Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The link for the rehab ranch

I found it!

As promised, here is the link to Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles, the rehabilitation ranch where I'll be staying for a while.

Will try to update on Twitter as often as possible. I hope to hear from you all soon. Be well.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles

The ranch is nothing short of incredible. It is both everything--and nothing--I could have ever expected.

It was approaching dusk when I pulled into the drive, which was less a drive than a dirt road. The sun was setting over the purple mountains, and the sky was the most beautiful array of pinks and oranges that I had seen in a long time. The ranch sat back off the main highway about two miles. I was convinced I had turned down the wrong road when the main building came into view.

It's a squat, stucco building, with russet adobe tiles and a pavilion tiled in the Spanish tradition. The windows are barred with intricate wrought iron, and the front lawn is entirely xeriscaped with yucca, cactus, and other natives I'm not yet familiar with. In front, there's a huge, wrought iron banner that reads, "Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles".

I pulled down the road slowly, taking a moment to breathe deep and center. There was awoan standing outside, arms wrapped around herself, long skirt swishing about her cowboy boots, her cowboy hat tipped low over her eyes.

I roll down my window, and she leans halfway into my car. "Tatum McGarland?" she asks. I note a Spanish accent.

"That's me,"I said, suddenly self-conscious. Maybe it was the realization that I was outside a freaking rehabilitation center. Maybe it was being so far away from home. Maybe it was that crazy sky. Maybe it was everything.

"Lourdes said I could expect you today. I'm Rosaura," she said, extending her hand. "Un placer," she smiled.

I took her hand and tried to smile back, but I'm not sure it made it to my face. Rosaura was much younger--and more average--than I had expected. I was expecting an older woman, a fat, old woman with a ton of silver jewlery and lots of drapey clothing hanging off her body. Rosaura was nothing like that. She was slender, dressed casually in a tank top and skirt, sporting cowboy boots and hat. She wore no jewelry that I could see and nothing about her felt...well, nothing about her felt magical. She just seemed completely normal.

"I'll send someone out for your things," she said, leading the way into the main building. "We're just about to have dinner. Are you hungry?"

I had opened my mouth to say no, but my stomach growled, betraying me. "Famished," I admitted.

"I hope you like Mexican food," she said, opening the door. "It's the only thing we serve on the ranch."

Now, I've lived in Texas all my life. There's a running joke that while California may share a order with Mexico, they don't know shit about Mexican food. There's nothing in the world like a good plate of Tex Mex, and hearing the words "Mexican food" gave me such a pang of heartache and homesickness I about fell over. But when I stepped through the door and the aromas of dinner washed over me, I realized that whatever I thought I knew about Mexican food was about to be thrown out the window.

I didn't know what they were cooking, but I knew I had never smelled anything like it. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

"This is the main lounge," Rosaura was saying as we walked through a large, open space warmly decorated with high ceilings and large windows. "Down that hallway is the main office, and up the stairs are the meeting rooms. We have all kinds of classes--yoga, watercolor, Pilates, singing, knitting...and we're always adding new things, so if there's something you're interested in, you can let us know and we'll see what we can do about it. Out the door there is the pool area and cabana. But the dining room," she said, turning to smile over her shoulder at me, "is this way."

There were about ten other people sitting at the table, which looked like something out of the Mexican version of Better Homes and Gardens. There was more food than I'd ever seen in my life. Quail, pork, cactus, eggs. . .It was astounding. And the tortillas put every sorry excuse for a flour concoction I've ever swooned over in Texas morbidly to shame.

Dinner conversation was quaint, and Rosaura introduced me to everyone (and I don't remember a single person's name) but I didn't say much. I was exhausted. Rosaura took me to my room, which was in another building, and wished me good night.

