The Charlotte airport is nice, cozy. The only coffee shops were Starbucks and there were at least 3 different locations.
When he stood up to get his bag from the overhead she realized just how tall he was, well over 6 feet. Even with out today’s security regulations it was impossible to travel with what a Strega would need for ritual in a carry on, so she had checked her bag. She stuffed the book in her purse which converted to a backpack and slung it onto her back. He stepped back and let her into the aisle and noted how practical that was and smiled. He looked down on her and realized that she seemed taller than she actually was. She was slightly less than 5 and a half feet tall. He looked at her and wondered what it was that made her seem taller. She had taken her jacket off on the plane. Maybe it was the way she carried herself so confidently, back straight. As his eyes made their way down her back, maybe it was her broad shoulders contrasted with the way her body narrowed to her waist. Maybe it was her long thighs. Maybe it was the direct way it seemed she interacted with the world or those incredibly dark eyes.
They had each walked quietly off the plane lost in their own thoughts. Once out of the walkway he touched her shoulder and said “This way. I know were the coffee shop is, unfortunately there are only Starbucks here. So it will have to be Earl Grey for you.”
He was definitely familiar with the airport and slid easily into line and ordered a latte and an Earl Grey tea. While he waited, she walked up to the departure notice board to find the gate for the Allentown plane and to make sure she knew where to go next. He watched her a bit nervously afraid that she’d disappear into thin air. But smiled when he remembered her putting her hand on his arm to make sure he was real.
She stirred some sweetener into her Earl Grey tea and then took a sip while he watched. Her nostrils flared, her eyes closed and she drank in the experience along with the liquid.
“Hmmm. Good. Love that aroma. Thank you. Shall we walk to the gate and stretch our legs?”
“Yes, I think it’s that way.”
“It is. It’s the same one almost every time. I’ve done this before.”
“How often do you go home?”
“New Orleans is my now home, remember?”
“Honey, to a New Orleanian, where ever you were born is always your home, especially if ‘ya momma ‘n dem’ still live there.”
Laughing he says “Oh, well then about twice a year for a weekend, sometimes a week”.
“It is nice to get out to the real world.”
“The real world?”
“Yes, the shock is less jarring these days, but in the year after the storm leaving New Orleans was like leaving a war zone and returning to “the real world”. Many of my neighbors and colleagues who live in New Orleans and then travel out of the city for business or pleasure notice just how different the rest of America feels to us. We’ve taken to calling it going back to the real world. New Orleans has always been a strange place, unlike the rest of America, but now I feel when I leave it, in all its post apocalyptic glory, that I am actually walking back in time. Sometimes when I look around at how we Americans live I almost feel like I’m walking into a time bomb. Folks are so blessedly unaware of just how tenuous their existence is. I’m not anymore. It makes me feel alive and grateful.”
“Yes, now that you describe it I understand completely what you mean and you are right, folks who aren’t there can’t really understand.” His family did and didn’t. They knew he was a restless soul, they new he liked adventure; they knew he liked working with his hands and for people. But PostKatrina New Orleans? Of all the places he could be? But they loved him and accepted him and said he seemed happier since he’d relocated. He had to admit, that today it made him happy to be in the company of someone who seemed to think and talk like he did and to know that it was in part because they shared the New Orleans experience.
He asks “Where do you live in New Orleans?
“Carrollton, the wet-part, not the sliver on the river. We had to 'prove our viability' so I’m the president of my Post K neighborhood organization. And you, where do you live?”
“ByWater. I bought a house there in March of 2006. I've worked on renovating it when I’m not fixing the houses of other people.”
Bywater… definitely Bob deja’vu.
“I went to school at Tulane in architecture and lived uptown while I was there. When I would come back to visit there was always the French Quarter, but ByWater, well ByWater has a gritty, funky vibe” and he winked when he said vibe, “that I like. Plus I got a really big lot with the house, rare in ByWater. If I ever sell, I’ll make a fortune.”
Tulane architecture. She thought. Tulane, money. I’ll have to be careful what I say regarding “uptowners” and not show too much of my 9th Ward.
“Did you say you have a degree in geology? Where you get it?”
Oh well, here we go. “UNO, University of New Orleans. It’s a very different world from your Tulane experience.”
“Well Tulane is an expensive private college, a go away college for many of you northerners and well bred southerners. It’s a place where people go to college full time, drink, party, fraternity, sorority, think about changing the world and then either go home for the summer or stay and slum. Well, to be fair, that was more the PreKatrina experience, more people come to New Orleans now who want to be actively engaged in the recovery. UNO was and is the working man’s public college. Most of the students there are working AND going to school or going to school and working in the summer so they can go back to school. There was more work and less playing around. Although we did have our Friday afternoon kegs in the department of geology and our teachers were fantastically committed to us.”
Smiling he knew exactly what she meant but decided to give her a little bit of grief about it anyway. “So you are a reverse snob.”
She took it surprisingly in style and leaning around to look at her backside said. “Yeah, is my Ward showing honey?”
“Oh so then that is a 9th Ward accent. It does slip through your more polished corporate tones”.
“Well good, and yes I am a reverse snob. My husband and I butt heads about that often. But I was born to a blue collar 9th Ward family and you can take the girl out of the Ward but you can’t take the Ward out of the girl.”
Well, she thought, it needed to come out eventually. I’m too old to be behaving like a flirt.
Oh… Good thing he was taking a sip of his coffee to hide his face. Oh my god, she is married! Damn, she is married. She’s a married, corporate, witch. Wow. What was I thinking? Why wouldn’t she be married? You could have been a couple of times yourself. Soooo now what?
“Your husband, what does he do?”
