Category Archives: writing

Sitting in the Dark

It’s midnight and I can’t sleep. My heart is aching and feels squeezed inside a too-small space in my chest. I consider waking Addison up in case I really am having a heart attack this time. But I sigh, knowing this pain will not kill me. Not tonight.

I slip out of bed and creep across the floor, gathering up my writing materials and my laptop and bringing them out to the kitchen table. I put some broth on the stove to heat up while I write. 

The house has as an emptiness to it now, a strange, ghostly shell feeling. I open the door to what would have been Chickadee’s bedroom, to put something away in there. It smells like an empty room. Like no one has ever lived in there or ever will. Addison almost set up his office in there, but failed halfway through the process. Books, magazines and papers lie on the floor in mismatched piles. The plant stand is empty. I couldn’t bear to leave a plant in there all alone.

I write to two of my friends in Vermont, puzzling over my conundrum of how to get the support I need right now. I reflect on my realization of how rare and precious we few are–what priceless gems the people are who can truly listen, truly be present and available to our loved ones. Even though I meditate and breathe deeply and read books and go for walks and play music and cry… I feel rotten and festering inside. There is no replacement for a listening ear, no replacement for a friend who considers my suffering to be their own.

After writing and drinking a cup of broth, I wander into the living and lay on the couch. Going back to bed with Addison while he is sleeping peacefully is too hard. If I am alone than I want to be alone. And at least one of us should sleep. 

Chickadee had awakened me and led me to this very couch so many times during my pregnancy with her. I would awake as early as 2 am, with a hunger so fierce and undeniable I would be driven from my bed and sent waddling to the kitchen. I would find something to eat and make my way to the couch and Gurmukh’s book on pregnancy. I would read about being a pregnant mother, opening myself to my child, preparing for birth and preparing to have a baby.

Before Gurmukh’s book, I would read out loud to Chickadee from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. But after a month or two of this, I wondered if perhaps it was too morbid to be reading about death to my unborn baby. The Tibetan Buddhist monks don’t seem to be all that happy about being born. They seem to be devoting themselves wholeheartedly to their practice so that when they die, they don’t have to be reborn.

And at the same time, I had the feeling that Chickadee already knew all about birth and death and the realms beyond all of it. I imagined her smiling knowingly as I read to her.

Sometimes I would be awake around dawn, and birds would be coming to the feeder outside of the living room window. I would open the door and stand out there, being quiet and listening deeply when the chickadees were speaking, so my baby could hear them.

This morning I am on the same couch we had shared, in the same living room, at 2 am, but now I am alone. I think about Chickadee and wonder why I don’t feel like I can still talk to her, wonder if she’s still here with me. It is so silent, lying there in the dark, and I feel empty inside.

I wonder if this is how dark it was for her inside of my womb.

My mind drifts groggily, and as my eyes close I hear a sound. It’s a small sound, as though a moth wing has brushed against the strings of the viola that is hanging on the wall above me. Or perhaps the sound came from the guitar that hangs over the fireplace. I can’t tell. I hold still and listen. Silence.

As I begin to doze off again, I hear the faint sounding of an instrument’s string once more.

I don’t know why, but I feel afraid, so I get up and walk back to the bedroom.

I find Addison has scootched all the way to my side of the bed, as though he has been searching for me while I was gone, and had traveled in his sleep to the far side of our big bed, in hopes of finding me there. I stand over him, wondering how best to move him so I can lay back down.

“You’re up,” he says suddenly, and I clutch my chest in surprise. 

“You scared me,” I murmur.

He rolls over and gets up to pee. I crawl into the spot he’s opened up for me, all warm and damp from his overheated body. When he returns he puts his arms around me, and even though he’s a little too hot for me, I am soon fast asleep.

For a few precious hours I will be unconscious, and my pain will be a distant dream.

I will awake to more heartache. But I will make myself get out of bed, and I will go and sit on my cushion. I will practice looking deeply at the painful feelings in me, and I will smile to them, and I will breath in, and I will breath out.

This pain will not kill me. Not today.

Chickadee

I am a dead body moving

I’ve got lightning in my hands

I won’t be here for long

So you’ve got to understand

You can dance with the demon

Look him dead into the eyes

I’ve already been where we go

When we die…

Now, when I sing this song, it seems to fill the air with the intensity of my feelings for her.

How many times had she heard us play that song?

Was it she who taught it to us?

I remember when we first started learning the song, in a second story apartment in Mexico City. Our veranda doors were wide open, and the hot, sunny, taxi-filled air blew in over us, a wash of street taco smells, and vendors selling things made out of plastic in all shapes and sizes.

I had ridden my bicycle halfway across Mexico by this point. When Addison had arrived at the Juarez International Airport, I held onto him like a lifeline in a tumultuous ocean of fears, hopes and dreams that seemed to be hanging just above me, ready to be dashed against the rocks at any moment, should he ever stop loving me.

During the months leading up to this moment and even while we were together, I cried more than I can ever recall, crying as though my tears were prayers. I cried until I was dehydrated, until my nose bled, until I felt drained of life, and then I would cry some more at the miserable human I had become.

She came to me at my darkest moment, an answer to my prayers. She loved me so intensely, that I was able to draw her to me in my time of need.

We learned this song, Dead Body Moving by The Devil Makes Three, during our short stay together in Mexico City.

Then Addison flew home to Austin, and I crammed myself into a bus, holding onto Nana as long as I could before it took me away, across to the Southeast, to Villahermosa, where I would continue pedaling in a loneliness that felt desolate.

But from that time on, I was never truly alone.

Nana had tattooed a chickadee onto my leg, and I invoked its fierce spirit to join me on my journey.

I didn’t know that she was with me, but I suspected, at moments, that someone was there.

I sing a ragged and a crooked song

The sun is setting and it won’t be long

My body’s weak but this soul is strong

I am a shadow dressed up in these skin and bones.

I am afraid to regret.

Afraid to regret that I didn’t treasure the 9 months I had with her more.

How could I have known?

How can we ever know when the last day is we will get to be with our loved one?

It was only hours before I was to go into labor. Watson–Uncle Watson, as we thought she would learn to call him–had stopped in to visit.

“I can’t believe there’s a baby in there!” he cried, staring at my huge belly with a mixture of awe and deep suspicion.

“Do you want to hear her heartbeat?” Addison asked. He wore an expression of pride only a father can wear. She was his baby, he’d helped to make her, to keep her alive this long.

Addison pulled out the doppler MariMikal had lent us that day. “Our midwife sent us home with this doppler so we could check her heartbeat. She hasn’t been moving as much since Saturday, so we were a little worried.”

He lifted my shirt and put some goo on my belly, than pressed the doppler where her heart was. It took a second to find the right placement, but then we heard her heartbeat pulsing out through the little speaker, the greatest proof of her aliveness.

“Holy shit,” Watson said with reverence.

Then we picked up our instruments and surrounded her with music.

Dead Body Moving was the last song we ever played for her while she was still alive.

We weave our stories in a worthless yarn

Trying to escape with all these tricks and charms

It’s far too late to ring the alarm

We are just babies falling in the spider’s arms.

There is a kind of shock that takes over, before devastation settles in.

The next morning, when I went into labor and my midwife came to get everything ready, I refused to believe that anything was wrong after she checked for Chickadee’s heartbeat and heard only silence.

I refused to believe that her lack of heartbeat meant death.

It wasn’t until I heard the rasp of panic in my midwife’s breathing, while we rushed through the hospital hallways, that I began to acknowledge that something was terribly wrong.

