Before we Begin, A Question for You:
Has a stranger ever told you something about yourself that completely shifted your perspective?
Sept 20, 2010. South Bend, WA.
Coming and going
“you’ve never had your chart read?” Kelly nearly spat out his oatmeal. “Leo! He’s never had his astrological chart read. He doesn’t know his Chiron from his Ceres. His Ratu from his Ketu. He’s never had his mind blown by the fantastic powers of astrology. Dear God! Or, as the Hindus say, dear infinite expressions of the divine in myriad forms, both animate and inanimate! Have you even lived?”
Jordan smiled for what felt like the first time in months. “Are you offering?”
Kelly shrugged. “I mean, only if you want me to.”
Kelly’s fourteen-and-a-half-year-old son, Leo, darted into their tent, returning with an iPad. He laid the device in front of his father on the campsite’s picnic table. Kelly cracked his knuckles and adjusted his glasses, running his hand through his silver hair. “Alright. Give me the goods. Date, time, and place.”
Jordan hesitated. He was a rational guy. But he’d found himself in the midst of an irrational problem. A big one.
He was three months to the day from when he found his ex-girlfriend’s breakup note. He was twenty days into Walking to Mexico. And he didn’t want to Walk to Mexico. He’d never wanted to Walk to Mexico. But he’d told the whole world he was going to Walk to Mexico and he couldn’t logic his way out of his commitment.
What else is there besides logic? Is it time to flirt with something else?
Jordan was desperate for a Story. And Kelly the Astrologer was one hell of a storyteller.
The world’s worst pickup line
the day before, Jordan was walking on the shoulder of Highway 101, when he suddenly heard a mechanical creaking noise coming from behind him. The highway ran across the flat plain near the mouth of the Willapa River. There was a lull in traffic, which let him hear the wind in the evergreen trees. Jordan peeked over his shoulder. In the distance, he could just make out the figure of someone riding a bicycle that was heavily laden with saddlebags.
It was obvious that this cyclist was on a big journey. Traveling somewhere with purpose.
Suddenly, Jordan was convinced that this cyclist was his ex-girlfriend, Sally.
There was no rational reason to believe that this cyclist was Sally. In fact, just an hour earlier, Jordan had been in a coffee shop in South Bend, Washington, breaking his Rule Number Three: No Social Media. He was so dedicated to Rule Number Three that he had decided against getting a data plan; his iPhone 3GS could only access the Internet where he found free wifi. But when he broke Rule Number Three, he saw that Sally had updated her Facebook profile photo.
The newest photo showed her dressed in an Indian-style salwar kameez, standing on a stone rampart, looking out over a tropical ocean. She’d just updated the photo. She was clearly a long, long way from Washington State. And the last time they were in communication, Jordan had warned Sally never to contact him again.
Still, when he peeked over his shoulder again, he was sure that the cyclist was Sally-shaped.
Creak creak creak creak. He could hear the sound of the pedals floating over the landscape.
The cyclist was less than five hundred yards away. He didn’t have a lot of time. He had to figure out what to say to Sally quickly.
He dug his hand into his pocket for Paul’s crystal.
Forget the long summer, with all its strange ups and many, many downs: Sally’s note—the successful Kickstarter—thousands of dollars pouring into Jordan’s bank account—the flicker of hope that his Huge Romantic Gesture was actually going to work—Sally telling him, “I’ll think about it”—clinging tooth and nail to the fraying thread of hope that Sally was actually going to think about it—the denial—the overwhelming, suffocating, soul-sucking dread—the monarch butterfly. When Jordan finally summoned the courage to leave Vancouver on September 1st, it was only because he convinced himself that the worst was behind him. But the first three weeks on the road had been absolute hell. By Day 19, his emotional gas tank was long past empty.
It turns out that Mexico is really, really far away from Canada. And traveling in America was nothing like backpacking in Asia.
Jordan had never felt lower in his entire life.
He could have quit. He wanted to quit. He had even tried to quit once and failed. He had even failed at quitting. There were many reasons why he had continued walking, including some that had not yet reached the level of his conscious awareness. At that moment, the most compelling reason seemed to be guilt.
In early July, two weeks after Sally left her note, Jordan had launched a crowdfunding project on the website, Kickstarter, telling the entire world that he planned to walk Sally’s trip. To his heartbroken mind, launching the project had been the Hail Mary of all Hail Mary’s. His hope was that Sally would see his video and interpret it as a plea for forgiveness. He was like a modern John Cusack carrying a stereo over his head. He never seriously considered the possibility of actually walking to Mexico by himself.