"I'll be back in the morning," she said, "to get you started. I only have one request for you. Whatever ties you had to your old life--I need you to leave them behind while you're here. No email, no blogging, don't even call home. I know that sounds extreme, and you're probably thinking you've run into some kind of cult." She laughed. If she only knew. "We encourage you to go back to your old life when you're done here. But for now--think of this as an escape. From everything."

So I'm breaking the rules by journaling right now. But I needed to record this. I need to record the beginning of this journey. Right now I'm sitting at a diner about three miles down the highway from the Ranch, at the most unlikely place in the world to have free wifi, but there it is. I won't be able to update again. Not for a while.

Damn, I wish I had a camera so I could post pictures of this place. They have a wbesite though. Of course, I can't find the link. I'll have to post it later.

Okay, one more post, just to post the link to the ranch's website. One post, and then, I begin again. Alone.

Catch y'all on the flip side.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Prisoner in my skin

I woke up this morning to the sound of my phone ringing. It was Raven.

"There you are," she said. "I called you three times, how come you don't answer?"

"I'm asleep," I said, rolling on to my bad, eyes closed. "I got in late last night."

"Where are you?"

I had to think a minute. I rubbed my eyes. "Tucson. I took a detour in New Mexico; stopped at some jewelry places and got some really pretty pieces to send to you and Hannah."

"What time is it there?"

I glanced over at the clock. "After 8," I said.

"They don't have daylight savings time there?"

"I don't know, Raven. I was asleep," I said again, hoping she'd catch my drift.

"You made pretty good time, though, if you're already in Tucson," she said, completely not catching my drift.

"I did, I made really good time," I said. I stretched my legs and sat up. She obviously wanted to talk. So I would talk.

"How far is that from Austin? Like 1,000 miles?"

I sighed. "Raven, seriously? I have no idea how far Tucson is from Austin. I'm really tired. Can we talk about something else? Something I don't have to think about?"

She was quiet a minute. Then, "Did you go out last night?"

And then I realized. She didn't mean to make idle conversation, she just didn't know how to cut to the chase. Maybe she didn't really want to know. But she had to ask. That's what friends do.

I pulled into the bar at quarter to eleven. I was shaking, but I also felt alive. Heart racing, pulse beating loudly in my ears, I gripped the steering wheel and watched the people in line, waiting for a chance to prove they were cool enough, hip enough, attractive enough to be seen, to be granted entrance into the club.

I watched him without him knowing. He was slender in his jeans with touseled hair. He rode a bike, I don't know what kind, and as he climbed off, I watched him stretch his arms up to the sky so that his t-shirt rode up just enough that I could see a pretty slice of stomach. And in that moment, I knew it would be him. He was the one.

I got out, slammed the car door behind me. I walked up to him, put my hand on his shoulder. He stopped, turned, and smiled. He cocked an eyebrow. "Hey," he said. "Help you with something?"

I smiled, so sure of myself, never hesitating to wonder how women are supposed to act around men. I let my hand drop to my side. I tossed my hair. It all came so naturally.

But when I opened my mouth to speak, some part of me remembered, recalled that it had always been long hair and curling lashes and a narrow waist and a round ass and cherry flavored lip gloss that had sparked my flame. And I was torn--torn between wanting, needing to take this man to bed, to ravish him and leave him breathless--literally--beside me so that I could be full of his life, his energy, his viality, and between my true self, and who I am, and what I have alwasy been. And I wanted to sceam and tear my hair out, because I felt for the first time that I was truly a prisoner in my own body.

But instead I faltered, shook my head. "I thought you were someone else," I said quietly, ducking my head down and hurrying back to the car.

Safe inside, I hung my head over the steering wheel and cried my heart out.

But Raven didn't need to hear any of this.

"Yes," I said after a moment. "But nothing happened."

I heard Raven catch her breath. "You swear, mija? You swear nothing happened?"

I nodded, though she couldn't see me. "I swear," I whispered.

"Because if you're not careful, and the police catch on..."

I've already thought of that, I thought, feeling my skin pimple over. "I know," was all I could say.

