Ted got home the morning after my birthday. I found him sitting at the kitchen table, having eaten two pieces of cake. He said he liked the strawberries.
I had woken up with cramps. I didn’t want any cake.
I went outside and lay on my belly on a granite slab that had been baking in the sun all morning. The warmth felt good.
I thought about what I’d learned last night. Cramps aren’t personal. They’re part of being in a female body.
The warmth of the rock soaked through me.
As I stopped resisting, the pain shifted to discomfort. Pretty soon, it felt like heaviness or fullness. That was all.
I still had an icky stomach, though.
When I got back to the cabin, Ted fixed me a cup of tea.
After I drank it, my stomach felt settled, and I felt good enough to eat my two slices of cake.
“What was in that tea?” I asked Ted.
“Black cohosh, white willow bark, and wintergreen,” he said. “Good for when the dreams in you are full and need release.”
“How did you learn about this?” I asked him.
He handed me a wildcrafting book.
The information in that book excited me. It’s just like I thought! The universe really is our grandmother. We have here everything we need for our health and well-being, growing right outside our homes, in the wild green places.
I asked Ted if I could live with him, forever. For good. I feel safe here. I want to stay and learn wildcrafting. I want to be here where I hear the wilderness’s whispers when I walk outside the door. I want to stay where I’m cared for.
He said I couldn’t. I had to go back into the world.
“You can take refuge here,” he said. “But you can’t stay.”
“But you stay,” I said. “If you stay, I can. It’s not fair.”
He explained that he hadn’t always lived here. He’d had a wife and kids. He worked on fricking Wall Street. He was part of the world, before he left it.
I thought about his words while I carved the wood.
“You can’t drop out before you’ve dropped in,” he said. “Your life hasn’t yet begun. Sure, you’ve had some challenges. And your life hasn’t taken a typical course. You don’t know it yet, but that’s your gift. That’s your grace. You stay here, and you’ll never know that. You’ll never take that grace and share it.”
He told me I had to go back first, so that I could see if what I learned could stand the test of the world of people. If I could integrate what I knew into daily life, then I’d learned it. If not, then it was merely the first knocking of the spirit.
“Let’s see if you’ve got what it takes,” he said. “See if you can go back and keep what’s been given you. Don’t let that world rob you of it. You do that, and then maybe the world will discover that you, Little Starshine of the Universe, has something incredible to offer back.”
He made it sound important, going back. He made it seem like it was part of my path. Plus, he said I could come back next summer and spend the whole summer up here.
The last day, before I left, I couldn’t figure out how to thank him.
I thought back to who I was before I came up here, how I felt like I was just a kid struggling to find a place, and now and then, I had a hope that maybe I belonged in the big scheme of things, but that I always treated that hope like it was a little kid’s dream or wish. I thought my ideas about the universe being our grandmother was make-believe, and I let myself make-believe it because I was so alone, and that little piece of imagination was the only thing that kept me going, the only thing I could cling to when things were the toughest.
And now, I don’t think it’s make-believe.
Now I’ve felt that it’s true. The Universe is our Grandmother. And we’re all cousins. And it’s both personal and not personal, all at the same time. And I don’t have to make up my mind and I can be everything.
“Thanks, Ted,” I said. “I can see why Deon loves you.”
He wrapped me in a big hug.
“Do you know what love is?” he asked. I said no.
“Better than peanut butter,” he replied.
“So, come back next summer,” he said, “and I’ll teach you wildcrafting. If you want to learn, that is.”
He said he would be interested in hearing all about my year at school and what it’s like for me to come back to the world of people after living here, in the real world.
I gained a home, that’s what I realized when I hiked back to where Deon was going to meet me. You can think of it as being a place. But it’s not an actual physical place. Or if it is, it’s too vast to fit inside of any one thing, and it has to fit through and around everything. That’s where home is. And I’m taking it with me now when I head back to the people world.
But there’s one sure thing I decided on my hike back, I might be returning to the people world, but I wasn’t going back to Oasis Springs. There’s no way I was going to be that kid they call Stink at Oasis Springs High. I don’t know where I’ll stay or what school I’ll be in, but I won’t be at that school where they called me Stink.