Monday, May 4, 2015

A Jaded Beltaine

Author's Note: Jade has been my fictional alter ego ever since The Lady anoNYMous decided to lift herself from the page and become a performer and an artistic aspect. She is a character that was originally conceived by myself and Ryder Richardson for a musical that never quite got off the ground, but the character has stuck with me and already has a history and has had prior adventures that you'll find referenced here. A novel in which she is the central character, Jaded, is half-written and may be finished or rewritten someday, but for now, this is the character's first public appearance. I hope that she and her friends will have more, and that you enjoy reading about this experience of hers. The picture below is of me and Theo; I thought it appropriate as the characters of Jade and Theo are based on us.

A Jaded Beltaine by anoNYMous Raven

It had been a rainy morning that Beltaine. Not a hard rain, but a spotty one, coming from a spotty sky with great gray-bellied zeppelins of fluffy white drifting among a vast dome of blue with a clear curve over the pine-dotted hills. The procession carrying the May Pole had been a marry one despite the rain - hell, maybe because of the rain - as they trudged and slipped along the muddy path to the May Pole Field. She had been grinning ear-to-ear herself. The colorful throng of folks hoisting the great tree trunk on their shoulders and those crowded all around them, trying unhelpfully to help, were every sort of freak and outcast that one usually found on the fringes of society or in bubbles like San Francisco and Portland. And everything that would have triggered a warning of hedonistic, heathen blasphemy for her aunt was on display. Breasts were bared, penises slapped thighs, men wore dresses... Jade's heart had swelled as she spotted a little man in leather jerkin holding the hem of another man's patchwork skirt above the mud as the taller of the two marched along with part of the May Pole on his shoulders. Not that she should have assumed that either identified as "men," but even she wasn't always perfect at erasing gender association from appearances in her inner vocabulary.

To simplify things, it was easier just to think of those two, as well as every other person in the procession, as what they were, even if it was only while they were on the Land: Faeries.

Jade had been absorbed and corrupted by the Radical Faerie community of the Pacific Northwest nearly a decade ago, almost as soon as she had left her fundamentalist aunt and her finally-becoming-himself uncle to their own devices in Yamhill County for the streets of Portland. This was her eighth Beltaine Gathering at the Wolf Creek Sanctuary and, as with every Gathering, she felt cleansed and at peace, yet giddy with anticipation, and perfectly at home in a sea of virtual strangers with handfuls of familiar faces here and there among the yearly-growing event. Every year, lately, it seemed as though that ratio remained the same, no matter how much she socialized and met new people. There were always more coming. There was always the worry that the Land just couldn't host that many people, that the work to be done would be exceeded by layabout guests and tourists, that there just wouldn't be enough space, but it worked out perfectly, wonderfully, every year.

So the May Pole had been erected and the unscripted ritualistic neo-Pagan freestyle ceremony had commenced, with vats of tea hauled in and ladled to each of the particpants, psilocybin for some and virgin for others, and, as always, the ribbons got twisted and tangled in fits of hilarity as the weaving May Pole dance was screwed up somewhere along the line again until the ribbons brought them all into a single silent mass huddled and pressed together, breathing together, at the base of the huge tree that had been hand-picked from the Land and sacrificed for the occasion. And then, in unspoken mutual agreement, the ceremony was ended and a raucous after-party of drumming and dancing in the Field had begun.

She had danced as exuberantly and tirelessly as the rest of them, swinging her dreadlocks carelessly, miraculously managing not to whip any of her neighbors, and had been one of hundreds of colorful whirling dervishes in the soaked and sunny Field, but there were always those who outlasted her. Like so many others, she had begun the feel a call for solitude in the gentle buzzing in her marrow, and had drifted out of the Field to pass as a ghost and voyeur among the more sparsely populated locations of the Land. Past the parking lot and the dense press of tents next to it, where the campers who weren't dedicated enough to march all their supplies and creature comforts across the hilly expanse were located. Past Grandmother Maple and her alter, standing stately and sacredly nearby-yet-apart. Across the field that radiated out from the central fire pit, flanked on one side by the gardens and the other by tents and trees dotting a sparsely wooded hillside. Toward the Barn that functioned mainly as a huge communal kitchen.

Every person she crossed paths with was glowing, on their own journey, being pulled along to some elsewhere, and only greeted her with a silent grin, which she returned. She wasn't conscious of making an effort to smile at people for once. She couldn't even recall changing her expression, or if it had changed. It was as though all the other people were mirrors she was coming across along her the way.

