by Mandy Steward
I only had 5 minutes. 10 minutes tops. But it was going to have to do.
I was craving the outdoors, and more than that, I was craving a returning to her, a chance to touch hands with her across the curtain that divides the known from the unknown.
On the last day I spent with her in person, I had stood in this space. A hidden park backed up against the highway. A carved out, unknown sacred spot of our very own. And so it has become my ritual that when I hunger for a place to runaway to where no one, NO ONE, can find me, I go there, and I feel her close.
When you only have 5 minutes, 10 minutes tops, every second is palpable. I counted the steps to get down into the park, 1-2-3. There were 13, and I smiled because I knew her and I would both love the irony in the unluckiest of numbers. I counted them one more time to make sure. “Yep. Thirteen,” I said, and I felt so special.
I chose to sit in a new spot, different than the stone bench overlooking the manmade pond. I crossed the tiniest of bridges and made my way down a little hill so I could be closer to the water. I gathered three acorns as I went, and then laid them in my lap upon sitting. I always gathered nature here. Touching it felt soothing.
I set down my Neverland coffee mug, a cherished gift from Valerie, and pulled from my bag 5 crackers and two slices of marbled colby-jack cheese, the kind my daughter calls polka dotted, and I ate my snack, feeling the sustenance of food for the first time in days. It is not that I hadn’t eaten in days, but rather that I had forgotten this feeling of being sustained. Cracker by cracker I was remembering.
After my snack, I was getting warm in the sun, so I took off my jacket off, folded it and rested my head on it, laying myself out in the sun. I felt like a sacrificial offering. I was giving over to the yipping demands that I could not keep off my heels.
“Fine Valerie,” I spoke out loud to my friend who passed away this past Winter, “I am yours. I am all here. What do you have for me?”
I laid there, paused and tense, resisting every urge within me to get up and move on with the next item on my agenda.
“You look silly.”
“You’re talking to yourself.”
“You’re going to be late.”
“Your five minutes are probably up.”
The voices tugged at me like a thousand little hands pulling on my hair and my skin, my lips and my eyelashes, my clothes and my boots. I laid still. Fighting the hands.
Then a deep breath later the phrase came to me. “But you are royal.”
I closed my eyes, let the sun drink me in, and felt like Anne of Green Gables floating down the water quoting The Lady of Shalott.
All the parallels flooded my brain. The cover of the magazine I had just received in the mail with the singer/songwriter Lorde on it, and her words in the article about the oddity of actually being royal when you used to sing about how you never would be. The yoga I had done that very morning where I stood on my head and followed the guide saying, “I see myself as a holy being.” The children’s book Ish that I read to my son’s kindergarten class just a few hours earlier, and the sense that though I might not be royal by some standards, I can certainly pull off my own flavor of royal-ish. The way Jesus Christ always went around saying the royal kingdom is now. The royal kingdom is within. And how irate it made everyone. Who wants a royal king with a make believe crown fashioned out of thorns? And then there was the secret message passed on from another dear friend in an email saying that realization is just creating your own real. Make it all up, whatever you desire.
Create your own royal?
Do I desire to be royal?
“Dammit Valerie, do I desire to be royal?!” I spoke into the void.
And again the words came to me, “But you are royal.” Soft. Steady. Calm. Resolute. Sure.
I heard her voice in my head.
Then I sat up. “Well, that is it,” I said. “That is definitely what I came for.”
So as not to forget, I jotted a few notes in my art journal with the only pen I could find. One with purple ink. A royal color.
I packed up my bag. Peeled myself off the warm concrete. Picked up my coat and Neverland coffee mug and walked back up the hill. Just then the wind picked up, hard and fast. I smiled and tossed my majestic chin to the sky to feel the breeze hit me full. My friend was in the wind.
I tucked the acorns in my coat pocket and plucked a wild sunflower. As an afterthought, I walked back down to the water and released the sunflower, as a way of saying thank you to my friend. As I turned to climb back up the hill I noticed an abandoned snake skin.
I never would have seen that if it wasn’t for my 30 second sunflower ceremony, I thought. Nature goes through changes without witnesses. I am so grateful I was here to notice this today, if only for 5 minutes. 10 minutes tops. I knew I had done some shedding of my own, crawling out of one dried up, burnt-out body, and feeling the squirm of this, my fresh new royal-ish skin.
I felt tingly as I climbed back up the thirteen steps to return to my car.
I picked up my kids from school that night and felt the grind of life snagging on my imaginary Indian princess headdress I had built out of Neverland feathers and mermaid scales and pixie dust. My boys got into a punching battle. I burnt an entire pan of grilled cheese sandwiches and no one wanted to eat them. Someone from work texted and could I change my schedule and cover them?
Just then on my phone, I saw a picture of my niece. She was dressed in ruby slippers, gray tights with heart patches on the knees, a stuffed animal Toto tucked under one arm and she was following a chalk drawn yellow brick road. I cried, noting how we take pictures, so we’ll look back and remember why, how royal! because no doubt that 5 minutes, 10 minutes tops, got smashed in between a fist fight and a burnt grilled cheese sandwich.
I put on my running shorts for a jog and felt the way my belly rolls and leg dimples felt grotesque despite my best efforts to accept and allow and permit.
Through huffs and puffs and burning lungs and inconsequential plebeian humdrum I pouted, “Dammit Valerie, do I really desire to be royal?!”
Soft. Steady. Calm. Resolute. Sure. The wind answered, “But you are royal.”
Mandy Steward is an artist and author of Thrashing About With God: Finding Faith on the Other Side of Everything. She blogs her messes at MandySteward.com. She also creates custom painted and inked Secret Messages, self-publishes a subscription based ‘Zine of gypsy journalism, and divulges her truth in a zealous band of Secret Rebels. She co-creates a way to to keep her faith alive via The Wild Mystics. She finally has a Self and finds that breathtaking. Find her on Facebook here.