The Only Girl I’ve Ever Loved Was Born With Roses in Her Eyes

The woman climbed slowly into the front seat of the cab, assisted by her daughter.  When she was settled, the daughter went back into the bar to find the rest of their party.  The woman was very small, and bent almost double by age, she seemed even tinier, a faery gnome in a blue knit sweater.  She held a brown leather purse on her lap in gnarled hands, and white hair poofed out around her ears.  When she spoke, she tilted her head to the side and up, so that one eye peered up at me, milky blue, like a very old eagle.  We spoke of commonplace things; my job, Portland, the weather.  I was bored, watching the rearview mirror for sign of her daugher and the other passengers.  The meter ticked on.  She asked where I was from, and I gave my speech about Seattle.  I sensed the routine questions that usually came next: Do you like Portland better than Seattle?  Are you scared being a female cab driver?  What are you REALLY doing with your life?  and felt the dread and anger and boredom of these questions, answered hundreds of times in the eight years I have been driving.  She had a faint accent, possibly Eastern European, and I asked where she was from, hoping to shift focus from me.  She stopped for a moment, then turned her head and looked up at me, her eye sharp.  I looked back.  She turned her head forward and spoke into her hands.

“I am from Lithuania, but when the Powers that Be gave my country to the Russians, they sent many of my family members to the work camps in Siberia, and they died, of cold or of hunger.” She waved her hands in the air as she said ‘Powers that Be’, then placed her hands back in her lap and looked up at me again, gauging my reaction.  

I said, “Oh my god, I’m so sorry.”  I think maybe I touched her shoulder.  She went on.

“We packed everything we could into one suitcase, and fled to Germany.  It was good there, but then the war started.  My older brother was drafted into the army and we did not know if he was alive or dead.”  The eye turned up again and met mine.  

“Was your brother drafted into the German army?” I asked, a bit hesitantly.
There was a pause.

“Yes.  We were living in Germany and he was drafted and there was nothing we could do.”

I processed the information that her brother was forced to fight with the Nazis.  She watched me process and then I smiled at her.  “So your brother survived, and found you after the war?”

“Yes.  It must only have been the power of our prayers, because my brother came home to us.”  

We sat for a moment, and then she repeated, “The power of our prayers.”
She told me that the family then had to flee to Western Europe, when the war ended.  I asked her how old she was.  She was born in 1932.  We were quiet for another moment, both of us staring at her hands, curled around the brown strap of leather.

I asked, “Does it bother you to talk about this?”  She looked up at me and smiled slightly.

“No.  For a long time, I did not talk about it, but now I want people to know.  I want them to remember.  People do not like to hear about it but they need to remember.”  I sensed a question or an accusation in her voice.  I touched her shoulder again.

“Thank you for telling me your stories.  For some reason lately, I’ve been reading and watching everything I can get my hands on about the wars.  There’s something that I want to know and I’m not sure what it is.  Thank you for telling me all of this.  I want to remember.”  She stared up at me as I said this, her face very serious.  When I was finished she smiled again, and nodded her head into her lap.  The meter was at $8.10 and still there was no sight of her daughter.  I asked her if she’d met her husband in America.

“Yes, I met him here.  We had three daughters.  He just died two years ago.” Nothing on her face changed as she said this, but I felt a deep sadness and resignation coming from her, and a loneliness.  I imagined all the sadness in her life, all that weight bending her forward.  And yet, that smile.

“My husband had a hard life.  His family had to escape to Germany, and then he was taken prisoner by the French.  He didn’t have much food, and he… he got very sick, as a prisoner.”  She stuttered a bit, trying to convey this sickness, this starvation, the force of half a world’s rage and agony taken out on a body, the impact of that, the waves and ripples that run out from one moment in time into an entire life, coloring everything long after the Powers that Be settled into ‘peace’.  She looked at me again, helpless to explain, and I put my hand on my heart and said “Oh…”, the air in the car very still and silent as we sat looking at each other, inches apart.  I had so much to say and it was all completely insignificant.  