But four days after he launched, Kickstarter made him Project of the Day. They featured him front and center on their homepage. Contributions kicked up. Jordan watched in terror as his inbox filled with donation notifications. Nine days after uploading the video, he breached his $5,000 goal. And the money kept rolling in.
The very next afternoon, he met Sally for sushi. “I’ll think about it,” she said.
After that, his dread turned into terror.
Creak creak creak creak. The cyclist was three hundred yards back and closing steadily.
This was a time before everyone and their brother started fundraising online. Jordan’s Kickstarter success set off a wave of controversy back home in Toronto, where his extended family wrestled over whether or not he was “begging” for money. And walking from Canada to Mexico? Who walks from Canada to Mexico? Jordan had spent the summer wondering the same thing. Now that he was three weeks into the trip, he could confirm that the answer was: virtually nobody. He hadn’t met another traveler in weeks.
He peeked back over his shoulder. The cyclist was definitely a woman. His heart started to race.
It was the fall of 2010. America was mired in a horrible financial crisis. Mostly, Jordan had been passing through rundown resource towns where the locals claimed that, no matter how bad things looked, the meth problem in the next town was much worse. He hadn’t seen a pretty girl in what felt like months.
Sally was in India with her new boyfriend. And Jordan was Walking to Mexico without her.
A hundred and fifty yards away now. Jordan imagined what he was going to say. He’d been thinking about their joyful reunion for the last few weeks. It had seemed inevitable, even though he emailed her two days before he left Vancouver to tell her, stiffly, that he’d decided he wanted her to walk with him.
(“Of course I’m not walking with you,” she’d replied.)
But Jordan didn’t want to take her at face value. He was sure that their relationship was going to have yet another Act. It had been cinematic from the start. They met at a restaurant in the South of India called the Café Rendez Vous. Two weeks later, Sally flew home to England, broke up with her boyfriend and returned to travel India with Jordan. They spent five months backpacking throughout the subcontinent, accruing indelible, unforgettable travel experiences, falling deeper and deeper in love. By the end of that trip, Jordan was convinced that he’d finally met his soulmate.
They’d decided to move to Vancouver so they could spend a year making some money and enjoying the benefits of the West. Sally could run in shorts without being gawked at. Jordan could play Ultimate Frisbee. After a year, they’d hit the road again, playing out the next chapter in a life of creativity and adventure.
At least, that was the plan. Then some other stuff happened.
But love conquers all, right?
Jordan held Paul’s crystal tightly. The cyclist was less than eighty yards away.
Seventy yards. Sixty yards. Creak creak creak creak. The sound of the pedals was growing louder. A car zipped past Jordan. There was a blare of rock music as the vehicle continued toward the forested hill on the horizon. The engine noise receded, and the landscape grew quiet again, besides her steady creaking.
Thirty yards. Twenty yards. Fifteen.
Jordan rolled back his shoulders. He took a deep breath and tried to iron out the frown that had been on his face for months. With a little effort, it almost became a smile.
Then, he turned toward the cyclist.
Sally was a blonde twenty-five-year-old from England. This cyclist was blonde and in her mid-twenties, too. But she definitely wasn’t Sally. Jordan could hardly make out her features beneath her helmet and a big pair of cycling sunglasses. At best, he could say that she was vaguely Sally-like.
Still, this was closer to a pretty woman than he’d been in weeks.
“Hey!” he said brightly.
The woman passed just a few feet away. “Hey,” she huffed. Sweat dripped down her temples. Her legs churned rhythmically as she rolled right past. She didn’t even slow her cadence.
Creak creak creak creak.
Jordan stopped dead and watched her roll off toward the hill in the distance.
For just the briefest of moments, he’d felt the tiniest flicker of hope. Now that it was extinguished, he felt ten times worse than he’d felt five minutes ago. He stepped off the highway shoulder, dropped his backpack and took a swig from his water bottle as he watched the girl ride out of his life.
Hey? HEY!?!?? What kind of shitty pickup line was that?
He longed for her. He was pretty sure he loved her. Then a voice in his head said:
Are you just going to let her go, you pussy?
The answer came immediately: No!
His backpack was lying on the ground. He grabbed it and threw it over his shoulder, already running as he buckled it at his waist. He started to sprint, but he had fifty pounds on his back. Sprinting was impossible.
He made it just ten steps before he collapsed.
By the time he got to his feet, the cyclist was already out of sight.