As usual, the Barn smelled of food and radiated the noises of bustling activity, along with the faint din of a stereo she was fairly certain was never turned off. She could picture the people inside, some of them sober and preparing for the massive daily event of dinner, others foraging to piece together a kind of lunch and sharing their finds with others. There would be a few people dancing unabashedly to the music on the stereo, while the couch would be full of people pressed together and cuddling and laughing. Outside, sitting on the steps and smiling while gazing around herself was the woman Jade had been flirting with at last night's fire circle, steel-gray hair catching the sunlight brilliantly, her chiseled jaw and the body armor she appeared to wear underneath her skin relaxed. She was lean, around fifty, and built like a wrangler, whatever that means, but she had the dusty worn cowboy boots to complete the simile.

Not feeling like interjecting herself into someone else's trip or having her own interrupted, Jade made her way toward the rear of the Barn and the skinny path along the creek, where she was certain she would find the most solitude.

Her assumption was correct. The sounds of the Barn quickly faded until all she heard was birdsong an the burble of the creek where it shallowly grazed the rocks of its bed. Mindful that, yes, she was tripping on mushrooms and off on her own, she found a way down to the creekside from the path that she felt was still within shouting distance of the Barn and descended to an inviting looking rock, covered in moss that had dried in the sun after this morning's showers, yet still spongy to sit on. There she settled in to feel the comforting embrace of her natural surroundings while allowing her mind to wander through the distinct inner mono-and-dialogues of the mind on hallucinogens.

It's curious how the mind talks to itself, almost as two individuals talk to each other, while tripping on mushrooms. It's as though there is one who experiences and one who observes, and the one who observes in turn counsels the one who is experiencing. At the moment, Jade was allowing herself, at her counselor's behest, feel a wave of melancholy that had nearly panicked her inner experiencer.  However, as any experienced shroomer will tell you, it is useless to struggle against the trip. You have to let yourself go with the ebb and flow of whatever you experience and let your counselor, the observer, guide you and talk you through whatever you may feel or even what physical activities you may attempt.

A sharp interruption in the creek-song, a splash, lifted her gaze, which she had not been aware of losing in the rocks underneath the swirling surface of the water. A few yards down the creek, a large pitbull, with a wrinkled face and painted a brilliant brindle, had plunged its forelegs into the water while snapping at a passing dragonfly. It - or, definitely he, if one was judging gender by anatomy - missed the metallic blue bug, which zipped its way toward Jade, drawing the dog's attention to where she had been sitting quite still. His mouth was open, panting lightly, tongue lolling to one side, and showing very large, very pointed teeth, and she had the distinct impression that he was grinning idiotically, like he had "pulled one" on the poor dragonfly and scared it out its whits, which was what he meant to do all along, of course.

Jade grinned back. While somewhere deep within her a chord had been struck that alerted her to the potential threat a large dog with sharp teeth showing up unexpectedly could impose, she felt an unmistakeable presence of friendliness and familiarity from the animal. And well, she should, as she knew him straight away to be her dead dog Theoden, named after the King of the Horselords of Rohan in The Lord of the Rings, but always called Theo. He had died tragically the previous summer, yet here he was trotting toward her along a narrow shelf of muddy shore held up by thick tree roots.

She slid off her rock, down to his level on the ground, and she held out her hand, as was her custom with dogs, to let them smell her. But instead of a cautious sniff, Theo plunged the top of his hard head into her palm, nearly knocking her hand away, so that she could scratch behind his floppy ears. When she'd adopted him from the Oregon Humane Society as a four month old puppy, she'd been told that he was a purebred pit, but he'd grown to have the wrinkly characteristics and larger size of some sort of mastiff breed. At 110 lbs, he'd been a very formidable animal. That was hardly how Jade would describe him, though. To her, he was an immense and muscular loving machine who always looked like the most pathetic puppy or the most clueless, happiest doofus there ever was. In life, he'd been nothing short of her best friend. He'd almost been describable as a familiar, the sort of animal that shares its consciousness and soul with a witch.

After Jade dug her fingers deep behind his ears, Theo continued moving forward so that his head was over her shoulder, and she hugged him fiercely. Oddly, though, she didn't feel choked up at the moment about his death or like never letting him go. It was the same sort of hug she always gave him and it felt as if no time had passed since the day of his desperate sacrifice. She felt as though her dead dog visited her everyday, and she behaved accordingly. Just as she behaved as though he spoke in a gruff and gravelly deep voice to her every day.

