The journal you are about to read began as a project in Julia Fleischer’s writing class at Portland Community College. Although it spans some five months, only the first thirty-four pages were handed in for credit. The remaining pages are, as Julia says, a record of “life experiences.” They chronicle her beginnings as a cowgirl in Mt. Angel, Oregon, and the steps leading up to her explosive rise into the professional rock scene.
Two years have passed since her death, two long years, but there isn’t a day goes by when I don’t feel her presence. When she died, Julia had it all: a talented band, a million-dollar recording contract, dozens of friends who would have done anything for her that was humanly possible.
She also had Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, and eventually, it caught up with her. Yet she got further than me or anyone else in her position could have gotten. I should know. As Julia’s best friend, I saw her change from a jubilant young woman into something else entirely: A wide-eyed mystic with tales of angels and demons—accounts gathered from sojourns in a murky realm that divides our world from the next.
Julia’s brushes with the supernatural were neither welcome nor appreciated. But rather than shrinking back in fear, she utilized each new experience to create a working model of God and the universe.
By this I don’t mean to suggest that Julia Fleischer was some kind of spiritual seer or prophet. That’s not for me to say. Everything she felt, everything she experienced in the last few months before her death has been recorded here. Along with the songs on her album, those memories are all she had left to give, her legacy.
Bringing this manuscript to an agent was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, but ultimately I think it was the right one. Now Julia’s message can reach the world—and by extension, you, the reader. That’s who she had in mind when she wrote down her most personal secrets.
So if you begin to feel a bit like a voyeur, don’t worry, it’s part of the experience. To Julia, artistic integrity meant full disclosure. She wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Ruth CohaineNew York City
There’s no use pretending anymore. Just because I fooled that doctor in the emergency room at St. Francis, telling him I’d mixed antibiotics with alcohol, lack of sleep, that I’d been distressed, beside myself about a personal matter involving my ex-boyfriend, it doesn’t mean I have a clean bill of health. It only means I can trick those who want to help me, or at least those who show a pretence for trying to help.
Yesterday, I was sitting at Café Lena, working on these poems that I’m secretly writing for Ruth, and I felt the awful slipping feeling come over me, stronger than ever before. People’s voices at nearby tables kind of slowed down, or sped up, and I could see these shapes moving all around me, out of the corner of my eye. I thought of ghosts, but that would be silly, like the movie Ghost Busters.
The grey shapes, shadows—whatever you want to call them—didn’t really seem to be aware of the other people. But they were painfully aware of me. That I know. The more attention I paid to them, the faster they came—rushing over like insects, huge grey shadowy insects drawn to the heat of my presence until they were pressing in around my table.
As soon as I got my “tofurkey” burger and started to chow down, I was fine. My conscious mind shooed them away. Eating must have had something to do with it. Maybe they were literally the manifestation of hunger. My body trying to communicate on a subconscious level. There’s no way to tell for sure, but the whole experience was beyond freaky.
OK, time to change the subject.
Remember that story I mentioned, the one Ruth wrote about that Kibbutz in Israel? The Alchemy at PCC accepted it! They’re going to publish it in the fall! Bless her heart, Ruth was so excited! The Chair of Creative Writing sent her a personal letter of acceptance!
That’s another reason Ruth should come with me to the poetry reading tomorrow night. We’ve got to celebrate! Ruth is such a sweetheart. I feel embarrassed about what I wrote about her last week, all those sensual things.
The next morning, I read through the entry and blushed. It didn’t even sound like me talking. It sounded more like Deeksha. I came very close to deleting the whole entry; can you imagine how embarrassing it would be if Ruth ever read it?
I wonder what she’d do if I told her that I’m attracted to women as well as men. Would it get in the way of our relationship? Despite how “progressive” Ruth likes to think she is, with parents from Manhattan, she’s never really discussed her sexuality with me. It’s just sort of taken for granted that we’re both straight. We talk about other guys—appraising their faces, legs, asses—but that’s only for laughs. I wonder what Ruth would say if I told her I thought another girl had a nice ass?
Life is so mixed up right now. I don’t want to jeopardize our friendship. Ruth is my rock, my fortress. Even though she doesn’t know it, she’s helping to keep me from cracking up.
Sometimes I get this impulse when I’m walking down a busy street to take a few steps sideways in front of a bus or a big truck. I could end it all, so simple. No more changes, no more dark energy, nothing. God, how I wish things could be the way they used to be. I just want to be happy again.
These days, it’s really weird at home with Deeksha. I think she’s been kind of embarrassed about that time she came on to me in the garden. We haven’t discussed it. But she doesn’t walk around naked anymore. Instead, she wears this slinky Japanese kimono made of silk. I almost feel like doing her just to get it over with. But that would be so wrong.
