Shift 27: Anatta

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Summer ended and Deon came to pick me up. We stopped at a diner in a little town at the edge of the foothills.

“Tell me all about your summer!” Deon said. Instead, I asked him about his Power Walk.

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“That was such a long time ago,” he said. He got quiet for a long time, and I watched him remembering.

“OK,” he said at last. “So I was different person before then, and a different person when I got back. I was more like the me you know now when I got back.”

“Who were you before?” I asked.

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“I was one mean dude,” he said. “I used to get in fights. I used to talk rough and act rougher. I was hell-bent to be locked up by the time I was twenty.”

I found that hard to believe.

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But Deon insisted. It was that one summer with Ted that changed him. He did see visions on his Power Walk. Of course, Ted had stuffed a bag full of peyote pellets into Deon’s backpack, so that probably hadn’t hurt.

He didn’t describe to me any of the visions, but he said they were powerful and they changed his fundamental understanding of the nature of reality and his place in it.

“I suddenly saw that I had a larger role in creating my experience of existence than I had ever imagined.”

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From there, our conversation naturally drifted to talking about creating our own futures. Deon told me how when he got back from that summer, he took his GED and enrolled in community college. Horticulture came easy to him, after all the training Ted had given him.

He asked me what I wanted to be.

Before I even thought it through, I blurted out “a botanist” because it’s what I’ve wanted ever since I pretended to be one, so foolishly, back when I first went to the park at Oasis Springs.

“It’s time for us to start researching colleges, then,” Ted said. “Junior year. That’s the time to start making decisions.”

“Oh. I forgot,” I said. “I’m not going to college.”

“But you can’t become a botanist without,” he said. “Besides, I know your mind. You won’t be satisfied until you do.”

“But I can’t,” I said. I told him that to go to college, I’d need an identity. I’d need a birth certificate, and social security card, and high school transcripts in my actual name, and I’d need all of that to fill out my FAFSA and even to apply to the local community college.

I told him that Aadhya thought I should use my birth name.

“Are you afraid to?” he asked.

And I realized, no. I wasn’t afraid to anymore. I wasn’t afraid of my uncle. I knew I had something–some kind of strength, and it would protect me, and Aadhya was right, we could get a restraining order, if we needed to.

“Then what is it?” Deon asked.

What was it?

“I’m not Jenny,” I said. It hit me hard. It was Jenny that I had lost through all these years.

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I wept. Sitting right there in the diner with Deon, while the waitress stood at the end of the counter, holding the pot of coffee in mid-air, I cried like there was no tomorrow. I cried like there was no yesterday. I cried like I hadn’t ever once let myself cry before.

“Jenny’s dead,” I said when I could finally talk.

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“What do you mean?” asked Deon.

“I’m not Jenny anymore,” I said. And I cried again. I cried for all I’d lost. For Gran. For my years as a normal teen track star. For all the nights when I was too scared and too alone to cry. For being called names. For having to run. For my stupid uncle. For my mom and dad. I cried for all of them. And mostly, I cried for Jenny Trevalyn.

“I don’t feel like her anymore,” I told Deon. “I’ve changed.  I can’t feel who she is.”

Deon looked at me in silence for a long time. I stopped crying and looked back at him. I saw something in him. I felt something in me.

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“Do you know the Buddhist concept of not-self?” he asked me.

I didn’t.

“In Buddhism,” he continued, “there’s the realization that there’s no fixed sense of self. Our experience of ourselves shifts and changes through time. For a while, I might have some thoughts, and I might think, ‘These thoughts are me.’ Wrong. What happens when the thoughts are gone? Or maybe I think my body is me. It changes at a cellular level every moment. What about my feelings or emotions? Those change, too. My roles? No. What is there that doesn’t change? There is no unchanging identity. No fixed self.”

“But there’s this point of experience,” I said. “There’s this spot of awareness watching it all.”

“That there is,” he said.

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“That point doesn’t have a name!” I said.

“No,” he replied. “It doesn’t.”

“So. Jenny is just a convenience.”

“A label.”

“A container!”

“A ticket that gets you in a door.”

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I had to think about that one. I still have to think it over. But I think I might be finding my way towards getting to be Jenny Trevalyn again, at least on paper. On my college application.

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