock. At first, I feel uncomfortable. I do not like feeling like a child. I want to feel like a woman. I am most secure as an adult. I fight the feeling, but he holds me fast and ignores my attempts to make this anything but what it is.
I know better than to fight. I am with IEO, so I try to let go of my judgments and lay like a baby in his arms, but it is difficult. I wish I could be comforted by the gentle, swaying motion, but I want to run, and to make it worse, he starts to hum a familiar lullaby. What is this? I don’t like it. This is not how we do things!
Suddenly, I hear loud thumping somewhere far beyond my Journey. It sounds like a man in work boots is stomping around our meadow. Sandra and Maria whisper to one another, but I stay with IEO. I do not speak out. I concentrate, focusing on where I lie and renewing my attempts to calm against the storm growing in my mind.
Then, everything around me vanishes. Sandra is gone. Maria is gone. The drums are gone, and IEO is gone. I am taken back to my childhood and feel myself in someone’s arms. My stomach tightens. The inherent risks of accepting physical comfort from men penetrate my thoughts. Something terrible is going to happen.
I am afraid. I want to cry out, but I know I can’t. It will be worse if I do. Tears roll down my young cheeks as my heart hardens. I build walls to protect myself and shut down feelings, so they don’t hurt anymore. I shift who I am and begin making adult decisions long before my young mind is prepared to do so.
“You are not a child anymore. You are not vulnerable. You are strong.” IEO’s words penetrate my bubble, and I pull myself back to the present. Instinctively, I know I’m safe here. But, I see why I avoid this vulnerability. I don’t trust the process of releasing my fear. Fear is protection. It is the only protection I have ever really known.
That’s not entirely true. I guess I did know some protection as a child, but it was from my worst abuser. He owned me and chose to sell me out according to his will, but he protected me as well. For those who will never understand the faith and trust a prostitute might have in her panderer, they could never understand the relationship between my brother and me. While I was never safe with him, I felt even more vulnerable in the world without him.
The world often judges women who stay with their abusers. I understand. I’ve made those same errors, but there is the devil you know and the devil you don’t. I know how bad it can get. I realize serial killers can be people who live next door. If the person I am with lives on the edge of reason, the more significant threat beyond that reason cannot reach me. If I keep a certain level of predictable evil within my house, those unpredictable things outside of it cannot get in.
I am trying to change my way of thinking, and I am trying to realize the odds against a genuinely evil person living within my small world. Still, having grown up with this evil all around me, I believe the percentages to be much different than they are. Of course, it’s not about the hundreds, is it? It is about the one. It is about the one threat finding the one house and whether or not I feel safe there. This fear, to me, is paralyzing. It is paralyzing to the point of insanity. If I cannot let go today, when will I ever move on?
I try to stop feeding the fears. I try to trust and let go as much as I can, to lay aside my life, looking at this moment with a protector who never took from me, and I allow him to be who he is. I do not lump him into a category with the rest of my experience. I don’t know if I can believe the world at large is safe, but I decide to let this moment be what it is. Laying my head on his shoulder, I sink.
Listening to the rhythmic sound of his voice, I succumb to the gentle rocking of his body, and it soothes me. His hand reaches up to gently brush the hair from my face, and he pulls me into him, wrapping me in a warm cocoon, like a father with his infant child.
I let myself be the infant, and from infancy, I grow, and the relationship evolves, and I finally know what it means to be ‘safe in a man’s arms.’ I understand, and I can no longer accept a position offering anything less. I deserve this, at least, and for now, I bury myself in it, until the drum brings me home, where Sandra and Maria tell me about how the heavy footsteps of a deer came to be a part of our circle.
I guess this explains the work boots, and I wonder if I will ever know the difference?