When I was a girl of twelve, I was sent to summer camp. This one was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a place of tall trees and mighty rivers. I was very much in my own little world, a skinny misfit with long dark hair, a chipped tooth from daredevil diving into a too shallow swimming pool and an eye patch I was supposed to wear over one eye because of amblyopia, so a skinny little pirate kid. I was off by myself a lot and sometimes pulled pranks on the older kids, such as poking pinholes in the paper drinking cups. I wasn’t very sporty.
I loved the tiny tree frogs that I held in my hands.
And the big kneeling trees with their bendy roots that wrapped around me when I cuddled in close, the mists that swirled like thick pipe smoke at dawn and bright yellow buttercups.
Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley was my favourite song.
My favourite book was The Littlest Witch and I treasured ‘Sophisticat’ cards. Trading cards of beautiful cats. Especially the white Persian. I was scared of ghost stories and tried not to wimp out and disgrace myself when they were read at dark night by a disembodied heightened theatrical voice. There was that terrible one about the man with the hook and the couple making out in the car, made even more terrifying by sound effects and lurching shadows cast by the campfire.
I was double jointed so good at the obstacle race and that was my one heroic moment, that and being asked to write a camp song, which I did, to the tune of Tom Dooley. I kept to myself but occasionally joined the other little cretins tormenting the camp counsellors by short-sheeting their beds or putting rubber snakes under their covers but refused to go along with swapping shampoo with Nair hair removal. Luckily the counsellor smelled the difference and spared herself baldness.
I walked silent as a Hopi in the dawn
I used to get up in the very early hours and walk the land feeling the frozen dew crunch underfoot and try to walk as silent as a Hopi pulling my body up to make it light and soundless over the grass and pine needles. I would sit by the river and skip stones watching the morning light weave snakey dancing patterns in the ripples. Birds would chirp a reveille to the rising of the sun and I would twitter back convinced we were conversing. I would wander into the nearby woods and inhale the sharp pine scents, disappearing into the soft wind until the bugle call summoned me to the morning food hall.
One early dawn, deep in the wood, I unexpectedly came upon a man. He was sitting in a lean-to before a small fire with a tin pot on it, a cup on either side. He gestured for me to sit in the empty space. He was tall and thin with an aquiline nose, shaggy sand-coloured hair, jeans and no shirt in the summer heat. The air would steam and the temperature rise with the sun. I sat down.
John the Baptist in the woods at dawn.
It seemed as if he had been waiting for me. He poured a tea he made from berries and leaves and stared at me, his eyes intense and blue and then he said, ‘We’ve met before. I knew you then.’ On his chest was a fine red line and on his brow, a faint crown also etched in red. As he poured the tea small red wounds on his wrists were revealed. He explained they emerged from his soul to his body by his love of Christ. They were called stigmata. His name was John Adam King and he was the reincarnation of John the Baptist, so he said. For some reason, nothing seemed odd about his pronouncement.
I believed even then we had other lives.
One of my earliest thoughts, being forced to make my bed one morning age 4 was, ‘Oh, no, not another life of bedmaking.’ (My attitude to housekeeping remains unchanged.) I had many dreams and memories of other lives, death by fire, other lands and even just prior to this body landing here in my mother’s womb. We sat across from each other and drank our tea. A smile came and a friendship was forged in the silence.
Whenever I could I left the cabin at dawn and made my way to him. He was invariably waiting for me. We would have our tea and drift into communion with the gentle air rustling the trees, the soft atmosphere of his kindness and stillness surrounding me.When inspired a story or memory would pour forth with intensity and animation.
He spoke passionately of Christ and wove a tapestry of a time of oppression, intrigue at the court of kings, political machinations and miracles.
He reminded me of when we drank tea together another time, in that time. He said, ‘Do you remember when I made the cup rise?’ and then with his eyes, he made the small cup on the ground before me lift off and hover for a few seconds before it landed back down.
When he spoke the fine red marks flushed and deepened and the wounds on his wrists wept small blood rivers into the mulchy earth. His brightened began to glow like lamps. I had never seen that before in anyone. The marks on his brow were now weeping when he spoke so fervently, painting a dark red crown, and from his chest, the blood of heart was flowing, small tributaries weaving down over his musculature until he wiped them.
On the last day I saw him I woke with a sense of urgency.
I pulled on my clothes in the dark and crept out of the cabin of sleeping girls. I arrived just before dawn. He was standing. Waiting for me. He said, ‘Let’s walk’. We went to the edge of the wood in the opposite direction of the summer camp. Before us, a field of wheat spread like neon butter across the land lit up from within by the morning.
We were electrified.
Without speaking we grabbed each other’s hand and ran at top tilt into the waving sea of gold sloping over a large hill towards infinity. We ran. A tall thin man and a small thin girl with long dark hair like a fine sail.
I broke free and ran ahead, whooping and hollering. Until I fell smack dab into a hidden barbed wire fence. Big Ouch.He was quickly by my side. I thought to myself, ‘scarred woman.’ He assessed the damage. My arm was bleeding, some punctures were deep, some scratches.
He took my arm in his two large hands, long fine fingers. He held me fast with his eyes. His radiated beneath the marble of his brow. I froze like a rabbit caught in headlights. He stared into me and stroked my arm very lightly. He didn’t look down nor did I. Finally he squeezed affectionately and gave my arm back to me. There were smears of blood but all the marks had gone.
There were no puncture wounds. No broken flesh.
The sun was now hovering in the blue sky, a halo of heat radiating in magnetic ripples around it, a benevolent witness. We turned and walked slowly back. In the distance, the morning bugle wailed and I said bye and ran back to join the kids and counsellors before I was found missing.
Much resented canoeing kept me from our visits. Or a field trip. The world seemed like a metronome to me and I wanted to get back to the wood where time and space had a different quality. Endless and elliptical. Another day, or the next perhaps, now lost to memory– I was up and out to see him. I ran through the wood, the low branches catching at my already tangled hair. What I do remember is the sense of alarm as I ran across the icy grass and the panic thinking I was lost when I couldn’t find his lean-to. Or him.
No, I wasn’t lost. The lean-to was now a pile of long narrow logs carefully stacked. The little mound where the fires had been was now covered over by earth and leaves. All that was left was a perfect pyramid of the berries he’d used in the tea.
I sat down crossed legged and stared at them for a long long time.
Then I swiped, scattering them like fat tears and ran back to be told off for being late. Tick tock goes the clock. Back and forth goes the swing under the sky blue sky. All my secrets held tight. All the world moving in measured steps to an invisible metronome.
His fevered spirit had been a flame in my days for a brief time. A moment of wild music my soul found a home in. I am grateful for him.
The Metaphysical Muse