The door behind her opened suddenly and her daughter began talking to her in a low tone, in the sharp, gutteral language of their homeland.  The other people couldn’t be found.  The daughter was sorry.  She asked if they had to pay.  The meter was at $11.50.  I’d been in the car with the woman for 20 minutes.  I reluctantly said yes, and the old woman began to look through her purse for money.  I told her $10 would be fine.  She gave me two fives and looked for more money to tip me.  I stopped her with a hand on her elbow.   “Really, ten is enough.  It was really nice talking to you.” Small words, I couldn’t find the right ones. We had a moment, my own green eyes to her milky blue ones, and then she nodded and got out, her daughter trying to hustle her away.  She stopped and turned and said, “It was very nice talking to you also.” We clasped hands and I asked her name. Her hand was small and warm and felt like the root of a tree and the leather of her purse and the strength of a tiny bird.

“Maya.”

“It was very nice to meet you Maya.  Thank you, very much.”  

We smiled.  Her daughter tried to pull her away again and she stopped and turned and said to me, “May God bless you and keep you safe.  God bless you.”
“God bless you also Maya.  Goodbye…!” And then the door shut and they were gone and I was alone in a cab full of ghosts.

*The title of this blog is from a song called Holland, 1945 by Neutral Milk Hotel.

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On Magick, Connection, PMS, Priestessing, and Why I Don’t Do Drugs

The first indicator that this fare was going to go very wrong was that my customer was unconscious.

It was 11 p.m. on a Friday night in January.  I’d gotten the order to the “rave” club down by the waterfront in Southeast.  The place is notorious for providing cab drivers with overly intoxicated customers, and probably puke to clean up at the end of the fare; but, the order had a note that said ‘employee’, and it is January, and it was early in the evening, so I felt ok about it.  No… that’s a lie. The truth is, I was having a terrible, terrible night, and I was completely and totally resigned to misery and hardship for the 10 hour span of my shift.  So when the ‘employee’ came up to my window and told me they would be bringing me a customer who had “overdone it a little bit, but she should be fine” I wasn’t surprised in the least, and when this girl who had overdone it ‘a little bit’ was carried out to my car by a large man, her head lolling backwards across his elbow and her breasts falling out of her pink sequined top, I just took a deep breath and opened the back door.

I know you won’t all be able to understand this, but partially my terrible night was caused by that typical and unavoidable reality of being a woman: menstruation.  As I get older my PMS get worse and worse.  Is this a curse from Nature for not having children?  I don’t know.  But I know that the 3 or 4 or 7 days before I start bleeding are becoming so uncomfortable emotionally that I absolutely long for the old custom of going into a tent for the duration of your cycle.  What bliss that would be.  This month I was a little surprised that it didn’t happen, and also vaguely proud, like somehow I had OVERCOME this issue through my own strength and fortitude.  I started bleeding yesterday with nary a PMS symptom in sight.  I popped some Midol, put on my black jeans and black shirt and jean jacket, and headed for work feeling like the all-powerful goddess I obviously am.

I got into my cab, took an order across the river, and immediately jumped on the wrong freeway during Friday night rush hour.  Heading South in I-5 from downtown, there isn’t an exit until Terwilliger… something like 3 miles.  I was stuck behind legions of commuters heading home for the weekend.  I had to flag my order (send it back into the system for someone else to take).  I was hungry and I knew I had just killed my first hour’s profits.  I felt like an idiot.  And then… BLAM.  PMS.  Like a bucket of cold, sad, melodramatic ice water had been dumped on my head all at once.

Cab driving requires you to have extremely thick skin.  There are a lot of people getting in and out of your car.  Some of them are terrible, some are amazing and most are just kinda boring.  But it is a lot of chaotic energy swirling around for 10 straight hours, and most of the time I totally rock at it.  I can sympathize with a crying girl about her asshole boyfriend and how much he reminds me of that one guy I dated one minute, and the next be telling bawdy jokes with a car full of frat boys on the way to the strip club, and the next talking to the redneck truck driver going from a motel back to the truck stop about fishing in Alaska.  I mostly thrive on it.  But those few days of the month when my body is gearing up for the big show, I am like a plucked chicken, all naked and shivering and looking for comfort and warmth, and every single time I try to go to work like that it is a disaster.