"Do you think they got peanut butter up there?" he asked, his nose drifting in the direction she had come from, indicating the Barn.

"Undoubtedly," she laughed. "Do you know how many stoners come and go through there? This is pretty much a hippie commune, after all." Marijuana smoke was not an uncommon smell on the Land, nor was its smoking an uncommon site even though guidelines about respecting those who chose a substance-free lifestyle were stressed. "They're probably going through jars a day right now," she added, thoughtfully. "I hope they get them donated, or something."

"Hmmm," he growled, noncommittally, shifting his attention back to his present whereabouts. "You seemed kind of sad when I showed up," he commented, changing the subject. "Do you need to play?"

She smiled briefly at the thought of climbing a tree, which would always drive him into a frenzy of whining and barking since he couldn't follow. He probably had knocking her over for a bout of mud wrestling in mind. "No, I'm good for the moment," she told him. "I'm more in the mood for just sitting quietly and enjoying being out here."

And so they sat awhile. He'd always been good like that. If she wanted the sit and write while they were out at the park or in the woods together, he'd either sit or lie quietly nearby, or nose about at the foliage within her site and mind his own business while she attended her own thoughts. Now, he chose to just sit at attention next to her and let his gaze shift jerkily from bug to bug dancing in the air above the water. If one drifted too close, he'd snap his jaws, but he made no attempt to lunge after them for the time being.

After an indeterminate (did it really matter?) amount of time, Jade had some of her immediate thoughts sorted out by her inner counselor into words, structured and ready for conversation. "I just got to thinking about James," she said aloud. "He should be here."

James was her faery big brother, the man who had taken her under his wing as his sidekick and ushered her into Portland's faery community after some shared hijinks at the downtown Park Blocks. During the last winter, James had tried and failed to commit suicide-by-substance, and it had left him with severe nerve damage that impeded his mobility. No longer capable of going for hikes or climbing trees, he now almost avoided nature altogether, including the city's many parks. He focused instead on what life could offer him at home and online, pulling a near one-eighty on how he had previously preferred to spend his time.

Jade felt a shift in her being, like a wave surging from her mind to the tips of her nerves. "He brought me here for my first Gathering," she said, as if Theo didn't already know. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't. She hadn't adopted him yet at the time, but it was impossible to know to what extent he had read her mind in life, and how much deeper he could in death, if he wasn't just a projection altogether from her own unconscious. "I was seventeen, and I thought all of this hippie shit was stupid as hell until I actually experienced some of it. It was like coming home for the first time in my life. It was like he was the first real family I ever had."

Theo had to understand that. He was a rescue, after all. And he was adopted into the family that James and Jade shared. She glanced over at the manifestation of her dead dog. He simply sat, still as a statue on his haunches, no longer distracted by insects but giving her his full attention while staring off over the creek.

"I don't know how to feel about him, right now," she told the ghost of the one being with which she had always shared her thoughts with complete honesty. "He tried to die. He said he'd been ready to. He seems like he's still ready to. I don't know if I should feel sorry for him or if I can feel sorry for him. The way he is right now, I mean." She was referring to the nerve damage that now inhibited James' mobility. "He says he doesn't want to die because he's sad or depressed or anything. He says he's just done with life, and I don't know that I really get that, though I guess I've felt that way sometimes." Drawing up her knees, she rested her forearms upon them and her face in her hands, letting her unbound dreads trail down to the muddy creekside. "I just don't know." With her head still in her hands, she turned her face to Theo again. "It's kind of hard not to take that personally."

The dog continued to stare ahead as he replied, "Death can be as much a choice as life. It's a very personal one, and that much more precious for that it can be taken from us."

Another wave, this one feeling as though it was washing over her, enveloping her and then sinking through her skin. For all his goofy looks and mannerisms, his single-mindedness and playfulness, Theo had always been able to pull a Yoda on her, even when he couldn't talk. Just a look from him, or a sudden insight on her part on what a dog's perspective must be, had taught her a lot about life and about herself. But this was eerie on a whole new level. It was as if something she had known all along had been forced suddenly, and somewhat painfully, to the surface. She winced as she felt it swell against the interior of her skull, as it pricked her most sensitive nerve endings, as it vibrated in her teeth.