Even when I go into my room and shut the door and put on my headphones, it doesn’t feel private. I imagine Deeksha listening from the next room, wondering if we’ll ever get together. Touching herself, thinking of me.
That’s part of the reason I could never tell Ruth how I feel. If I somehow put her in the same position, I’d rather curl up and die. But there’s one good thing about my predicament with Deeksha: I don’t feel guilty about the rent anymore. All that tension in the house, it’s such a drain that I’m earning the rest of this month’s rent just putting up with it.
And Jeff. He’s been calling me at the house. Deeksha has a nose for his timing. She always picks up the telephone first. Then she gets this really sarcastic tone in her voice and says, “Oh, Julia . . . it’s for you.” Jeff hasn’t mentioned anything about getting back together, he claims he just wants to check up with me now and again to make sure I’m hanging in there. According to him, Nadja moved out, he never sees her outside of work. Not that it really matters. I guess she found some other teddy bear to squeeze.
The other night still has Jeff rattled. I know he feels guilty, like it was all his fault, my passing out and stuff. And he’s partly right. Every time I start to stress, the shaking gets worse. Fainting isn’t out of the question, especially if I’ve missed a meal. I haven’t told Jeffrey about the illness, though. He doesn’t have to know. It’s really one else’s business but mine. Jeff thinks I’ve got an iron deficiency because I’m a vegetarian. He’s been pushing for me to start eating fish, to become a “vegaquarian” like Ruth. Whatever. I wish he’d just give it a rest and quit calling.
Next time he does, I’m going to say so. Enough is enough. He can see me at the show. That’s the soonest I’d want to see his big dumb baby face. He can stand out in the audience and watch all the other guys get hard-ons and remember “once upon a time, she was all mine.”
God, I’m totally rambling. It’s getting late, past my bedtime. When I’m tired, it’s hard to concentrate. These last few entries have taken me a lot longer to write than usual. I should write in the morning first thing when I get up, but I usually have to rush to get to work on time.
Maybe if I go to bed earlier, I can get up earlier and do the writing then. A glass of orange juice, one piece of rye toast, along with a Morningstar Farms breakfast patty, and I’ll be set. No more coffee, though. No more caffeine, period. That’s taboo. If I drink anything with caffeine these days, I’m a basket case. I get the shakes so bad it’s all I can do just to keep my teeth from rattling in my head like a maraca.
I’m going to call Ruth now. Three rings and then I hang up if no answer. But she’s probably still up. Girlfriend’s a night owl like me.
Forget writing in the morning. I’ve been sitting here for ten minutes just staring at a blank screen. That whole early morning thing was just bogus. You can’t deny your nature. Plus, there’s the Deeksha factor to contend with. In the morning, she’s in full gear, puttering around, banging pots in the kitchen, vacuuming in the hall outside my door—all in an effort to get my attention.
Why put off the inevitable? I’ve got to move out. Like, immediately. Things have gone from bad to worse. Deeksha’s been making these elaborate dinners, expecting me to drop everything at the last minute, wanting to “talk” about my life, which basically ends with her dishing out a liberal helping of Osho vomit every chance she gets, cramming it down my throat.
I was going to write about what happened at Café Lena, when I read my love poems about Ruth with her there and everything, but it’s going to have to wait until after work. Screw this. I can’t even type, my hands are shaking so bad.
Ahhh. Much better. I’m spending the night over at Ruth’s, so I’ll have to transfer this file back to my computer on disk.
Gotta stay out of Deeksha’s lair. She thinks she’s helping me, but she’s only making everything worse, much worse. I almost told Ruth about her coming on to me, but then I thought better of it. So I just said that she was on the rag, PMSing, and that I had to get away, which is probably not far from the truth.
One of the bogus things about living in Deeksha’s house is the way she and I synchronize our periods. I don’t know how it happens or why, but I’d rather not “share” my cycle with her.
Now Ruth, she’s different. There’s almost something endearing about her cycles, the way she groans and leans on my shoulder as we walk to class: “Oh, Jules, I’m not going to make it. Can’t you just carry me?”
We both get cramps really bad. If we were synchronized, we could sit around and moan together.
The other night at Café Lena was probably one of the best nights of my life. I was kind of burnt from work and band practice, so Ruth invited me over to her place and we took a nap together.
Oh, heaven! It was absolutely amazing lying next to her! We kept our clothes on but I was tingling all over! We must have slept for at least two hours because the alarm clock never went off and we were late getting to the reading.
I’d already brought my poems, so we drove straight there. Ruth had a few of her own, which sort of caught me by surprise. I didn’t even know she wrote poetry; she’s never mentioned it before. I think every writer worth her salt should write poems. As far as I’m concerned, they’re the purest form of literature.