“There is no fetal heart activity,” a doctor with a strong Australian accent announced to us. The sonogram clearly showed her little ribcage, her little heart not beating.

Addison recalls a nurse handing him a pile of paperwork to sign, seconds after being told his little girl had died. He said he discovered in that moment that he no longer knew how to read. Our midwife snatched the papers from his hand. “Go to her!” she said, and he made his way to my side, held my hand, and laid his head in my lap to cry.

We went home, and I continued the long day of work that stretched ahead of me.

Giving birth.

I’d never thought about how someone could die before they were born.

It’s all backwards.

How is it that you can still be born even though you’re dead?

Chickadee managed it. She’s about as determined as her mama.

24 hours later, when she finally emerged, I could let myself fall apart.

The way her arm fell limply behind her when the doctor handed her to me, said it all.

And yet I still felt a great relief and joy to be able to hold her in my arms finally, to be able to give her to Addison and see him hold her for the first time.

Why did she have to be so perfect?

Why did she have to have Addison’s eyebrows, his shock of thick hair, my hands and feet?

What was the purpose of all of this?

My father and sister arrived from their separate ends of the world, having traveled all night from Washington and Idaho. It was 5 am when they found us in the dark hospital room, a warm spotlight shining down on our new family.

How strange that the newest family member had decided to leave us so soon.

We all wept together, and laughed at how big she was. I’ll never understand how I fit all of that baby inside of me, and how I ever managed to get her out.

And then there’s the anger.

9 months of preparation, feeding her, learning about her, buying things for her, receiving gifts on her behalf, making plans for her life, practicing spanish and french so she could hear other languages in the womb, discussing what she was going to look like, what musical instrument she might end up playing, how beautiful she was going to be…

Why?

When someone tells me it happened for a reason, that she chose to leave for a good reason, than I feel as though the world is a stupid, shitty place full of stupid, shitty people and we’d all best just get to it like the Buddha did so many hundreds of years ago. No point in wallowing around here for much longer. Enlightenment is the only worthy pursuit.

And if she chose to leave, than how could she? How could she do this to me?

But than there’s always the option that there is no why, there is no reason why she died, that she didn’t want to leave, that things are random, and shit happens.

And that makes me feel like the world is a stupid shitty place full of stupid, shitty people.

Except that we’ve been showered in so much love by all of the people we know, and even those we didn’t know that we know. Cards have come in the mail, flowers, food delivered to our door, long hugs, sympathetic smiles and shared tears.

Our family surrounded us and kept us afloat when we felt we would drown.

How could I ever have doubted that I am loved? How could I have ever believed that people are stupid and shitty?

We buried her 3 feet under, at a green burial plot out in the countryside. A handful of friends and family were there to dig the hole and to listen to us sing to her, to tell her story through tears, and to add their own voices with words and songs.

She was wrapped in her daddy’s flannel, the one he’d rode all the way across the United States with, the one with the patches that Peggy had sewn on for him in Florida, because even though it was full of gaping holes, he wouldn’t give up on it.

And she was wrapped in her mama’s green elephant tapestry, the one I’d gotten in India 10 years ago when my sister and I visited my brother there.

Her grandmother got her a stone chickadee statue to stand over her grave, and a rose quartz heart.

Her aunty Bhakta Priya and I hung a birdfeeder full of sunflower seeds near her spot, so she could be kept company by the birds.

I know she’s not just there, in that little grave. I know she’s everywhere, and I hope that she will never leave me.

For now I try to heal. My heart feels like a piece of pottery that fell, and broke, and I’m trying to glue it back together.

One day I’ll get all of the pieces back in place, but you’ll always be able to see the cracks.

And the song of the chickadee will always find its way through those cracks, and reach me.

“This body is not me;

I am not caught in this body.

I am life without boundaries:

I have never been born and I have never died.

Over there, the wide ocean and the sky with many galaxies all manifests from the basis of consciousness.

Since beginning-less time I have always been free.

Birth and death are only a door through which we go in and out.

Birth and death are only a game of hide-and-seek.

So smile to me and take my hand and wave good-bye.

Tomorrow we shall meet again or even before.

We shall always be meeting again at the true source,

Always meeting again on the myriad paths of life.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, No Death, No Fear

Loneliness

“Yes I’m lonely, wanna die… I am lonely, wanna die…

If I am dead already… Girl, you know the reason why.”

-The Beatles

I am almost 8 months pregnant now. It is late September in Austin, hot, humid with a population of mosquitoes that boggles my mind, despite my years in India.

I hail most recently from Vermont, and am unaccustomed to the long months of confinement in air conditioning that I’m experiencing here in Austin.

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Our cat loves meditation time

Sometimes I venture to open a window, to let the sound of bird song drift in… But the heat quickly fills the house and I am quick to shut it again.

I slip outside on a daily basis to water my garden. I move quickly, swatting away mosquitoes while I hold the hose. Sometimes I’m lucky and only get 5-10 bites before I duck back inside.

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These guys don’t mind the mosquitoes…

Most mornings we meditate out on the back-porch. We set up by lighting two citronella candles, several sticks of incense, an essential oil burner filled with lemongrass and citronella oils and whatever else we can find that smokes and smells vile to mosquitoes. It’s wonderful to be able to sit outside and not get bitten… too much, anyways. An occasional kamikaze mosquito will break through the frontlines and find it’s way to a leg, or a foot, usually getting a blood sample or two before it’s exterminated with a mighty clap.

One day I scurried outside equipped with a mini saw and some clippers, to cut back the unwanted saplings and suckers from the trees in our front yard. I moved as quickly as I could, while a veritable cloud of blood sucking, hungry mosquitoes formed about me. Ten minutes later I was rushing back inside, my work done, and throwing myself onto our bed, moaning in agony. I counted almost 100 mosquito bites on my body (I got in the habit of counting mosquito bites when we lived in India and were camped on some land covered in rice paddies while we began construction on the community that would be built there). Addison and I rubbed ice cubes over the swelling bites, and I lathered myself in essential oils that eventually helped the itching to calm down.

My midwife told me about these mosquito repelling DEET sprayers that you can clip onto your belt while you garden. I never knew I would actually consider getting something like this before, but it sounds awesome. Misting mosquito death all around me… a force field of toxic doom for the blood sucking masses. Ahhh….

At this point you may be wondering what all of this mosquito talk has to do with loneliness, the title of this blog post.

Or maybe you live in Austin and you are simply commiserating with my mosquito tales. 😉

What this all has to do with loneliness is this: I am hugely pregnant, spending a lot of time at home. My usual activities (when not in my third trimester of pregnancy) involving nature connection, capoeira and cycling adventures have been put on hold for the moment.

I go to bed early. I wake up to pee up to 5 times in the night. I try to get up early and write for a couple of hours before I do any other work.

I go to Barton Springs and swim in the healing, cold waters that seem to suck the inflammation from my swollen ankles and fingers. These spring waters are a veritable source of bliss for this pregnant lady.

I have a mandolin lesson every other week, and noodle around at home, practicing the melodies and chords in preparation for the next lesson.2016-09-21-14-27-43-1

I read out loud in french, practicing for when the baby is born and I have to speak to her in french as much as possible so she can be bilingual as she grows up.2016-09-15-15-22-02

I reach out to a few people every week, hoping someone will want to come over and see me, or maybe go swimming with me. Perhaps, in some people’s minds, the fact that I’m pregnant means that I don’t exist right now. If I can’t come to capoeira class at night, or go see a show, than why invite me to anything or check in on me? I have a full time job creating another human being, so what else could I possibly want to do?

Ok, that was my bitter, proud Leo side speaking.

