A Girl Always There
A girl, always there, and I recall no more about meeting her than I recall breathing air for the first time, although I remember noticing her, as I recall noticing my breath, for the first time.
Before she had a name, she adopted me as her student, my first formal teacher. Class commenced in the upper bunk with legs crossed on a blue cover with pillow desks, windows shut from the cold, curtains drawn, where I learned my first laws of the universe.
She showed that three plus three made six, I’ve not forgotten, and could not possibly recount how many times that insight has come in handy. More so, to care that numbers added up.
Take-aways we postponed to future lessons. I gripped my homework, four plus five and five plus six, which takes one beyond the comfort of fingers. She taught me to spell, which appeared to imply a far more oceanic logic than numbers, perhaps an anti-logic, even trickery. Except after C! But not always. My first glimpse of Coyote’s sleight of hand.
See that letter. Yes. That sounds the same as my name, K. K. Yes, but my name is spelled this way. Why. Because; things are spelled different. Here, you’re spelled like this. R. e. x.
We performed our School play on a woven rug, by the warm grill built inexplicably into the wooden floor such that an errant child, crawling across the floor could, and in my case did, crawl onto the grill and burn its palms. She had retrieved our mother and saved me, now with crosshatch blisters on my hands.
I had rehearsed Teapot in the bunk, and at the performance, we warmed up Mom and Dad with an exhibition of spelling and numbers. Then, the climactic rendition. After “Spout” I faltered, she was there for me, we pulled it off to arm-waving cheers.
As far as I could tell, she was in charge of Christmas. Each evening, she announced the precise time at which we would open the next numbered door on the gift from our grandmother. This ritual we performed in the days before a clever marketeer added chocolate behind the doors. We opened them for the pictures, a shepherd boy, a star, a distraught Joseph turned away at the inn. As presents accumulated under the tree, she showed me how to find my own name.
In the spring, when we dropped her at the doctor for some unknown purpose, and as our mother drove along the dirt road, I looked out the rear window and contemplated life without her, alone with my own thoughts. There, without her, I first noticed her.
Without her, I could not find Shark Shadow in the grumbling red foot hills across the canal that ran through Big Horn Basin, the home that Crazy Horse, Gall, and Sitting Bull died to retain for their families, only as long ago, then, as our Christmas on the frozen prairies appears now.
Coming back from those haunted ravines one summer, along a new trail, we traversed a ledge, to a sandstone crag. She slid down but I could not muster the courage nor back up. She ran home to fetch help, and I watched her across the dry ground until she became a glint of motion at the bridge and then disappeared. Again, in her absence, I contemplated her. Reliable, focused. She won’t get distracted or forget. Capable. She’ll be back. And there, awaiting my rescuers, I leaned against the brittle earth and pondered the nature of rock and dirt, and a magpie, who looped around the sculptured stone mysteries, lit on an outcrop, nodded his head, and thumped his beak twice in blistering soil. I watched sunlight glint off flakes of mica in the coarse, greenish Palaeozoic siltstone that washed over hidden bones of Columbian mammoths along Gooseberry Creek.
I did not yet know about the world below or beyond these hills, Absaroka Volcanoes, Eocene mammals, and the sun baked Clovis hunters with their buried cache of rabbit, pronghorn, camel, and bison. I didn’t know about sixty human cultures over 11,000 years layered into the arroyos, and before that, Triassic upheavals and Tertiary tragedies, now exposed among Cretaceous rocks once washed by epicontinental seas.
I didn’t know about Antigone, who meant no harm and only intended to honor her family. Any of us would have done the same. It was not Antigone’s fault that Creon drafted foolish laws and that his pride proved greater than his compassion or common sense.
I knew nothing of the Laws of Gods and the Laws of the States.
Years later, I would read in the Ramayana how Mother Earth ascended from the ground to take back her daughter, Sita, who had been unjustly treated by the well-intentioned, but naïve Rama. The Mother appeared not old, but fair and bright, not sad, but smiling. Though she supports all life, she did not appear burdened. She is patient. She took her child into her arms, laid her head against her shoulder, stroked her hair, and sank back into the ground.
“I am king of the Earth,” lamented Rama, “but she has taken my wife away before my very eyes.” Oh, dear. Too late. There, in her absence, Rama noticed, as I now noticed my life in her hands.
I did not yet understand that the Earth, though patient, will not abide our mistakes forever.
When she returned with our father, I summoned the courage to slide down the ravine, just as she had done. Many years later, when we called Creon’s henchmen to account for their violations, she sat in the high prairie grass with her own children, unmoved by the bullies. And later still, as I sat on the airplane, looking down on the Rocky Mountains, again without her, I noticed her gifts to me.
In the face of our tragic modern history – child slavery, death squads, tritium in the water, war in the wind, CIA torture manuals, and the sacred place of nature lost to drive-by burger joints and Corpus Christi nuclear submarines – where is our hope? Will we only notice when it is too late?
Gaia’s story, hijacked by power, does not end with us. Now I know. Hope resides in the hearts of the unintimidated. Without knowing it, I enlisted in the army of Gaia’s daughters, the Natural Guard, the sensual world that is our door to her. Now I know. Gaia’s daughter remained all along. Daily, we walk through the miracle of plenitude, breathe through our nostrils this erotic, sensuous marvel that runs with our blood, pumped through our hearts.
To find her, I go back to that first noticing, the depth, inside her world. Return again and again to her songs and rhythms. Her laws of numbers and language. Her wholeness and her parts. Her whisper from inside the living gods. The mysterious voice in this vast body of spirit.
Back to a time when eternity called out to us from the stones, when we did not imagine eternity and perfection in some other time and place, but witnessed it here, now. A time when we put our ears to the ground to hear the mystery. When the voices spoke in silence. When the formless took form in magpies and clouds.
Many times I forgot. Many times, I failed to notice. But now I know. She was always there.