Her eyes moistened, her vision blurred. She blinked furiously.

"It's selfish for me to take it personally, then?" she asked, struggling for control of her voice.

Now Theo looked at her. Dark brown eyes, the most expressive eyes she had ever encountered, regarded her steadily from underneath a slightly bunched up brow. There was nothing of the fool about him now. "You believe we should all have control over our own bodies, that our choices regarding them are ours alone to make." It was not a question. He was speaking for her. "You might not agree with a person's decision, but it is theirs to make."

Jade laughed softly and bitterly. "And people are always saying that the person committing suicide is selfish."

"The pursuit of one's own happiness is selfish," Theo responded simply. "Selflessness is often seen as noble and selfishness it's opposite, but every decision one makes for one's self can be considered selfish." He turned his gaze back toward the creek. After a brief silence, he continued. "For your own happiness, you wouldn't want to live in this world without James. But he seems to have felt, and perhaps continues to feel, that living in this world will only continue his unhappiness."

Jade shuddered and sighed. She could relate. But it had always been part of her nature to continue to live, to struggle to live. She was a survivor, one who had survived a lot and had developed a habit of fighting to continue to do so. Part of her was a warrior who was always prepared to take on challenges with a ferocious vigor. But when she considered James' personality... He had always been so passive, so agreeable and accepting. He was a survivor as well, but his methods of survival had been quite different from hers. It was part of his appeal, but sometimes she found it tiresome and frustrating. Maybe it was tiring and frustrating for him as well.

She had to change the subject, had to direct the conversation away from herself and James. "You didn't get to choose your death," she said, calmly and matter-of-factly. Somehow, speaking of Theo's death didn't feel like a sensitive subject with him sitting next to her at the muddy creekside. It was easily accepted. He was dead, but he was here to talk to her. These things just were at the moment. After some of the things Jade had experienced in her life so far, her dead dog showing up to counsel her, whether he was really here or some sort of mental manifestation of her own, wasn't all that surprising.

"No," he agreed. "When that choice is made by someone else, it is unforgivable."

She hesitated. "Whether it's forcing your death upon you, or forcing life upon you?" This wasn't entirely unfamiliar territory. She was mostly caught up on The Walking Dead, after all. In the television show, a character named Andrea had been royally pissed when the decision to quit living in the world as it was - being overrun with flesh-eating, rotting, animated corpses in that fictitious situation - was taken out of her hands by a friend. Her resentment surprisingly easy to empathize with.

James had been rushed to the hospital, had been kept alive and been bed-ridden while the extent of the damage that had been done was analyzed and catalogued while a parade of doctors and social workers impressed upon him that he had very nearly succeeded in killing himself, which, of course, was wrong. None of them offered any reasons as to why it was wrong, but it was now his own damn fault that he had to use a walker to get around and that his fingers and his legs constantly hurt him. The damage done to his nervous system was similar to diabetic neuropathy, the doctors said. It was quite possibly permanent. He might never be able to do something as simple and enjoyable as climbing a tree or even walking across a field again. James had always been a child of nature, someone who enjoyed getting wet, muddy, and dirty, even if it was from something as simple as sitting on the ground next to a creek...

In his current state, James wouldn't even be able to make his way down the slope from the path to where she was now. Even the path would be a struggle for him, one that would be frustrating and that he would be likely to avoid these days.

Her heart felt like it had swelled incredibly, to the point where it was pressing against her stomach, her throat, and her chest all at once, threatening to burst. The subject hadn't been changed. It seemed inescapable, unavoidable. If there was a rule to tripping, it was that you had to go with the flow and ride things out, even if they were unpleasant, to be able to find your way back to yourself. She had to counsel herself through this or let it ruin the experience for her. Or she had to talk her way through it.

"I've had a hard time feeling sorry for him," Jade told Theo, "because he the damage done to him was self-inflicted. But it wasn't really, was it? He hadn't intended to live through it. He'd been forced to live through it, and now he's living in a dysfunctional body. Life must be worse for him now than it was before."

"Perhaps," Theo replied. He didn't elaborate, didn't need to. At that moment, Jade understood that neither of them understood, and certainly couldn't assume, what James was feeling or going through right now. Maybe James himself didn't understand and was working his own way through it. Whatever he was experiencing now, he hadn't shared with Jade, and Jade hadn't asked. She realized that, without meaning to, she had distanced herself from her friend since his attempted suicide. She hadn't been able to talk to him about it; she was still processing how she felt about it.

