I had forgotten how to pray. It had been almost twenty years since I’d done it. Not the laissez-faire rushed and rehearsed type of prayer you say a million times over before supper with your family. Or the kind when you are hoping your mom comes back home from the market with the desserts you’ve been craving. I am talking about the kind of prayer you would say through tears on your knees when you were desperate. Or confused. Or lost. Or in deep gratitude. I prayed a lot like that every day until the night of my eighteenth birthday.
I abruptly stopped praying when a series of things happened within a two-day period: I lost my virginity to a Romanian metalhead in the cramped cab of an old Silverado pickup truck, I saw an animal suffer for no good reason, I watched a homemade documentary convincing me of the existence of aliens, and my mother blew her brains out on our cherished velvet green sofa with a shotgun.
I started believing in curses after I stopped praying. My dead mother started sending me a reminder every year on her birthday, August 1st, in the form of a nail in my tire. It was common for people to get reminders from their dead loved ones, I’d heard. My friend Dana got blue jays from her grandpa. My cousin Lauren saw a butterfly every so often. “That’s from Mama” she would knowingly smile at me as it floated around her face. My ex-boyfriend saw bumble bees every day. He said his little brother that died when he was just a kid was always drawing bumble bees, and that was a little gift sent beyond the heavens back over to him. But I somehow got nails through my tire. I had bad luck like that after I stopped praying. A friend told me I probably had a curse or two on me. I think she was right.
So I spent my twenties trying to cure my curses.
I used up all my money I had saved dog-walking the sweatiest and stickiest summer of
my twentieth year, pulling around oversized slobbering snotty mutts and snappy miniature puffs of fur to go into the jungle and take a ceremonial tea with other wide-eyed desperate folks. That tea felt like grit on my tongue and made me projectile vomit into a communal bucket that still had Home Depot stickers on it. Some of my vomit got onto my white linen button down, and that was when I started losing my mind. The white man with dreadlocks who called himself Shaman Eric gave me a nonsense phrase and told me to chant it over and over until all the bad was tuned out of my brain. “Yukapie. Yukapie. Yukapie.” He promised the chanting and the tea would cure my curses as he laid his tanned weathered hand on my chest and pushed me down to the ground. I fluttered my eyes closed and opened my mouth and sucked air down into me and surrendered, because he told me to.
I waited eagerly for August 1st to roll around, and sure enough, I woke up to a flattened tire and a big nail through it. I could hear my mom laughing maniacally from the sky. I crouched down and cried. Still cursed. The second time I tried to cure my curses was when I was twenty- four. I heard of a witchy lady named Bo, who lived in the foothills of the forest, at Groucho Marx’s old home, or so she said. I swear I could feel the eyes of fairies and sprites and gnomes
watching me from behind her big hairy weeping willow trees as I walked up to her storybook cottage. She was a stout, chunky middle-aged woman with big grey and red curls. She was short but seemed towers tall. She gave me the deepest hug as I entered her cottage.
“Are you a healer? Because you are surrounded by the most deep, beautiful blue light,” her low, soothing voice hissed at me. I secretly sighed and knew she was lying. The weekend before I just had a photo taken of my aura and my light was pitch black with some streaks of deep red scattered throughout it. The aura reader even seemed eager to get me out of his sight. I nodded my head yes at her because I didn’t want to make her feel bad. “Yes, all my friends say I’m very nurturing.”
“I knew it!” She excitedly slapped her small, chubby hand on my shoulder and warmly smiled at me.
We sat down at one end of a long wooden table, where a man who I assumed was her husband with a dirty white napkin tucked into his shirt collar sat at the opposite end. He groaned and grumbled and growled at me and snatched his plate of assorted meats and glass of wine and moved into another area of the house. She smiled and whistled away without noticing him, shuffling a stack of worn, well-loved cards. She asked me nothing about myself. I was nervous in her uncomfortable stiff tall wooden chairs and kicked my feet back and forth underneath me.
She pulled three cards, all of them with images of swords and fire. They looked pretty damn bleak to me. She then grabbed a dusty torn book and flipped through it with her eyes closed, humming a sorrowful tune to herself. She turned to a page that said “The Mustang” with a faded photo of four brown and white speckled horses running through fields of tall dried grass. She laid everything out in front of her and took a deep breath in. She kept her eyes closed then started talking as if she was starting a recording, as if she’d said this same thing a million times before. “You have curses on you from all of your
past lives. You were deeply religious in all of them and you are being punished for turning away from the church. You were burned and massacred one hundred times over, the final
blow always being on your right side. Thankfully, your mother and you are very close in this life. I can tell because the left side of you is healed and complete. We need to clear the right side, though. Your father's side, your masculine, your yang, where you were murdered in past lives, is weak. Is blocked.” She seemed to be getting all worked up over it. “Tsk tsk tsk, no good.” She shook her head and rocked back and forth.