I’ve always wanted people to reach out to me, to invite me on adventures, to include me in crazy schemes.

But that’s what I do, not other people. I’m the one who calls people up and asks them to go camping with me, I’m the one who tries to get everyone together to make crafts and play music, I’m the one who writes letters on a typewriter and sends postcards and am thrilled if anyone responds in kind.

I know I am loved and adored by all of my friends. I know most of them would do anything to help me if I asked. I know they all care.

But I am in my third trimester of pregnancy, and I don’t want to be alone all of the time. I do like being alone most of the time. But not all of the time.

I’m feeling discouraged about creating community in Austin at the moment.

I did have a brilliant idea.

I updated my Couchsurfing profile and switched it on, to “Accepting Guests”.

Lo and behold, I’ve had requests from interesting, friendly people from all over the country who want to stay here… and that’s just within the first day of turning it back on.

I even had a Persian PhD student ask if we could be adventure buddies since he enjoys hiking and camping and wants other people to do this with. I said yes, but as I am so pregnant, I can only go on short hikes and am better off swimming.

The other day we had a young couple from Olympia, WA stay here. We talked about adventures and travel, and then they squished together on our leather chair next to the vinyl player reading books, while Addison and I worked out a couple of songs for our show on Saturday (are you coming? It’s at In.gredients on Sept. 24th from 6-8 pm).

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Back when I hosted a cyclist from England during my second trimester of pregnancy

It was very cozy and nice to have other human beings in our house.

Next weekend a woman from Alberta, Canada is going to stay with me while Addison is in Chicago. We’re going to go swimming, crotchet and read french to one another.

The weekend after a couple from Colorado is staying here for ACL.

Oh, and this kid from Denmark, who is traveling around the United States, just hit me up while I was writing to stay here tonight. 🙂

And ANOTHER guy just hit me up to stay here this weekend… he’s offering us Thai massages and yoga instruction. Woah.

Another idea I had is to figure out how to sit in my front yard on a daily basis, so I can wave to neighbors as they walk by. If anyone stops to chat, I’ll offer them a drink and a seat. I just need some really baller outdoor furniture and some extra citronella candles… maybe a fan that blows mosquito repellant everywhere. 😉 (if you live in Austin and have baller outdoor furniture to share with me, let me know! If the furniture comes included with you sitting in it, even better!)

I have always wanted community. But I didn’t always know that’s what I wanted. And now that I know that, I don’t know exactly how to make it happen. I’ve moved so frequently my entire life that I have friends and family spread across the world, literally.

Sometimes I sit and consider who I’m going to visit when, and as I start going down the list my head begins to spin. Should I spend New Years in Saltillo, Mexico with my new family-away-from-home that I spent last New Years with during my bicycle trip? How will that be with a newborn baby?

When should I fly to L.A. to visit my uncle and my new cousins who I still haven’t even met yet?

And then there’s always India. I haven’t been back there in 10 years, and I’d love to visit my mom and brother in their natural habitat, and revisit the Tibetan refugees who live near Govindaji Gardens (the spiritual community where my mom and brother live) and walk through their beautiful temple again and see the incredible depictions of the Peaceful and Wrathful deities.

Oh and France, of course. Half of my family lives there, shouldn’t I do a french pilgrimage and visit them all with the new baby?

And since my sister and her husband have decided to move to Washington, well I suppose I’ll need to head that way in the next year as well!

I will have to wait on all of these schemes while I discover what it’s like to live and travel with a baby. But I do believe she has a lot of adventuring in her future… 😉

For now I am thankful to have a beautiful, spacious home and a guest room, so that I can invite people to stay here.

And perhaps one day I will actually buy a house and live in the same place for the rest of my life and build up the kind of community around me that I’ve always wanted.

Seeing as you’ve read this all the way to the end, something about this topic must be interesting to you and I would LOVE to hear your thoughts. About any of it. In addition to being curious about what other people’s thoughts are on community and loneliness… and mosquitoes, reading your comment I think will help me feel less lonely. 🙂

Exploring the South Indian Countryside

A tale in which, at 12 and ¾ years of age, I go exploring the South Indian countryside with nothing dependable except a bicycle and my crazy best friend.

I wrote this story when I was 17, for a writing test. My now 31 year old self took the liberty of making some slight edits. 🙂

(please take note that from the ages of 12 – 17 my name was ‘Tulsi Manjari’, as I was given a different name when initiated by a guru and giving a new name to your disciple was the custom. However, around 18 years old I separated from the Vaishnava religion and went back to using my birthname, Jahnavi 😉 )

It was 1999, and we lived in Karnataka, India.

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Our homes were within a community called Govindaji Gardens (listed as Sri Narashringa Chaitanya Ashram on the map below):

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a Vaishnava ashram surrounded by fields of rice and sugarcane.

Between the farm fields around our home were small patches of jungle. Deep in their leafy tangles were hidden ancient shrines and temples, with stones that were worn down and walls that caved in. The whole countryside was riddled with small dirt paths, only traveled by wild dogs and farmers with their cows, buffalo, sheep, and goats.

At the time my best friend was visiting from the U.S. and living at the ashram with us. His name was Radha Kanta, and I always remember him as he was during that time: tall, lanky, loud-mouthed and impulsive.

We had just recently celebrated his 13th birthday and I wasn’t far behind, but he still puffed out his chest and stood tall, importantly reminding that I was younger than him (by about three months).

He and I used to take our bicycles and go for little dusty tours on the few roads we could find. One day, without really thinking much about it, we went off onto one of the small cow-paths, our bicycles rattling noisily on the bumps and rocks. Each path forked off onto at least two or three more obscure paths, and soon we were traveling across a rocky landscape with sparse clumps of bushes, and a few trees whispering loudly around us. The paths began opening up to more and more vast fields of rice and sugar cane. Above our heads, the leaves of coconut and mango trees swished in the breeze, and it was very warm. We saw no one about, and simply pedaled on and on, talking lazily about whatever crossed our minds.

Minutes sped on to make up an hour, and soon we came upon a shady clearing, in which stood two heavy-lidded water buffaloes, chewing demurely on their cuds, and flinging their gray tails at the rude files that gathered at their heels. We bid them a good day, to which their response was a lazy nod of a large, horned head.

A deep well of water was also there, and we peered into it cautiously, wondering, with echoing voices, why it was so big. The circumference around it must have been a good 50 feet, and it was a puzzling piece of architecture to be sure.

But we moved on. After all, buffaloes and water-wells weren’t that exciting.

I admit at that point on our sojourn, I was beginning to worry about where we were, and which path would lead us home.

I said to Radha Kanta, “Shouldn’t we try to head back now?” But I knew he’d want to keep going.

“Well,” he told me, “let’s just go a little more. We can follow this road and see where it goes.”

I grudgingly consented.

The road followed along a large expanse of a rice field, and there, across the swaying heads of the rice plants and streams, we saw the roof of a looming temple, which poked just above the tops of the trees.

Radha Kanta and I stopped our bikes and stood on the road, gazing at it with awe.

“Wow…” one of us murmured.

“Let’s go check that out Tulsi!” Radha Kanta exclaimed. “It looks awesome!”

It looked more forbidding than awesome to me, and there didn’t appear to be any way to reach it except for trudging across the muddy fields. All in all, the temple seemed to be far out of the way.

“But…” I protested feebly. “There isn’t even a road! What if we get lost?”

“We can’t get lost!” he cried, with big gesticulations of his long, skinny arms. “We can just go a little ways down that rice field,” he pointed to the murky mess of rice plants and trenches filled with mud water, “and if we don’t make it as far as the temple, we’ll just turn back.”