"He'll end up trying again," she stated, her throat thick and dry at once.

Theo got to his feet, making a production of stretching and walking in a half circle, but he simply ended up at her back with his chin resting on her shoulder in a familiar position of comforting that he had often assumed in life when she was upset. He sat back down, chest pressed against her back as his head continued to sit on her shoulder, parallel to hers. Now their view of the creek was virtually identical. "There's no way of knowing. He's living now, isn't he?"

It was true. Although he was avoiding nature like he had suddenly developed an allergy to it, he wasn't avoiding life generally. James seemed to be altering his life into a new mold, one that he could live in with his new physical condition. He was adapting, and he certainly didn't seem to carrying around a cloud of resentment. But what it came back down to was she had no way of knowing until she asked him. And at the moment, it felt like it was finally time to talk to him about his attempt to end his life; about the choice he had made to die and what that meant to him now. "I wish he was here," she said. "He should be."

"He is."

For a moment, Jade imagined that she had heard James' sweet, gentle voice and not Theo's gravelly growl. She more than half-expected James to come strolling out, smiling, from behind a tree, sans walker with both legs working perfectly fine, as if the whole experience of a member of her chosen family trying to die had been a nightmare of contemplation, a horrible what-if that she was being woken from.

The moment vanished as reality, such as it was at the moment, was firmly reasserted in the fact that the voice was Theo's coming from almost directly in her ear. Somehow, this experience of sharing a conversation and a creekside view with her dog, whose life had been extinguished before her eyes, was much more firmly anchored and seemed far less incredulous than a reality where James could join them as if his suicide attempt had never happened. A faint part of her found this curious, but even that part of her was accepting of the here and now as it seemed. "What the hell does that mean?" she asked the pitbull. She shifted her body so that his head was forced off her shoulder and turned so that she was looking into his beautiful, wrinkly face.

Her old friend turned and put his nose to the rock she had been occupying earlier. On its mossy surface was a very plain brown snail with an unexceptional pale shell. It was sitting still with its head lifted into the air, its stalks seeming to be very alert of the two larger creatures before it.

Jade tried and failed to stifle an almost hysterical giggle. "What are you saying?" she asked the dog. "That James is projecting himself in the body of a snail?"

"This snail," Theo said calmly and slowly, "is a manifestation of whoever needs to be it at the moment. So, yes, that is almost exactly what I am saying."

Now Jade barked her laughter at the surrounding trees. She looked at Theo, then at the snail, able to suppress herself only for a moment before letting out another bray at their surroundings. At the moment, everything was just way too funny. Having this conversation while tripping on mushrooms with her dead dog who was now telling her that James was present in the form of a snail finally struck her as completely insane, and she allowed herself to revel in that insanity. Hysterical laughter bubbled out from her belly, sending a feeling of relief flooding through her. So she was insane, had to be, and that was extremely reassuring and okay with her at the moment. As she accepted how incredulous this situation was, her laughter died down to near-hiccupping sobs, then heavy breathing that took her at least a full minute to get under control.

"Okay," she said, "Theo" - nodding to the dog - "James" - then to the snail - "Happy Beltaine. I'm glad you two are here with me. Such as it is." Neither animal said anything. Jade rested her back against the mossy rock with the snail inches away from her head. Theo sank to his belly to rest his heavy skull on one of her legs. She rode out the rest of her high in silence like that, watching the shifting shadows and light as the time passed until she was certain she was no longer tripping, then heard the horn blast that signified to everyone on the Land that dinner was being served at the Barn.

The faint queasiness that mushrooms left in her stomach was begging for food to be put on top of it. "I better go eat something," she said, scratching Theo behind the ears. He stood and faced her with one of his classic grins with his tongue hanging out slightly, then he gave a short, sharp bark, turned, and disappeared into the darkening woods. She rose to her own feet and turned to look at the rock. The snail was gone. She couldn't even see any residue from its passing.

But she knew now that it had been there. And that part of James had been there with her, and that her dead four-legged friend had somehow been entirely here on this magical day, that she had just passed the time when the veil between this world and others was supposedly at its thinnest, this day of transformation and rebirth, with two of the people closest to her in the entire world. It hadn't been a mushroom-induced hallucination and she wasn't insane.

It just was.