Strength, beauty, determination, and courage lie within us all. I was 27 years old when I began to tread the path that these truths lay upon. That was when Thomas left me. I suppose I was devastated. I mean, you’re supposed to be, right? Truth is, life without him wasn’t much different than life with him. When he was here, I mean physically here in this house, he wasn’t really here. There are some of you out there who understand the meaning of that, don’t you? At least, that’s what I though in the beginning, in those first few days of friends and relatives hanging around, talking behind their hands in hushed tones, casting doe eyes at the poor young widow who was me.
In my heart I had already made my decision to leave. But here I sat, in my parents house, listening attentively to their suggestions about what I should do with my life. They obviously thought, as I did at first, that someone had to take charge, that I was not capable of making decisions on my own. A tiny part of me still clung to this assumption, simply because that was how things had always been for me.
“You cannot stay by yourself, Shay” my mother was saying, “a young woman alone is a target.”
My Aunt Joanna agreed with my mother. Stabbing her skinny cigarette in my direction, Joanna said “Shay, you can stay with me. I have a small apartment off the house and I think you’ll find it perfect.”
Mother chimed in, “And Aunt Joanna will be right there if you need her.”
They continued along this vein, planning out my entire future between the two of them, not even noticing that I had shut them out an hour earlier. Finally, my father stepped in and cut them off. He always could tell when I had zoned out.
“Ladies, please. I think Shay has had a rough week and we should let her rest for awhile, don’t you?”
I smiled wanly at Daddy and pulled a pillow over my head as I slunk down on the sofa. I had no intention of living with Aunt Joanna, or mother, or Papa Joe. I had no intention of living with anyone. What would they all do when they found me gone? I’d leave them a letter, of course, but boy were they ever gonna be pissed. Not Daddy. I was sure he would understand. In fact, I was banking on his keeping everyone away from me, keeping mother form sending out the National Guard in search of me.
Presently, I drifted off to sleep - that beautiful state of unconsciousness where even bad dreams don’t penetrate. I did not want to wake up - ever.
I left the letter I tried to carefully compose, not an easy task because my brain felt like it was shrouded with fog, on the verandah table. I didn’t want mother to find it too soon. She would assume I was asleep so it would be close to midmorning by the time she wandered out to the verandah for a cold soda with her friends. The letter ended up saying very little - just that I needed to be alone and would call periodically. I had no more intention of calling than I had of flying to the moon. It was time for me to cut the strings that tied me to my family and friends. It was way past time for me to learn who Shay was, to discover why Shay was on this godforsaken planet.
I took one last look at the two bedroom brick house that Thomas and I had shared. It looked so empty, so void with its guts emptied of furniture and belongings. Salvation Army had picked up all of Thomas’ clothes and personal belongings last week. The rest, including every little nick nack I had collected had been put in a storage unit, awaiting my return. If I returned.
A sad though crossed my mind as I stood on the little path leading from the house to my Jeep. “Why , it looks the same. It has always been void. It has always been empty.” That’s what I thought. That’s what I felt. Void and empty, tired of pretending to be full to the brim with happiness that I hadn’t felt for the ten years of my marriage. Thomas was really gone, and I didn’t care. That is what is really sad, not the dying, but the aloneness feeling that has always been there and I just now realized it.
Turning my back to the pathetic reminder of my life I walked with very deliberate steps to the Jeep and climbed in. I willed myself to stare straight ahead at the road leading out of town. There would be no more looking back. There would be only open space between me and something. I knew there was something out there, wherever out there was. So, off I drove, never looking back, to find me.
Is there a prescribed age when people are supposed to realize that they are mortal? That we do not have an eternity to do all the things we dream of doing? I didn’t think so anymore. As a child I always knew that one day I would be old. I just didn’t realize that ‘old’ was not a physical thing. When we find ourselves tired and finished with this world, that is what ‘old’ really means. The weird thing about it is that there is no prescribed age for being old, it is a fluctuating entity, and we float in and out of the state at varying intervals throughout our lives.
