The Wander Women – Ashley

“Get this show on the road.”

These were the last words Ashley heard from her dying grandfather before she left him to pursue a college degree, the first one anyone in her family would ever receive. She hadn’t wanted to leave. Her Grandad was the only person she was related to who had ever shown her true, unconditional love amidst a childhood punctuated by drug use, physical violence, and emotional uproar.

His words returned to her like flowers in the wind three days and 33 miles into what was supposed to be a 32 mile trek in the Himalayas. She was utterly defeated and could not remotely begin to gather the strength needed to continue the journey.

“I can’t,” Ashley whispered back to the wind, sticky tears freezing to her cheeks the moment they dropped from her eyes. It felt like she hadn’t stopped crying since the journey began. Her body ached with the cruel thought of hiking yet another day, twelve miles still to cover, and who knows how many feet left to climb and scramble down.

It was nearing mid afternoon while Ashley rested, mentally wrestling with the reality that she did in fact need to continue. Going back the way she came would only be more of the same.

Her pack was off, leaning against the same tree as herself. It was short and gnarled by the Himalayan wind, the graying branches pointing mockingly in the direction Ashley knew she must continue. Small Nepalese prayer flags were adorned to the tree, and despite how shredded they seemed and the fact that the sun had clearly dulled their coloring, they fluttered in earnest.

The tears continued their descent as Ashley closed her eyes in an attempt to gather herself. Slowly she became aware of the beating of her own heart. It seemed to run at a pace appropriate to both the altitude and her exhaustion.

Splatters of purple and green shifted behind her eyelids, changing shape whenever she attempted to focus in on anything in particular. This was a game Ashley had played since childhood, a distraction from the domestic violence shattering the household just outside her bedroom door. If she could just will those colors to take the shape of her favorite animals, a monkey, a cat, a butterfly, or even a combination of all three, maybe she could drown out the horrible sounds.

Instead those colors took a new form as Ashley pulled herself together on a mountain peak in the Everest range. The face of her best friend metamorphosed on her eyelid canvas – Timber. He was a good dog, a good boy who made it to sixteen years old despite a brutal car accident that failed to claim his life, resilient as he was.

“Maybe all those years of insanity are finally taking their toll on me,” Ashley jokingly wondered to herself. She had always prided herself on her ability to thrive from such a horrific upbringing. All things considered, she survived unscathed.

The swarm of eyelid colors currently known as Timber cocked his head like he always had when considering the situation in front of him. It was his way of showing that he was listening, and even though he couldn’t speak, he made for an incredible confidante.

“Get this show on the road,” barked the eternally smiling face of Ashley’s formal travel companion.

Her eyes flew open. The words came to her crisper than the surrounding Himalayan wind. They were uttered with such clarity that the realty of them not being real seemed more insane than accepting them as fact.

Ashley felt that her heart rate had increased, and became suddenly aware of the growing cold. Her hands were still pressed against the chalky dirt below the tree, and the sweat that seemed to never leave her body clung to her body, chilling her to the bone.

She had neither the strength nor desire to continue, but it was clear that she had lingered too long. There was no other choice but to get the show on the road.

The pack slung on like the weight of the world, making Ashley groan with the effort. She couldn’t remotely believe that this is what Sherpas did with ease on a regular basis. She made a mental note to praise the next Sherpa she came across.

Before finishing the day’s three miles, Ashley paused to take in the view. So far it had been nothing but depressing gray, completely obscuring the mountains just beyond the clouds. Somehow, as she rested under that tree, the clouds parted enough to grant her the view that inspired her to travel to the Himalayas in the first place.

It was unlike anything she had ever seen. Those entirely too common tears began flowing at once as the snowy peaks across the valley soaked in the last of the day’s sunlight. They were truly glorious, and in their glory it felt as though the world paused to observe them with Ashley. At that moment she knew, and the universe knew, she could continue on.

The sun was long gone by the time Ashley stumbled in to the Nepalese teahouse three miles and 1000 vertical feet from where she has rested hours earlier. She was utterly broken apart, emotionally, physically, and mentally. The range of emotions she felt were caught in a tumultuous roller coaster, and all she could think to do was seek shelter and the heat it provided. She had to duck her head to enter what was essentially a hut, and felt a tremendous burden lifted once her pack, a literal burden, found its way to the floor.

A fire was lit in the hearth and she gravitated to it by instinct alone, for all her strength had left with her tears. She pushed her frozen hands into its heat, grateful for even the smallest exposure to comfort.