A corrupted vision
two hours later, Jordan was sitting on a driftwood log, down at the bayshore, masturbating furiously.
Sun was on his face. Spit was on his palm. Hermit crabs scurried in the muck that was exposed by the ebbing tide. It didn’t take Jordan long to approach his climax, though that was already the third time he’d ejaculated that day.
With a groan, Jordan dribbled his come into the mud. He collapsed backwards, feeling even lower.
A pair of monarch butterflies fluttered past, twirling around one another, glowing orange in the sunshine as they spiraled among the wild grasses.
Jordan wiped his hands on his pants and tucked his prick back into his underwear. He scratched the top of his bald head and the three weeks of facial hair that was steadily colonizing his neck. He picked up a stone and threw it as hard as he could toward the water. It landed with a satisfying plop.
His camera bag was lying on the ground beside him. Unzipping a side pocket, he carefully withdrew what was hidden inside. It was a napkin from a sushi restaurant in Vancouver. He read the message written in Sally’s handwriting:
Goal: Tell A Story About the Universal Similarities Between People
Step 1: Travel somewhere interesting
Step 2: Collect people’s stories.
Step 3: Translate these stories into many different languages.
Step 4: Travel to another place. Hold an exhibition to share the first people’s stories with these new people.
Step 5: Collect new stories.
Step 6: Repeat.
Jordan read the napkin for the ten-thousandth time. Then he let out a long, self-pitying sigh.
What did I ever do to deserve this?
In a flash, he saw himself holding a chef’s knife.
Oh yeah. Right.
He threw a stone into the water once again. Then another. Ever since he left Vancouver on foot, his life had been punctuated by these lonely moments in the lulls between sleeping, eating and walking. Mostly, these moments had been crammed full of regret and self-recriminations. His relationship with Sally hadn’t been perfect—he wasn’t claiming that—but he’d experienced something pure with her that he’d never had with anyone else. He was longing for that feeling as much as he longed for Sally’s wit and body.
He read the napkin for the ten-thousandth-and-first time. The Universal Similarities Between People. Jordan knew his ambitions were remarkably earnest and almost violently naive for a guy with his background. One month shy of his thirtieth birthday, he’d been raised with unthinkable privileges, insulated in a well-to-do North Toronto neighborhood, gifted a brand new Japanese sports car on his sixteenth birthday. He’d studied business at the best school in Canada. His classmates and friends were well on their way to becoming the most influential people in the country. Some were on the verge of making their first of what would surely turn out to be many millions. He thought it was laughable that he could make a difference, coming from that rarified perspective. He was a man. He was white.
“I’m not white,” he said out loud. “I’m Jewish.”
Another rock landed with a plop.
One of Jordan’s privileges had been travel. He’d spent his twenties exploring the world, mixing together work and volunteering with itinerant backpacking. For the better part of the last three years, he’d been in India where he’d learned—he swore!—to reflect on the positives and negatives of his incredible privilege. Sally had been instrumental in that process, even though—or maybe because—she had graduated from Cambridge.
They had longed to make a difference. They had come up with this manifesto together.
Jordan brought the napkin to his nostrils and inhaled deeply.
Carefully folding the napkin, Jordan returned it to the pocket of his camera bag. He slung the camera bag over his shoulder like a rifle and trudged like a soldier away from the bay, slogging up the half-mile path that climbed toward the campground. As he passed beneath the soaring trees, the firs and cedars, the spruce and alders, he thought about his friends back in Toronto. To him, it seemed like their lives had so much direction, such pitch-perfect clarity. They were at the time in life when they were settling down with their gorgeous partners. Soon, there would be kids and mortgages. There would be couples’ trips in Florida and guys’ trips to Vegas. There would be moderate doses of strip clubs, cocaine and Viagra. They would retire rich and spend the rest of their lives smoking cigars in luxury boxes at hockey games. They would die happy and accomplished, and their names would be prominently displayed on university buildings and shopping malls and pharmaceutical companies. They would succeed. They would be feted by high society. They would be everything that Jordan wasn’t. Surely, he would live to regret his delusional ambitions to be some kind of artist.
I’m barking up the wrong tree. But what am I supposed to do? I kind of hope that I get hit by a truck.
Jordan had been hoping to get hit by a truck for three weeks—he hoped that the impact would break his arm or leg, just enough to give him an excuse to tell his financial backers.
When he returned to the campground, Jordan saw that a tent had sprouted up in the campsite right beside where he’d set up his. Right beside the tent, lying on the grass, was a bicycle.
Jordan’s heart leaped.