We got to Café Lena about twenty minutes late and I was really bummed out because I figured we’d be around twentieth on the list, but guess what, Tina Blanchard, a friend of mine who knew I was coming, put my name under hers, which was third! That meant I was going on fourth. Perfect! Just long enough for people to settle into their drinks.
But then I remembered Ruth, so next to my name I wrote “& Friend.” Tina thought that was really clever. She had a table in the corner by the window, our favorite place to sit. I think she must have gotten there really early because it’s usually taken.
The first poet who read was totally boring, rambling on with a fake Irish brogue about wine, women, and song, trying to sound like this latter-day Odysseus from Ireland. He fell flat on his face, but everyone clapped loudly because that’s one of those things, at least at Café Lena. People are understanding, since most of them are nonprofessional writers. It’s a kind of embarrassment insurance: that way, if you end up sucking the big one, at least you’ll get some applause. There’s nothing worse than a room that’s totally quiet after you’ve just poured your heart out.
The next poet was this slam type, yelling in the microphone about titties and beer, a real turn-off. I discreetly took out my poems and started to arrange them, figuring out which one to read first.
When Tina’s turn came around, I put everything away and gave her my undivided attention. She’s so adorable, this really petite girl, and they always have to lower the microphone for her. But she has a great presence despite her height and her squeaky voice.
Tina’s poems were about places and natural things, very little about people. That’s cool. Most poets at open mics tend to go off about poppy Americana like game shows and Elvis, so it’s always refreshing to hear some well-crafted poems about nature.
Since the crowd really loved Tina’s first two poems, she took out a third one—this really long one that was totally different, about her brother and how she’d felt after he committed suicide. I hadn’t even known she’d had a brother.
The poem was so touching that I saw a few people get misty-eyed. I probably would have too if I wasn’t nervous about reading next. When Tina finished, there was this awkward silence. People didn’t know if they should clap, but then Roger (this tall, skinny flamer who only writes sonnets and heckles the bad poets) stood up and clapped.
Everyone took his lead, standing up. The emcee came over and said a few words of encouragement to Tina as she was sitting down at our table. She was crying, so the whole thing must have been true. Man, that took guts. Ruth and I patted Tina’s little hand, told her she’d done great. Then it was our turn, we were up.
I decided to let Ruth go first. She’d always been more confident than me in class, raising her hand a lot, so I figured she wouldn’t mind and she didn’t. She read this one poem about a trip she’d taken back to her grandmother’s house in Brooklyn. It was very polished, like something you’d read in the New Yorker and people were obviously impressed. But it lacked emotional conviction, especially after Tina’s reading.
Still, Ruth’s voice was strong and clear and she came across well, much better than most people who read.
The audience clapped and I was up.
All eyes shifted on me, and that’s when I realized how bad my hands were shaking. I couldn’t even read the words on the page. Ruth gave me this worried look that said, OK, go ahead, you can do it! I felt like I was going to cry. The people in the audience seemed a little caught by surprise, too, because I’d been reading at the open mics for over a year and this had never happened before.
Ruth put her arm around me and gently took the pages, holding them for me to read. My whole body was shaking. I could tell because Ruth’s arm felt so calm and steady. I felt the dark energy flow out of me into Ruth and it anchored me down. Once I started reading, the poem found a voice. I just relaxed and let the words spill out of my mouth:
I wait for the coming of summer
Like a sparrow saving up her twigs.
I wait for the chance to brush
Against the cross-currents of your hair,
Trailing in the wind.
You are the season of my release,
Bending your arms like the boughs that hold me.
Your essence clings to the roof of my mouth,
Lofty as the arches of a cathedral set against the clouds.
You have a soul as generous as the sun,
Yet dangerous as a storm cresting over the fields.
The voice of the wind calls your name to me as it rushes
Through the branches of proud oaks, waving at the sky.
After I finished, Ruth rubbed my back, turned the page. Everyone was clapping really loud, but I almost didn’t like it because I knew part of the reason was because at least some of them were my friends worried about me. Also, it felt so weird standing there with Ruth’s arm braced around me, reading the poems I’d written for her, labored over, agonized for her sake.
And then I smiled because I realized that it was beautiful. She would never know, I’d never tell her, it was just one of those things. Now, I was getting the old rhythm back. I felt my “sea legs” as I launched into the second poem:
Dreaming Open Days
Where do the winds go on days that move like beetles
Across a heap of dry driftwood?
Where does the rain go in summertime
When the firs smell of pitch
And dreams leave me open to chance?
I reach out to the sun and your voice spreads
Its rays into the pores of my skin.
Take me in your arms, and I will sigh the sigh
Of open days
That rise up like steam from milk-washed lips
Toward the window of hours yet to come—
Hours spent together
In the bosom of a blue-streaked sky.