I smirked and made an acknowledging “hmm” noise, disappointed. This woman couldn’t be more wrong. My mother and I were never close, she was dead, and it was actually my left side that was always weak and burning in pain. She asked if I was ready to be healed. “Please!” I said with a clumsy eagerness.
She peeked out of her right eye and squinted at me. “Do I have permission to clear you?”
“Yes. Please,” I said more calmly this time. She sat still and we sat there in silence for a long while. I awkwardly twisted my ring up and down my finger. How long is this clearing, I restlessly wondered. Should I have my eyes closed? I didn’t feel anything. Was I supposed to feel something? Finally, she jerked and yawned. I was pretty sure she was napping this whole time,
but I was relieved there was some movement and change. She kept her eyes closed and reached for a little bell. She put the bell in front of my face and dinged it with a tiny mallet. I nodded and looked around. She softly and slowly opened her eyes and smiled at me, nodding in my direction. I nodded back.
“You will feel sooo good today,” she promised me with that warm, hissy voice. She stood up swiftly and I followed her lead. “That will be four hundred and fifty dollars, my love. You can put cash inside the money pyramid.” She observed me with a different energy this time as I pulled the last of the money to my name out of my bag. I folded it gently in half and placed it in a large ceramic pyramid that had multiple hundred dollar bills spilling out of it. She gave me that same deep hug as when I came in. “Keep healing with that blue energy!” she exclaimed. I offered her my thanks and watched her wave goodbye to me through those swaying weeping willow trees.
August 1 – nail in my tire. My mother laughs again, this time appearing more bitter. And closer. The third and final time I tried to heal my curses was when I was twenty-seven. A friend recommended I go see a Turkish man who read coffee grounds at his cafe. “He knew I was going to get into a car accident, he knew my uncle was going to die of a heart attack, he knew I’d get mugged if I took that train up the Pacific Northwest, and he cleared all that and swore good luck to me! I’ve had nothing but great luck ever since! Random checks getting sent in the mail, a free car. Such clarity. You got to go.”
There was no way to make an appointment, so I walked in and ordered a Turkish coffee. I asked an older woman at the front for him and a young man, large and full of angry fire, came barreling out of the back through swinging white doors. He rolled his eyes and exchanged words with the older woman in another language. She turned and said to me with an apologetic expression “He wants to be a lawyer. He doesn’t want to be doing this. But he has such a calling for it. Just wait a little bit, he will do this for you.”
I quickly drank my small cup of coffee, thick and muddy, and waited and wasted my time drawing for hours until he came back out, just as annoyed as he was before. “Okay, what do we have here?” I looked at the bottom of my cup, which looked like nothing but some dried up mud to me, before I handed it over to him. “Pay attention. If you want to remember,” he instructed me in what I thought to be a rather rude and forceful tone. He reached for the cup, looked into it for a moment, and abruptly started. He looked directly at me with his big black eyes. “Your mother is dead. She is jealous you are alive and living and is trying to ruin your life. You will move to a home with numbers 5057. That house will be sacred space for you. Make it yours. Don’t let anyone interfere with this home. The letter J, a man, is going to be contacting you in the future, and you will give away your valuable time with this person. Try to remember this and don’t get involved. If you do, all your troubles will come back to you. You are going to go on and have a good life with a lot of money, a lot of art, a lot of love if you remember this. Your dead mother is causing a lot of chaos. I asked her to leave you alone. She’s gone now.” He uncrossed his arms and stood up. “All done now.”
I watched him stomp into the back, saying something in a hostile tone to the older woman, shoving past the swinging white doors. I thanked the old woman behind the counter and offered her some money. She declined and gave me a Turkish pastry and wished me well
on my way. I got into my car, and cried, and drove. August 1st came around that summer. No nail in my tire. August 1st came every year after and went. No reminders. I forgot all about the curses. I almost forgot all about
my mother. But I stopped all that wondering. I stopped believing in anything after that.