She came back! She was so taken by my pickup line that she…
But then a figure emerged from inside the tent. Definitely not Sally-shaped. It was a broad-shouldered, silver-haired man with glasses. He waved warmly at Jordan.
Jordan waved back. He felt grateful that he’d have some company, though it wasn’t exactly the kind of company that he’d been hoping for.
He crossed the grass and shook the hand of the silver-haired man.
“Pleased to meet you,” he said. “My name’s Kelly.”
A mad renegade necromancer
“when I was twenty-three, I wrote my first sci-fi book,” Kelly told Jordan. “It’s the story of a young elven ranger who sets out on a quest to save his people from a mad renegade necromancer.”
Jordan made a mental note to look up the definition.
Necromancy: the practice of magic involving communication with the dead.
“This dark wizard attempts to launch an alien invasion from another world to get revenge on his former mentor who banished him,” Kelly continued. “The main character’s name was”—he made the sound of trumpets—”Leo Castlestrong. So naturally, when I had my son a few years later, I named him”—trumpets again—”Leo Castlestrong!” Kelly laughed so wildly that Jordan wondered whether he based the necromancer character on himself. “Can you believe it? I actually dreamed my son into life!”
The aforementioned Leo had emerged from the tent. He was sitting next to his father at the picnic table, quietly sipping his tea. His disposition was extraordinarily Zen, especially compared to the excitable Kelly.
Kelly spoke with so much passion that it seemed like someone had thrown a kindergarten teacher, a motivational speaker and a speed addict into a blender—and then dumped in a case of Red Bull.
“That’s because of the cancer rising,” Kelly explained.
Jordan went white. “Oh my God. I’m so sorry.”
Father and son both burst out laughing. “No, Leo doesn’t have cancer. He’s got Cancer rising.” Jordan looked at Kelly blankly. “In his astrological chart. See, when Leo was being born, it was Gemini rising and I was telling Tina—that’s his mom—’Push, so that his moon in Gemini will be under the ascendant!’ And she was like, ‘Shut up about astrology!’ And then he came out with Cancer rising, I was like, ‘Woohoo, I got a healer!’ So I taught him Reiki and healing.”
“How do you feel about being a healer?” Jordan asked Leo.
The boy shrugged. “It’s pretty cool.”
“Aw, the ever-understated one possesses the all-seeing eye of truth! Pretty cool means positively transformational. I know it! I speak the fluent language of the teenage boy. I also speak Vulcan, Elf, and Japanese. I learned it in school.”
“How long have you two been traveling?” asked Jordan.
“Don’t you mean, how long have we been on our”—trumpets—”Journey of Locational Independence?“
Jordan smiled despite himself. “Your… Journey of Locational Independence?”
“Yes! Forget bills, mortgages, stuffing your house with useless things, working for some boss you hate! Me and Leo are gorging ourselves on the wisdom of the road! We’re traveling at our speed. Doing what we want. Following our own Rules. Rule Number One: No More Than One Season in Any Given Place. Okay, maximum two. Six months is our limit before we’re off again. No need to tie us down. A rolling stone collects no moss. We’re shooting around the country like dynamic Mercury, racing on his winged shoes. Isn’t that right, son?”
“Yes,” said Leo.
Kelly rubbed his son’s head. “Leo doesn’t show it, but he’s excited at an interdimensional level. He’s homeschooling while we’re traveling. I’m working on my magnum opus. I call it my magi opus: the first and last book anyone will ever need to read about astrology! It’s a synthesis between quantum physics, Jungian psychology, and commentary on the NFL. By the way, have you heard the news? The Broncos got Tim Tebow! We’re going to be led by the football Jesus! I’m sure this is going to be our year.”
Jordan was struggling to keep up. “How did you start on your… Journey of Locational Independence?”
“Now there’s a tale to share with a fellow traveler. Can I interest you in some tea? A spicy chai or a soothing jasmine blend?”
“I’ll take the chai,” said Jordan.
Kelly lit his camping stove and put the water on boil.
Kelly’s Story was as dramatic and unlikely as the series of incidents that led Jordan to start walking to Mexico. The Story started with a reality TV show.
Last year, Kelly had been living in North Carolina with his second wife when they were invited to star in an episode of the ABC show Wife Swap.