Again her eyes closed, from exhaustion, from gratitude, from having no more moisture left to keep her eyes hydrated. She sat this was for many minutes, feeling her heart rate return to a calm pace.

“Namaste,” creaked a voice behind her. It was paired with a tap on her back by something that felt much harder than a finger.

Ashley swiveled around on the small wooden stool upon which she sat and was greeted by the face of a very old Nepalese woman. Wrinkles upon wrinkles decorated her every expression, bending and moving with the slightest provocation. Her hands were tanned and looked to be the texture of leather, the wisdom of her life etched into her palms. Clasped in those hands was a long walking stick, the end of which was ornamented with small, colorful beads that matched the prayer flags Ashley had seen throughout her journey.

The woman said nothing more, instead gesturing with the walking stick in a way that suggested she wanted Ashley to take it.

“I can’t,” she politely refused, touched by the gesture of this complete and total stranger. Had she seen her walking the trail? Ashley did not have the energy to recall the faces that had crossed her bleary vision that day.

The woman gesticulated more aggressively, insistent that Ashley receive her gift. With a cautious hand she reached out for the stick, and once her hand was upon it the old woman released her grip, bowed lightly, and turned to leave the refuge. She was out the door before Ashley could offer her thanks.

She wasn’t alone in this common area, so she looked around the room to see if anyone else had witnessed what just took place. Most faces were focused deeply on the hot drink or food in front of them, but the woman who ran the refuge made eye contact with Ashley, waving her towards the counter with a quick flick of her wrist.

“Who was that?” Ashley inquired, too curious for formalities as she sat down at the stool in front of this woman.

“She is from here, but exactly where here is no one knows,” the woman responded in a riddling tone.

Ashley, too confused and tired to speak, begged the woman to continue through her eyes alone.

“I have seen her before, though only a handful of times since I was a young girl. My mother would tell me the tales of this shaman woman who appears when she is needed most, like the answer to a prayer. The other people like me who were raised here came to know her as the Wander Woman, forever adrift in the mountains assisting those when they least expect it. It seems today she has chosen you to have your prayer answer,” she added, nodding toward the stick in Ashley’s hand.

She turned the stick over, intimidated by its presence. The tears came again as she felt the significance of what had happened, how much she truly did need help on what was turning out to be one of the most difficult things she has ever attempted in her life. There was still a day left to complete the journey, and for the first time since she started did Ashley understand with total clarity that she had the strength to do so.

The beads adorning the stick were clearly very old, held fast by thin strands of leather, most likely yak. The top was darkened by what looked like fire, and etched into the blackness was a small line of script, reading, ” गेट थिस शोव ओन द रॉद”. Ashley ran her finger over the small divets, almost too tiny to register properly.

“Can you tell me what this says,” Ashley asked the woman at the counter, feeling crashing waves of fear and exhaustion encompassing her at once. The appearance of this Wander Woman haunted her as much as it energized her. She felt that the significance of the meeting would be something she would be unable to process right away.

The woman considered the writing, squinting to see the tiny letters. She too ran her finger over the script to get a better understanding of the message scratched into the wood.

“The road…” she mumbled, her words trailing. “Ah, I see it now. It says, ‘get this show on the road.’” She smiled and handed the stick back to a thoroughly shaken Ashley, who quickly gathered her things and retired to her room for the night.

Only moments after closing the door did she burst into tears yet again, overwhelmed by the magnitude of what she was experiencing.

Everything about this journey challenged her in ways she hadn’t endured since childhood. From brutal thunderstorms to a scorching sun, aching and blistered feet to bearing a backbreaking load, and now this. How could her beloved grandfather’s words be carried to her on the wind, in the memory of her dead best friend, and finally in a supernatural encounter with a Wander Woman of myth?

It was all too much, but it was also exactly what must have been.

Ashley laid there, eyes staring directly up. “The Himalayas have cracked me wide open, in deep and powerful ways,” she thought as tears careened across her cheeks and onto the thin pillow under her head.

Finally her eyelids closed in an attempt to rest, but this time the colors shifted and changed between the faces of her grandfather, timber, and the mysterious Wander Woman who came and left as quickly as the clouds over Mt. Everest.

As Ashley finally drifted into sleep, restoring what energy she could get for the final ascent the following day, she whispered, “namaste, namaste.”

Wander Women – Abigail

Abigail had always been as drawn to the forest as she was to the ocean, but it was the sea that beckoned her the day winter came.