And that was my night leading up to this unconscious woman being stuffed into my cab by a strange man.  Just driving around Portland like a plucked chicken.  I tried every single strategy I have to get through it.  When rush hour was just too much for me to handle, I parked my cab outside Powell’s in a taxi zone and went book shopping.  I got chai tea and a blackberry Danish and poked around the Metaphysics and Magick aisles.  I ate my chicken and spinach salad and drank a ton of water.  I tried to stay out of downtown.  I tried to talk to my passengers about my PMS (this was a hilarious social experiment in itself).  I listened to podcasts.  I promised myself that I only needed to make half my usual amount of money and then I could go home, cry, eat chocolate and feel like a damn cliché.

One of the podcasts I listened to was Evolutionary Castings, with T. Thorn Coyle talking to Crystal Blanton about the element Fire.  Thorn and Crystal are Witches, as am I.  Don’t ask me to explain what that means right now, because I have a hard time articulating it.  I’m working on a big piece all about it so I can explain to people when they ask me.  It is partially about recognizing the sacred within each of us and within everything, and acknowledging that we are all Divine.  And I don’t mean this like, oh we’re all part of God’s creation.  I mean, literally, that we are all God/dess.  “God is Self and Self is God and God is a Person like myself” is a quote from Victor Anderson, of the Feri Tradition.  Thorn said, in Kissing the Limitless:

“God Herself is us and we are S/he.  Lover and Beloved.  There is no difference.  And that is not a platitude, but something we can only realize when the time is ripe, and then we are seeded to the core.”

Anyway, that’s a whole other post and it’ll come soon.  Being a Witch is about working with the energy that runs through each of us and through everything, the life force/chi that is that Divinity (and this working would be “magick”).  Sometimes ‘working with it’ means engaging your Will to make things happen, and sometimes it is about getting out of the way and letting the energy/Divinity/magick do what it needs to do.  For me, a lot of joy in the world comes from simply watching this magick happen around me, in situations that others would call coincidence or happenstance but is a deep, important reminder to me that the sacred is everywhere, in everything, all the time.  Even in my cab on a Friday night.  But we’ll get back to that poor girl in a minute.

I am also a student Priestess right now.  I think it is even harder for me to articulate what that means to me, but I suppose if a Witch is someone who sees the sacred in everything and works magick with the life force energy that is all around/within us, a Priestess takes on the responsibility of midwifing that energy and that magick for other people and for some wider purpose than her own, personal needs and desires and growth (although, self-care and taking care of your own needs is the FIRST thing a Witch/Priestess needs to look towards!).  I see it as an agreement between myself and the God/dess to live in full integrity and intention all the time as Her tool.  It gets tricky here because if I am also God/dess then I am making this agreement with myself, so it’s not as sacrificial as it sounds.  And I am just articulating this, right now, for the first time, so I hereby declare this is Witchcraft Vocabulary Lesson #1 as I understand it today and I reserve the right to change my definitions at any time.

Okay.  So, back to the podcast.  Thorn and Crystal talked about a lot of interesting stuff but the thing that struck me the most was a conversation about Priestessing and how it doesn’t end when you leave the ritual or the altar.  How Priestessing is something you live all the time, whether this is at home with your family (or with your dog or alone), on public transportation, while grocery shopping, or at work.  It isn’t something that is compartmentalized.  And this isn’t about being some sort of super-hero or developing a savior complex (I would hope, for myself as well), but just seeing that every moment and every situation is just as pregnant with magick, connection and divinity as those moments in a circle or in prayer or in devotion.  It is about being a tool for help or healing or grace or connection or teaching or whatever needs to be done in that moment.   And it’s about trying really hard not to let your intellect or your fear or your ego get in the way of the magick.  I am totally paraphrasing/adding my own thoughts here.  If you want to listen to it, it is Elemental Castings #50.