Raven was silent a moment. Then, "Well, look, I wanted to call you before you got to the ranch. They don't have internet out there, and--"

"No internet? Are you serious? Fuck me," I said. "You didn't mention that."

"--and I don't know how good the reception is, either," she said as though I hadn't interrupted. "So I just wanted to tell you that I love you, and I am holding space for you, and I hope...I hope..."

Her voice trailed off, and I thought I could hear her crying. But maybe it was just my imagination. "Get better," she finally finished. "Get better and come back to us."

She disconnected without saying good bye. I started thinking of all the things I should have said: that I needed to talk to Hannah, that I needed her to check on my Dad, that I loved her, too. I should have said these things, even if she knew some of them, because theyw ere things you say out loud because the saying affirms them, makes them real, and rivets you to the world. Speaking words aloud is a sacred form of magic, and I know this, and I didn't do it.

"I love you, Raven," I said to my empty room. "I love you, Daddy. I'll be home, soon," I said, shoulder shaking, crying. "I'll come home soon."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Absence of starlight

The plan was to just leave. Just leave and let Raven clean up the mess I am leaving behind here.

Around dinnertime, though, I started feeling guilty. Would Daddy be upset that I left without saying good bye? What about work; would my clients be okay with me? And what about Hannah?

With the exception of Raven and Hannah, the rest of the coven could explode in a puff of smoke and quite honestly it wouldn't make any difference to me. We've been drifting--or, they have--for a while now. The only people there who still care about me are Raven and Hannah.

I tried a few times to reach her on her cell, and texted her, but eventually I was forced to leave a good-bye message on her voicemail. That felt shitty and low, even for me. Ever since the ritual, ever since all this shit started happening, I've wanted to reach out to Hannah, but something keeps me from her. I can't explain it. It's almost like two north poles of a magnet. We repel.

I thought about calling Heather, too, but whatever giddiness and lust I used to feel for her has completely vanished. I can't even remember what attracted me to her in the first place. I can't say the thought of her is revolting, not anything like that, it's just . . . I'm just apathetic.

That makes me feel shitty, and scared, and lonely. Christ, I feel lonely. I could just drive into the night and into the dark and into the void and just keep going and never come out the other side. Just drift away.

It's about a quarter to nine. I've packed the few things I'm bringing with me. Raven is going to take care of everything else. I don't know what I'd do without her. I'm sitting on the stoop, stealing wifi from Mr. Baxter, and I'm wondering how the hell this all happened. What the fuck did I do to deserve any of this? How did I end up mentally ill and friendless, and about to leave everything I know and love to go stay with a bunch of strangers in the middle of the goddamned desert?

I'm supposed to leave tonight, but I think the road can wait til morning. The sky is clear and dotted with stars. I hope there's not too much ambient light in Joshua Tree to see the stars. That's what I fear most about California. The absence of starlight.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Curandera Ranch

I knew Raven meant business when I got out of my car and could smell the sage wafting out of her open living room windows.

I let myself in and found Raven sitting cross-legged on the floor with the Tarot cards, a burning wand of sage, and two candles. Her expression was loving, but firm. The house was unusually quiet.

"Where are the twins?" I asked, sitting down in front of her.

"With my mom. I told her I was meeting a client and needed the house to myself for a few hours."

A client. The term made me uncomfortable. I know Raven reads Tarot as part of her pastoral counseling duties with the local Unitarian church, but she's often read for me as a friend, covenmate, sister. The idea that I was coming to her for counseling set my on edge.

And yet, she was right. That was exactly why I was there, and the realization filled me with dread.

"Are you ready?"

She handed me the cards, and I began shuffling carefully, eyes closed, mind focused on the things I needed to know most. What was happening to me? How could I find my way out? What did I need to do next?

The cards felt good in my hands. I felt in control of things. The sound of their shuffling and the familiarity of their weight centered me. I placed the cards face down in front of Raven.