I was feeling lost in the good ole state of old now. I most definitely did not care to be here anymore, tramping around Planet Earth trying desperately to find some meaning. People are not supposed to be alone, are they? How does one survive in a state of perpetual aloneness? I have heard really old people, physically old, I mean, say that all of their friends and family are gone so they are done with this world. It is possible to be finished here on earth even when you have an abundance of friends and family. But what are you going to do? I had no intention of plowing my Jeep into the nearest tree. I may feel finished but I still fear pain.
Please understand that there is nothing wrong with my family. I know they love me but they smother me with attention they think that I want. They don’t know me - they don’t want to know me. But then again, I don’t know me. My whole life has been make believe, pretending to be a perpetual child to be watched carefully because she might screw up, on the other hand, I am a successful artist, managing a business with success, witty and intelligent.
I felt like a child’s yo-yo, constantly bouncing between what was expected of me. Well, no more. I was not going ‘home’ until I found out what I was supposed to be, who I was supposed to be. I was beginning to feel tired again, the never ending fog in my brain closing in like some evil thing on a mission. Brushing the hair out of my eyes, I decided to pull into the next available motel I saw.
It looked like a normal motel when I drove in. There were little pink cottages encircling a rather pretty, if small, pool. Plants were abundant. Hanging plants with profusion’s of colorful flowers, palm trees in clay pots that were obviously hand made. Later, I wanted to take a closer look at them with a more artistic eye. It was a beautiful setting for some much need r & r.
Stepping into the lobby of the office, however, was a different story. I actually ducked outside again to make sure I had not entered some strange time warp. The walls of the lobby were blood red, creating a feeling of stepping into the middle of a satanic ritual. Once my eyes adjusted to the dim light coming from many small lamps I realized that it wasn’t as bad as I first thought.
Along one wall there was a sofa, large and plump, covered with satiny pillows of all sizes and colors. More plants, plants in every corner, and on every end table. Small crystal gems bounced from lampshades of every lamp. It was only 2 o’clock in the afternoon and the crystals and the sun streaming through the large picture glass window set off a brilliant light show on the bloody walls. It was actually very pretty.
“May I help you?,” a voice said from behind the desk, which was a heavy wooden, Old English affair.
Squinting towards the desk, I realized there was a very small woman standing there. Gray was peppered throughout her jet black hair, which was pulled back in a ponytail and then draped over her left shoulder. I was a bit astounded to see the length of it, the woman was small but her hair fell down her chest and disappeared behind the desk. There was no telling how long it really was.
Blinking rapidly to clear my head I said, “Yes, I would, ah, I would like a room for the night, please.”
The long hair disappeared as the woman sat down. She smiled, “Of coarse, won’t you have a seat?,” she waved her carefully manicured hands towards a chair perched in front of her desk.
“You were admiring my crystals,” she said. “I collect them for the energy.”
“The energy?” I mumbled, stunned.
“You are too caught up in why” Father John said. Gently his slender fingers closed around my wrist. Sadly, he regarded my hand, fingers curled into a little ball. “Open you hand, Shay” he calmly said.
I did as he asked, unclenching my fist in a burst. Funny, I had not even realized I had been making a fist. Glancing at my other hand, still clenched tight, I forced myself to release it also.
Father John smiled. “What are you feeling right now?”
I wanted to be angry with the priest. He was insinuating that I was a tightly wound bundle of nerves. My fingers involuntarily began to curl up again as the anger surged.
“I can’t do this,” I said tightly, balling my hands into fists and standing abruptly.
Father John did not move and his smile did not waver. “When you unclenched those fists, Shay, you felt vulnerable and exposed and you are afraid of this, aren’t you?”
I didn’t answer but instead began to furiously break off a twig from the overhanging oak branch. Snapping the twig felt good. “I want to hit something,” I said without turning around, “I want to scream and kick and really hurt something.”
Defiantly I spun around and faced Father John, expecting and hoping to find a look of shock on his face. He was not shocked. He simply held out his hands, palms up, and said “Go ahead. What’s stopping you?”
“Because what good would it do? I would still feel the same afterwards, wouldn’t I?”
“I don’t know, have you ever tried it?”
I had never thought of that. Actually trying it. “No,” I replied flatly, all the fight gone out of me.