The crowd clapped even louder as Ruth turned the last page, but I didn’t need to look at the words. This one, I knew by heart. I’d been reciting it earlier that afternoon, committing it to memory as I lay next to my love, watching her sleep, cherishing the rush of her breath, the rise and fall of her breasts:
I drink in the sight of it
Like a sip from the Holy Grail,
Nakedness spilling down my throat,
Hips smooth as the bank of a slow-flowing river
That has caressed a favorite bend of sandstone
For a millennium.
Ruth put down the sheets and hugged me right there in front of everyone. She took my hand, led me back to the table. Tina scooted her chair over next to mine, asked if she could get me anything. Everybody was looking.
All of a sudden, I didn’t feel so well again. I thanked her and said yeah I’d really like a Tofurkey burger. Tina looked nervously over at the waitress who said she was terribly sorry but the kitchen was closed.
That’s OK, I said. Maybe a glass of soymilk. Then I got up and went to the bathroom to compose myself in front of a mirror.
Edgar Alan Poe would have fallen in love if he could have seen me: Chest white as snow, fine blonde hair starting to get long, already going light from the summer sun, from sitting outside cross-legged meditating in the garden.
Funny how life works, strange. Without meaning to, I’d finally done it. I looked like a rock star, an actress, a model. The weight had slipped off my body, leaving behind a different person. There was a wildness about the eyes—larger, wider. A look that said: “Tomorrow I may die, but you shall remember me forever.”
I’d never thought of myself that way before: beautifully doomed, with a sad, haunting transience. But my face, my body, everything about me accentuated this fact, and now it was undeniable.
A knock at the door, Ruth’s sweet voice: “Jules, honey. You alright in there?” I burst out, throwing open my arms to give her a tremendous hug.
I could tell she was chafing at the bit, dying to ask what was wrong. Slyly, I took her hand, dragging her back to the table. Not another word. We had to support the other poets, that was our solemn duty. We had to clap for them as loud as they’d clapped for us!
A big glass of soy milk was waiting for me. Tina winked. I leaned over, gave her a peck on the lips. Her eyes went wide and she giggled nervously.
That’s right, baby, get used to it! The new Jules can do anything she wants! People were looking again, whispering about the change that had come over me, a fresh new glow in my cheeks. They probably thought I’d shot up in the bathroom. Well, fuck ‘em. They could think what they wanted.
I signaled to the waitress, ordered a glass of wine. Tonight was a celebration! After the poetry reading, I’d invite Tina to join us next door at Chez Grill for a bottle of champagne. Life was a celebration, especially with Ruth at my side: O, for a draught of vintage that hath been cooled a long age in the deep-delvéd earth! Wipe away your tears! Come, run with me through alien corn!
And when night is over and the time has come to resign ourselves to the morning minions’ mercies, then and only then will you count me among the darkling drawn . . . not lost, but passed, like the bridge of a song.
Went back to the free clinic today, not for a prescription, but to ask the doctor for that card again, the one from PHSU. He wasn’t there, so my visit turned out to be pointless. The nurse was there, though, she remembered me.
When I asked her about the card, she couldn’t recall. It had been a very busy day, she’d had people coming in who looked quite a bit sicker than me. But she was kind and told me that I could schedule an appointment with the doctor for next week. He was at a conference, out of the state, but he’d be back the following Monday. I thanked her and made an appointment for eleven-thirty, Monday.
Now I’ve got five days to stress out about it. Oh well. Them’s the breaks.
After going to the clinic, I was exhausted and hungry. The weather sucked, a light misting of rain—more the rule than the exception in Portland—except for July, August and September, the sunny months when it actually warms up.
Today was cold, dark clouds drooling, not the kind of day to sit outside in a park looking for my friend, the can scrounger, for a pick-me-up story. I thought about calling in sick to work. I was due to come in at one o’clock, and it was only eleven-thirty.
I hadn’t really eaten breakfast yet, so the changes were starting to kick in. Just barely. I’d been fighting them on and off, ever since that night when I had passed out at Jeff’s, but a morbid streak in me was curious to find out what would happen if I didn’t eat. I wasn’t particularly hungry, though. My stomach had already started to shrink.
I drifted west, up toward the Pearl District where I knew there were lots of interesting cafes. At Ninth, I turned left and followed Burnside up to the biggest, most famous branch of Powell’s Books, which has always been a safe haven for me, the perfect place to experiment. What psychologists would call a “controlled setting.”
Powell’s Books was fairly deserted inside, it being the middle of the day and all. I went straight to the literature section and started browsing.
I just love the way Powell’s is laid out, not like most bookstores: One whole city block with three big floors (four if you count the rare book archive upstairs). It reminds me of an ancient library from Borges’ Fictiones: Seven rooms, each a different color. I went straight to the Blue Room where all the literature is kept. The clerks put their favorite books with the covers facing outward to attract your attention with all these little tags that say which employee recommended them. And they usually have good taste. That’s how I’ve come across many of my favorite books—by going for the yellow and blue tags.
