Chapter Nine: The halo
It is 5:30 am on July 29th.
I’m sitting across from my son at the tiny kitchen table in our cabin, astonished that he is still eating. We woke up about a half hour ago, both of us in the same exact position we fell asleep in under the willow tree, and except for when his mouth was too full, he has not stopped talking about the tiny mushrooms since. He swallows a huge bite of his fourth piece of toast, eyes twinkling like the stars.
“You KNOW it wasn’t a dream, right? No way. I heard them. They were SINGING! I never had a dream like that anyway. You know it was real, right Mom? You heard it too right?”
“I know it was real, buddy.” I tell him for the fifth time.
“How could they know our song? HOW COULD THEY SING?”
It never would have occurred to me that the mushrooms were actually singing, and I find his explanation absolutely adorable (and really no more absurd than any other reason you might hear your own voice coming out from under a tree in the woods). I experienced it more like a memory when it happened; like our voices in the Tank were absorbed by the earth around us, and she remembered the tune and was humming it to herself. Either way…
“Mom these woods are BANANAS”, my son giggled, finishing my thought out loud.
He wants to stop by the willow again, but we have to rush to make it to the Tank. I tell him we’ll stop by this evening, and challenge him to a race to the Tank door. This morning, my son and I don’t run…we fly through the woods. We moved so fast I kept looking down at my feet, expecting to see nothing but a blur. At the Tank door, what felt like seconds after we left our cabin, we stopped, staring at each other in silence for a moment.
“We should sleep that long more often, huh?” I say, leaning down to knock.
I’m moving slower, expecting to be winded from our run, but I’m not. I feel like I could lift this door open with one hand and throw it into the woods. A quick greeting to Agni and her girls, and we are settled into the Tank.
The energy in here feels different than before, and I can feel my son’s knobby knees shaking in front of mine as he tries to settle his mind. He really enjoys meditating most days, but occasionally has trouble with it. I am sensing his discomfort, thinking maybe we shouldn’t sleep that long more often. He whispers through the dark.
“Mom…can I take this wrap off? Its hot.”
“It’s not hot. It’s the exact temperature of us. We have to leave them on.”
“Because the Mother said to, honey. They protect us.”
“From what?” his voice whispers, suddenly inches in front of my face. I hadn’t even felt him move.
“From buuuurrrnnnout?” he hisses, in what sounds like a much older person’s voice.
He is so close to my face the word echoes in my skull. I jump back, my heart in my throat, hating this darkness for the first time. His laughter erupts from somewhere in the floor now, layering over the word that I swear I can still hear. I sit in total silence, feeling every moment of my fear, refusing to let my mind bicker with my pounding heart. I’m a little relieved to hear his laugh, but I can’t shake the feeling that voice wasn’t his, and this darkness is paralyzing me. He feels it, and his laughter fades.
“I’m sorry, mom.”
“It’s not funny. That’s never funny”
I know we have probably not been here more than twenty minutes, and I want out. I don’t want this to overpower me, and I don’t know why it is, but for some reason I decide not to fight it. Instead, I just feel it, like I’ve been taught to do by people much wiser than myself. I’m trying to notice what’s here, watching my thoughts pass from one side of my mind to the other, watching them leave me, never stopping to question them or really even think about them at all. This has always seemed much harder than it feels right now.
I feel frustrated. I feel trapped. My skin is crawling, my shoulders are tight and high. I let go a little with each exhale, and feel them get heavy and lower. I’m angry. I feel furious. Not with my son, but maybe with the voice I thought wasn’t his. I’m angry with my fear. I’m angry with the fear that put us in this Tank for twelve hours. I’m angry with the world that created the mess we felt we had to escape. My heart feels so heavy that it has to be left over from another life. The sadness washing over me is much larger than anything that could have been built in thirty-seven years. So I just sit. Breathe. Feel it all, and it all passes.
The Tank door opens, and I’m not surprised to see Agni this time, even though it feels like it’s only been an hour. I watch my son climb out ahead of me and follow him, disoriented. Like when you’re so lost in thought while driving that you’re surprised to see a child in your back seat when you arrive.
“Mom! Can I go play with Bodhi?”
He gestures toward the trees, where Bodhi is standing, staring up at the sky. I nod yes, holding the door for Agni, and pause when I see her face. She’s been crying.
“Hey…Hey, are you alright?”
She drops her face onto my shoulder, trying to hold back tears. She takes a few deep breaths, and when the kids are all out of sight, she tells me that the Mother is not well. She’s been feeling weak, and her already poor vision has apparently drastically worsened. Instinctively, I pull my black wrap tighter around me. This is not good.
“And this is just so hard, you know? I thought I was so sure about this. But we were good in the Commune…we made it work. What are we even doing here? I think all this darkness is getting to me. And I miss James.”
She sighs loudly, shrugging and shaking her head as she wipes her eyes, as if to apologize for being so emotional. I’m not much of a hugger, but I hug her before she descends into the Tank, and I don’t really want to let go. I feel a little guilty for staying so private here; we all may need each other more than I realized.
I think we should go help make dinner for the Mother and check on her instead of running around in the woods tonight. I’m walking toward the sounds of giggling boys and somewhere in the distance, Dorian’s guitar. When I get to the edge of the trees I can see two silhouettes. Bodhi is sitting with his legs crossed in a little circle of grass, tapping his little wooden toy animals together while he sings a familiar little chant he likes. My son is hanging upside down from a huge tree branch, swinging back and forth and adding monkey sounds to Bodhi’s song.
Without even meaning to, I start singing along with them. The sound that comes out of my mouth startles me; it is my voice, but not only mine. There’s something else. I put my hand on my throat and sing louder, listening. There’s another voice, a high-pitched harmonic sound that I can feel coming through my lips but know is not mine.
“Mom, is that you?”
Bodhi echoes: “That you?”
I look up to see my upside-down son smiling at me, looking right past Bodhi, whose attention is fixed on the air above him. My voices stop.
Bodhi’s little wooden toys are floating several feet above him, evenly spaced apart in a perfect circle, spinning slowly like a halo around his head.