I had let the others go to the Isle ahead of me, had deliberately lingered in the Tavern of the Inn, sharing a night cap with the old woman who ran the place. We talked about the group I had bought to Duwamish and she marvelled at their implicit trust. “You do have a gift child” she said as she poured me a smooth musket. I laughed out loud and cynically told her that I most certainly had a gift for waxing lyrical. She looked at me with knowing eyes and said that she thought I needed to take the trip to the island instead of sitting here by myself trying to avoid truth.
So I got up from the bar stool and as I rose I heard footsteps behind me. As I turned I gasped. There, right before me was Dad, looking just as he had looked when he last stood at my door with his basket of homegrown vegetables in his hand. I dropped my glass as I stepped forward to greet him and glass splintered across the floor. I hugged him and held him tightly for ages.
“Come Heather! I have come to take you to the ferry woman. My grandmother will take you across to the island.”
“But Dad! Can’t we spend some time together?” I pleaded.
“Shush little one” he smiled, putting his finger to his lips. “There will be time for that later, after you have been to the island.”
With that my father led me to the quay to journey to the Isle of Ancestors, led me to the boat my great grandmother steered. It came as no surprise that her boat was shaped as, was in fact a black mare.
Dad gave me a leg up and my great grandmother and I rode bareback without speaking to the Isle of the Ancestors. I knew that she would be by my side while I completed the journey, that she would witness a rebirth. She smiled, nodded in agreement with my thoughts and led me through the moonlit apple orchard towards the stone doors, carved curiously in the shape of a vagina.
The doorway was open and we walked together down the labyrinthine passage way. Memories of Chartres Cathedral swarmed back. Memories of walking the labyrinth gripped me.
On we walked, my great grandmother and I, her warm hand guiding me until finally we entered a space that looked like it had been woven by a raven. A raven’s nest? But then, as we circled and approached the hooded figures who were waiting for me, I realised that this was the womb I had lain in all those years ago. For a moment I thought I could hear my mother’s voice, feel her movements, hear her feel the quickening as I moved. But then there was silence and I looked at the women who had gathered to greet them and gave them the raven feather I had had tucked in a pocket for protection.
As I sat tears welled and I began to sob in the arms of my great grandmother. The tears I shed were tears that I have resisted shedding. They came in torrents, flooding, drenching us.
“Why?” I blurted almost incoherently. “Why have I had to carry such a burden of grief and loss? Why can’t I know unbridled joy?”
The women rose as a collective, revealing themselves to be my grandmothers, dating back centuries. I had never known one of them in my physical life yet I knew them to be my grandmothers. These women embraced me, as a collective and held me until I stopped crying. No one spoke. I felt their empathy, their knowing and I knew that they knew my agony of isolation.
It is a blur now but at some point I realised that they had wrapped me in a cloak of their collective knowing, that they were the cloak, that they had transformed themselves and were a part of me. My great grandmother, the Ferry Woman, sat me on a throne, wearing my specially woven coat.
Bells sounded, announcing that it was time to lead and my grandmother led me out of the throne womb, back up the labyrinthine passage, through the stone vulva and we rode on her mare back to Duwamish.
I held her warm hand briefly, pulled the collar of my new coat up to block the dawn chill and, singing with joy danced towards the inn. The Innkeeper told me the others had been down at the bathhouse and hadn’t noticed my absence. So I slipped quietly to my room and slept, still wearing my coat, a coat that will always distinguish me and name me wounded healer.
The agony of isolation is over. Praise be!