“Listen to the goat,” Valerie said, “it will change your life.”
In middle school it was fun to be best friends with the astrology expert. By the end of seventh grade Valerie had done the charts of every girl in our class. She had even predicted more than half of our dates to the eighth grade dance. Cute. Fun. Juvenile.
In high school, after a month long bout with mono, Valerie became the local expert on healing crystals and our seven chakras. I didn’t learn all the ins and outs of that, but I did reap the rewards of tons of yoga classes, meditation getaways, and the most adorable homemade jewelry a girl could ask for. Again fun, frivolous, appropriate.
Valerie was a believer in all things mystical, but this was no time to be cute.
When you are sitting in a ditch, at the bottom of a steep hill, covered in scratches and more of Mother Nature than you bargained for, the time for mystical cuteness is gone. I did not want to hear about how the goat who just head-butted me off my running path was actually a spirit animal with a “very special message” for me. I wanted to hear that Valerie was getting in her car, driving down to the park, and coming to rescue me. “I can’t listen to the goat, Val. It’s at the top of the god-damned hill it just chucked me down,” I said through gritted teeth.
“Hold up a second,” she said cheerfully and I heard the clicking of her keyboard keys. I rolled my eyes and wished, for a moment that we were Facetiming so she could see my disgust. Then she gasped, “Yes! You are on the right path even though it looks like you can’t get there from here!” She was yelling and, it sounded like she could have been jumping up and down in the air too.
“What are you talking about?” I asked, decidedly pulling myself up to my feet, well aware Val’s help came with a price: ridiculousness.
“Spirit animal dot com! Jess-i-ca!” She always spread out the syllables of my name when she was really excited about something, “This is un-real. It says, ‘Just know that if you keep moving forward you WILL get to where you are going.’ Can you believe that?” she laughed. “It’s so perfect!”
“I guess,” I said, looking at the dense woods ahead of me. There was no path in sight and the hill, which I wanted to be at the top of, was too steep to climb, especially now that it felt like my ankle might be sprained from the fall. “But, Val,” I was feeling a bit beat up, and on the verge of tears, “do you think you could come get me? I’m not sure I can walk…”
“Holy crap,” Val said. “No joke, Jess, the next line says — and I quote — ‘The footing is there’!”
I hung up. I loved Val and, when the chips were down she really was always there for me, but I couldn’t deal with her in that moment. I needed to regroup. I came out to run specifically because I wanted to connect with nature, but I wasn’t on some spirit walk. I simply wanted to smell the trees, feel the sun on my skin, and hear the wind whistle by as I ran. I wanted to be near nature, not covered in it. As a blue jay squawked at me from above, I pulled a sweetgum ball off of my sock and wondered if any ticks had a chance to jump on me when I rolled down the hill. It would be my luck to contract Lyme’s Disease from this embarrassment. I squinted back up the hill to see if I could spot my attacker, the goat with the demon eyes. He must have moved on. He must have kept moving forward, that was his message, after all, right Val? I rolled my eyes and dialed Val again.
“You okay?” she asked as soon as she picked up.
I exhaled. “I think so. I’m gonna need a serious tick-check whenever I get out of here…”
“Jess, I can’t get out of here right now. Eric is on the hunt today, he’s–”
“Don’t worry about it Val, I can’t be that far from civilization. I’m going to — what did the goat message say? — keep moving forward?” I took a step, staying parallel to the path above me, going in the same direction I planned to on my run.
“Yes!” she perked up and I imagined her posture straightening as she swiveled on her chair to face the computer screen probably still open to spirit animal dot com. “Remember, the footing is there!”
“Yeah… well… it’s pretty well hidden,” I said, wincing as my right foot fell on an unsteady spot wiggling the ankle that throbbed with every movement. I needed a distraction to get through this without focusing on the pain. “Alright Val, I want to start by saying I’m not really in full support of this cultural appropriation at all, but I need to hear something while I walk, so tell me more about what the demon-goat wanted to tell me. Because — honestly — if his whole message was to keep moving forward I feel like throwing me off a hill was a really stupid ass way of telling me.”