As I strolled down the isle, I could feel a low, resonant whir start up in my bones, like a big generator straining way down in the basement. But I knew there wasn’t any such generator—not really. It was a telltale sign the changes were already upon me.
Thumbing through a novel, I began to hear voices whispering behind the stack. This time, I could understand what they were saying. Instead of calling my name or jabbering amongst themselves, they were mocking me through a new and ingenious method: reading aloud!
If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought the books themselves were talking—the souls of long-dead authors leaking out into the cold, stale air.
It took every ounce of restraint not to dash outside, into the broad daylight, where the Shadow People wouldn’t be able to track me so easily. But a part of me knew instinctively that I had to find out more about them in order to beat them at their own game. And Powell’s was the perfect place.
I rushed over to the “K” section. Animal Dreams wasn’t on the shelf, so I picked up a nice, big hardcopy edition of The Poisonwood Bible. I squinted down at the first page in Kingsolver’s latest book. To my relief, I could make out the words, despite a few backwards letters here and there. Reading aloud, I hoped the sound of my voice would steady me.
I froze, mid-sentence. What was that? It came from down in the Rose Room: A long, plaintive howl. The man standing just down the aisle from me hadn’t even flinched, but I could hear the Shadow People jabbering. No more fun and games. Now it was everyone for themselves!
Another howl and another—more animal than human. This time it was much closer, over by the stairs.
I listened for the Shadows’ reaction: Nothing. They’d bailed, leaving me alone to confront whatever it was coming up the stairs. Fuck that! I bumped into some lady, knocking a book out of her hands. She backed away, as if I were some kind of lunatic.
When I got to the Coffee Room, I scoured the shelves for anything of substance, but there were only starchy foods—bagels, muffins, scones. The girl behind the counter asked if she could help. “Yes!” I said. “Do you have any protein?”
She blinked at me stupidly. I began to get desperate: “You know! Soy, meat, anything!” The girl shook her head. This was a cof-fee shop, not a restaurant. But there was a pizza place right across the street.
“OK, fine” I said, trying to calm myself. “Is there a back way out of here?” The girl forced a smile, “Uh, no. Not really. Your nearest exit would be that way.” I followed the tip of her finger down the stairs to where she was pointing, even though I knew exactly where the front entrance was.
No sooner had I glanced down there, than my eyes tracked the movement of something that didn’t belong. At first, it seemed like the shadow of a large dog on the wall, elongated by the lights down in the Rose Room. And yet, I knew this was no mere shadow.
Not this time. Shadows didn't have bristles . . . the bristles of a coat, hair.
Not this time. Shadows didn't have bristles . . . the bristles of a coat, hair.
The realization took a second to register. In the flicker of that instant, the creature froze and turned its head. I looked away, but not before I caught sight of the monstrous black lips and fangs. There was something about them that lingered in my brain like the flash of a light bulb. What was it? A smile, horribly animalistic, yet conscious of itself like no animal could be. I'd seen that look on the faces of sportsmen in photographs displaying their wares, gloating over the carcass of some poor sad being that had fallen victim to their deadly game.
“Please,” I begged the girl, reaching into my purse and whipping out a twenty-dollar bill. “Don’t you have anything?”
The girl glanced down at the money. “Hang on,” she said. I scrunched behind the trashcan as she went into the back room. She came out with a sack lunch. “There’s a sandwich in there,” she said. “It has meat.”
“What kind? What kind, damn it!”
“R-roast beef! I, uh . . . made it fresh this morning. It’s my lunch, but for twenty bucks you can have it.”
“M’RO USHÁLYIN!” The creature looked right at me, getting ready to pounce up the stairs—its eyes hypnotic, burning yellow. I grabbed the lunch sack and dropped behind a shelf of magazines.
Crouching down, I ripped the sack open. Red meat. Of all things, it had to be red meat, cow. I stripped off the bread, wolfing down huge bites that made my eyes water as the cold flesh slid down my throat.
As soon as it reached my stomach, I could feel my body start to come back online. The roaring in my ears stopped. Just to be double sure, I ate the potato chips and the orange. Then I pulled my knees up to my chest and waited.
Several minutes passed. No sign of the demon. Not even so much as a growl. By this time, I knew I was safe. The headache told me so. It pounded mercilessly on the coils of my brain, bringing tears to my eyes.
When the security guard came to escort me out of the store, I didn’t have any objections. He was this really nice Hispanic man in a green T-shirt who didn’t say much of anything.
Outside, on the sidewalk, I apologized. The security guard smiled, no harm done. Just don’t come back for a while, OK? I asked him how long that would be, and he said one month, maybe two. I could tell he thought I was on drugs by the way he was looking at me, studying my eyes, making a mental note of my hair color, height, weight, etc., obviously for a report of some kind.