She sat in the Seattle-Tacoma airport a good four hours before her scheduled flight to Florida, her left hand resting listlessly upon a piece of well-traveled green luggage. Every few moments her eyes would sporadically flit to that hand, as if a piece of metal was catching her eye, which was ironic. She noted that it looked different without a wedding ring – the line under where it used to be noticeably lighter than the surrounding, darker skin. Her hand felt lighter, too.

“I wonder if Clive will notice,” she mused, quickly turning her attention to her right hand instead, since it was the one holding the watch. She was fully aware that obsessively checking the time was only making it crawl by slower, but in her haste to drive away from Doug her usual high level of self-awareness was being taken over by a mild but noticeable anxiety.

She had known Doug since childhood, and felt drawn to him ever since learning cooties posed no real threat. Their upbringing was marked by the environment in which they were raised. The endless forests of Western Washington were their playground, and together they explored every inch they could access. They chased one another around the bases of ancient redwoods and became experts at figuring out which plants and animals would give them rashes without ever consulting a book. Nature shaped them into self-reliant, conscious adults, so it was a surprise to neither them nor their community when they announced their intentions to get married in their early twenties.  

Despite the length and intimacy of their relationship, the engagement happened very suddenly. Memories of a buck and a doe, and the feeling of impending danger began to swarm Abigail’s mind when she stopped herself from accessing that part of her past.

“No,” she in a firm whisper under her breath. “This doesn’t serve me.”

She checked the watch in her right hand again, her brow furrowing when she saw less than three minutes had passed since she last looked. Her eyes scanned the eggshell white walls of the airport until she found a wall-mounted clock, the hands in sync with what her watch showed. Just making sure.

“Divorced, or taking it in for cleaning?” asked a woman’s voice from the chair opposite Abigail’s. The noise startled her, but once she was pulled from her thoughts about clocks and time she became aware that she was fiddling with the part of her finger where the ring used to be. The woman was young, probably in her early thirties, and looked like how people used to dress for plane rides before air travel became commonplace. She wore a light grey suit that fit her body well, the outfit was clearly tailored. Her blonde hair fell softly on her shoulders, not one hair out of place. She too had a ring of light skin adorning her left ring finger. The only part of her that seemed to not fit were the white and pink Nike sneakers on her feet, which she noticed Abigail noticing.

“Oh these? I can’t stand running around airports in heels. What’s the point? I just change them when I land,” she explained with a wink before Abigail could ask. Not that she would ask a stranger something like that.

To this Abigail said nothing, but only because she wasn’t given enough time to respond. When she had opened her mouth to say something, her new friend was introducing herself.

“I’m Cheryl,” said the woman, thrusting a well-manicured hand in Abigail’s direction, “and I couldn’t help but notice you fiddling with your finger there.” She nodded her head towards Abigail’s hand, a soft red lipsticked smile adorning her face while she raised her own left hand and wiggled her newly un-ringed finger.

“Abigail,” said Abigail, sticking her right hand out to meet Cheryl’s. She glimpsed the watch during this exchange – only two minutes had passed this time. “And neither.”

“Neither? Oh you mean the ring! Of course, I already forgot I asked that. What’s the deal then, if you don’t mind me asking?”

To Abigail’s surprise, she didn’t mind Cheryl asking such a direct, personal question in such an inappropriate setting. It was actually pretty refreshing to interact with someone so plainly rejecting the comfort of etiquette, taking a risk to connect with a stranger. It may have just been the pensive mood of the day taking over, but whatever the case, it was fine by her.

“I left my husband today, to both our surprise. So I guess ‘divorce’ will eventually be my answer.” Abigail mirrored Cheryl’s energy by spelling it out directly, and right away. Abigail could see Cheryl wasn’t the type to be scared away easily by a troublesome topic, which was confirmed when Cheryl eagerly leaned forward in response, her body language almost shouting, “keep talking.”

“We were planning to do what I call a ‘sacred marriage break,’ where we agreed to spend three months apart taking a very intentional break from our relationship. We’ve been planning to do this for a while now, creating agreements with each other and aligning around taking this break. But when I got in the car this morning, our marriage unraveled at that moment. There was something that passed between us that was intense, final and otherworldly. It was beyond our understanding or control. Now I’m on my way to meet another man who I’ve fallen in love with, Clive.”

Abigail paused at the end of this statement, no longer looking at her ringless finger, the watch, or Cheryl. Her eyes were drawn deeply inward, recalling the extremely fresh memory of closing the car door only an hour ago, feeling suddenly and completely severed from her life with Doug. The strength of that moment had shocked her, and she saw in her rearview mirror how it shocked Doug, too. All the planning in the world couldn’t have prepared them to reach the conclusion of their lifelong relationship in that instant.