He explained the premise as he poured tea into Jordan’s plastic mug. Each episode featured a pair of mismatched couples. In Kelly’s case, he and his wife—a vegan massage therapist who had a thing about talking to houseplants—were paired with a dyed-in-the-wool, world champion rodeo cowboy from Texas. The couples swapped wives for two weeks—”different bedrooms, of course!”—while the cameras delighted in the contrasts. Kelly had a whale of a time with the Texan wife. She couldn’t understand why he dressed in a sarong, or why he spent his evenings playing fantasy board games with his friends. She’d never met a professional astrologer before, and she was very skeptical about the concept. Kelly was glad to see her go—and excited for his wife to return.
But the moment Kelly’s wife came home from Texas, she announced the bad news: their relationship was over.
“I was really broken up about it for a while,” Kelly said. He’d moved on to chopping vegetables for dinner. “But then I realized that Saturn had just come up on my Venus And what is Saturn?” He looked at Jordan expectantly.
“Uh, the sixth planet from the sun?”
“No! Well, yes. But in astrological terms, Saturn is about breaking connections, getting serious and facing your karma. And it was right on the planet of love! I moved home to give my wife some space. In February, she called me and said, ‘it’s over.’ And I’m like, ‘Wow. Really?’ You don’t want to come to Boulder and work it out and have a new life out here?’ She’s like, ‘No.’ She’s like, ‘We’re just best friends.’ And part of it was about the finances and just me not wanting to participate in the world in the way that she did. She wanted to be normal, wake up, and go to her job. I have my North node in Aquarius, the sign of sacred service to humanity. I’m like, ‘I need to be out there talking to my brothers!’”
He grinned at Jordan. Jordan had absolutely no idea what Kelly was talking about.
“But then I thought back to fourteen years ago,” Kelly continued, “when Saturn was also making a tough angle to Venus. I remembered that that’s when I split with Leo’s mom. So I was like, ‘wow, every time Saturn gets to Venus, it’s time for a major ending of a relationship? I go, ‘oh, there’s timing to these things?’” He laughed uproariously. “Of course there is! Duh! I’m an astrologer. So now I just accept it. I just let it go.”
Kelly dropped the vegetables into his pot. They emanated with the scent of olive oil. The sunset was reaching the peak of its brilliance as Kelly described the despondency of holing up in his mom’s basement, trying to figure out what to do next. Jordan was hanging on Kelly’s every word.
Finally, another traveler! Finally, someone else as lost as me.
“How’d you get out of it?”
“Well, that’s when I got my”—trumpets—”Call to Adventure! See, I’m a big fan of mythology and Joseph Campbell and the remarkable Journey of the Hero. You know, Luke Skywalker and all of that jazz. I know that all great journeys start with a Call! A powerful Call from the divine!”
Jordan nodded his head. It was easy to get caught up in Kelly’s enthusiasm.
“My Call came on Skype,” Kelly continued. “Out of the blue. It was this woman that I had met once at an astrology conference. She was one of your people.”
“She was Jewish?”
“No!” Kelly and Leo burst out laughing. “She was from Canada!”
Kelly and the Canadian woman consulted their charts, and decided that the timing for a relationship was propitious. “But I didn’t want to race up there right away. I knew I needed time to heal. So that’s when I decided to get on my bicycle.”
The Canadian woman lived in the Rocky Mountains, fifteen hundred miles north of Boulder. Kelly decided to travel there by bicycle. “That way I could process the end of my marriage and prepare for something new. I could go on my personal Hero’s Journey and enjoy the boons of rebirth!”
There were at least three problems with this plan. Kelly was overweight, broke, and the only bike he had lying around was the old mountain bike he’d rode when he was a teenager—hardly a desirable option for hauling gear over vast distances. Undeterred, Kelly mounted his trusting steed, renamed the bike ‘Magellan’ and borrowed some camping gear from family and friends. Rather than carrying his gear in saddlebags like most long-distance cyclists, Kelly decided to carry the majority of his weight in a pack he wore on his back.
“Terrible decision. Climbing up the Tetons was my metaphorical death. Every back-breaking pedal stroke reminded me of all the mistakes I made in my marriage. It was the worst moment of my life! It was the Long Dark Night of my Soul! I cried tears of ecstatic joy as I rolled down into Idaho!”
Jordan was sure that no one had ever cried tears of ecstatic joy as they rolled down into Idaho, but he let the comment go.
When he finally arrived in Canada, Kelly was sure he’d attained his rebirth. That night, the Canadian woman came to see him at the campground. They made love in Kelly’s tent beneath a lightning storm. “It was like Zeus himself was blessing our union!” But just a few days later, Kelly had lost the favor of the Gods—and the Canadian woman. His plan was foiled. His vision was corrupted. His future was as empty as a vacuum.