Oh, man, I’m exhausted. All this talk about shadows and demons has drained my brain. I can barely type another word. Such heaviness, heavy thoughts. Instead of focusing on dark energy, next time the changes come, I’m going to keep a lookout for angels. Surely, they must be there, waiting, just out of reach, wanting to help.
Speaking of angels, my father’s spirit seems to have some connection with light. I’m remembering that time at Jeff’s when my soul left my body and the voice shouted “Cowslip!” to keep me from sinking too far.
Or maybe it wasn’t my father, maybe it was an angel who didn’t want to frighten me.
Whatever it was, I have the feeling it would help me again. Whenever I feel myself start to sink, I’m going to listen for it. A few words of encouragement from above. There’s so much blight and ugliness. I just want to be good.
Even if this whole thing is just one massive hallucination—a soul that’s packing up and getting ready to leave behind a spare body—I can deal with that. At least I’m trying to make some sense of it: The possibility that I’m searching for pearls of wisdom in a lump of crap.
Putting everything down here in this journal makes me feel better. It’s like a breath of pure oxygen, helping to give my life a purpose. Yet another outlet for my soul, along with my music.
So much to think about: Fame, fortune . . . fate. Will I die rich and famous, a victim of some rare degenerative brain disease? Locked away in a special wing of some hospital. Or worse, in a lunatic asylum.
I can’t help speculating about the obvious parallels between the way our sheep acted on the ranch after they’d contracted scrapies and the way my father acted once his so-called “Alzheimer’s” took over, filling his brain with paranoid visions until the very lint on his blanket roared loud enough to make him cower in fear.
And now I’m the same way, hearing voices in bookstores, running from my own shadow. Reality is starting to break down. I can’t tell what’s real and what’s illusion. If my suspicions prove correct, then both my father and I must have caught some kind of human form of scrapies. I know it seems unlikely. The man from APHIS told us that could never happen, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that allaying our concerns was in his best interest, not ours. He certainly didn’t care one peck about my father’s well being. He knew the implications of his report, how it would bankrupt the ranch, and yet he walked away as if it was nothing.
Thinking back on it, I’m sure that doctor at the Free Clinic must have made some kind of tentative diagnosis if he gave me that neurologist’s card at PHSU. And I threw away the card he gave me. Why? That was stupid, childish. From now on, no more rash decisions. I’ve got to keep on top of this thing if I want to get anywhere at all.
Ruth had me over last night. She’s sick of her housemate, too. We’re thinking about looking for a place of our own, just the two of us. Thank God her housemate’s on vacation. Bill Green. He’s this older guy, a retired construction contractor, who owns the house. Mostly, he stays upstairs. Ruth says he watches TV nonstop and drinks whisky, even in the morning. He looks a lot like Charles Bukowski but he’s uglier, if you can imagine.
One time, last fall, Mr. Green came on to me when Ruth and I made the mistake of drinking with him. That was right after she’d moved in, when she still was trying to make a good impression. He brought down his blender from upstairs and made the most delicious frozen margaritas. In a strange way, he seemed almost charming. Watching him grind that ice with such expertise, flexing the muscles in his forearm (still rock-hard from a life spent swinging a hammer) I imagined how he must have looked as a young man: Tall, strong, virile . . . and still ugly as sin.
Before he’d gone back upstairs with his blender tucked under one arm, Mr. Green had whispered that he felt a special “connection” with me because I possessed a “timeless beauty.” This followed by a tender kiss on the cheek.
You know, I’d never admit it to anyone, but I felt strangely connected to him right at that moment. If there’s such a thing as a “grandfather figure,” he certainly fit the bill. Now is that messed up, or what?
Ruth did most of the cooking for dinner. She’s got this dynamite recipe for tofu pad Thai and it was sooooooo delicious! When she was boiling the noodles I told her that I ate a roast beef sandwich the other day and she dropped the spoon on the floor she was so surprised. I didn’t tell her about the rest, though. I just said I’d been feeling faint; I’d need some protein really fast.
When I said that, I could see the wheels start to turn in her head. She twisted the corner of her mouth like she does when she wants to say something but thinks better of it. That didn’t last long, though. Over dinner, she broached the subject very delicately. She said that she’d noticed I’d started drinking a lot. I could tell by the way she said it that she thought I was becoming an alcoholic. That kind of ticked me off, so I decided to go ahead and tell her about the scrapie/mad cow thing.
Ruth listened really patiently to my whole spiel. I told her about the sheep on the ranch, how my father had gotten sick. His symptoms. I also told her about the Free Clinic and everything.