I looked at him doubtfully.

“If we go over there, there’ll probably be a road that we can follow to get back!” he cried in a last effort to convince me. “Come on!”

So we picked up our bicycles and headed across the fields without looking back. The going was messy and very slow, involving acres of warm, ankle deep mud. After the first rice field came another rice field, followed by a sugarcane field, than yet another rice field. And still, the gray dome of the eery temple loomed just ahead, out of reach.

By this time our enthusiasm had worn down completely, and Radha Kanta was just as worried as I was. And I was very worried. But then, after just one last rice field, we were there. Or almost there. At least there were no more fields left to trudge through.

We pulled our bicyles out of the mud and stopped a moment, to consider how to get through the tangle of weeds and thorn bushes which stood between us and the temple.

I don’t know how we maneuvered through the hostile vegetation, but we did. Once through, we climbed up a small hill that led to the back of the temple.

The building was very big and definitely deserted. The walls were gray and dirty, as if they had been rinsed and stained continuously by black water. The area around the temple was completely overgrown, and the stone gate that stood in front was doing its best not to fall over completely.

I could hear parrots cackling to one another from the vine covered tree canopy, but even when I craned my neck to look up at them, they were too high up and too camouflaged amongst the green leaves to be seen.

We noticed two Indian men standing about in the dilapidated courtyard as if it were the most normal thing to do. Cigarettes dangled from their mouths, and they stood about scratching their heads and murmuring to one another in Kannada. They were wearing the usual dress of the Ganjam village men–plain, cotton sarongs which they tied about their waists and folded in half just above the knees.

They did not appear to be surprised to see us, but then, there was nothing odd about that, since it did not seem likely that these two fellows could find anything surprising given their cow-like expressions.

Of course Radha Kanta overlooked this particular aspect of their personalities and sauntered over to them with purpose.

“Hello!” he said, adopting the funny accent he used when he spoke to Indians, as though that would help them understand his english better. “What is this place?”

No response.

He put his hands on his hips, contemplating the temple. Then he turned back to the two men. “Me and her are going inside to look, okay? You please watch our bikes. Make sure nobody steals them.”

I gaped a little as he placed our bicycles in front of them and started off toward the temple entrance. I ran after him, wondering why he was so crazy.

There turned out to be no door to the temple, just a hole in the wall. Radha Kanta gingerly poked his head inside. I stepped next to him and peered in. There appeared to be nothing in the room except an impenetrable blackness, big piles of bird guano, and little shapes all over the ceiling. Our eyes strained in the dark, and I began to make out strangely shaped holes in the walls. They seemed to be intricately designed windows, but there was no light coming through them. I concluded they must have been filled in with bricks.

We kept looking around, but neither of us volunteered to step inside. I noticed a small opening in the back wall that seemed to lead to another room. A faint red glow was pulsing through the blackness from that back space. But before I could form any thoughts about what might be glowing red in the dark, something bit my leg.

“Ow!” I shouted. I felt another bite, and then I was being bitten all over. I jumped up and down looking about wildly. Red ants were swarming around the floor and up my legs. “Oh my god! OW! Red ants Radha Kanta! They’re biting me!”

I wonder to this day if he even heard me. His head was still stuck in the dark, poop-filled room and he was talking excitedly to the empty space I had previously occupied. Some part of my brain registered the fact that he wasn’t getting bitten at all, and I suppose I was envious of him, as I hopped about, brushing ants off of me. I wanted to scream.

Once I had separated myself from the blood thirsty ants and all of their relatives, I grabbed Radha Kanta’s arm. “Let’s leave now. I want to go.” Luckily he seemed as eager to leave as I was. We returned to the two stupefied Indian men and grabbed hold of our bicycles.

“How can we get back to Sri Rangapatna?” Radha Kanta asked them. Sri Rangapatna was the name of the village we lived close to.

For some reason they actually answered him. They pointed to the road in front of the falling-over stone wall and said, “Sri Rangapatna, that way,” with the perfunctory head bob the Indians always use when they speak.

We turned to see where their fingers were directing us. The road split into three parts.

“Which way?” Radha Kanta asked.

They smiled happily, and one of them said, “Yes, yes,” flashing his head-full of yellow, crooked teeth.

I sighed and together we left them to their cigarettes. We stood out on the forked road. “Left, right or straight ahead?” I asked no one in particular.

“Well…” Radha Kanta furrowed his brow.

I looked in one direction, seeing what lay along that road. “Wait a minute…” I said.

Radha Kanta paused his brow furrowing and followed my gaze.

“Let’s go down this road, because I think I’ve been on it before,” I told him.

We started down that way, examining everything around us, in hopes of spotting familiar landmarks. I wondered if we’d ever make it home, or whether we’d just be found as skeletons on the side of the road.

Each minute stretched longer than I had known a minute possibly could stretch. But slowly, very slowly, recognition creeped in on me, and before I knew it, I was riding along a completely familiar roadway. “This IS the road!” I yelled.

“What?” said Radha Kanta.

“I know where to go from here!” I told him. “We’re not lost!”

Radha Kanta whooped in relief and we pedaled with a new-found enthusiasm. We recognized a side path to turn onto and soon were well on our way back home. Radha Kanta gave me an appreciative smile. “I’m so glad you were with me Tulsi, ‘cause I would never have known which way to go.”

I grinned.

Suddenly every bush, every tree, every cow even, was familiar. We were both so relieved we could have wept. The final stretch home went by so fast, it seemed to be only minutes before we were standing back at the front gate of Govindaji Gardens.

We threw the bicycles down and ran to my house, where we began to gulp down glassfuls of water.

Our siblings surrounded us, asking us where we had been and what had happened. We told them we’d gotten lost and related the whole story.

At the end, Radha Kanta, evidently carried away with the afternoon’s excitements, added, “Yeah, and as we were riding away from the temple, I saw a white thing fly out of the roof! It was wearing a big cape and riding some weird creature.” His eyes were wide, and he looked at each of us in turn.

I stared back at him. “You did?”

“Yes!” he cried. “Swear to god I did!”

Why Music?

Why music?

I’ve been considering an age-old topic, a cliche question that perhaps musicians dislike being asked:

Why do we play music?

The question of “why we play music” can be grouped amongst the other fathomless questions such as…

Why is the sky blue?

Why does everybody die?

What is the meaning of life?

To assume that we can do any justice to any of these topics by trying to answer the question, is to perhaps assume too much of ourselves. 😉

But then again, what is the point of being human if we don’t get to sit around sipping fermented beverages and discussing ponderous concepts?

So grab your beverage of choice and pull up a chair!plantation-banjo1

…and imagine a time before we had electricity and internet, before we could watch movies and stream music endlessly via Spotify and Pandora (for scandalously low prices I might add, considering that musicians such as us only receive something like 0.005 cents per song-play on a site like Spotify… but I digress ;-).

I imagine that back then, before we could listen to music without the musicians themselves being present, we must have placed tremendous value on the person who would come sit by our hearth and tell us stories from faraway lands, or play us songs about the human predicament: love, death, hope, fear, desire.

We could listen to them and enter a trancelike state, gazing into the fire, and be transported above everyday life–the rigors and the doldrums–to a place of the imagination, a mysterious realm that songs can take us to, where we find solace for our unspoken pain, inspiration to carry on, or simply a moment’s respite from our belabored thoughts.instruments-and-globe

We were able to travel, to go on adventures, right from our homes. And the wandering bard who showed up in our village was our traveling guide.