Time passed. Seven or so years to be exact. I had springs full of oxytocin. Summers solely spent naked in bodies of water. I went through heartbreaks. I fell in love. Twice. I killed house plants and nurtured some back to bloom. I drew and made art with my hands every single day. I paid upfront for eight self-defense classes but quit after one. (Too violent.) I taught myself how to care for seasonal gardens. I learned how to make homemade noodles from scratch. Sort of. I adopted a tuxedo cat. I moved into a small but colorful bungalow, back off the busy street. It was an old writer’s cabin that belonged to a ninety-five-year-old woman who lived down the block. 5057 Suki Lane. I never felt more safe and sound in a place I lived before. I slept the most sound sleeps. I made art that satisfied my insides. That house was sacred to me. I spent seasons catching up on my drinking and drawing in that small home.
I was bored of my cat's chatter and the same bottle of whiskey one windy and chilly late night, so unusually cold for September that it required me to wear my favorite floor-length blue- gray coat with the fox fur around the collar. I was happy about that. I hadn’t been able to show it off yet. I took my pencils and pens and notepad to draw with and walked a mile down to the local tavern. I took a detour down the less busy street where I could glance at the shirtless gummed-up jocks playing basketball at night under harsh lights. My eyes went big and feral, my lips swelled up and I knew my skin was glowing. I always had a reaction like that when the wind was sharp and cold like it was that night.
I took a seat under the dimmest light at the first unsteady table right when you walked into the tavern. I ordered a shot of whiskey, whatever they had. Whenever I left the house, I liked when bartenders and old waitresses and whomever was serving me alcohol made those types of decisions for me. As long as it was whiskey, they could bring me whatever they saw fit. It felt like any poor and awful choices I made after drinking, whether I got into some trouble or didn’t do shit with my time, was solely on them. I quickly downed my whiskey neat, making my usual reactionary sordid face.
“I don’t know how you drink that shit.” A striking man with a salt and pepper beard and jet-black spit-curl hair narrowed his eyes above his wire-rimmed glasses and gestured to my empty glass. He smiled at me and I could feel my eyes go wild, my lips swell up and my skin glow again. He handed me a one-dollar bill. “Stick this in the jukebox while I get you another. Something upbeat. Whiskey?”
“Any kind’ll do.” I replied. I grabbed the one-dollar bill and played KC and the Sunshine Band. The song unsuitably played through the sleepy hole-in-the-wall tavern, and the three or so blue-collar patrons at the bar gave me a disapproving glance, quickly turning their attention back to their watered-down beers. My new friend walked back with a double whiskey, neat, and the same shitty bottle of watered-down beer that everyone else was drinking for himself.
“I don’t know how you drink that shit.” I gave him a cute little sly smile. He put some dollars in the jukebox and punched some songs in. We ended up taking up the tiny space in
front of the jukebox, wiggling around each other and spinning in circles on the sticky floor. I opened my oversized coat and whirled
around to forgotten 80s pop hits. We pumped dollar bills into the jukebox all night long and I drank more whiskey, every new glass tasting slightly different, and him drinking more shitty beers. He motioned to the raised crusted over bloody scratch across my wrist. “Cat,” I said. I looked in the direction of the mangled chew marks on the tips of his brown work boots.
“Dog. Dead dog,” he said.
I was drunk and I could tell he was gettin’ there. “You look like Superman out of his disguise.” I looked up and rested my head on his shoulder. He laughed to himself and kissed my forehead while we tiredly swayed to some George Michael tune. I could have fallen asleep swaying on his big shoulders like that. I took a deep inhale and told him it was time for me to go, to walk back home, and thanks for the drinks and the seemingly infinite jukebox dollars. He must have spent a fortune on that damn thing. “My name is Jacob, and I’d like to give you a ride back home.” I looked at him deep in his eyes for a long time, hoping the longer I looked, the more necessary secrets would reveal themselves to me before I got into the car with this stranger. But nothing came. He drove me home and I invited him in. I didn’t have any beers for him, so we drank whiskey from my same ol’ bottle. I was falling asleep while he played records, and he carried me to my bed. “Stay,” I said. Not because I really wanted him to, but because he was kind, and drunk, and I would have felt bad kicking him out into the cold after the precious night we just shared. We fell asleep pretzeled around each other. I was fuzzy, but I remember something kept waking me up that night. Disturbances. Nightmares. I just blamed it on the whiskey and the new person in my sanctuary.