Father John stood and wrapped his arm around my drooping shoulders, “Let’s get some lunch,” he said.
“Do you see that stream, Shay? I want you to go stand it.”
I gazed at Father John’s face, peering into his hazel eyes, searching for the reason behind that request. The face before me broke out into a grin. Giving me a little shove he said, “Go on. Do it. You stand there, amidst the moss on the rocks, the wildflowers, the birds and stay there until you feel the presence of God.”
I didn’t turn back to look at him but I could hear him trudging back up the path. I stood rooted to that spot for quite awhile. I had spent ten days on the road, talking with many different people about this faceless entity we call God. They all seemed to believe in His existence, they all seemed confident in his love. Could I possibly be capable of feeling that too? Was it possible that God would walk with me as Father John seemed to think?
Tentatively I stepped toward the stream. The sun skipped merrily across the wet stones, reflecting its light from stone to stone. I could see little tiny fishes darting to and fro. I stepped into the cool water and let my arms fall to my sides. Tilting my head back, eyes closed I began to let each part of my body relax, as Al had taught me. I visualized the everpresent fog lifting from my head, clearing my consciousness. And then, when I felt calm and peaceful I asked god to heal me, to let me see Shay Barrett for who she was.
Images began to flick across my vision. Sitting on Daddy’s knee, mothers pound cake, Thomas laughing and me laughing with him, a favorite clay pot I had made in 6th grade, me tenderly stroking my grandmothers brow as she lay dying. With lightning speed the images of my life flashed by with frightening clarity. I was astounded at how much was good in my life, at how the goodness and love inside of me outweighed the bad.
I sank to my knees in the cool stream and put my trembling hands to my face. It was wet with tears, tears I had not been able to shed since Thomas’ death. I was not alone, had never been alone, and would never be alone. I had no great purpose in life, no single reason for being on earth. I simply was and for the first time in my life, this was perfectly acceptable. I was perfectly acceptable.
At age 27 Shay Barrett finds herself a widow. Married at the age of 17, Shay now must come to terms with who she is as a single entity. She sets out to explore the meaning of life, hoping to find where she fits in the big scheme of things. Along the way, Shay encounters a wide variety of characters who have found their peace in various religions. Angry and bitter at being alone for what seems a lifetime Shay ultimately realizes that she has never been alone, that God has been beside her all along. She also discovers that, though each individual chooses their faith, each faith centers around the supreme concept that is God - love. And that each person travels to the heart of God alone - a solitary walker.
Chapter One: Meeting with lawyer. Telling family of plans.
Chapter Two: Reminiscing
Chapter Three: The Truck Stop, Meet Bo. Truck driver. Intellectual, not overly religious. Speaks of a great purpose, the endless search for meaning of life, uses sperm as an analogy. He is as lost as Shay.
Chapter Four: Sara’s house. Cousin Shay stays with for a bit. Married with kids. Very organized and a Mormon. Discusses her faith openly and her belief in God’s power over our lives. Kary: a teenage Jehovah Witness who comes to the door of her cousin’s home.
Chapter Five: On the road. More reminiscing.
Chapter Six: The cottage. Meets Mary. Proprietor of motel cottage. Exudes peace. Speaks of energy and auras. Wears a crystal. Channels through herself to speak with inner guide. She is a maususse and practices the art of therapeutic touch. Believes in God and Jesus.
Chapter Seven: More with Mary and friends.
Chapter Eight: The church by the road. Stays for retreat meeting.
Chapter Nine: The retreat. A deacon at a retreat Shay goes on. Tries to help Shay see God’s grace from the Catholic point of view. Describing the rituals and practices that ground him in his faith. A funny guy, who deeply believes in Christ.
Chapter Ten: The retreat
Chapter Eleven: First try at prayer.
Chapter Twelve: Motel owned by Baptist couple. Has dinner with.
Chapter Thirteen: Meet hippie/Zen guy buy pool.
Chapter Fourteen: Meditation
Chapter Fifteen: Into the stream. Ending with quiet peace.
K. Y. Hamilton, BA, MA - Copyright 2006