Even now, you know that you are witnessing a pure conduit of music when you sit down in front of a musician (or musicians) and forget who and where you are as the music pours over you. 

Even Pandora can’t always accomplish that.

And as musicians, this is what we aspire to… transporting our beloved audience into a timeless realm, holding space for them as they travel to a place where healing, joy and inspiration are all possible.

This is one of the best reasons I can give you for why we play music. 🙂

P.S. And if you’ve never had The Love Sprockets take you on a musical journey, it’s about time you experienced us firsthand:

http://thelovesprockets.bandcamp.com/track/by-the-pale-moonlight

(It’s a song based on the old french traditional ‘Au Claire de la Lune’ in which a young poet’s candle goes out and he goes late at night through the village to find a light and a pen to write with)

Click here to listen to By the Pale Moonlight

The Bicycle Chase Meditation

The air of the room is held captive by a stillness only meditation can summon. The older meditators are sitting in chairs, as still as stones. The rest of us are on the floor, kneeling, with our butts supported by little wooden stools or cushions.

Addison and I had ridden the bicycles we’re borrowing from Tellman and Jodi over to the meditation hall with minutes to spare. The driveway leading up Solar Hill is steep and long, and I could feel my lower abdominal muscles straining to hold my big, pregnant belly in place as I heaved myself uphill. While parking our bicycles, we attempted to calm our breathing down to a reasonable pace as quickly as possible. Meditation had just commenced and we didn’t want to enter the room gasping like a couple of land-locked fish in the midst of their glorious silence.

Apparently a couple of the other attendees had ridden their bicycles to the morning sangha as well, and no-one had appeared to bother themselves with locking their bicycles up. The entrance to the hall is hidden from view and the building itself is set up in the woods, well away from the main road.

This is amazing, I think, as I begin to settle into my meditation. My back doesn’t hurt!

Being almost 8 months pregnant means that I have been experiencing the unpleasant visitations of back pain, which feels not unlike the an overwhelming visit with relatives who are easier to love from a distance.

 

After a moment however, I noticed that although my back wasn’t really hurting, there was a different concern that had arisen. I can’t really breathe. I wonder if it’s just because the room is stuffy and open my eyes to see if the windows are open. They’re all closed. A plastic tree stands in the corner, wearing a fine layer of dust. And that ‘tree’ sure isn’t helping with the oxygen levels in here.

I shift my weight around, trying to give my lungs more space. But my belly now swells up almost to chest level, so there just isn’t a whole lot of extra space to be had. I should just be present with whatever is happening, I remind myself. Even not being able to breathe properly is something I can be present with.

I can feel my hands getting tingly. I imagine falling unconscious suddenly and falling to the floor. Would everyone remain unmoving, silent statues while Addison tried to revive me? No, everyone would probably leap up to help–albeit meditatively perhaps. But then I’d be responsible for cutting everyone’s meditation short this morning.

The thought of interrupting everyone’s meditation practice by passing out on the floor prompts me to adjust my position. I lower myself down to a supported child’s pose, with my cushion propped under my chest so that my belly has space to hang above the floor. This helps a little. Now at least I don’t feel like I’m going to faint. I take some deep-ish breaths. In, out, I say silently with each in-breath and out-breath.

I hear the sound of softly shifting gravel outside. Perhaps someone is walking up the driveway. A very late meditator coming to join us?

No…I focus in on the sound, my imagination kicking into gear. Someone coming up to check out the bicycles? If someone was going to steal a bicycle, which one would they pick? Mine. Though it’s not really mine. It’s Tellman and Jodi’s. But it’s the one I ride around right now. Mine looks the shiniest. And it would be easy to grab, since it just parked at the foot of the steps with a kickstand.

Shhhhhh… I tell myself. You’re being silly. You’re ALWAYS worried about people stealing your bike… or someone else’s bike that you’ve borrowed.

But there it is again, the crunching gravel sound. I am becoming all but the sense of hearing.

There is a distinctive metal click, like that of a kickstand being released, and then louder crunchings, as though wheels are rolling over the gravel.

I am standing up now and waddling to a side door in the room I’ve never used. If I’m imagining all of this, than this will be a moment of embarrassment to be remembered forever. I wrestle with the door handle for a second, unlock it and then wrench it open. The meditators have turned to watch me as one.

“What’s up?” Addison is asking, but I am hurtling across the deck. A figure wearing a white wife-beater and a backwards, black baseball cap is rolling away, down the driveway, past the pine grove and towards the road. Whoever it is appears to be riding my–no, Jodi and Tellman’s–bicycle. I crash through the tiger lilies and grab Addison’s–Tellman and Jodi’s–bike, which had been leaning on the side of the building. The seat is so high I can barely reach the pedals. But Addison is moving too slowly and time is of the essence, so I point the handlebars downhill.

“Someone stole a bike!” I manage to bark to Addison as his head appears out of the open door. I am flying down the hill, my pregnant belly bouncing in time with the bumps.

“STOP!” I scream at the receding figure. I hear Addison yelling something as well, but I’m concentrating so hard I don’t pay attention. “Give me my bike back!” The whites of the bicycle thief’s eyes flash briefly before he takes a left onto Western Avenue, pedaling awkwardly. The seat is too low for him, and his knees poke out at odd angles as he labors.

I focus on turning without wiping out, and stand up to pedal more easily, since the too-high seat is preventing proper contact between my feet and the pedals.

“That’s my bike you’re stealing!” I holler with air reserves I didn’t even know are available to me. “I’m PREGNANT!”

Somehow this last bit of information seems important for me to relay to the thief. Because stealing a bike is a bad thing to do, yes, but he might still be able to sleep at night after selling it and doing his best to forget about it (and being chased). But stealing from a pregnant woman? That could haunt his dreams for a good long while.

A man in a dress jacket is getting back in his car holding a freshly-purchased cup of coffee.

“He’s stealing my bike!” I call to the man, pointing to the gangly bicycle thief who is now making a wobbly turn down one of the steepest roads in Brattleboro. Union Hill…! “Call the police!” I don’t have time to explain to this guy why I’m still able to chase the thief, who is supposedly riding away with my bicycle, using another bicycle, and I don’t know if he’s actually going to call the police, but I keep pedaling as though my life depends on it.

I’m watching the bicycle thief disappear down the hill and hoping that he might crash thanks to the lack of front brakes on my bicycle. I’d released them earlier that week as they’d been rubbing against the rim of my wheel and I hadn’t taken the time to adjust and reconnect them yet.

My breathing is a heaving, erratic horror story, but I plough on. I’m heading down Union Hill and I see that the young man has wasted precious time by trying to divert onto a side street halfway down the steep hill. The missing front brake has indeed caused him some trouble, and he is now finishing a cumbersome U-turn onto Beech Street.

Chickens are roaming the edges of this little back lane like tiny, modern dinosaurs, their head crests wobbling with each jerk of their necks. They watch the bicycle thief approach with expressions of blank terror punctuated by ear-splitting squawks.

One of the chickens barely escapes being run over, and emits a “bok bok BOK!!!” of alarm. She races out of harms way on T-Rex legs.

“STOP!” I gasp, swerving around the chicken mayhem. At this point I don’t know who I’m talking to… the guy stealing my bicycle… the chickens… myself??

Ahead there is the tall, metal fence that surrounds the playground behind the Green Street School. A steep, non-bicycle-friendly path goes around the side and up into some scattered trees.

The gangly-legged, white wife-beater wearing, backwards baseball cap sporting bicycle thief launches himself from my bike, using the momentum of his sudden exit from his vehicle to hurtle up the path. He careens across the hillside above the school, dodging trees, slipping on loose stones and scrambling for the cover of the bushes at the top of the hill.