We were done eating by then, so we went into the living room and sat on the couch. Ruth listened really attentively to all my theories on the disease without passing judgment. When I was finished, she gave me a hug. Then she jumped up and said she had a surprise. She opened the freezer and voila! A pint of my favorite: Haagen Daaz Vanilla Swiss Almond! That was so sweet of her, always thinking of me.
She took the ice cream back to the couch with two spoons and we ate right out of the carton. I was impressed she didn’t seem worried about catching anything, but that also made me realize that she probably thought I was imagining the whole scrapies thing. She told me that if I went back to the Free Clinic and got the name of that neurologist at PHSU, she’d go with me. The way she said it, I felt like she wanted to go to make sure I went.
After eating all that food we were both so drowsy that we decided to call it a night and turn in. This time, I took off my clothes and only left on my T-shirt and undies. Ruth went into the bathroom to get ready and came back in a cute little nightie. I put on this dreamy CD by Hooverphonic that I’d given her for her birthday and she turned off the light and got in bed next to me.
We started talking girl talk. I told her that I really liked the way she was growing her hair out. Eventually, it would look so killer: Long, black and sleek. Another two or three months and that blonde raccoon stripe along her bangs would be history.
Ruth said thanks and switched the conversation, wanting to know how much weight I’d lost over the past couple of months. I said beats the hell out of me, I’d thrown away the scale Jeff bought. She said she thought I looked good with the weight off. But some of the girls at school had been gossiping, saying I must be anorexic or something. She said she could never make herself throw up, could I? I said no way, that was totally wrong. In the silence of the room, I sensed her listening carefully to my answer, gauging it to see if I was telling the truth.
For the second time in one evening, I felt a twinge of irritation but I knew Ruth was only worried about me, it was friendly concern, so I let it slide again without calling her on it. She put her arms around me and gave me a nice hug: “I’m so glad that we’re best buds.”
I asked her about Chuck, this guy she’d been seeing lately. She said, oh Chucky, that loser, she was going to break up with him next week. He was way too immature, never listened to a word she was saying. All he cared about was sex, and even that wasn’t so hot. She asked if I’d ever get back together with Jeff, and I turned to face her. No need to even dignify that with a response. As I propped myself up on one elbow, my night shirt slipped down and my left tit kind of popped out.
I looked down, back up at Ruth. She giggled. There was enough light in the room coming in through the window to see the look on her face. I knew right then that she was attracted to me, but maybe she wasn’t quite aware of this fact. It was more of an impulse. All I had to do was lean over and kiss her. But I couldn’t do it. Not tonight.
Instead, I just lay there next to my love, her long brown legs rubbing against mine under the sheets, and I felt my skin prickle in that familiar way up and down the inside of my thighs right before my little girl starts to get wet.
In the middle of the night, I woke up plagued with a terrible thirst. Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink! I got up, stumbled into the kitchen. As I was standing there at the sink, I could have sworn I heard a creaking upstairs in Bill’s room. The floor boards. Then I heard a sound that was too soft to really hear, but I recognized it anyway, kind of a whisper.
A big shadow was there in the room with me. I could see it out of the corner of my eye. Just one. Better to pretend it wasn’t there. Sometimes when I did that, they went away. Acknowledging their presence seemed to encourage them.
I didn’t feel hungry, but I looked in the fridge anyway. There was the tofu pad Thai, wrapped neatly in Saran Wrap. No, that wouldn’t do. I needed something more substantial. Protein, a quick fix. I poked around. Ruth was a vegaquarian but alas alack, no fish. Then I noticed the shelves in the door. Sure enough, there was this jar with a picture of a fish and the word “Gefelte” written on the label. I couldn’t find an expiration date, but when I unscrewed the lid, this vile smell came out. Yuck!
Right as I was putting the jar back in the door, I caught a glimpse of something moving closer to me, out in the dining room. Looking directly at the spot, I could see the carpet was shaded different like there was a huge invisible form standing there casting a shadow.
Whatever it was moved toward me again and I screamed. The jar fell out of my hands, shattering on the floor. Shadows popped up everywhere, and I saw something else, something horrible that I’d never seen before: It was like this little vortex had opened up right in front of my eyes and all these squirming beings were moving around inside.
I fell down to my knees without taking my eyes off the vortex and started feeling around blindly on the floor for a piece of that rotten fish. My fingers wrapped around a soft, fleshy chunk. As soon as I got it down and swallowed, the whispering in my ears began to fade away, and the vortex closed up like it had never been there. I looked down, grabbed another piece of fish, stuffed it in my mouth, chewing mechanically.
Now that I was a little more relaxed, I noticed how awful the Gefelte tasted. Bleh! Gross! And then it came bubbling up out of me, not the fish, but these giggles of relief. So what if my knees were bleeding with shards of glass in them? I sat back against the fridge to catch my breath.