Mounting his bike again, he wandered west toward Seattle when, finally, “KA-POW! It hit me like a lightning bolt. I don’t need to be tied down. I don’t need any woman. All I need is my books, my son and the open road.” He put a frantic call into his first wife, Leo’s mother, and convinced her to let their son join his father on the road.
Father and son had just reconnected in Seattle last week. The moment Leo arrived, Kelly liquidated what was left in his bank account to buy the essentials: a new bike, a new iPad and a sturdy set of saddlebags.
“Now we’re heading south toward California. We think that…”
Jordan was suddenly distracted from Kelly’s Story by the sound of high-pitched laughter. Three cyclists had rolled into the campground just before dusk.
Three fit, attractive female cyclists.
Kelly may not have needed a woman. But Jordan needed all three of them at once. He watched open-jawed as they rolled by, heading toward a vacant, nearby campsite. All three women were in their late twenties. But one of them was very Sally-like.
The three women had hardly set up their tent before Jordan decided that he was in love.
But what was his Call to Adventure? What would be his pickup line? Jordan ended the conversation and ran to his tent, returning with the official Ultimate Frisbee that he was carrying on the outside of his pack. He practically grabbed Leo by the hand and yanked him into the open field to play catch. The light was fading, but Jordan was playing Frisbee like he was competing for the world championship. He lunged, he leaped, he grunted, he groaned. He yearned for the women to look at him, for them to see him as athletic, desirable, powerful.
But the three women were engrossed with making their meal. They didn’t glance at him once.
Back by their tents, Kelly was kindling a fire.
Straightening his spine, pushing out his chest, Jordan sauntered over to the women and said, “Hello ladies.” His voice broke. “We’re also traveling. Do you want to join us by the fire?”
“We’ll come over after dinner,” said the Sally-like one.
Jordan returned toward Kelly thanking the Gods that he didn’t believe in.
By the time the three women arrived, night had fallen, and the clearing clouds revealed a bright moon and a starry sky. Kelly told stories and gesticulated wildly at the night sky. The wet wood sizzled. Jordan inched closer to the Sally-like blonde.
“So you’re heading to Mexico? Me too. You know, walking is much more fun than cycling. What are you going to do once you get there?”
“I’m going to meet up with my boyfriend and take a vacation together.”
Boyfriend! Jordan felt like he’d been kicked in the teeth. Leo began to serenade the group with his recorder, and not long afterward, the three women wished the men goodnight and returned to their tent.
Jordan was despondent. Rejected. Again!
He limped back to his tiny shelter and tucked himself into his sleeping bag.
Since Sally left her note, Jordan had been with just one other woman. Her name was Justice. Jordan had met Justice while they were high on mushrooms on a Vancouver nudist beach. Justice told Jordan she was into BDSM. Jordan lied and said that he was into BDSM too, bragging that he had handcuffs and whips back at his place. Jordan didn’t own handcuffs or whips. He hardly had a place. He was now living in his sixth home since moving to Vancouver. But Justice was lured back anyway. Before they went to bed, she explained it was important to establish a safe word. Jordan looked around the apartment he’d subletted from a musician and laid his eyes on its most prominent feature. Piano was the safe word. Justice attacked. Jordan wrestled back. Clothes were ripped off. Justice had a lacy garter belt tattooed around her slender thigh. Her long nails drew blood. “Fucking fight!” she demanded. Jordan pushed back, a little too hard. The nightstand broke. Her nails cut deeper. “What do you want?” Jordan didn’t want to know. “Piano! Piano!”
Jordan had failed Justice. They never saw each other again.
He switched off his light and lay on his back. The night was still. He could faintly hear Kelly’s snores.
“What am I doing?” he whispered aloud. “Where the fuck am I going?”
An owl called. A raccoon screeched. But no answers were forthcoming.
Jordan didn’t hesitate. He knew exactly what to do. He spat in his palm.
And for a few brief, fleeting moments, all was well.
“you’ve never had your chart read?” Kelly nearly spat out his oatmeal. “Leo! He’s never had his chart read. He doesn’t know his Chiron from his Ceres. His Ratu from his Ketu. He’s never had his mind blown by the fantastic powers of astrology. Dear God! Or, as the Hindus say, dear infinite expressions of the divine in myriad forms, both animate and inanimate. Have you even lived?”
Jordan smiled for what felt like the first time in months. “Are you offering?”
Kelly shrugged. “I mean, only if you want me to.”