Jacob and I became one and the same after that night. We spent the next week getting drunk and falling asleep wrapped around each other in my bed. At my sacred house. It always happened like that. Go to the tavern and get drunk, or stay at home and drink our asses off. Dance. Make love five or six times. Then sleep. The love-making was the best I’d ever had. The sleep was the worst I had, and I never could remember why, but I blamed it on the whiskey. I told him he was lucky. I didn’t let anyone come into my space. The flowers stenciled on the small front door. The kitchen stained-glass windows that swung out open into my yard and garden. The small rickety table I used to draw and illustrate. My cat that slept on my feet every evening, but had since stopped since Jacob was there. The open nooks and corners and the way the wind blew through my home. The sun that chased through each space as the day passed on. All so sacred to me. Consider yourself lucky to be invited into my space, I told him. He told me he’d repay me by getting me pregnant and starting a family with me and buying us a pleasant farmhouse on the lake back in Michigan where he was from. I liked the sound of that.
I wasn’t drawing as much, and when I did, my illustrations were not coming through. I didn’t feel inspired. I couldn’t get anything out. Nature and the cold wasn’t even helping with that. I can’t tell you how exhausted I was. It was an off week. Too much drinking. New love. Distractions. Must have been. I told Jacob I wanted to take a week off of drinking and get back in touch with my creative side. My awareness. I still wanted to dance in the living room, and make love six times a night, and start a family, and fall asleep pretzeled around each other. He said he had no problems doing that with me, and it would serve
him to take a break as well. “I’m right alongside you, darlin’,” he promised and held me close.
That night was a frigid night. My favorite nights were ones like this. I always found the cold and the wind to be wild and depressing, which made me feel feral and hungry for closeness. I was a bit sad to not have that romantic warm glass of hooch in front of the fire pit outside on such an amorous night like that particular one. But we still lit a fire. We played records and let the music fade into the freezing night air while we danced in my little garden. We went inside and made the best love we ever had made. Afterwards, he held me close with all his limbs.
“You’re an artist, you’re a future mother, you are beautiful, you are an amazing gardener, you are my lover, you are perfect, you love life and life loves you. You love life and life loves you.” He kissed me sweetly on the back of the neck and I smiled, even though he couldn’t see my face.
A warmth that even the whiskey couldn’t come close to feeling sizzled up and through and down inside my jumbled soul. I fell into a deep lull of a sleep. I don’t think I had ever been in such a deep, peaceful death like the one I was in that night, but I suddenly was startled awake. I heard a loud scream and felt a harsh tug on my stomach. I thought I was falling back into a second death, one that was much more terrifying and frantic and frenzied this time around. I felt my mouth go dry and my guts turn sharp. I heard the familiar thud of my cat jumping off my bed and landing on the hardwood floor. “What the hell!” I jumped up and flipped the lamp on. Jacob was up too, agitated and in a panic digging around the layers of sheets for his glasses. “What! What! What!” I was screaming. Jacob put his glasses on and looked around the room. Something calm in that moment seemed to come over him, though, and he sat and put his head down to his knees.
“I’m so sorry. I was having a horrible nightmare. It must have woken me up.” I cozied up behind him and pressed my naked body against his back. I rubbed his hair, which was soaking wet as if he just jumped up out of the river. I whispered to him everything was okay and tucked him back into bed. I went into the kitchen to check on the cat and get Jacob a glass of water, and I froze. Something bad is in here. Something is watching me. I know it. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw traces of black smoke and fog roll up in the edges of my home. I poured water from the pitcher as quickly as I could and ran back scared half to death into that bed. Curious night coming off the booze, I told myself.
The next day, I went on my little walks and I refilled my little bird feeders and I sat in my little garden and I did my little meditations and got to drawing. I was stuck. My hands could not move. My brain was stiff and felt like a million pounds of fluid cement hardening in there. My soul, which I thought was the most important thing for getting creative, felt clogged up with tar. I stopped to look around and breathe, and noticed my little garden wasn’t doing so well. My birds weren’t coming around like they used to. I had nothing left to do but sigh and close my eyes. “Yukapie. Yukapie. Yukapie.” I chanted over and over inside of myself. I repeated the phrase like that for a while, and opened my eyes, hoping to see my garden magically restored and the birds fluttering back around my face, singing to me like usual. Instead, everything appeared darker, and all I could see through my screen door was the cat looking at me like he was on the prod.
