When I was around 20, I had a very troubling experience. Until today, I really never understood WHY it happened. This is going to be a long post, but – I want to tell this story. I’m not sure why, but I do.
To really understand why this event I’m going to talk about happened, I need to go back to both my childhood, and then I need to go much further back – which is why this will be a long journey – I hope you will be patient with me. I will also admit, up front, that some of what I will say will sound fantastical – especially if you do not believe in the new-age theory of Otherkin. I’m ok with you not believing. It has no impact on my perceptions of the facts.
But let’s start with this world, and we’ll get to the nuts and bolts of the stranger tides later.
The body I currently wear was born in New Zealand. In the very early 80s, America was going through one of the most extreme nursing shortages in its history. Even the shortages felt today are not as bad as they were back then. In desperation, companies began to hire nurses from other countries to try and fill the gaps in coverage, and they were willing to jump through any hoops necessary to incentivize foreign nurses.
Both my parents were nurses at the time, and because my father had recently left the ANZAC, and my mother had two very young children, and New Zealand did NOT have a shortage of nurses, both of them were having difficulty finding employment. New Zealand also did not have a very strong economy, so money was short, and they were worried all the time.
When Nurse Finders contacted them, both of them lept at the chance. Nurse Finders offered them a contract – NF would provide work visas, and put our entire family on the fast track for green cards and permanent resident status. In exchange, my parents would work for the company, go wherever the company needed them to go, for the next six years. The company would pay for us to move to America, and they would provide a sign-on bonus that would make sure that we could buy furnature, food, clothing – anything that would need to be replaced because it wouldn’t be coming with us. They also found us a place to live, and provided the capital to purchase reliable transportation.
After three days on a plane, we landed in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where we would live for the next three years. My father worked in the emergency room, my mother worked in mother-baby – aftercare for women who needed training once their babies were born.
It was… well, a bit of a culture shock would be the understatement of the millenia. We went from living in pastoral farmland to a place that was at least partly desert – and we went from a village to a city that was rife with gang violence.
My father saw more gunshot and knife wounds in the first week on his new job than he saw in the three years he flew as med-evac in Viet Nam. It… left a lot of stains on his mind. To this day, my father has a terrible issue with racism – and it started with that hospital.
We stayed in Pine Bluff for nearly three years before Nurse Finders let them know that the hospital was well-covered now, and that there was another hospital with shortages which had contracted them to fill the positions. It was in Arlington, Texas – and my parents didn’t take two minutes to think about the move.
We stayed in what will forever in our family be termed the “roach motel.” The temporary apartment provided to us (while the new sign-on bonus was used as down-payment on a house in Fort Worth to be built in a new subdivision going up) was so full of roaches that they were in the plumbing, and in the fridge. To this day, roaches throw me back to my five-year-old self, and I want to cry, hide, and beat it to death with the nearest object handy, all at the same time. I am probably NEVER going to be able to be rational about roaches.
It was while we were in Texas, while my parents were working in the hospital in Arlington, that my mother made her first real friend. She’s a lot like me… she’s friendly, but she never makes the first move – so really, it was more that her first American friend decided for them that they would be friends, and my mother went along with it.
Rena had two children. I don’t remember the girl’s name – but I remember the boy. His name was Seth. Rena pretty much adopted my mother for the time we were in Texas, and made life much easier for my mother – Rena acted as a guide, a mentor, and a bridge, and helped my mother flourish in this new, and strange, land – something we ALL needed, desperately. Cut off from family and old friends, adrift in a sea of strange customs and language (and yes, you Americans have TRULY butchered the English language – for which I salute you), Rena gave us context, and helped us truly settle.
We stayed in Texas for ten years, while my father went to Med School to become a doctor, and my mother worked at the hospital and supported all of us. It was… nightmarish. Dad was never home, Mum was only home for breakfast – and two children who were eight and nine and had very little adult supervision (the neighbors were asked if they could be emergency contacts, and if they would check up on us occasionally – which resulted in them doing precisely NOTHING for us) were not very good at raising themselves or each other.
Eventually, though, dad finished medschool, and gained his internship, and we moved to California. Once he’d finished his internship and residency, my father signed on to the US Airforce as a doctor – his contract was six years in exchange for the USAF paying off his student loans in full. He became a citizen, and they moved us to Delaware… where I discovered a deligtful internet cafe (back then it was dial-up, but they had six computers, plenty of coffee and muffins, a D&D game running almost all night, people playing Spades in the opposite corner, VtM kids doing LARP on the cobblestones outside, and witches all over the place. It was like coming home.