But when I looked up at her, her expression was serious, her eyes piercing. She shook her head.

"I don't need the cards to help you, mija," she said. "I got them out for you, if you want them. But I don't need them. I can look at you and see that something bad is happening to you."

I folded my hands lamely in my lap, feeling helpless. "What's happening to me?"

Raven reached for me then, engulfing me in an embrace that I hadn't known I needed. The warmth of her body against mine opened the floodgates, and I began crying harder than I've ever cried before--huge, body-wracking, ugly sobs, the kind that leave you hiccuping and snotty and weak. Raven never moved away, just held me close to her, and when I was ready, let me go.

"I don't know much about possession," she said after a moment, gauging my reaction. When I didn't object, she continued. "But I know enough to know that what's happening to you is beyond my ability to fix. I've seen my fair share of scary shit as a high priestess, but this. . ." She shook her head. "I'm sorry, mija. I'm sorry this is happening to you.

"Listen. I have cousins in California that own a ranch in the desert. It's a kind of recovery clinic for addicts and depressives. It's sort of alternative and self-help, but I think it could be good for you."

It took me a minute to realize what she was suggesting. I chuckled, wiping snot from my nose with the back of my hand. "Raven, I'm not just depressed. I don't think talking to some counselor is going to do me a lot of good."

She laughed, a big, deep laugh, so deep I could fall into it. "Do you know what a curandera is?" she asked.

I said that I didn't.

"You think we have big magic here in our coven?" She smiled and shook her head. "What we do is nothing. They have big magic out on the ranch out west. My Aunt had it. My cousins got it. Me, well, I make due with what I have." Her smile faltered; I could see it was a sore subject for her. After a moment, she collected herself, returning to the matter at hand. "I talked to my cousin Rosaura. They have room for you. If you want to go."

I couldn't find the words at first. I couldn't catch my breath. I got lightheaded and nauseated. I stumbled to my feet and barely made it to the bathroom where I retched and threw up my meagre lunch in the toilet. I was shaking. I was hot. I was cold. I felt like I was going to die.

I slumped to the floor, resting my palms on the cool tile. Raven padded in, eyes gone hard and cold like they do when she means business. "I can help you pack," she said.

I tried to laugh. It came out a sigh. "How would I even pay for this? I'm guessing they don't accept Blue Cross Blue Shield."

Raven leaned against th door jamb, arms crossed. I was glad I couldn't see myself from her perspective. "They take other forms of payment," was all she said.

We talked a little while after (on the couch--Raven had the good graces to help me back into the livingroom.) When I left her house I felt shaken and scared. But once I got home, I started feeling strong, more confident, like maybe it wasn't completely crazy, that maybe going out to this curandera ranch in California might be the right thing for me.

I have already started packing. Tomorrow morning I am taking a leave of absence from the clinic. And tomorrow evening, with any luck, I'll be on the road to Joshua Tree, California.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Pre-Lilith Ritual

I did it. I asked Heather out, and she said yes! We met last night for dinner at Musashino (best.sushi.ever. OMG! Granted, I've never eaten at Uchi, but who can get reservations at the place anyway?) We split 5 rolls and I had 3 pieces of sashimi. We went to Chez Zee for dessert. I had the lemon rosemary cake. H.e.a.v.e.n.

So, the ritual is tomorrow. I'm feeling very nervous, especially since Heather's coven is going to be there. I actually don't know if Heather will be there or not--she's not an initiate, only a dedicant, and I don't know what Sky Moon's rules are about dedicants attending Sabbat rituals are. (We actually had other stuff to talk about last night besides witch stuff, which was kind of awesome, really.) I'm actually kind of hoping that she won't be there, because while if things go well, it's going to be absolutely FAN-FUCKING-TASTIC (I am super proud of this ritual, and I don't mind saying so), but if things go wrong or even are just mediocre...well, at worst, I'll come off looking inept and stupid and at worst someone could potentially get hurt.