“He teaches, at Tulane, and works in the local theatre community and is chipping away at repairs on the lower floor of our raised craftsman and is a massage therapist.. He swears now that he is finished with the latest play, he’ll finish the repairs before the end of the year. But I didn’t marry him for his efficiency and, as much as I love him, will believe it when I see it.”
“Well you all sure have interesting lives, refinery, theatre, neighborhood activist, witch…”
“I prefer Strega.” And she laid her hand on his arm. Hell, go ahead and flirt. All acts of love and pleasure are as rituals to the Gods. Then she leaned in and said in a very serious tone, “But even though I’ve been very forthcoming to you, I don’t mix my corporate, neighborhood activist work or my daughter’s school activities with my spirituality. I’ve found it best to keep my head down and my mouth shut about it in those circles. People don’t need to know that my path is quite different from theirs. Actions speak louder than words. I like to believe that as long as I act ethically and respectfully that what they don’t know won’t hurt me or my family.”
“Well then I’m honored to know both halves of your life.”
“What an unusual thing to say. But strangely accurate. Thank you." And she thought about her friend Dana Polly who said that she would never really feel like she had friends unless they could know all of who she really was. She followed up with, "It is a fine line to walk. You would be surprised at how few people ever get to the point you did and actually ask. What I’ve found is that those who ask are those who are seeking and who can really see and those who don't notice or ask are happy in their own worlds so I leave them there. There are many paths, I walk but one.”
“And your husband?”
“My husband calls himself an agnostic. One day God will pull the clouds apart, look down on him and say 'Hey there buddy, Do ya need anything?' only then will he admit that deity exists. Until then he says he literally ‘doesn’t know’. He has a relaxed approach to spirituality, maybe Taoism or Buddhism comes closest. But he refuses to be labeled. He knows what I am and that I have to go off regularly and twitch my nose in the company of others. It works for us. We are respectful of each other’s choices. It is truthful, in its own way. A Strega’s words have power, both what we say and what we don’t say.”
“If you’re not Italian, how did you end up a Strega?”
“Ask and it shall be given, seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened.”
“What? A witch, pardon me, Strega, quotes the bible?”
“Oh, so you know the bible?”
“Well, yeah. Most Americans do.”
“Yes, not as well as they think they do, but yes. I quote the bible because that was where I started. Lutheran grade school, an hour’s worth of religion everyday, memorizing bible verses, Sunday school, church, Lutheran high school, same hour of religion everyday there too. But what I was learning along with the bible verses was that you could study religion. Some times the teachers were good and actually thought about what they were saying. Sometimes the teachers were just repeating what they had been told. I asked. I was a seeker. I kept knocking until one day the right door opened.
My husband was the one who actually encouraged me to go out and find other seekers. In some ways I think he did this to help keep my ever busy mind occupied and not feel like he had to do so much of it himself. I studied basic Wiccan paganism and had a teacher for a couple of years, one I found because in an ad in a local alternative newspaper. Then after the teacher blew town, I kept practicing with others who had worked with the same teacher. After this group drifted apart, the way so many pagan groups do, I decided to ask the universe for exactly what I wanted. So I wrote a letter to the Gods. Literally. I outlined what I wanted. I wanted a path that was fully developed and linked to the past, historically linked, not making it up as we went along based on what felt right. I wanted a path that connected me to Nature and to the Ancient Ones the way that the book ‘Clan of the Cave Bear’ made the Clan totems come alive. I wanted a path that would connect me with the Old World because I knew in my core that was where my spiritual home was. I specifically knew, having tried both, that it was not Celtic or Norse. I wanted a teacher who was grounded and real and wanted to work with me. I wanted a community of like minded others who cared about study and intellect and who could accept science and mysticism and magic and who were not fringe members of society but who fully participated like I did and who would therefore understand the challenges of practicing a nature religion in the modern world. I wanted a pagan tradition that had Gods as strongly developed as Goddesses, a tradition that was respectful of the balance of male and female, a heterosexual religion. Oh, the list was quite extensive.
And then one day not long after I wrote this letter, I was fishing online. Back then the Internet was not quite as ubiquitous and there were also fewer offerings. I found a list serve that was offering a number of online pagan classes. And I signed up for 3 of them, thinking online is better than alone. I swear to this day that I did NOT sign up for the Italian witchcraft class. But then I got the notice from the list serve indicating which classes I had signed up for and there was Italian Witchcraft. The conversations were interesting. They recommended a book. I bought it and started reading and had the “This is IT!” experience that most seekers are looking for and 13 years later I’m a 3rd degree priestess. All because I believed 'Ask and it shall be given.' And because I never stop seeking.”
It was getting crowded as folks began gathering around to board the plane and she excused herself and went off to the ladies room. And took a deep breath and asked the Gods to guide her. What she wanted more than anything these days was to have more males in the tradition. And here was a male who kept asking questions. Ask and it shall be given indeed. Where the hell did that come from? It was true but she had never put the thoughts together like that before. She wandered back to the gate and tried not to think, but to only listen to her intuition.
Meanwhile he was thinking, and I was sure that I was the only one who wandered in the wilderness and he smiled at the biblical reference. Perhaps I’m just not as focused as she was. I’ve certainly never written a letter to the universe. But I have been wishing for more and feeling like there is still a hole in my life despite the fact that I am happy. Some of the things on her list are the same as the ones on my unwritten list.
He looked around for her to return and when he saw her waved for her to join him in line. As they worked their way down the aisle he motioned her to the window seat and slid in next to her after he stowed his bag above their heads. He was grateful the plane had only 2 seats on each side. It afforded them some privacy to continue the conversation which was just what he wanted to do.