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The Faces That You Meet | 2011 | The Spirit of My Mother


I fell in love with her courage, her sincerity and her flaming self-respect and it's these things I'd believe in even if the whole world indulged in wild suspicions that she wasn't all that she should be. ...I love her and that's the beginning and the end of it.  

-F. Scott Fitzgerald, on Zelda


Embers of the Divine

Yes, I love her. Are you surprised?

I squeeze her hand and laugh to myself as we walk down the street.

"What?" Amber asks.

"It's nothing."

"No, tell me," she pesters. "You love me, you have to tell me things." Indeed, I do have to admit that I love her, though the initial confession was accidental. We had been kissing for hour and I gasped the truth. I did not merely like her, I was not simply fond. I was inevitable and I observed the newborn truth in seclusion and company, to be sure it was not infatuation camouflaged as something that couldn't be snuffed out. All day, I had been pussyfooting around telling her that I love her, because saying this is an irrevocable act in my life. There had been a fraction of a second, a held breath as I stuffed my face in the pillow as though to mute my words, then she said she loved me too. Now, walking to pick up dinner at Cibo, she had rightly deduced that she could leverage my love into getting me to reveal myself more.

"I was thinking how nice it is to have a girlfriend who is satisfied with being a cute girl, who wears truly epic purple skirts," I say.

She flares the skirt for a moment. "To be fair, this is my only epic skirt. Except for the pink one I wore to the wedding. Oh, and my frilly ones."

"Oh, I remember a frilly one, you wore it on our first date."

"I dressed as a gothic lolita in college. I have much frillier."

I smile. "I look forward to seeing them all."

"We are going to be late to the ritual," she reminds me.

"I am okay with this. It was worth it," I say. "They will start the fire without us. We can swoop in unnoticed."

"Did I see you two get out of the same car?" Rhianna asks as she smudges me with sage to enter the field where the ritual will take place.

"Yes," I say, smiling as demurely as I can.

"Did you know one another before the last circle?" she asks.

Turning so she can smudge my back, I mouth to Amber, "See, I told you! She did this! She is the magical architect of our bliss!" and say to Rhianna, "No, we met here."

It is difficult to read Rhi's expression. She could be quietly pleased that two of her circle attendees have coupled or she could be bemused for reasons I can't quite grasp. Either way, it is plain she comprehends at a glance that Amber and I are not simply carpooling buddies. It had become a joke between Amber and me that we had bonded so quickly and well that witchcraft had to be more directly involved. As Amber could not recall performing a love spell, we assigned the credit to Rhianna.

We settle in an open part of the circle, politely declining the blanket a nearby couple offers us. There are maybe thirty people in this field around the unlit fire pit. Rhianna passes around a painting of a wolf that is going to be burned, with the directions to write on the back what we want released from our lives. Amber makes an intricate but unintelligible design. I write that I wish to get rid of my insecurity, because I am with a woman who goes out of her way to make certain I know how much I am appreciated.

"What did your scribble mean?" I ask when the painting moves on.

"You know, things of a scribbly nature. It is hard to know with scribbles. Probably the same thing your words did."

As we later shake our borrowed rattles, my hand brushes hers. She takes it and gives a fond squeeze, not missing the beat but beginning to rock in rhythm. I follow suit and feel so happy in the moment that I nearly cry out. It has been four years since I have held the hand of my lover in ritual (and much longer since I have done so and felt comfortable). I did not realize how much I missed it. Without question or conversation, I know Amber feels the embers of the divine and it makes our relationship a little more sacred because we share a spiritual perspective.

A decade ago, my dear friend Keilaina turned me down for continued kissing because I simply did not love Jesus enough. I argued that I appreciated the historical Jesus - it's hard not to - and cared for her, but this was not sufficient. At the time, I made a joke of this, marking it as the second funniest reason my kisses were declined (the first is and will likely always be the girl who literally thought I was a vampire who sapped her essence). However, I do see the plenty in loving someone who honors the divine similarly. I do not have to feel embarrassed or guilty for dragging my lover to circles and sabbats because Amber would be there independently.

I listen to her chant, quietly at first then in increasing circles of conviction until her voice, high and light, is among the loudest. I lean against her, enraptured with the privilege of her touch. I have spent years keeping my religion on a low volume and it warms me more than the fire before us to hear the woman I love sing forth the heavenly.

Throughout the ritual, her hand is in mine and we kiss intermittently, almost automatically.

Cuddling alone as the bonfire dies, as we watch people spin flaming poi or indulge themselves with the provided sweets, I tell her, "You genuinely don't care what anyone thinks of you. It's refreshing."

"I care a bit what you think of me," she says.

"Well, I think you are amazing. No matter where you are, you are just Amber. On your own, with me, with your friends, with my friends, you are a constant force. Most people just don't have any confidence in who they are, in who they want to be. But you don't give a damn."

"In high school, my Spanish teacher said she wanted to be me when she grew up. Which is funny, because I really was never very good at Spanish..."

People begin to leave until it is only Rhianna, Sue, Amber, and me. Rhianna smiles broadly and, as she goes back to the house, tells us that we are welcome to enjoy her land as long as we like on this beautiful night, asking only that we extinguish the tiki torches before we depart.

"That is so embarrassing," Amber said, leaning into my chest.

"Yeah, it's a little bit like your mother telling you she is upstairs with Koolaid when you and your friend are done making out in the basement."

Still, we are alone in this field. After I tease her with sexual overtures, we are content to simply hold one another and look at the stars, being together in this circle, in this field, that was the beginning of our romance.

Soon in Xenology: Amber.

last watched: Six Feet Under
reading: Blink
listening: Bjork

The Faces That You Meet | 2011 | The Spirit of My Mother

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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