That's something I haven't really talked to anyone about, really, except Hannah. I've worked with Hecate in the past, and while I don't know much about the dark goddesses, I do know that they aren't something to be trifled with. Hecate and I had to part ways because she wanted sacrifices from me that I wasn't willing to make. And from what I can gather about Lilith during my brief encounters with her during writing the ritual, she's more demanding than Hecate and less respectful of personal space.

Part of me is starting to wonder if we should have done a ritual in honor of Persephone instead. At least then I wouldn't be afraid of something going wrong.

Maybe I'm being silly. I'm probably being silly. It's really unlikely that anything is going to go wrong, and even if things don't go exactly as planned, what's really the worst that could happen?

Thursday, October 9, 2008


I'm starting to think about what I want to be for Halloween.

Although this is a very sacred time of year for me, I rarely get a chance to celebrate the secular Halloween. We're not allowed to wear costumes to work (grief counselor. It just ain't appropriate.) and I live in an apartment so it's not like I get any trick-or-treaters. But Raven has invited me to come with her to take Schuyler and Ryan trick-or-treating and I was so touched by the invitation that I decided I should make them all proud. Now I just an idea for a costume.

I have a really great 50's inspired party dress that Hannah made for the wedding I officiated last year. I was thinking I could add an over-the-top wig, an apron, and rubber gloves and I could go as a housewife. But the outfit won't look right without heels and there is no way I'm letting the twins drag me around the neighborhood in heels.

I don't want to buy a costume because all the women's costumes in stores are uber skanky. Has anybody else noticed that? Why are all women's costumes slutwear? Why can't women go as werewolves, non-sexy vampires, or astronauts? Why are we relegated to "scary" versions of the Playboy bunny?

Hell, the Playboy bunny is plenty scary enough without Halloween's help.

Also found out today that Audra has given her notice to go work in private practice. Not only am I excited for her--she's never really liked working for a non-profit--I'm excited for myself, too, as there's a good possibility that I can interview for her position. That doesn't mean I'll get it, of course (especially if Audra goes around telling the powers that be that I'm no good with men) but the opportunity to show what I can do could be golden. Don't have any details yet like salary range or anything, but I"m still keeping my fingers crossed.

Coven meeting tonight. I am thinking about baking some brownies to bring along. I'm curious to see how the tombstones are turning out. I'm starting to feel slightly guilty about that.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Memories of Daddy

I love being in the office before anyone gets here.

I love working out here, in the mountains. All right, you West Coasters are laughing at me, but to my born and bred Texan ass, these are mountains. It's green and peaceful and removed from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the city.

There's a creek that flows right behind the office. Sometimes, if it's light out and I'm feeling invincible, I'll go down to the water in the morning, take off my shoes, and just stand in the water. I throw my head back, close my eyes, and just stand in the water, letting myself be reborn in the quiet.

I have a busy day today. I think I'm seeing three families today, which is unusual. Usually I see at most two families, and a handful of widows and children. I don't get that many men, primarily because Audra (that's boss-woman) says I don't work well with men.

I don't think that's true. I just think that Audra assumes I don't work well with men because I'm a lesbian. But what she doesn't know is that my sun rises and sets upon my father, and I have a younger brother who I adore. They are two of the most compassionate, artful, magical people on the planet, and never could the fact of their penises diminish them in my eyes. They are glorious beings, Dad and Jack. In fact, they're a large part of the reason I became a grief counselor. When Mom died, Dad lost so much of himself. It's a personal goal of mine to help other people get their souls back since I could never seem to help Daddy get his.

Well. I didn't mean to go there. I actually intended to start this as an upbeat post. But I guess that's what happens when you allow yourself to speak what you're really thinking.

Is it too early to be looking forward to the new year?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Rant: Violet

Violet can be such a bitch. (And I would tell her that to her face, so don't anyone get all "don't talk about your coven sister behind her back!" on me).