And out of some strange twist of fate, Seth was at that coffee shop the first time I walked into it. It took less than 20 minutes for me to call my mother from the phone behind the counter, for her to call Rena, and for them to set a lunch date to catch up.
I didn’t like Seth. Truthfully I’ve never liked him, but our antipathy for each other seemed to have grown over the years – for no discernable reason – I hadn’t seen him in ten years, nor thought about him at all… but just the same, our mutual dislike was intense.
That didn’t change the fact that Rena and her children were family. We owed them a debt.
It wasn’t too long after I became reaquainted with Seth before things suddenly became truly dramatic. Not between Seth and I, but just the same. Seth was working, at the time, at a tuxedo shop, as a manager. There was another young man who worked there – his name was Pat.
Pat wasn’t liked at the coffee shop. I really have no idea why he kept showing up – except that he was an absolute social outcast, and the coffeeshop was absolutely the place for outcasts. He had a number of faults, but his true fall came because of greed. Gavin wanted Seth’s job. Everyone knew it… but there wasn’t much anyone could DO about it.
He somehow managed to become friends with the tuxedo shop’s owner – and eventually asked for a job. Seth was fired the next day. He walked in one morning, and without warning, his livlihood was gone.
The first thing he did was head to the coffee shop. He needed his friends. I think that within five minutes, every regular there knew what had happened, and we were all… So, SO angry. The undertones of a stirred up wasp’s nest were everywhere.
When Pat walked into the shop that evening, he walked into a mob. It took him less than a minute to decide to find a room with fewer of Seth’s friends around…
I read tarot at that store. Tarot, for me, requires low lighting and a little bit of privacy. Not much – a little distance, fewer people, goes a long way. At the time, I had an aura that gently nudged people with the idea that this room wasn’t terribly interesting – if I was reading, that is – which kept the traffic to a minimum. Pat escaped into MY room… and then he had the NERVE to ask, “What’s everyone so upset about?” I think it was the smirk at the end of his comment that really set me off.
I turned to him, and looked him full in the face… and suddenly, he couldn’t move. I could tell he was freaking out, but I was SO angry, I didn’t care. I sat there, pinning him with the force of my will, staring into him until the discomfort built to agony and he blurted out, “What are you LOOKING at?”
I smiled. It probably wasn’t a nice smile. “You. I’m looking at YOU.”
And then, he said the magic words. “What do you See?”
So I told him. In that small, dark room, surrounded by all the people who hated him, as trapped in the moment as I was, I laid him bare – I flayed him, peeling back layer after layer after layer. I told him about all the pieces of his broken soul, and how they came to be. I told him how he was perceived by other people, and why. I told him who he was, and I told him why. I told him about his mother and his childhood. I told him everything I saw. The world was dark, and only he existed, and I had him in my jaws, and because he asked, he had to hear, every bit as much as I had to speak – and I WANTED to speak. I wanted him to know. I wanted him to hurt. There was no right or wrong – there was only answering the question. Most times now, I can temper it when it happens – soften it.
But Gavin was the first person to trigger this particularly terrible gift in me – and I was angry when he did it, so I let the darkness take me, and I spoke with no gentleness, because he didn’t deserve it. He got someone who was my family (no matter my personal feelings about Seth, he IS family) fired – and he had the nerve to SMILE ABOUT IT.
When it was finally over, and we had both been released from it, tears pouring from his face, he ran. I never saw him at the coffee shop again.
It didn’t take too long for what had just happened to really sink in for me… and when it did, I was horrified. I was ashamed. Gavin wasn’t always a good person, but his life hadn’t really given him any opportunities to BE a good person, and while he was absolutely an adult and therefore responsible for his actions and the way they affected others, what I did was, in my eyes, deliberately cruel and a horrific mis-use of my gifts. I didn’t even stop to hear his side of things. I let my anger use me, and he paid the price.
Until today, I carried that shame. I worked really hard to either prevent people from asking that question, or I worked really hard to be as delicate as I could be when it was too late, and whoever had asked had taken the choice from me.
Two years after this first incident, I ran into Pat while he was working at the local walmart. He looked like a completely different person, but I knew right away who he was. I was still so ashamed of my behavior, I tried to turn the other way before he saw me. I didn’t know what to say, didn’t know how meeting him after that horrible night would go, so I panicked… but he’d already seen me, and was walking towards me. All I could think was – whatever happens, I deserve it. It was an accident, but I could have held back, and I didn’t.
“Do you remember me?”
