When I was six years old, I contracted Scarlet Fever. I didn’t understand what my parents meant as they talked about me being delirious. I would learn years later that they thought I was going to die. I remember that I could tell my father was worried about me as he sat beside my bed through the nights. He had that quiet, focused look on his face that signaled distress masked by deep thought. I would try to describe to him what I was seeing but he kept quieting me and wiping my forehead with a cool cloth. “It’s nothing,” he would say and try to talk of something else.
I remember that I would sleep in a deep and hot place, and then wake to see all sorts of things in the room. At first, I was scared. Faces flew off the walls at me in hideous snarls and leering grins. They wouldn’t stop, and my father could not help me. I steeled myself and they flew by me on both sides and over my head, disappearing into the headboard and the wall. The storm calmed down, and I rested until another slew of figures rushed toward me, but these faces were joyous and laughing. Playfully, they circled around me and drew my attention to the window across the room. I had no idea whether it was day or night since the shade had been pulled down so I could rest. I watched as the shade began to glow with a soft, gentle light. The light became brighter, and then it became a door and I was moving toward it. Nothing mattered to me except getting to the door to see more of the light. I felt that I could be cool in it and I wanted to move to it and away from the constant heat of my body. I felt peaceful, and calm, and no longer heard my father’s voice. I didn’t feel his hand on my forehead. I was no longer hot, or feeling any of the ravages of the fever that had quarantined the entire house even though I was its only victim. Softly, quietly, I moved across the room. All that mattered was the door which stood open and inviting.
In the light-filled place beyond the door there were a few adult women of different ages. I was taken by the hand and led to a place where I was told to sit and be comfortable. As we sat around a fire from which there was bright light but no heat, their soft, soothing voices spoke to me about things I would not make sense of for a long, long, time. Soon I was taken back to the door where, on the outside, lined up in a respectful way, were all the floating images I had been seeing. Looking at the first group of them, I saw that they were not so horribly ugly. I felt as though one of them smiled at me and I felt that somehow I had done a very good job at something.
I would think of these images later on as I read about the gargoyles and the monsters that guarded the treasures and the secrets of the myths. The hero always has to pass by some monstrous thing that would test both resolve and integrity. And, all my life, whenever I have had an epiphany, when I have gotten a particularly vivid spiritual lesson, when a piece of my life-puzzle fits and makes clear sense to me—I hear it deep in my soul’s connection and my inner voice chimes, “Oh, so that’s what they meant!” I still do not know why this came to me at such a young age. Perhaps I had a lot of ground to cover and needed an early start. Or, perhaps it was to give me the inner strength, the inner knowing I would need to traverse my own life’s path. I tend towards the latter because as times have been troublesome, I have always remembered the women I came to call The Grandmothers, and I have tried to remember their grace and wisdom.
The fever broke and I spent the rest of the month-long quarantine in bed. I began to feel very confused about what had happened. It was so real to me, and I felt the effects of it so strongly, and yet no one around me could understand what I was talking about. No one had seen what I had seen. As much as I tried to explain and describe, no one saw what I saw. With the innocence of a young child and the clarity of what I saw, I kept talking about what they had told me, about what I knew to be real.
When I announced that I was going to have a baby sister, my mother began to accuse me of eavesdropping and hiding in cupboards and small spaces because she could not believe I just knew things that I shouldn’t have known. At that point, she hadn’t yet confirmed her suspicion that she was pregnant.
After the quarantine was over, and I returned to my childhood games, I still saw things differently. During the day, trees and plants had iridescence to them, a glittering of a silver color that glistened as the sunlight hit them. At night, these same trees and plants would glow from within with a pulsating neon-like color. I had no one to guide me, to counsel me. Young and alone with it, I was scared by it, and, like the thunder and lightning, I became extremely afraid of the dark. To get caught after dark at a friend’s house, and have to ride my bicycle home, or walk over the huge sand dune behind our house in the dark was horrendous for me. I was so afraid that somehow this thing I was seeing was going to “get” me. Once I was in bed, there was no getting out for fear of what was there. I sensed things, beings, all around me. I would put the covers up over my head with just the slightest opening so that I could breathe. I was afraid to move. The energy of what I sensed weighed heavily upon my body, like another blanket. If I had to get up in the night to go to the bathroom, I would run full-out, slapping at the light switches as I ran to get as many lights on as possible. Sometimes, the fear was stronger than the knowledge that I could make it to the bathroom, and I stayed in bed to suffer the consequences.
One day, I confided in an older girl down the road, a girl who was being raised in a strict Catholic family. Her grandmother lived with them. She spoke only Italian and she had what was to me a very mysterious way about her. Through my friend’s interpretation, she suggested that God lived in everything, and that’s what I was seeing. I found an opportunity to pose the question to my father: “Can God live in a tree?” I was so relieved when he replied, “Yes, of course.” At that moment, I felt my father’s understanding and his protection. I knew what I was seeing was not going to harm me, and I would spend many a night, staring out the window, just watching the colors shift.
I learned to become very quiet about what I knew and saw. At first, I had shared them readily; but I soon became the one everyone saw as crazy. My older brother took special delight in tormenting me and making up stories that twisted the beauty of what I saw in to terrible and scary things. I felt my friends pull away from me. Whispers stopped as I approached. I started getting looks from people who showed me that I shouldn’t be so open; they did not understand things the way I did. I found myself on the outside, no longer fitting in. I grew tired of being the butt of the jokes, the odd kid out, and I learned to live more quietly, and spend more time by myself. It was a lesson well-learned, and continued throughout my life.