I stop to watch my bicycle–well, Jodi and Tellman’s bicycle– slowly fall over on its side, wheels still spinning. I hear the sound of sirens.

I lay Addison’s–I mean, Jodi and Tellman’s–bicycle down and take a seat in the dirt, focusing on my ragged breathing, while the chickens slowly reappear, suspicious, but grateful for the restored peace and quiet.

There is nothing but my breathing for a few minutes.

Then the bell sounds and I raise my head. The other people in the room begin to stir from their statuesque positions. Addison is shifting and straightening his cramped legs. I pull myself up out of my child’s pose and back to sitting.

The meditation leader, a small woman who’s eyes are magnified by her thick glasses, pulls forth a paper.

“This is a poem that was written in the 14th Century,” she says.

And the poem goes like this:

What is this mind?
Who is hearing these sounds?
Do not mistake any state for
Self-realization, but continue
To ask yourself even more intensely,
What is it that hears?”
Bassui

And perhaps I will take the liberty to add to this poem…

What is it that hears the sounds of crunching gravel outside of the meditation hall?

And who is it that went on that bicycle-thief-chasing-adventure?

Full Moon Witchcraft

The gravestones stand about awkwardly, some leaning off to one side, others sinking into the depths of the earth and grass.

The Aquarius moon is wearing a mysterious veil of clouds, which glow in shades of fluorescent blue and silver.

We couldn’t see much further than the light that our candles revealed, though we could still make out the profiles of a hundred more gravestones in the distance, and the silhouettes of the ancient trees that stand watch over the dead in a reverent silence.

“Don’t read it,” Frieda whispers as she places her post-it note over the candle flame. “It’s private.” The flames lap at the pencil scribbles and yellow paper, before taking hold and consuming Frieda’s fears and self-perceived shortcomings with apparent relish.

Sarah, Anna and I also have our undesirables written out on sacrificial post-it notes, and in turn we place them over the candle and watching the fire’s hypnotic destruction of our problems.

“Wow,” Anna murmurs, as the relics of her crumpled paper make jagged designs that glow red and orange in the darkness. “It’s so beautiful.”

We sit in silence, willing ourselves to let go of all that is no longer serving us, and hoping the universe will swoop in to recycle the debris of our lives and carry it to another galaxy far far away.

We had made our way to the graveyard earlier that night, after gathering up the paraphernalia for our full moon ceremony. This consisted of bits of sage, mugwort and chaga, herbs and spices from the kitchen, an abalone shell, sweetgrass, cedar, candles, and, of course, post-it notes.

Frieda had instigated the ceremony, feeling a great need for releasing the bad juju she was experiencing and opening her life up to receiving healing. And although I am 40 pounds heavier with baby, big boobs and amniotic fluid, I wasn’t going to miss sitting in a graveyard under the full moon with three other venturesome gals.

After all of our notes were burned to ash, we place a protective circle of sage smoke around us and begin to set intentions.

“I’m going to write a book by November 2016.”

“I’m going to ask for more respect from the men in my life.”

“I’m going to open myself up to giving and receiving love.”

The bowls of spices and herbs are brought forward now, to aid in the power of our intentions.

“Ok,” Sarah says, passing a basil leaf to each of us. “I’m going to read about basil for each nibble that we take of these leaves.”

We each take a bite, and the aroma of basil fills our mouths and noses.

“Basil helps steady the mind,” Sarah reads. “It brings happiness,” we take another nibble, “love, peace and money,” we put the last piece in our mouths, “and protects against insecurity.”

“Now we have a lemon,” she announces. “I will pass this wedge around and we can each take a lick.”

I start to giggle.

“Or we can just squeeze some juice into this lid and pass that around,” Frieda suggests.

“Or that,” Sarah agrees, beginning to giggle as well.

Anna takes the lid of sour juice and dips her finger in. “Mmmmm…” she smiles broadly, and starts to pass the lid to me.

“Wait!” Sarah says, glaring at her affectionately. “I didn’t even tell you what it’s good for yet!”

Anna shrugs and laughs. “Oh, whoops.”

“Lemons resonate with the energy of the moon,” Sarah reads.

I take a sip from the lid and most of it spills on my leg.

“Lemon flowers are used in love spells.”

I rub the spilled juice into my skin. The more the better, I guess. I pass the lid to Frieda.

“The fruit can be used to turn away harmful spells or the evil eye.”

Next it’s cloves, than coffee grinds, a clove of garlic. We are filled with visions and hopes of vampire protection, true love, healing, completion, good luck and the cessation of gossip.

“My baby is going to be experiencing some well-seasoned amniotic fluid,” I say, as I take a tentative lick of cayenne powder off the tip of my finger.

“Cayenne is a good one to finish with,” Sarah tells us, “because it speeds up the effect of any mixture to which it’s added.”

And, according to Witchipedia, it also curbs drunkenness. I wonder if a certain relative of mine would notice if I slipped some cayenne powder into their glass of wine?

I feel the baby squirm and give a kick, and wonder if all of the smells and tastes have sent her on an embryonic psychedelic trip yet.

Now we look around at one another. “So how should we end the ceremony?”

“We could get naked and dance around in the moonlight for a few minutes,” I suggest.

We soon find ourselves dancing around the candles (still clothed), jerking and lurching awkwardly without any outside musical tempo to guide or unify us.

“We could twerk in the moonlight,” Anna suggests.

“What’s twerking again?” I ask.

She sticks her butt up in the air, bracing herself by placing her hands on the ground in front of her, and begins to artfully wiggle her hindquarters. As we all attempt to emulate her, I suddenly notice a dark figure walking through the graveyard, making a beeline for us through the spaces between gravestones.

Frieda turns to see the mysterious figure and gasps. “Oh no!”

Anna had taken hold of a headstone to better balance herself for further twerking demonstrations.

“Anna,” Sarah hisses, indicating that we have company. Anna quickly straightens up.

As the man draws nearer, we can see he is dressed all in black, with a distinctively shaped hat. No ones says it, but we’re all thinking it: ‘Cop’.

“Hello,” the officer greets us. “What are you ladies up to?”

“Oh,” Freida says, beginning to scoop up some of our things that are scattered about in the grass. “We were doing a full moon ritual, just to get rid of some things in our lives and set some intentions.”

“Ah,” he says.

“Yeah we were making some spells with these different herbs and spices,” Sarah explains.

“But it’s all safe, just things you’d find around the kitchen,” Frieda quickly adds.

He shines the light down on a bowl of coffee grounds topped with a nibbled chunk of garlic and a squeezed out lemon wedge. “I see. And what’s that? Post-it notes?”

“We were writing things down and burning them.”

“That’s cool,” he says.

The officer seems relived that we are an innocent group of women, toting culinary ingredients into a graveyard and dancing around our candles, rather than ill mannered drunks whom he might have had to arrest. It feels like we could invite him to turn his flashlight off, take a seat and write a few things he wants to release on a post-it note and maybe suck on a lemon wedge… but then he mentions his supervisor and asks for our names and addresses.

After he writes down our information and while we pack up our bags and blankets he tells us, “Well it sure is nice to find you ladies here enjoying yourselves during such dark times… and I’m not talking about the fact that it’s night right now.”

We murmured our sympathy, only needing to imagine the kinds of things he must have to witness as part of his job.

We let him escort us out of the graveyard, and bid him good night. I wonder if this night will be permanently on my record: “8/19/16 Jahnavi Newsom discovered in a graveyard at 11:30 pm, partaking in some sot of moonlit witchcraft voodoo, evidently twerking amongst the headstones.”