And that’s when I heard the new sound: it came from the living room—a sniffing gurgle. Every muscle and tendon in my body went tight again. The first thing that came to mind was the sound that demon had made in Powell’s. If the Shadow People could follow me here then why not the demon?
I looked over at the knife drawer on the other side of the kitchen. Two, maybe three steps. They would take me into plain view of the living room, but if the demon hadn’t come in the kitchen yet, then maybe it didn’t know I was in here. I remembered the way it had followed my scent in Powell’s, sniffing around the place where I’d been standing when I’d read from The Poisonwood Bible. My scent had been weak then because I was still alive with a soul insulated tight inside my body. But if I’d fainted in the cafe and my soul had slipped out, like what might happen now . . . .
OK, this is it, baby. Don’t give a fuck. One fast, fluid motion and the knife will be in your hand.
I rose up slowly, cautiously, bracing myself against the bar like a sprinter getting ready to explode off the starting block. And that’s when I recognized another sound, this little gasp, the familiar tone of a throat being cleared.
I peeped over the bar. There was Ruth. Her eyes were all red and her face looked strange—puffy and distorted. I wondered if maybe one of the Shadow People had done something to her, hurt her in some way, because if they had . . . and then I realized she was only crying.
“Oh, Jules,” she said in a shaky voice. “Please. Don’t.” I looked down. My hand was clenching the handle of a big steak knife.
I’ve been thinking a lot about light. Where it comes from: both here and beyond. When that vortex opened up in Ruth’s kitchen it glowed pinkish-red like the inside of a womb, flickering or pulsing to the beat of some colossal heart.
Who knows? Maybe I was so scared at the time that I immediately assumed the worst. Maybe the squirming beings were really angels!
Yeah, right. Guess again. Even as I typed those words, I knew that I was only kidding myself. There’s no way those grody ucky things were angels. They seemed more like human maggots, unhatched embryos—souls that hadn’t ripened yet into fetuses made of real flesh and blood.
I think maybe what I saw was a cosmic rip. Instead of seeing forward into the future, I was seeing backwards. When the changes happen, it’s like that: I slip out of time. My soul’s no longer held in check; it starts to drift, a boat cut loose from its moorings. The Shadow People are attracted to me because I have the light of being alive, my soul gives off some kind of energy they lack. They want something from me, but I’m not sure what.
OK, enough! Change the subject: Christmas, the Easter Bunny, shiny happy people holding hands. No more demonology. Your heart’s pounding like a drum inside that bony chest of yours, girlfriend.
Today, I started packing up my things when Deeksha wasn’t home. I’m not sure if Ruth still wants to room with me after what happened the other night at her house, but I can’t live here anymore. Deeksha is driving me insane. Partly, it’s my fault. If I’d been honest with her that time in the garden and just said I wasn’t attracted to her, maybe she would have left me alone. Yeah, and maybe she would have made me pay the rest of the rent money that I don’t have. Business has been really slow at Rose City. I haven’t sold a guitar in weeks. This commission thing is starting to backfire. I’m not positive, but I think it’s illegal in the state of Oregon to pay commission without a base salary. I’m going to call up the Better Business Bureau to ask.
It didn’t take long for me to get tired of packing my stuff this afternoon, so I poured myself a cold glass of water and went outside to sit in the garden. I’m going to miss that beautiful place, a little corner of paradise on earth.
After I finished meditating and doing some Yoga, I just lay back and soaked up the warmth. Oregon has the most beautiful skies when the weather is good. A deep robin’s egg blue. The sun was shining from behind a tree and I could see its corona peeking through the leaves. It was so warm, nourishing. I had to fight off the urge to look at it.
When I was little, one time my mom had told me never to look directly at the sun. I asked her why and she said it could make me blind. The warning scared me quite a bit, but, I’d had to fight the urge to look at it.
Later that night, I’d looked at a light bulb in my room—really stared at it. After a while it made this black splotch on my irises that followed me everywhere. I screamed and ran into to my parent’s room, confessing what I’d done. Mom chuckled and said it would go away, don’t worry. A light bulb isn’t as powerful as the sun. But if I’d kept on staring, who knows, it could do permanent damage. Never stare at anything that’s really bright.
I think I’m attracted to the sun these days because it symbolizes divine illumination. Here on earth, it’s the closest thing we have to heaven. No one shall look on my face and live. That’s what God said to Moses. My Sunday school teacher showed us that passage one time and it immediately reminded me of the sun, how my mom had told me never to look directly at it.
I wish I were an angel, so I could fly into the sun, live in its warmth, a heavenly womb. I wish God would talk to me like one of the prophets. Because if there’s really such a thing as heaven, I want to go there more than anything else now. I want to see the true light that comes directly from God.
Part of me feels like I’ve been there before, in heaven. It’s sort of like how you feel when you’re far away from home and you think about it and your heart grows fond, longing to return. Deja-vu of the soul.