It was the next morning. The three female cyclists were gone. The only people left in the hilltop campground were Jordan, Kelly, and Leo: three travelers, each on their Journey of Locational Independence. Leo darted into the tent, returning with an iPad. He laid the device in front of his father on the picnic table. Kelly cracked his knuckles and adjusted his glasses, running his hand through his silver hair.
“Alright. Give me the goods. Date, time, and place.”
Jordan hesitated. Then he dictated the data on his birth certificate.
A circular chart appeared on the screen, divided into twelve like an extra-large pizza. A scattering of symbols lay across the pie like chili flakes. These were the heavenly bodies: the sun, the moon, the planets, Chiron, Ceres, Ratu and Ketu. This, Kelly explained, was an astronomically accurate map of the sky as it appeared over Jordan’s mother’s hospital bed at the moment he entered the world.
He looked at Jordan meaningfully. Jordan returned a skeptical glare. He was too rational for this bullshit.
Jordan’s thoughts were still with the Sally-like cyclist who was already miles out of his life. But with the warm sun overhead for what felt like the first time in weeks, he had to admit that there was a shadowy pleasure about hearing someone tell you about your best qualities.
Kelly wasn’t a fortune-teller. Instead, he was like a Jungian therapist who used the positions of the planets to hint at the deep archetypal currents in Jordan’s unconscious.
Because this planet was in that position, Kelly explained, “you express your masculine essence through adventure and travel. It’s like adventure and learning and taking big journeys is very important to you.”
Well, duh. No shit, Sherlock. It didn’t take great observational powers to figure that out.
Because that planet was in this position, “your feminine essence is like a sacred priestess, tending to the flame in the temple. Rather than being attracted to the supermodels, you’re much more likely to be attracted to soulful women, because a man is always attracted to the feminine essence in his chart.”
My feminine essence? What are you implying, buddy?
Kelly continued: Mercury this and Pisces that, Uranus this and Neptune that. His attention was starting to wane when suddenly Kelly jabbed a finger at the screen.
“Look! Your Saturn is at four degrees Libra. And right now, in the sky, Saturn is also at four degrees Libra! Do you know what this means?” Jordan shook his head. “It means you’re having your Saturn return.” He slapped Jordan on the back like a doctor in the delivery room. “Welcome to your Saturn return!”
For a moment, Jordan felt warm and fuzzy.
“Wait a second. What’s my Saturn return?”
Kelly looked incredulous. “Didn’t you study anything important in school?”
“I studied business.”
“Oh.” He glanced at Leo. “May Zeus have mercy on his soul. Okay, you know the planet Saturn, right? The one with the rings? Saturn takes about twenty-nine and a half Earth years to orbit the sun.”
“Ten thousand, seven hundred and fifty-nine Earth days.” Leo was perched on the picnic table. “With an average orbit speed of six miles per second.”
“His Uranus is in Virgo. Makes him very detail-oriented. Anyway, after twenty-nine-and-a-half years—or ten thousand, seven hundred and fifty-nine Earth days—Saturn returns to the same position in its orbit that it occupied when any of us were born. And when it gets back to the start again…”
“It’s a big deal,” said Leo.
“It’s more than a big deal. It’s a rite of passage.”
Kelly began to speak at a mile a minute. Jordan could only clutch at sentence fragments. “It’s like a natural cycle, every seven years your cells regenerate…Saturn is about structure and it’s also about responsibility…..the outer circumstances include relationship changes, relocations, job changes, children…really about the inner state of maturity that’s shifting within you.”
Jordan was half-convinced that this was astrological mumbo jumbo. But his other half was pretty sure that Kelly was telling him that it was time to grow up.
“And look where it’s happening!” Kelly pointed at the screen again. “It’s in your fourth house. The fourth house is down here at the bottom of the chart. It’s the root, the family energy.”
When Jordan heard the F-word, something shifted. He immediately felt the butterflies.
Kelly’s voice took on a much more serious tone. It became deep. Slow. “When Saturn comes into the bottom of the chart, it gives us a very specific message. It says, ‘it’s time’. It’s time to do your duty to society. It’s time to get rid of all the emotional distractions that are blocking you. It’s time to go deep, deep, deep into the heart with discipline and courage. It’s time to get to the core of your doubts and fears and slay the dragon.”
“Slay the dragon?” Jordan’s throat was hoarse. “What’s the dragon?”
“It might be your work that you need to be doing right now. It might be dealing with old family patterns, like relationships with authority figures in your family and father energy that maybe put too much pressure and weight on you and now you’re like, ‘I’m on my own authority now, I don’t really need to be controlled by that crap anymore.’” Jordan felt shivers run down his back.