Anna was thrilled. “My mom is going to crack up when I tell her I followed in her footsteps!”

Apparently Anna’s mother had been discovered with friends in this very graveyard, but perhaps a few decades ago. They had been drinking, so when they saw the cops approaching they decided to try and ‘play dead’, seeing as how they were in a graveyard anyways, surrounded by other dead people. But the policemen who discovered their bodies that night were not the gullible type.

We stand in Frieda’s driveway, saying goodnight to one another. “Thanks guys, that was great.”

“You ladies are awesome.”

“Bet that cop will never forget us!”

“Good night!”

“Good night.”

women and men graveyard

The Timeless Fog

2016-08-11 08.24.07 HDR

And it’s that quiet force,

a rhythm that pulses through the crickets and insects,

which blankets and cradles me in a silence so profound

it sends a hush deep down into what must be my soul.

Now I feel a relief, a release, a letting go

a relaxing of the muscles of my mind,

and I want to dive under, inside and surrender,

I want to relinquish control, hand over the reins to this utter Presence.

I want to arrive so intently

that I burst through the walls of my mentally-conceived reality

into the timelessness of the fog,

the dew-dressed spider-web,

the rippling, cold, brackish water,

the stone that sits, and sits and sits

wearing a shawl of yellow-green seaweed wrapped around its silent shoulders.

And I want to sit, and sit, and sit

and I want to be

until I simply am.

2016-08-11 08.43.49

Ghost Stories from Brooklyn

(names have been changed for the characters in this story, to protect their privacy, FYI)

“My loves!” he cries, as he rollerblades into the Laleeta Indian Restaurant where we are sitting. We stand up, laughing at the sight of the rollerblades strapped around his ankles, and the disconcerted glances from the Indian waiter and south African customers at the table near us.

After embracing each of us he glides into a seat across from us, where the vegetable curry and rice we ordered for him is waiting.

The first time we met Tom Peterson was over 3 years ago, when Addison and I were riding our bicycles across the United States and the 3 of us (4 counting Tom’s girlfriend at the time, Layla) ended up staying with the same Warmshowers host in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. We didn’t know what to make of Tom at the time, but we ended up cycling all the way to Baton Rouge, Louisiana with him. He raised the camaraderie and comedic factor for us during that month of travel.

He had lived on in our memories as an eccentric, bicycle racing cheapskate, who would fill his empty taco bell bag with the free condiment packets from their counter spread, horde wet wipes from the Walmart dispensers to use later on to clean out his tent when we would set up camp, and who would compare the caloric value of the three different bags of 1 dollar trail mix at the Family Dollar, to make sure he was getting the most calories per dollar spent.

But it seems that perhaps Tommy Peterson’s days of hoarding free condiments and seeking out free or under $1 meals has come to an end for the time-being. Here in Brooklyn, he tells us, he’s started a loft-bed installation business and business is booming for old Tommy Petes.
2016-07-31 11.54.27
He pulls his lumber and supplies around with his racing bike and custom designed cargo trailer, and has more work than he could hope for.

2016-07-31 11.54.43

As if he didn’t have enough going on already, he works at a bar every Sunday night (“for the Pina Coladas” he says), working the bar or racing out on his rollerblades to deliver food around the city. When it’s a slow night he can host his business meetings at the bar with potential loft-bed clients.

Tom doesn’t seem to say ‘no’ to work when it comes his way, even when it appears in a bizarre and perhaps disconcerting setting. And as we have come to learn, Tom is a master at attracting bizarre and disconcerting events to him.

“Yeah I’m actually remodeling a haunted house around the corner from here,” Tom tells us, in between bites of vegetable curry. He orders a mango lassi from the waiter who appears every 10 minutes to refill our water glasses.

Addison raises his eyebrow, intrigued. “Haunted house?”

“Yeah, it was built in like the 19th century. I met this lady the other night on the street corner when I was eating watermelon…” he begins.

It was 1 am, a warm night in early July, and Tom had ended up working late on one of his installation jobs. He was exhausted and dehydrated, and decided a big slice of watermelon would do him good. He pedaled his rig to a nearby convenience store and purchased a watermelon quarter and a coke. As he hunkered down on the sidewalk to eat, a woman with a pitbull walked past and said to him, “Watermelon. Nice choice!”

He thought so too, until he was a few bites into his piece and discovered that his particular hunk of watermelon had not been laid down in the ice properly and was warm and soggy from a long summer day. He contemplated the piece for a moment, then put it down, having lost interest. The same woman who had passed by him a moment before circled back around.

“Are you going to finish that?” she asked, pointing at his watermelon.

“Nah,” he said.

“Mind if I have it?”

“Knock yourself out.” He handed her the piece.

She and the pitbull settled down next to him and she began to tear into the watermelon like a wolf ripping into a fresh elk kill. Soon the juices were flowing down her face and neck, soaking the front of her shirt.

The scene made Tom feel a little queasy.

“What’re you working on?” the woman asked between bites, indicating his cargo trailer.

He told her about his loft-installation business.

“Do you do any other kind of carpentry work?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he shrugged. “Anything, really. I’ve remodeled alot of houses, helped build others, pretty much whatever.”

He found out her name is Kathy, and she lives in a really old house nearby and would he be interested in doing some work on it. He said sure, why not.

After some time had passed, Tom told her it’s late and he needs to get to bed. They exchange information, but as he was beginning to walk away, she noticed that he was headed in the same direction as her house.

“My place is on this street,” she told him. “Do you want to step inside to see it yourself for a minute?”

“Sure,” Tom said.

The house was everything one could hope for in an old, historic building. Grand, grimy, and perhaps inhabited by generations of the dead.

Kathy showed him in and walked him around, telling him about her various project ideas. Most of them didn’t really make sense as far as what physical reality would dictate, but Tom humored her and heard her out. She seemed to be particularly obsessed with the stairway, asking him to do things like completely block them off so the upstairs was separated from the downstairs, or to level them and build a trap door.

She told him to follow her, and he noticed that as she was walking upstairs past a room on her right, that she waved to someone who must have been in there. 

“Good night,” she said to whoever was in the room.

As Tom followed her, he glanced into the open door of the room where she was looking. A young girl was sitting on the bed, her eyes rolled up in her head. She began to convulse before she fell back into the bed.

Tom stared from the girl to Kathy, but Kathy gave no other indication that the girl was even there, so he stayed silent and continued up the stairs.

He waited for Kathy on the landing while she changed out of her watermelon soaked clothes. She reemerged from her room wearing a sheer, flesh-colored, silk suit. Tom tried not to notice that her outfit was completely translucent, but rather focused on the numerous photographs of a dead bird that she had laid out on her bedroom floor.

“It happened last week,” she told Tom. “The bird flew right up next to me. It paused in mid-air and we made eye contact. It’s like it was hypnotized.”

Her pitbull had taken advantage of this strange and marvelous occurrence, by leaping up and ensnaring the bird in its jaws. The photos Kathy had taken of the bird over the next 3 days showed that the bird had been torn to pieces, its entrails draped across the deck in a gruesome collage of death.

She had photographed the dead bird at night, in the morning, in the late afternoon, at different angles, with different lights and shadows that she had created to capture the manifold looks of its carcass.

Everytime Tom was deciding it was time to leave, she would entrance him with another story, another painting, another piece of art with an intriguing story tied to it, and he felt like a captive witness to this empty shell of a woman, who had so much to say, so many stories to tell, but who seemed to be sucking the very life out of him with each memory she shared. He could sense that the real person, the spirit of this woman’s body, was there somewhere, floating nearby, but she didn’t seem to be an active participant of her own life.

