Having received a veritable Rapunzel
tower at my old college as a haven for my solitary weekends, just forcing myself to exit the room was a task that took much from the stores of my willpower. It was leaving behind the one room in which I felt quite safe revelling in my own-ness. hide
, my favourite musician, gazed lovingly from his set spot on the wall; my favourite British
bands crashed themselves out of my speakers; Kaori Yuki comics
and writing magazines littered themselves across an otherwise ugly carpet. It was where I tried to make myself forget that I resided among the cornfields of northern Ohio
and often felt like a coffee stain on its immaculately white kitchen floor.
Nonetheless, I decided to plunge myself into the depths of beyond-my-room one Saturday afternoon
. Returning was always an option if I felt in over my head. I wrapped myself in black clothes – ah, if only I had a cloak of invisibility
– and, locking the door behind me, I dove down the three flights of Holden stairs.
Finding myself soon upon the sidewalk of Beall Avenue, I glanced in both directions. North was my hamster route
to the cheese: Taco Bell
and Blockbuster Video
, two Friday regulars. South was Scheide and, shortly after, the final frontier
. Unknowns and hostile houses. For some reason, I was feeling risky. I turned south and heard the automatic self-criticism of social anxiety
set in as I passed groups going the other way.
in this way no doubt contributed to my sense of loneliness as I continued down the walk. Nevertheless, it was difficult to ignore each surrounding item that threatened to envelop me, yet somehow pushed me further away. Patriotic flags draped off of a colonial style house. Generic, unidentifiable folk music
wafted from someone’s backyard barbecue. A candy apple red pickup truck waltzed down its lane of traffic without touching a single line. It was a perfectly tended Saturday evening in the campus suburbs of Wooster
I walked briskly past a yard on my left, where a girl was sprawled stomach-first on a white blanket, picking cheese crackers out of a box and thumbing through pages of a paperback. She wore sunglasses
, but as I passed through her field of vision I thought I could feel her scrutiny. It could have been my more than slightly unstable imagination. A picket fence divided us. I kicked a bit of gravel with the toe of one combat boot
and picked up the pace.
When I found myself clear of private residences, a medium sized brick building began to take shape on my side of the street. I didn’t slow my feet until I was perpendicular enough to read the orange sign. ‘drug mart’ it said, in exactly such lowercase letters. Oh well. It was all new to me. I was in need of some laundry detergent
I shared a trigger pad for automatic doors with a group of three – a man, a woman, and a toddler clutching the hands of both. Family trips to the drugstore? Perhaps it was a common thing. I didn’t really know; being immersed in the student body of a liberal arts
college, it was easy to forget that townsfolk existed.
The man waved me in ahead of them, and I waded into a pool of fluorescent light
fixtures and people milling about in ratty jeans and oversized t-shirts. A singer who couldn’t decide if he was pop or country wailed in the background. I tried my best to blend in as I searched for an aisle sign that would direct me to laundry supplies.
No encounters yet. This, in fact, was the way I preferred it, having next to no conversational skills and a debilitating fear of strange people. The pristine, all-American atmosphere swirled around me in stacks of Hallmark
cards and frozen dinners
. I hoped my black clothing and shrunken stature still held my treasured vibe of ‘go away please’.
My eyes were scanning a candy rack for wintergreen Altoids
when an older boy with yellowish hair wearing a plain white t-shirt sidled up to me.
“Hey, are you a witch
I scratched my right ear and glanced at him, not sure I had heard correctly. “Hmm?”
“Are you like... Wicca
, or whatever?”
I was confused for a minute before glancing downwards and realised I was wearing my large silver pentacle
I hesitated before answering. I couldn’t help noticing that I was the only person in the vicinity wearing black. “Yes. I’m Wiccan
Succinct answers usually got rid of people pretty quickly. No such luck this time.
“Oh,” he said. “Do you... cast spells
I was quite amused, and tried to stifle a giggle while figuring out how to answer such a cliché question.
He must have mistaken my silence for a reluctance to be frank with my terrible tales of turning people into toads.
“Please say no,” he pleaded.
Instead of placating the beast of ignorance
, I chose honesty. “Well, no, not exactly,” I answered practically. “It’s more a spreading of goodwill through natural
processes. Whatever black magick
exists, Wiccans are forbidden to use it. It’s against our religion
to harm anyone.” I was impressed with myself at this point. It wasn’t exactly small talk I was engaging in here.
The boy seemed somewhat relieved. His expression changed from obvious nervousness to curiosity. He followed up with another bomb: “So you like, make things disappear, and stuff?”
I couldn’t hold back. I laughed. “I can’t do anything that’s against the laws of physics.”
He looked sceptical, raising not one eyebrow, but both.
“Or the laws of science in general,” I tried, not ready to give up, although I knew that trying to make this boy comfortable with my religion would be like trying to make the early Catholic church
comfortable with the theory of a sun-centred universe.
He crossed his arms. “A few of my friends are into that. I never got into it though... ”
I took the opportunity to ask about his religious background.
“I was raised Catholic.”
“I see.” I saw myself as Galileo
. I couldn’t tell how he felt about being my historical enemy. He appeared thoughtful.
Just then I spotted my elusive Altoids, and bent down to grab a box. When I stood back up, he had vanished. Or perhaps the white lights had swallowed him, pale as he had been. I searched for a few seconds, then took my place in line with the Tide
(good for 16 uses! it boasted) and wrapped wintergreens.
The clerk threw out his obligatory courtesies. Will this be all for you? Debit or credit? Would you like a bag? Have a nice day.
I nodded and immediately missed the blonde guy’s bold interest. There went one person in Wooster, Ohio who actually cared to know that I wasn’t a Satan worshipper.
Swinging my drug mart bag on a pinkie finger, the walk back seemed shorter.
I climbed back up the three flights of stairs to my tower. I unlocked the door to my room and found I had left my music on. Nicky Wire
was insisting that he’d ‘been natural for once in his life’. Indeed. So I had.
The whiteness and late evening glare of a stale Wooster Saturday pierced through my windows. I pulled the blinds, shut the door, and turned up the music – and despite all this, felt less alone