Jacob came over that night, like he had been every night, and we did our song and dance as usual, like we were rehearsing for a play about a couple that was just falling in love with each other and still getting all lit up by the most simple of things. We opened all the windows because I liked hearing the wind bay and howl, and he fell asleep under me. I couldn’t sleep that night, though. I was still seeing black smoke in the corners of my eyes and felt something all- consuming around us. I took slow, sharp breaths in through my nose to try and stay calm. Jacob slept. He twitched hard under me like my cat did, except my cat dreamt about his paw slipping on a wet moss-covered stepping stone, or what it would feel like to dry himself off with one of the big fluffy cream-colored towels that I used when I got out of the shower, or maybe collecting seashells on a rocky beach. It felt like Jacob was dreaming about something far worse than any of that. I figured he would soon knock it off, all that twitching. But he kept jolting harder and harder. I didn’t know a human body was capable of making motions and movements like the way he was jerking. I pictured a plug was up inside him and some force was cruelly pushing a button to shock him. I was lying on top of an unbroken horse, and he was not in control over himself.
The next night was more of the same. I was terrified in my own home, but only when Jacob was there. All my indoor plants were becoming brown and crinkled over and shedding their leaves. He stayed the night again, and this time while he slept, he grabbed me hard, and then with the same force, pushed me out of the bed and screamed at the top of his lungs. “A creature is here. A creature is here.” He panted with a low hum of scared I never had witnessed in a person before. He wildly searched for his glasses as he repeated himself. He threw them on his face and started pointing to my cat sitting calmly on my cowhide rug.
“Shhhh, it’s just the cat.” I went over and picked the feline up. “See?”
He threw his body down flat back onto the bed and shuddered. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” I was less agreeable this time around. I crawled into bed with an angry stare and pulled the sheets back over us. They were so soaking wet, they felt like they had been dragged through deep puddles.
The next day, I asked him not to come by for a few days. He said he was hurt, but he would give me all the space I needed. But it didn’t help. My house still felt not like my own. I started praying again. The down on my knees type. The curled up into a ball shivering and fasting and snot crying type. The go outside and look directly through the sky and scream and curse god and the universe type. I kept up with my chants whenever I could to keep the curses away. “Yukapie. Yukapie. Yukapie. Yukapie.” I told my cat I was sorry. I didn’t know what was happening. Black fog kept appearing and hovering. Life kept dying, the things I cherished and cared for, were all drying out. One sad evening , a crow dropped straight down next to me out from the sky, and looked directly up at me but could not move his body. I picked him up and held him and felt him breathe his last sigh in my arms. I went to bury him in my garden, but the soil was too dry and stuck. I walked out deep into the forest behind my house and found a soft spot to bury him. I picked the wild flowers and covered him with them and cried until I threw up.
Winter passed and a hot, still summer came. I started feeling little pokes and kicks inside me. Several months later, I gave birth to a little girl. Jacob moved in at this point, and
the house was no longer my own. I hated being pregnant like nothing else, although I figured I would have a wave of maternal conviction come over me when I gave birth to the girl. Months later, and her screams and cries were just additions to the hellscape that I was living in. I would sit for hours at my table, the same one under the big stained-glass windows that would open up to my yard. The same one that was used to eat vegetables from my garden, to draw, to happily smile and close my eyes and take in the smells of rosemary and mint and feel the wind on my face. Now I would sit all day at that table, into the windless hot nights, smoking a pack of cigarettes while the girl cried away until Jacob came home. I smoked and smoked for hours, sipping glass after glass of whiskey, listening to her cries and the loud rumbles of planes flying overhead and my cat purring. He would sit on that table right in front of me and clean his entire body, with small intermissions to blink at me, and purr as loud as those damn planes. I would smoke the first half of the pack as fast as I could, eager to get to the last two. I didn’t know why, but I took my time with the last two. I did this every day. I savored every puff and inhale as slowly and deeply as I possibly could. I suppose it was because Jacob came home, like clockwork, the moment I had taken the last puff of that final cigarette. He would come in and yell at me for not taking care of that girl, for not cleaning up, for wasting away.
One evening was different, though. He came home and stomped right past me into her crying room. She always shut up when he came around. He walked out from her room and looked dead at me. “I’m taking her back home to Michigan with me. We aren’t gonna bother you here anymore. Waste away for all I care.” He walked out with the girl, and he was right. They never bothered me again.
The black smoke and fog in my house stayed in the corners of the rooms. The planes got louder. The half bottle of whiskey I was drinking turned into an entire bottle. My hands went numb from all the drinking and sitting.
At thirty-five, I started begging for forgiveness. But begging ain’t my business.