It was only when Cheryl spoke again that Abigail was pulled from her reverie. “I have someone I think you should meet,” she said without any sorrow in her voice. “And I think you should go meet this someone instead of the man you’re planning to see – Clive, right?” She pulled a black briefcase from the right side of her chair and rifled through it before offering Abigail an equally black business card decorated with small gold foil letters. Abigail inspected the thick card, tracing her finger over the indentations made by the name written there. Therese Wander. A California address was spelled out below, the phone number indicative of either a San Francisco or Marin-based dwelling. .

“Who is she?” Abigail started to ask, before looking up to see that Cheryl had left, possibly to board a plane, or to continue handing out cards to other newly single women in the airport. Maybe both.

Abigail’s attention returned to the card. There was no other information besides how to contact this Therese Wander, no title or business or anything to indicate for what reasons one might meet this woman. Abigail wondered what her vocation might be, and wished that Cheryl had stuck around to explain their relationship, or how she came to be in the business of handing out another woman’s business cards to strangers. Yet something about the lack of clarity intrigued Abigail, and before she knew it she snatched up her luggage and headed towards the ticketing agent. It was only when she got to the counter that she realized an hour had passed since she last checked the time, and she could now board her flight to Florida, where Clive was waiting for her.

“Do you have any flights to San Francisco?” she asked the man behind the ticket counter. And thus, Abigail’s journey took a turn down the West Coast.

Abigail snoozed fitfully on the short flight to San Francisco, her dreams peppered with visions of deer and trees, their story and meaning obscured from the dreamer. She awoke when the plane landed, thoughts of the forest still coursing through her mind. She noted this down in the journal she carried everywhere with her – no dream was too small to include. All dreams lead somewhere, eventually.

She thought of Clive as she took a taxi to San Francisco’s Union Square, where she had traveled with Doug only a few years prior, and was the only place where she could guarantee there would be hotels. She and Clive had been planning their rendez vous for months now, ever since Abigail realized that she must follow her heart to him. This of course was the cataylst to the breakdown of her relationship with Doug, and it was painful to deny herself the chance to finally be with him. Soon she would have to call him to let him know Florida was going to have to wait. She couldn’t explain exactly why she’d flown to San Francisco instead of to see him, but she knew him well enough to know he would understand. Maybe then he could help explain it to her.

It was a small voice that suggested she follow the black card to California instead of rushing from Doug to Clive, a voice she had never heard until she was tracing her finger over the inscribed name. In her final moments with Doug, pulling away from him in the car, all Abigail could consider was the comfort that being in Clive’s arms would bring. She didn’t doubt this would still be true if she turned around and flew to Florida, but there was something about that little voice that she felt she couldn’t ignore.

For the past 10 years Abigail made a living coaching others in reaching their creative potential. She worked with clients in activating creative aspects of themselves that were previously obscured, changing the lives of everyone around her like a superhero. Yet even she could have a hard time identifying the guiding voices within herself. She didn’t know what this voice would bring, but she trusted that it would serve her in some way. Whether it was by introducing her to this person on the card, or simply forcing her to pause between her past love and her new one, she knew the karmic forces of the world had something in store for her.

It was late when she finally arrived at the hotel she stayed at during her last visit, and she was exhausted in every way possible. She got the call with Clive over quickly, promising to explain more when she had properly rested. Yet even flopping down on the bed couldn’t keep her from pulling out that gold lettered card once again. She put it on the pillow next to her so that she could refer to the phone number first thing in the morning. Her eyes closed quickly and she fell into a deep sleep. She dreamed of deer again, but this time they were frolicking on the beach, the strong waves of the Pacific Ocean crashing behind them. They appeared to her more clearly than during her nap on the plane, as if their reason for showing up to her held more importance.

Abigail awoke almost twelve hours later, having never even gotten under the covers. Rested, she moved over to the hotel window and took in the concrete buildings around her. There was no forest, no ocean, just buildings and a lot of people getting ready for the holidays.

Winter had arrived, bringing it with it an entirely new season for Abigail. A sudden fear gripped her as she recognized just how serious her deviation from the path she had planned was. There was no Doug here, no comforts of a childhood best friend turned husband, the protection of someone who knew everything about her. There was no Clive either, carrying with him the promise of a new life, a new adventure. There was only Abigail. There was only her. The fear quickly faded into excitement. There is only me, she thought as a smile crept across her face. This is exactly what she needed.