When I remember to look, I will see her. At least that’s what usually happens. I work on the high hill in the towers of academia where I pretend to know things, and it’s on my morning commute up that I have my encounters. Some days I walk but mostly I ride the bus. She always knows where I am.
Nobody sees her but me—she’s personal. Yet anyone can have someone like her if they’re desperate enough and know where to look. She answers to many labels depending on whom she’s connected to. Someone might ask, “Is she your___? And one can fill in the blank with whatever works best with their personal wiring diagram. Here are some choices: muse, better half, soul mate, twin flame, conscience, teacher, guru, spirit guide, guardian angel, higher self, lucid dream-partner, hallucination, imagination, etc., etc. One of the above, all of the above. Yes, she’s certainly something. I call her my Sky-Traveler because, even though I don’t fully understand the meaning—I found the name in some obscure book—I like the ring of it.
She stands or sits or runs and dresses according to her mood: wild and floral, dowdy and square, or something new and unexpected. Early on she was full of sweet and funny antics, like wearing wings, soaring through the overhanging trees, and dropping light bombs on me. Probably to get my attention. Now, as I’ve grown to understand her purpose, she’s often much edgier and, occasionally, downright brutal. Almost every day she helps me—forces me—to not be a narcissistic, self-absorbed, impatient, uncaring asshole. That’s how she came to be, why she showed up. I was getting a lot of bad press from friends and family—and from myself. I was losing it and something had to change. Now, I couldn’t make her leave even if I wanted to. I’m hooked.
I’ve been keeping a record, detailing whatever scripts she follows. Recently, there’s been a shift in the air, a new intensity, a deeper meaning—gut-wrenching stuff. She must think I’m ready to do battle with myself, burrow far inside, crawl into the trenches of my stuck and and hardened persona. Last week was especially wondrous and awful and I did my best to keep notes.
As the bus pulled into a stop, I saw her through my window. She stood in line, four in front, nobody behind, fidgeting, impatient, ready to force her way forward. “Can we speed this up, please?” Only I could hear her. Nasty. Bad vibes. I could relate, having been there so many times. She wore black jeans, sneakers, and a plain green tee-shirt. Dressed like me on days off. Was she mimicking me? Always. When it was her turn to board, she pointed at me, pointers from both hands, and shook her head and scowled. Then she laughed and danced and twirled and her clothes turned floral and she ran away.
Sunny and hot. A good day to do the shortcut through the gorge. I hustled up the steep path next to the dreamy water sliding in down in the other direction. The pools circled, the rocks glittered, and small daring trees clung with their roots to the tiny ledges on the walls. Halfway up, I passed under a bridge and could hear, high above, the cars, busses, and faint voices of a few walkers.
Occasionally the bridge is a holy spot for jumpers, the ones that have given up, and I spotted one, alone, lying flat on his back, mostly submerged, his head on a rock. Usually they pass over instantly but this one still had a breath. I tried my phone to call for help but the bars were gone. I knelt next to him in the water and held his hand. He was about my age and maybe like me; I didn’t know him, had never seen him before. No help was going to arrive in time, he was about to pass, and I was his witness. I knew that, it poured out of him, his life crawled inside mine, a film containing every atom of his experience, transferred, so that I could understand his purpose and his last moments. I breathed with him and then let go. I learned that both ecstasy and agony can accompany the passage.
“Hey. Are you OK over there?” Somebody else was on the trail. He saw me. Saw only me.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Just cooling off,” I answered.
I was furious. The not-dying jumper transformed into her, into my Sky-Traveler. This was so mean! What was the point? So angry until I realized that, for the first time ever, I’d physically touched her, was still holding her hand. She sat up and looked into my face. Water poured from her eyes, down her dress, and into the flow, flushing away our fears and sins and sadness into the soft and mighty outlet far below.
Had a bad night. Couldn’t sleep. Rode the bus. Drifted off. Didn’t see her.
Oh, she’s so sneaky. The bus stopped and nobody got on, although, when I turned my head, she was asleep in the seconds-ago empty seat across from me, eyes closed, snoring slightly, trying not to laugh, mimicking me. She opened her eyes and I blew her a kiss; she blew one back and disappeared.
I boarded the bus. Nothing special, no sign of her although she had to be up to something. Through the window, I saw a house on fire, flames dancing, my childhood home. Yeah, that happened long ago, an early memory, nobody hurt. It was OK, I was fine with it, so it vanished.
What followed was the full vista, entrees of all that we wish to forget or are desperate to remember. It was rapid and took eons so I wouldn’t miss a thing. As the panorama widened, I saw and heard, smelled and tasted, the most horrific things, a front row seat to our worst hells. The opposites, the best and most glorious, showed with equal force. I howled and danced, suffered and rejoiced.
“Breathe in the pain of the world and I will take it from you,” she whispered, “and breathe out to the world the love and acceptance I will give back to you.”
It was excruciating and a blessed event. There was no turning away.
She tells me I’m ready but I don’t yet know what that means.
She tells me over and over that we don’t belong only to ourselves anymore. It’s time to grow bigger. Infinite.
Dan Yokum is an almost retired graphic designer who decided a few years ago that creating fiction was much more exciting than web content. Since then, he has written and stashed numerous beginnings and is now completing many, transitioning to a full-time life of chasing the thrill of the story.