Kelly put the iPad on the table and looked at him deeply.
“You know, your own inner teaching probably precipitated this journey, because Jupiter is the planet of journeys, and Saturn’s like, ‘There’s a serious journey you need to go on.’ And it’s got a melancholy tone to it, but if you follow it, it will help you to go through the grief and find joy out of the grief, you’re going to turn the grief into joy day-by-day, step-by-step. There’s a poem by my favorite poet, David White, that’s called The Well of Grief where he says:”
Kelly closed his eyes and recited the poem by heart.
Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief,
turning down through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe,
will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,
nor find in the darkness glimmering,
the small round coins,
thrown by those who wished for something else.
“Most people throw the coin in the well and say ‘I need a new relationship or new car. Who throws the coin and says, ‘I need a deep relationship with the eternal being that crafted the universe despite the pain I have to go through?'” Kelly patted him on the back. “That’s the coin you’re throwing. I’m throwing the same coin, my man. We’re like, ‘We want something deep!'”
He looked at Jordan seriously, then burst out laughing. “Anyway, about that Chiron…”
A flicker of… ?
jordan waved goodbye as Kelly and Leo took off down the hill on their bicycles. He walked down the highway shoulder feeling like he was in a daze. The sky was clear and the sun was brilliant. Thick forest crowded the east side of the road. To the west, there were dazzling views over the Willapa Bay.
Turning grief into joy, day-by-day, step-by-step? Slaying the dragon?
Suddenly, Jordan felt like he’d found a capital-S Story.
All morning long, he walked with direction and purpose. Every footstep was drawing him nearer to the Columbia River. Oregon was just forty miles away. He was on the verge of leaving lonely Washington State behind. He hoped that he was leaving Sally behind also. Every step was bringing him closer to his next soulmate.
But then he thought about his ex-girlfriend again, and his resolve faltered. He began to hope to see one of those female cyclists again. He began pining for a blow job. His flicker of hope was swiftly becoming an overwhelming desire to run into those trees, pull down his pants and spit in his palm. But he continued walking down the highway shoulder.
In the middle of the afternoon, Jordan reached a junction point. Continuing straight was the direct route to Oregon, but turning right would take him on a detour to Bay Center, a tiny oyster harvesting community on a slender peninsula that jut into the bay. There was a campground in Bay Center and an infinitesimal-but-non-zero chance that the cyclist from yesterday might be waiting for him there.
He spent ten minutes hemming and hawing about what to do until he looked up in the sky and saw a flock of migrating Canada Geese. The geese suddenly reformed to spell out a five-letter word: S-A-L-L-Y.
Jordan loved symbols. Symbols had formed the basis of their relationship.
He turned right and took the detour toward Bay Center.
There wasn’t much to Bay Center beside a single restaurant, a general store and a heaping pile of oyster shells encircled by a flock of seagulls. The campground was right at the end of the peninsula. Jordan stopped in the general store, hoping to pick up a bag of rice. The shelves were all half-empty. But as he wandered the aisles, Jordan kept glancing over at the clerk behind the counter. She was about his age. Very Sally-like.
There was something in the way that she was looking at him. He was pretty sure she was being flirty.
“So where you headed?” she asked, when he came over with his chocolate bar and bag of rice.
“I’m walking to Mexico,” he said, trying to force his voice down an octave. “I’m, uh, staying at the town campground.”
“Our campground?” The woman licked her lips. “That’s right around the corner from my house.”
“You lived here a long time?”
“Moved here with my husband and three kids.”
“How long have you been married?”
“A little too long.”
Jordan swallowed and handed her a bill. “Well, you know…”
Just then, three other customers entered the general store. The clerk made what seemed like meaningful eye contact as Jordan left the store. As he walked to the campground, his head spun with possibility.
This campground was also empty, but unlike the previous night, the individual sites were secluded by tall trees. From his vantage point, he could peer through the forest and across the park to see the backside of the general store.
He checked his watch. It was five-thirty. The store must be on the verge of closing.
We’re going to have to move quickly. I’m going to have to deliver the goods. I hope I can perform up to her standards.
He looked down at his crotch. Then he gazed around the empty campground.
What else is there besides logic? Is it time to flirt with something else?
Maybe not. At least, not yet.
Unzipping his fly, he spat on his palm and prepared to slay the dragon, yet again.
Now, A Question for You:
Has a stranger ever told you something about yourself that completely shifted your perspective?