She laughed. “It’s not so literal. The goat’s message is probably not about your run — it’s about your life — do you really think this isn’t cool? I don’t want to offend anyone. I mean I have been trying to diversify my research, and I just enrolled in a class taught by a local tribe leader because, you know, I don’t want to misinterpret —”
“It’s okay. It’s just you and me right now.” It was the wrong time to bring up the ethics of Val’s current obsession.
“So what do I –”
“What is that sound? It sounds like a blue jay!” she asked and I heard frenetic typing in the background.
It was at least three blue jays now ensuring I knew how offensive my presence was. I was pretty sure I was getting too close to a nest or something. I spent one Spring ducking for cover every time I passed through my front door when a local jay thought the tree outside would make a perfect vacation home.
“The Jay says,’You are reminded that anything of value such as spiritual growth and relationships takes work,'” Val read aloud.
“Oh great.” Every step felt like work.
“Adaptation… discovering new avenues for exploring…” she continued, obviously skimming through and shouting out the only words that applied to my situation.
I couldn’t help but laugh. “Okay, okay, I’m discovering. Can’t wait to bring you down to this ditch to show you around!” Val’s distraction was working wonders. As I moved forward the hill started to descend and it looked as though I might walk right into the path I was running on. As I squinted to see ahead, I spotted a gem to feed Val. “There’s a beautiful blue butterfly flying in front of me. Should I follow it, Val?”
“You’re shitting me!” she said, man did she type loudly. “Butterfly says, ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff, be joyful and thankful for your blessings.'”
I limped a bit faster, now smiling, trying to catch up to the butterfly, grateful for the constant of Val in my life through everything. She was a blessing. She was my butterfly, flitting in and out of my days, spreading color, beauty, and lightness while I believed I carried the world on my shoulders.
“Is that a personal call?” I heard Val’s dick of a boss, Eric, muffled on the other end.
“Eric, it’s an emergency. It’s my friend –” Val voice was low and quavering. Eric had been looking for an excuse to fire employees all month. I hated this guy.
As Eric began to speak it looked as though someone had pressed paused on the visual in front of me. The butterfly had flown directly into a spider web. I gasped. “And I suppose spirit animal research is going to help this friend of yours?” Eric asked.
Shit. Val was only doing all that stupid shit because of me. As soon as she told me Eric was circling I should have hung up instead of feeding her childish behaviors. Val doesn’t need any encouragement. I have to stop fueling the fires here. Val needs to grow up. She has to stop believing in the mystical and start taking responsibility for her reality. If she got fired, I would go see Eric myself.
I got closer to the spiderweb, wondering if there was some way I could free the butterfly from it’s trap. As I did so I heard Val speak up.
“Eric, if you must know, I’m on my break. I decided to stay here and answer e-mails while I was on the phone with my friend.” She sounded more professional than I had ever heard her. “I clocked out, so what I’m doing here is none of your business. On the other hand, the e-mails I’ve been fielding from Devaroe, are. I forwarded the first one to you, but you haven’t been at your desk all day.”
Oh shit, Val. Be careful! I stopped walking, frozen in fear for what I was about to hear next.
Val continued, “He has written back to me three times wondering why you haven’t called yet. I have made two adjustments to his account in an attempt to appease him, but you will lose this account if you do not call him soon.So here’s my advice: rather than being up my ass about what I’m doing on my time, why don’t you take a moment to use yours more wisely. I am not the one you want to let go. Not after today.”
Whoa. That was not the Val I knew. That was AWESOME. Val was a bad-ass. I had tears in my eyes as I looked ahead and saw the path I was looking for. I didn’t go there right away, though. I had one more thing to do. I watched the butterfly escape the spiderweb and I laughed.