So this is what I was thinking about as I drove around.  I had turned off the podcast and turned on my “Magic” playlist (nothing actually witchy here, just the music that makes me feel good) and taken a Midol which has caffeine in it, and I’d gone into a little bit of a cabbie trance as the night got busier around 10, so I was feeling a teensy bit better as I pulled up to the rave club.  I’m not sure what I would have done when I saw the unconscious girl if I’d still felt 100% like a plucked chicken.  I have a general rule to not allow unconscious people into my cab.  They are more than likely going to wake up and vomit, and they can’t tell you where they live, they might wake up and freak out when they don’t know who you are, etc.  This girl had a friend with her and… I don’t know, I just knew I should take them.  The friend (we are going to call her Mary) got in first and then the unconscious girl (henceforth known as Laura) was lain across the back seat with her head in Mary’s lap.  Mary was obviously high on something.  She was very pretty, with dark hair falling around her face, and her eyes were big with huge dilated pupils.  She told me the address in NE Portland as Laura began to moan and chant “Mo mo mo mo mo mo mo” and wave her hands around in the air.  I started driving, with that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that was the knowledge of the next 20-45 minutes being really challenging and possibly gross.  We got about 7 blocks before Laura started to retch.  I pulled over quickly and got the back door open.  Poor Mary just kept looking at me with her big, dilated eyes as she was trying to navigate Laura’s totally inert body out the door so she could throw up.  Together we got her hair pulled back off her face and held her body up so she didn’t completely slump out of the car.  Mary looked terrified.  Laura kept going back and forth between retching lightly, passing back out and then waking up and clutching at Mary blindly with her hand behind her back while saying, “Never leave me, don’t leave me, never leave me.”  When it became clear that she wasn’t actually going to throw up, I got my empty salad Tupperware container and gave it to them to use as a puke bowl, and we continued on.

I was weirdly calm while this was all going on.  Usually I would be really pissed off but I wasn’t.  We just needed to get this girl somewhere safe and Mary needed to not have the responsibility of an OD’ing friend to take care of while she was high and I was the sober person in the car.  And while I didn’t think of it clearly until afterwards, that podcast about Priestessing not being something you turn off skipped across my consciousness at one point, and I thought, “Huh.  Yep.” and kept driving.  Mary kept apologizing and I kept telling her it was ok.  She kept asking me if she should call someone.  Laura had by this time passed back out, sitting slumped against Mary with her face inside the plastic bowl.  She was making a really scary, low, slow gasping/choking noise as she breathed, and I told Mary that yes she definitely should call someone.  The 911 operator told her to take Laura straight to a hospital and so we headed for the closest one.  At the ER I ran inside to get help, at Mary’s request.  I knew there wasn’t going to be any orderly standing around waiting to carry fucked up 20-something party girls into a stretcher while 10 nurses ran alongside, attending to her, but I think Mary had this fantasy.  I got a wheelchair and Mary and I hefted Laura into it.  She had vomited into the bowl on the way to the hospital and her chin and neck were covered.   Her skin was clammy and wet and her eyes couldn’t focus.  She didn’t want to go into the hospital but Mary and I told her she had to and got her into the wheelchair.  Mary kept apologizing and thanking me.  I ran her credit card for the $14 fare and got her to sign it.  I don’t work for free, even (especially) in situations like this.  She signed it and tipped me $50.  We had a moment as we exchanged her card for the receipt.  She thanked me again.  I said good luck.  I squeezed her shoulder and patted Laura’s knee, and then watched as she wheeled Laura inside.

This whole situation, rather than causing me to get even more depressed and sensitive, totally energized me.  I will admit that, having a Moon in Cancer, I have a deep need to take care of people.  I’m trying to get this under control so it doesn’t spill out all over friends and lovers in a gross way, and I think I handled this situation just right, to feed that Cancer moon but also take care of my boundaries.  I don’t know how that situation would have gone if it had been another cab driver, but I can imagine that it wouldn’t have gone very well.  I will never forget that look of fear and confusion on Mary’s face as our eyes met, again and again, in the rear view mirror.  This is why I am a Witch and a Priestess.  Those moments of connection that happen, completely out of the blue, unexpected, in the middle of a terrible Friday night at work.