HOW I MET THE GODDESS
The pretty girl came to me on the playground with a folded note in hand. She was 13, I was 13, so we were equals in age if not in experience. Girls are always older, no matter the age. "Don't open it yet," she whispered, with more than a hint of mystery. Mystery in the ancient sense of an unfathomable thing. She was gone with a swish of skirt around bare legs. She was the new girl in school, having come from Paris, where her father had been the rep for Carnation Milk. For whatever reason, she'd singled me out: the shy boy who kept to himself.
It's probably fair to say that my course as a future writer of speculative fiction was set that day, as I haven't since stopped asking myself, "What if?"
The note burned in my pocket through fourth period, and passing to fifth, I ducked into the Boys room and opened it. "Will you go to the woods with me?" was all it said. The fifth period bell rang. I stared at those eight words with no less awe than if I'd been considering a fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls. My skin knew what they meant. The flush in my cheeks spelled it out. But my brain wasn't quite ready for the message. It scared me to the marrow, and I knew from that moment I'd been stung and would remain stung forever. I see the words in front of me every time I sit down to write, and every time I write, I write to right the wrong I committed that day. Because I didn't go to the woods with her. I went home with a fever and tossed and turned and puked all night.
My youthful lack of intestinal fortitude has had its upside. Practitioners of tantra know all about the rewards of sexual sublimation. The serpent power Kundalini rises through the chakras, ultimately exploding through the crown of the head in a mushroom cloud of ecstasy. You "make the Ganges River flow backward," which is to say, you invert the orgasm, dam up the flow of semen. Cool things happen. Creation happens. If I'd gone to the woods with her, there's always the chance that things would've gone badly and I wouldn't still be thinking about those eight words today. At least that's what I tell myself to chase away regret. Of course, goddamnit, I should have gone. When a girl invites you into the woods, you go, even if there's a chance you'll never come back.
The pretty girl from Paris stayed only for a semester and never spoke to me again, but as I grew older and finally lost my fear of sex, my mental image of her matured and morphed along with me in fantastical ways. She lived in the woods. She grew out of the forest floor, part of the foliage, but more exotically blossomed than any of the local flora. Her fair complexion darkened, her cheekbones rose, her breasts ripened, and she acquired a scent that was part wild honey and part damp fruit cellar. I went back to the woods again and again to find her, and each time, her message was the same: "You let me down once, baby. Do me right this time. Worship me." Then she'd raise her sword and say, "Kneel, motherfucker, and let me knight your sorry ass."
Thus did I come into Her Majesty's Secret Service. She demands a lot, but when she gives back, she gives.
I believe there's a bedrock vision at the trailhead of every fantasy writer's career. For some, it's a safe place, a spired and shimmering refuge from whatever shit surrounds them at home or at school. For others, it might be a cliff's edge and the twin urge to step back and fall forward. Or a bejeweled cavern diminishing to a point that is both end and beginning. For me, it's the woods, and the presence there of that dark, sly sylph/sprite/nymph with the soil between her toes, vines in her hair, and a strawberry patch where thigh meets belly meets thigh.
I write about spiritual bungee-jumpers. People who want to get lost in order to find--to be taken to the edge of themselves. And I write about the guy who brings them back from that edge because he knows it so well. They sell me as a mystery writer, but it's only mystery in that very ancient sense of the note being passed to me on the playground before I was old enough to understand what it asked of me. I write stories that are equally fact and the most extravagant fantasy, because what lies in the middle ground--what they call "fiction"--doesn't interest me very much. You see, when it's all over, I want to go to the places I write about. When it's all over, I want to go to the woods with her. I hope to Christ she'll still be there, and I'm still sorry I didn't go the first time.
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