Thursday, June 01, 2006
I had a boyfriend in college who liked to consider any given moment as if it were taking place in a dream, as if every detail were the product of some cosmic imagination. The song on the radio, the bumper sticker on the car in front of you, the clouds in the sky, the snippet of conversation overheard as strangers pass, all were ripe with symbolism. When something clicked, he called it kismet.
That boyfriend and I did not last, but his kismet idea has stuck with me.
Animals always seem to carry the most poignant meaning. Like, there was the time I saw a bird sitting on my bicycle handlebars. As I approached, I thought of something I'd read about birds as symbolic messengers. When the bird flew away, I noticed a note tucked into my brake cable.
Then there was the time my friend, S~, was agonizing over a difficult decision, on the fence, so to speak, paralyzed by fear. She heard a sharp, horrible keening sound outside her house, and found a rabbit literally stuck between the slats of her backyard fence. (Rabbits, according to David Carson's Medicine Cards, represent fear.)
And then there was yesterday, when I went out to continue work on my strawberry bed, and found a snake under one of the plants. It was dull brown, about a foot long, with a pink belly. I didn't know what kind it was, but I knew David Carson would tell me that snakes represent transmutation: transformative change. Was something changing in me? Did something need to change?
The snake wasn't talking. It wasn't moving either.
I was getting ready to poke it with a blade of grass when my cell phone rang. Looking at the display, I saw it was A~. I had called him the night before in a moment of weakness, a moment which had passed. I hung up on his voice mail, but he knew I had called.
It had been a month and a half since we'd spoken. I prefered not to talk to him at all than have another painful conversation in which I gritted my teeth against the harsh reality that this person who'd become so important to me could just walk away. I wondered if he truly wanted to be as far away from me as possible.
A~ and I met for the first time in Colorado. We ran into each other briefly and miraculously two months later, in Santa Cruz, California, where I heard a clear and jarring voice in my head pronounce that he and I were meant to be. I dismissed the premonition out of hand, and promptly forgot all about him.
Two years later, I found myself thinking I was ready for a relationship, while trying to decide whether or not to drive my questionable old Datsun to a Rainbow Gathering in Wyoming, or to remain for the summer at home in lovely, though boring, Connecticut. Brooding over the decision in an auto parts store, I walked by a woman wearing a bright yellow t-shirt with a hunting tourism slogan emblazoned in red letters across the chest: Give your best shot at WYOMING.
If that isn't kismet, I thought, I don't know what is.
The next day I set off driving.
Three days later I was in Wyoming, where I bumped into A~ for the third time.
We've been together ever since.
That's how I used to conclude that story.
Well, we were together for twelve years.
We got married. We tried, unsuccessfully, to have a baby. We grew as individuals. I suppose you could say we grew apart, though I'd like to heap the blame a little more pointedly in his direction. After all, he went through the motions of commitment without ever really making a true commitment to me.
As much as I dreaded hearing his voice, I also wanted to talk to him. Most of all, I wanted to stop dreading hearing his voice. I poked the snake. And took the call.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Trying to decide if this snake is alive or dead," I told him.
It was stiff. There were flies on it.
"Sounds dead to me," he said, but I wasn't taking his word for it. I mean, how hard can you poke with a blade of grass?
We spoke for over an hour. I planted more strawberries. He admitted that he's sad that we're over, but also happy in his new relationship. He told me he hadn't been avoiding me because he wanted nothing to do with me, but because he thought I wanted nothing to do with him.
It's true, I'd become bitter and angry. I'd begun to look down upon him, to think of him as a low-life, a slug, a worm, and I imagined he thought of me in similarly negative ways. But if felt good to let go of that. To hear news of his family, to share news of mine. To laugh together. To enjoy his company a little, while at the same time knowing I'd never want him back. To discover that the venom had gone out of me.
Later, like any good millenium zoologist, I googled my snake. And learned that it was an eastern worm snake, killer of worms and slugs. And then I poked it with a twig. It was undeniably dead. I accepted the facts, picked it up by the tail, and tossed it into the woods.