Her next wardrobe change was into a sundress that she pulled up just below her breasts. Tom was kind enough to pretend not to notice that she was naked from the top up. He was well and truly ready to head home at this point, when an incredibly angry man came thundering up the stairs.

“Where’s my drugs?” he was screaming. “Where are they? I’ll kill you, I’ll fucking kill you!”

Tom did not know where the man had come from, but he decided the best plan of action was to move slowly and to act calm. His escape route would have been down the stairs and out the door, but the angry man was currently blocking the stairs. Tom casually reached into his backpack and found a chisel, which he slipped into his pocket.

Apparently the man’s name was Jim, and he was a house guest of Kathy’s. She and Tom both assured Jim that they did not have his drugs, and suggested that he keep looking. But that they were most certainly not upstairs.

Jim thundered around, breaking things, cursing, and generally expressing his displeasure at having misplaced his drugs. But eventually a silence fell over the house, and Tom heard a click and a deep puff, and knew that Jim and his crack pipe had been reunited. Peace settled in, and Jim was soon apologizing for his behavior.

A strange dance began to take place, which continued to imprison Tom at the house. Jim would start talking about Kathy, telling Tom unpleasant stories and bits of information about her, and Kathy would get angry and leave, not wanting to have listen to it. When Jim would finally leave Tom alone for a second, Kathy would reemerge and demand to be told what Jim had told Tom, and then she would respond with a deluge of unpleasantries about Jim. When Kathy disappeared Jim was back, and the sequence would continue.

It was around 5 am when Tom was finally able to extract himself. 

“And you still ended up working for her?” we ask him, incredulous. 

“This woman had cash just falling out of her pockets,” Tom says defensively. “Someone’s gotta scoop up the cash!”

So Tom started his first project there, which was dealing with the effects that some rotting beams were having on the door frame and stripping. It was his third day at the house, and he had just done some glueing around the door frame and was waiting for the glue to dry.

It was a 95 degree day in Brooklyn, and the house had no A/C. He had been working there since 8 am that morning, and now it was nearly 1:30 in the afternoon. He was afraid to drink the water in the house, for reasons he could only attribute to the half-rotted, moldy aspects of the walls and framing. Feeling drowsy and dehydrated, and drained of energy in a way only this house and Kathy could make him feel, he lay out on the living room couch and drifted to sleep.

“Weh weh meh meh meeeeeee!”

“Hum hum hum hum…”

“Ugh, grrrrr, hmmmmm.”

Tom slowly opened his eyes, not daring to move. He was hearing people in the house, and none of them sounded very friendly. He listened for a while, and was able to discern six different voices. As far as Tom knew, the only person home was Kathy, and she was upstairs.

One person sounded like he was angry, with a deep voice that reprimanded another person, who responded with whines and whimpers. The other voices were talking amongst themselves, though Tom soon realized that he could not discern what any of the people were actually saying.

This may be the end of Tommy Peterson’s adventures, he thought, as he felt his limbs seizing up with an undefinable terror. He was immobilized. He could do nothing more than lie there with his eyes wide open, listening to voices as they got closer and closer.

Something caught his eye at that moment. It was a foot, stepping backwards onto the second-to-last step of the stairway that led to the upstairs. It was followed by a second foot, which ascended onto the final step, also facing backwards. The legs of the person were moving in a stiff, robotic way.

A silent scream was trapped in Tom’s throat. Then he saw that it was Kathy. She stepped into the living room, still walking like a backwards moving robot. The voices had narrowed down to two or three at this point, but they were all coming out of her mouth, and none of them sounded like her own.

As she turned around, her body seemed to relax and with a small convulsion, she was falling into a normal, forward moving gait that was completely unlike the robotic one she had been using before. When she saw Tom, she said, “Oh, so did you finish glueing the trim?” in her own, single person voice.

Tom sat up, gasping in confusion. “What… What do you mean??”

But he could see that as far as she knew, nothing out of the ordinary had happened, and he was forced to regain his composure without receiving any kind of explanation or acknowledgement of the bizarre event that had just unfolded in front of him.

At the point in the story when Tom had mentioned the backwards foot making it’s way robotically down the steps, I had shrieked in horror and flung myself into Addison’s arms. As I squeeze him even harder I also laugh in disbelief.

“Did you tell her she was walking backwards down the stairs like a robot and speaking in six voices?” I ask.

Tom shrugs. “Nah, I didn’t want to freak her out. She’s pretty paranoid as it is.”

Addison is shaking his head. “And you’re still working there?”

“Yeah,” Tom says, and now we are all laughing.

But I guess maybe there was a good reason why she wanted those stairs blocked off.

Woke Up in New York City

We had escaped the Austin heat…

By flying north over 2,000 miles to Laguardia airport in New York.

And when we step outside of the airport doors into the New York air, a gust of warm wind washes over us, and I can feel sweat begin to trickle down my legs.

It is 8:30 pm, and a wall of yellow taxis fill the street in front of the airport. We find our way to the back of a line that seems to stretch halfway along the side of the Laguardia building, and wait our turn for a ride in one of those yellow cars–hopefully with A/C.

A portly, overly tanned man walking a squat bulldog, accompanied by a luggage caddy, shouts an indignant tirade at an old black man who has pulled his taxi into the crosswalk to load a passenger. Cabs press in around the taxi driver’s vehicle on all sides, and he’s forced to sit there and listen to the tirade while pretending he somehow can’t tell that the man is yelling at him. His passenger, wearing a dress coat and an apprehensive expression, dips into the cab and shuts the door behind him, making no comment on the situation. The bulldog pants and looks around, expressionless.

When we’re getting close to the finish line, the taxi-line conductor shouts to an old lady who is creeping around the waiting taxis.

“Hey, hey,” he says. “What are you doing over there?”

The old lady doesn’t respond, but a flush of irritation crosses her face. She’s been discovered.

“The beginning of the line is all the way back there,” the conductor tells her, waving her back over to the sidewalk.

She grumbles and mutters, yanking her suitcase behind her and beginning the walk of shame past the 50 or so people she tried to cut in front of.

Another old lady, the one who has been waiting in line in front of us, with perfectly brushed and parted silver hair, shakes her head. “There’s always one smart Alec,” she comments with a laugh.

And then we are in the air conditioning of a yellow cab, trying to figure out how to turn the TV off that’s glaring in my face (since when do taxis have TVs in them??), and watching the night skyline of NYC unravel around us.

Ny city at night

Our sunny, Austin house, our subletters (who I left equipped with several pages of petfeeding and house maintenance instructions), our cat and dog, our houseplants, the chickadees hanging off of the bird feeder in the front yard and the deafening hum of cicadas… seems to all be fading away into the distance, replaced by dark stretches of water and skyscrapers lit up against the backdrop of the night.

Our friend Zaina is waiting for us in her apartment, cooking a pile of vegetables that seems to stretch beyond the capacity of the pans she’s using. Addison is alive with ideas as always seems to happen when we travel, and I lounge back on the couch while he regales Zaina with his latest and greatest.

2016-07-22 23.41.21
Addison journaling his wave of ideas before we go to sleep

She leaves us her room for the next few days, and we proceed to be infiltrated by the spirit of Brooklyn…

Coming up next… wild Nicky Patton stories about haunted houses and drug addicts, seeing a live production of Hadestown at NY Theater Workshop (music score by Vermont artist Anais Mitchel) and other adventures.

(to be continued)