“Ummm… no?” Maybe if he really thought I didn’t remember him, he’d give up and go away and that would be that.
“It’s me, Pat. From the coffee shop.”
Well, shit. “Ahh. Hi. It’s been awhile.”
“Yeah. Well… I wanted to thank you.”
My eyes got really wide… “You… what?”
“You were the first person to ever tell me the truth… and it changed my life. Because of you, I’m a better person. I’m who I want to be, now… and I’m happy. So… Thank you.”
He tried to hug me. I kid you not, this crazy person that I had essentially psychically violated in the worst, most morally reprehensible way possible, was HUGGING ME. It was like… some weird one night Stockholme syndrome thing.
I awkwardly patted him on the back, said a few cliched congratulatory comments, and then he went back to work… and I very carefully walked out of walmart, deciding that I really didn’t need soap that bad.
For most of my life since then, I have dreaded someone saying those words. I never know what will come out once they’re said. Sometimes, it’s a kindness. Sometimes, it’s brutal. Sometimes I can mitigate. Sometimes.
But today, I finally understand why this ability exists. Why it’s triggered by that particular question.
Which brings me to a past life so long ago, so far away, that distance and time are absolutely irrelivant.
Once upon a time, there was a winged cat. I was fast, I was strong, I was just. I had a tribe. I had an sister with a new litter, whom I doted on, as I had no cubs of my own. I had a village, and every life there was precious to me. I led, I followed, I loved, I provided, I defended. My family, my village, was everything to me.
Until one day, it wasn’t.
I was a member of my world’s police force. While I was off planet, the being that I hunted found my home. To this day, I can remember a scene so horrible that I cannot give words to it. The thing that truly destroyed me was my sister’s cubs, caught hiding in my den by the beast. Looking down at their little bodies, knowing they had gone to the home of the one person they were sure would save them, knowing that I had failed them. Failed them all.
I found the monster who had destroyed my world. I hunted him down… and then I became the butcher… but there is a price for every action. While it was determined that I wasn’t precisely sane, and therefore I would suffer no consequences for my actions, the very fact that I was so unstable made continuing my chosen carreer impossible.
After being released from service, I began to wander. I think I was looking for wonder – something to spark me, bring me back to life. It was a dark time… and as all people going through such times, I was not as aware of the worlds around me as I should have been.
And then I met HIM. He was so powerful. He was charismatic. It felt like the answer to everything was in his eyes. For the first time in so long, I felt like I’d come home. He was passionate, he was an intellectual, he was vibrant and rash… and when he smiled, I felt like flying again.
I took the Familiar vows – I’ve always been a good amplifyer, so it felt like the Call from him was destiny. I had met my soul mate.
It should have been beautiful… but we were so unequal.
I don’t remember much about my time with him – it was the ending that really stayed with me. I know that I felt him slipping. I know that I ignored the signs – something a familiar is absolutely not to do – but I loved him, and it blinded me. I made excuses. I looked the other way.
And then, in one single moment, everything changed.
We stood on a planet, and he raised the sun. He changed a solar system… and he did it just because he could. He was showing off to me. I watched that sun in absolute horror – I watched him smile as he destroyed the worlds around us – and I knew. Billions of people snuffed out because a madman wanted to impress the being that brought him to that height.
I didn’t think. I ran. I didn’t stop running – and he didn’t stop chasing. I was his, and he was destroying everything in his path to find me. Whole universes collapsed in his search for me – in his madness he couldn’t stop – and in my terror, neither could I.
Eventually, though, the destruction and the losses were so great, my guilt and shame at abandoning my duty to him, and my horror at what he continued to do, became too much for me to bear. I went to the Library for help, and I struck a bargain. They would give me the knowledge I needed, and I would end his life (and my own).
However, there was a greater price to pay. I had wronged the multiverse. I hadn’t seen the warning signs… and when they grew too great to ignore, instead of doing what needed to be done, according to my vows, I ran – and there were so many dead at my feet from that failure, there will never be an end to the debt.
When I finally caught him, when I finally ended him, when I went to my rest, I went knowing my task had only just begun.
Five little words – and they hold such power over me. I had once refused to see – ignored what was right in front of me. I owe the dead – so when someone says those words, I have no choice. The shadows come, and my mouth speaks the truth. I say what I see. I say what they need to hear – and when I speak of these things, they must listen.
Never again will I be permitted to willfully shun my duty – and never again will those I run across who have even the slightest potential towards power addiction escape my words.
I got off lightly.
So… that’s a past life memory – and the consequences.