I began to embrace what I was feeling, and learned to listen to the sense of it. I found the energies were my friends, and they were with me all the time, to comfort me and to show me things that I would have been aware of without their guidance. There was an underlying current of distress in my family life which I was too young to understand, and I was guided by these forces in when I should be separate from members of my family, and when to interact. This sensitivity also put me in a very vulnerable situation and I became the object of ridicule from my family and my playmates. I began to watch things around me with the same distance view with which I had seen my father sitting in the chair as I moved toward the window when I had been sick. I learned to not talk about what I was seeing or hearing, or feeling. I learned to be quiet with myself and spent a lot of time walking along the beach alone, carrying on conversations with the energies around me.
During this time, I began to have the same two dreams, over and over. These dreams lasted for two or three years, and I dreamed them almost every night.
I was in a car that had no gear shift or brake, only a steering wheel. I was on a long, straight road that went up and down hills of varying steepness. Every so often there would be a railroad track without any crossing guard or signal. The only way I had of controlling the movement of the car was to steer it. I learned, in my dream, that I could weave across the road to slow the car down, or steer straight to speed up. Steering was my only option. The direction of the road and, while I never encountered a train, the obstacles of the railroad tracks were pre-determined. It was the speed with which I traveled that was important.
In my other dream,
I would see myself, standing, alone, on a hill or mountainside. I was an old woman, with long, gray hair that flowed in the wind as I stood there. People came to visit, and I would give them herbs and healing tools, and they would give me staples.
I didn’t know then that I was being shown my life, the long road was my life’s path. I have been able to slow it down, or speed it up, but never to change it. The obstacles are mine to cross, each in their own time. I always knew that the woman was me, and as my hair becomes greyer, showing me the passing of the years of study, that dream makes more sense to me.
My mother took me to the doctor because she thought I was an epileptic. My attention would be caught by something unseen by others and I would go in to a short trance watching it. She began to accuse me of eavesdropping and hiding in cupboards and small spaces because she could not believe I just knew things that I shouldn’t have known. In her twisted view of how things should be, her questions about my bowel movements began and I learned to self-medicate with Fletcher’s Castoria from the bathroom cabinet to avoid the daily enema that she was so fond of administering. The taunting from my her and my siblings continued and when I was worked up in to a state where I would feel uncontrollable rage — and fulfill their goal of getting me to have what was a temper tantrum to them— she offered no comfort, but would allow it to run its course until I found a safe place by crawling under the coffee table, or hide at the back of my closet, and fall asleep.
My strongest knowing came in my announcing to my teachers and classmates that I was going to have a baby sister. I had decided that I wanted one, and had asked The Grandmothers for guidance in how to get one. When I asked him, my dad told me to ask in my heart and listen carefully for the first answer that I heard. Hearing that “yes” in my heart made it immediately real and true for me, and so my announcements were made. My mother was surprised to hear the congratulatory greetings at her next school visit, since she had only begun to wonder about the possibility herself. My acceptance of the forces around me was sealed when my mother came home from the doctor and announced that she was indeed pregnant.
The course of her pregnancy was my first lesson in empathic clairsentience. I remember being very watchful of her. I felt what she felt, and as the delivery time grew near I developed such a nasty cough that people began to think I had whooping-cough. When my grandmother came to be with her daughter at the end of her pregnancy, she was observant enough to see that I went in to coughing fits whenever my mother would groan or show discomfort in her movements. I carried incredible guilt for having caused my mother’s body to transform in such a way. When she went to the hospital, I would not eat or rest and sobbed uncontrollably. I finally convinced a neighbor to drive me in to town to the hospital. I stood outside on the lawn, and the neighbor went in to my mother’s room. I was soothed when she stood sideways in front of the window and I was able to see that her belly had returned to normal.
When she did come home, she referred to her third daughter as “Kate’s Baby” and indeed, at my young age I was given far too much responsibility to care for the child. I was barely seven, my older sister was nine, and we were given the chores of bottle feeding and diaper changing. Our mother was eager to get back to teaching and so the housekeepers came in their turns for the days, while the hours between 3:30 and 5:00 were an every other day ritual of baby care, with my older sister taking the alternate day.
In the midst of all this, Dad was a quiet force in my life. We piled on to his bed and curled around him as he read to us all every night. We took turns selecting books and made our way through my brother’s historical biography series, the entire Bobbsey Twins series and my standby favorite, Black Beauty. Back in our own beds, he made the rounds as he made sure to say a good night prayer with each of us. That was the sum of our religious training at home. He was not one to go in to a building to seek God, nor was he one to have someone else say prayers for him or tell him what prayers to say. He sought his spiritual connection in nature and loved to take long, slow drives through the countryside and find a place to get out and walk. For me, he was able to substantiate the person that I was becoming, even if it was only that he allowed me to tell him the things I saw and felt. In the years just before his death, he told me that he knew I had something special within me. He said he never really understood it, but he knew it was there and that he recognized the strength that it gave me.
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Beautiful post Kate. I’m glad you returned with such gifts.
Kate Cowie Riley said:
Thank you, Maggie. I hope that I have fulfilled the promise of it.
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