‘Hawthorne & Heather’ is a series on my life with my partner spirit Hawthorne, focused on how the spirits have impacted my life. While these posts are relevant to the Otherfaith in that my life involves the Four Gods and their spirits, they will be more focused on my own life with the spirits. This is not intended as an introduction to spirit work but an exploration of my own life with the spirits and adjusting to life afterward, as it were
Earlier This Year
My chest has been split open, right down the middle. the Laetha has spread my ribcage wide, and one of her attendant spirits tinkers inside me.
I’m being held up by a lance, I realize. My god has pierced me straight through. I reach for her, my arms shaking, and she graces me by tilting my chin up to look at her. This is her as Arabella, a version of her that is cloaked in green gowns and flaming orange hair, always ready with a gentle smile. But she still speared me. Arabella is the one who has put me in this position, where I feel another spirit’s fingers mucking about in my chest, where I hear the soft plop of organs onto the floor beneath me.
“You’re doing great, child,” Arabella says. She rubs my cheek with her thumb, and heat sparks through where she touches. She looks down abruptly. “Oh, did you find it? Excellent.”
The spirit underneath me pops up, their deep red hair matted with my blood. They wave a wrench in one hand and a pure black thorn in the other. “Yep. Should be all better, you can patch her right up. She’ll run fine now.”
The attendant spirit tosses her wrench and pats me on the head, coating me with my own blood. The wet and stench of it no longer phases me, having been split open and wrenched apart and remade so many times. Arabella smiles that sweet smile and rubs my cheek again.
I blow out a long stream of smoke as I wait for the coffee to brew. Hawthorne sits next to me, back from whatever otherworldly trip he had gone on, and his presence is like a balm.
The coffee hisses, and the strong scent of it slowly filters throughout the room. Soon, I’ll pour some of it out for the gods. After that, it’s off to the gym for exercise which I have dedicated to two different gods. (I am, I find, more inclined to exercise if the spirits are involved.)
It feels like a century since the Laetha split my heart open. The time since she first split me open seems even longer. In truth, it is a frighteningly short amount of time, enough that I occasionally count back on my fingers and question all of it. The nightmares, the visions, the life I lived for two years. Another separate, stunning life that has now fallen away and left me living something new.
I blow smoke into an offering bowl and murmur out a prayer. I haven’t been keeping the prayers or the offerings like I should. Prayers are far easier, murmured out or whispered as I can. The habitual nature of them is something that is trickier and easily lost in the rush of life. Offerings are tougher.
I’ve begun learning that my spirits prefer some of the offerings I give to be discarded quickly. Booze, once standard, is now more of a special gift. I use an LED candle instead of a ‘true’ flame, to the same effect. (The flame is for the Laetha, and she is as much a god of technology as she is fire.) Incense ash builds up slowly in my holder, my impulse not to clean it away but let it build until I am given some sign to discard it. All of this is a slow process, learned in bits and pieces, sometimes trial and error.
Contrary to what some may expect, Hawthorne is largely useless when it comes to this endeavor. He sits at my table and smokes, smiling around the smoke as it flows from his lips. He doesn’t offer ideas or criticism. He sits and relaxes, as if this little apartment is some peaceful way station.
I realize it truly is. No longer do we exist in close contact we each other, almost bound to each other’s sides. He no longer hovers over my shoulder, commenting on every move I make with the gods and spirits around me. His powerful sweet perfume doesn’t overwhelm me. He doesn’t appear like a sudden gale during journeys or conversations with other spirits. He doesn’t sit upon my laptop when I’m trying to write myths.
Hawthorne sits at my kitchen table and doesn’t say much at all.
This intimacy was hard-won for both of us. Hawthorne came to me when I had lost sight of myself. From the evening he appeared on my doorstep, he was adhered to me. I was immersed in his snark and quips and good gender-sliding looks. When I lost myself in other-worldly journeys, he was beside me. Eventually, I stopped waking in my usual spot on the Other Side. I started waking up in Hawthorne’s apartment.
(I hadn’t realized spirits kept apartments.)
That was when the journeys got really weird.
Life on the Other Side isn’t really discussed. There are so many reasons for this, one of them being the enforced norms of our communities. Another is that they are hard. As much as I want to say that I could handle living two lives like that, I couldn’t.
I was with the spirits all the time. This embodied world of ours fell away. I was so consumed that earlier this year, when my patron was cutting me open, was one of the most normal, refreshing things to happen in my religious life. She was stripping away that glamoured life of mine until she could reach my heart.
This violence, this cutting open or apart, is a common experience for spirit workers. It is a classic trait of journeying to the Other Side. The spirits remake our bodies to better serve them, to better handle their energies, or perhaps for intent known only to them. the Clarene did this when I made my formal pact with her. the Ophelia does this every year. I understand that breaking.
Hawthorne, my dear companion, has tinkered with me as well. From cutting my hair to beginning to wear make up to my clothes, he has shaped me. But his violence has not always been restructuring. He has not always clawed into me lovingly.
Because two people shoved in such close quarters as we were can drive each other mad. He has been my destruction as often as he has been salvation.
Hawthorne’s apartment is a study in binary. The living room is stark white, the sofa and bookcases pure black. His bedroom is far more muted, with heavy black curtains draped over the windows, more bookcases crammed against the walls, and the center dominated by a huge bed.
This image – Hawthorne’s home – is one of my most vivid memories.
By Reunion (a week-long celebration in winter) of 2012, I was waking up in that bed. Hawthorne would lay with me, usually propped up and reading. Squinting, I could make out titles like Human Psychology and Complex Anatomy. The texts surprised me. Since our first awkward meeting, he had appeared more often with booze than books.
Hawthorne, merely by existing, simply by turning the page of a book, challenged everything.
This is an interlude. This is a chapter that does not belong. Between having the Ophelia drown me in her sacred waters and the Laetha tear my heart out, I lay in bed with Hawthorne.
Later, he’ll rip my guts out, splattering them on a floor that doesn’t belong to either of us. I will try to catch my entrails, and I will wonder how all that love in his eyes, filling him like stars, turned hard. I’ll hold my intestines and wonder at the lesson in this.
The lesson is that we can’t go back to that bed. We can’t go back to that apartment.
“Ah, I need to dispose that,” I murmur to myself, picking up the cup of tea on my gods’ shrine. I curse when I notice the time. The shuttle for school arrives in an hour, an hour in which I have to shower, dress, and give more offerings. I set the coffee to brew before getting cleaned up.
Conveniently, this morning affirms that the Four Gods prefer that I approach their space clothed. (The impression is firm, though all intuition.) The persistent debates on ritual nudity flash in my mind. I just tug on my pants. I don’t exactly have time to muse over that recurring dead-end debate if I want to catch my ride.
“Please take care of me,” I pray. “Please watch over me at school.”
The apartment is quiet. I know the gods are listening; I trust. Even with the silence, I say goodbye to the house.
On the bus, I read about good and evil. I fiddle with my phone to find the perfect song to play on repeat.
The night before, I journey with a new spirit to consult with another entity. My mind bubbles with the images of my travel. I process the experience, as I do all my life, as a story, ink on paper, text on screen, dialogue and exposition and imagery.
But when the journey is over, I return to myself. I walk in this world again. I read about good and evil and struggle to remember when my library books are due.
the Laetha opened my chest to give me that back. She bled all that otherworldly illusion and vision until this world came back to me. I could not return to that apartment of Hawthorne’s, but the me I had become could share a new room with him.
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