Hannah and I wrote the Lilith ritual a few weeks ago. Initially we were going to perform it Halloween night, but Raven really wanted to do something with her kids, and October weekends are so hard to schedule with other rituals, Halloween parties, birthdays (mine's coming up on the 26th, hint, hint!) Renaissance Festival, etc.

Anyway, we wrote the ritual with the intention of it being high theatre. The ritual calls for special lighting, fog, and a false tombstone for each participant. That's not such a big deal because we planned to host a tombstone making workshop so folks could make their own tombstones. (I can't imagine trying to make neatly 20 tombstones. Kill me.) Hannah offered to host at her house, and she and her husband were going to prepare food for everyone.

Well, last night Violet decided--that's right, Violet, not Raven--that having everyone design their own tombstones would ruin some of the suspense which is necessary for the ritual. She decided that Hannah and I needed to create all the props ourselves since it was our ritual and we needed to be responsible for it.

Um, excuse me? If it's OUR ritual, why is SHE the one giving orders? I get that she's Raven's handmaiden, but I just that that was tacky. I think Raven could tell that I was about to blow a gasket (Violet and my relationship has been awfully volatile lately anyway) because she volunteered to help Hannah build the tombstones. Hannah didn't seem to mind, but she's ...well, Hannah's like that.

I'm still aggravated about the whole thing. I just want to make it through this ritual and get past Halloween. Then the coven needs to have a sit down about roles and boundaries.

Friday, October 3, 2008

ritual, Heather

Thank God it's Friday.

The girls and I are getting together for a ritual rehearsal tonight. Everybody is feeling a bit sketchy about the Lilith ritual we have coming up: I don't think we've rehearsed the parts enough, and we've invited a couple other covens to come participate with us. The last thing we need is to look like a bunch of amateurs in front of everyone else. Of course, Raven is doing a wonderful job getting everyone mentally prepared for the Drawing Down and for the singing and dancing, but still. There's going to be a lot going on. I don't want anything freaky to happen.

I ran into Heather at HEB last night. We were both in the Halloween section buying candy. I said I was stocking up for trick-or-treaters but I think she knew I was lying. Hee hee. Gods, she makes my heart flutter. I know I should ask her out, but I just feel like she's so out of my league. She dates musicians and actresses (er, excuse me "actors"). I guess I just can't see her on my level, in my mundane, completely un-hip world. But stranger things have happened.

Not much else going on. Thinking about renting a movie tonight. I could use a nice distraction. Oh, shoot. Can't, ritual tonight. Well, tomorrow night, then.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Grief counseling: Alice

We're on one of our mobile tours, and I went to an elementary school today to see a little girl for grief counseling.

That's not odd itself; I do quite a bit of counseling with children. But this was the first time I've ever counseled someone who was grieving something that hadn't happened yet and might not happen.

We'll call her Alice.

Her teacher brought her in, and you could see the grief all over her face. My heart immediately went out to her. She just looked wan and hollow, the way kids do when they've lost everything. So I was both relieved and confused when Alice started talking.

"My brother went to Iraq," she said. She was looking out the window. She didn't say anything else.

"Do you miss your brother very much?" I asked her.

Her gaze never flickered. "He's still alive now but in about a month he'll be dead. He's going to kill himself. I'm never going to see my brother again."

Wow. Talk about a blow. I've been in counseling for a long time and I've never had to deal with anything like that before. I wasn't sure what to say. Part of me wanted to call Audra in for a consult. I was that stumped.

But then she looked at me, and something in her cold, blue eyes stopped me dead. I just stared at her. Then I said, "It's terrible to know that something is coming and not know how to stop it."

She nodded. "But it's worse than that because no one can stop it."

I swear to Goddess, I got goosebumps. It was the weirdest goddamned thing, and I have seen a lot of weird shit. I reached out and took her hand. And then she started crying and the grieving began.