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I had asked Shaman about the Yule Ritual: why I was left for last, and why I didn’t feel a connection to the community when I rejoined the circle like everyone else. His eyes sparkled and danced. “But you made a connection with me.” There must have been a look of pleading on my face because despite his obvious joy in the prospect, I didn’t know the significance, so I felt no joy when he said it. To him it must have meant something though, because he paused like he was waiting for an answer from me. Instead, I plied him with another question.

“Yeah, okay… but what does that mean for me? I’ll never find a community? I’ll always be on the outside looking in? I mean, I’ve always been the odd-man-out. Is that just going to be my life??”

Shaman smiled, “You too, eh?”

The tension fell from my shoulders and we laughed. He told me of previous Yule rituals where he’d forgotten people in the darkness and they stayed there even after the lights had been turned back on. We shared a few stories, and I found he was a great person to make laugh. Whenever I came up with something really clever, he’d lick his fingers and make a tick mark in the air. He was goofy, irreverent, and smart… scary smart. I knew I wanted him to be a big part of my life.

“Have you heard of Timothy Leary?” he asked. I did, so he continued, “Have you ever heard of Timothy Leary’s Ducks?” I couldn’t say that I had. “Imagine that you and I are tripping our balls off. We have a spiritual experience, and something walks across the carpet. Our brains aren’t equipped to fully translate what has happened—it was a mystical experience and new—so our brains come up with the next best thing. And because you’re a woman, born and raised where you were, you see a duck. And because I’m a man, born and raised the way I was, I see a goose…” He paused for dramatic effect. “Neither of us is wrong.

“Semiotics.” I replied. The blank look on his face let me know he wasn’t aware of the term, but I expected that. Few people had. I was lucky enough to have picked it up as my Senior seminar course in college. “It’s the study of symbols and meaning, and it’s rooted in culture. To Western societies, white is a color of purity, but to the Japanese, it’s a color meaning death. Do you know ‘The Name of he Rose’ by Umberto Eco? He’s a leader in the field of semiotics and wrote fiction books to prove his non fiction theories. Brilliant author, and he would totally dig Timothy Leary’s Ducks.”

Another lick of the fingers and a tic in the air. I’d managed to impress him four times in the evening. I was pretty pleased with myself. But it was time to go, and my head was starting to hurt in a way that told me if I didn’t get home now, I might not at all, so we called it a night & made plans to meet again.

The migraine had gotten worse in the meantime. That is, we had tried everything my GP had suggested to no avail. I’d been in and out of the ER with pain so bad it surpassed my kidney stones. So my fiancé had taken forty days of leave from the Navy to come take care of me.

In that forty days, I had been on medications that kept me awake for days, medications that put me in a fugue state, unaware of my surroundings, and child-like in my mannerisms. Through all of this, my fiancé never made me feel guilty once. He would run errands on a moment’s notice, he would put salves on the lesions the medications caused, and through all this he still found me desirable and cherished. Out of all my boyfriends, he never made me feel guilty when I was sick, so I knew he was the man I wanted to marry.

But I also knew Shaman could see into the truth of things, and the more I knew him, the more I knew I wanted Shaman to officiate our wedding. This of course meant that we would all meet together and go over the ceremony.

“There’s one thing I never allow,” he stated, “and that is, you cannot have ‘For better or for worse’ in your vows. I’ve seen far too much abuse perpetuated in the name of ‘for better or for worse,’ so don’t even think about putting that one in. Otherwise, almost anything goes!”

“So within reason,” my fiancé said, throwing a quick wink to me. “I can dig that.”

With the main logistics out of the way, I excused myself to the Lady’s room to give the boys a chance to talk alone. “Talk about me all you want,” I smiled, throwing the wink back at my husband-to-be. He was almost the one who got away, and now he was going to be mine. All the childish behaviors he had polished away, and now he was a proud, upstanding member of the U.S. Navy, just like his parents and my parents before him. I was in love.

“So, did I give all y’all enough time?” I asked, as I slid into the booth. Both the boys had smiles on their face like cats who swallowed a canary, so I assumed it must be good news. “Okay then! what’s next?”

“Well,” began Shaman, his tone suddenly serious, “I like to remind all the couples that I marry that we are very close to cavemen. We only have about 5,000 years of living in cities, and over 70,000 years of living in caves.

“When Verity and I were first married, we had a lot of arguments over who had control of what, and who was responsible for what. and we found a very simple solution: go caveman.

“Men have a horrible time seeing the consequences of their actions, and that’s on purpose. His job is it kill the cave bear, and he can’t rightly charge in with a sharp rock tied to a stick if he’s thinking about what happened to Thag last week when they had to bring him home in pieces!” (Shaman was the champion of long sentences.) He and my soon husband both laughed knowingly. “But that allows them to charge into the cave and kill that bear. Men deal with the dangers of the outside world.

“Women, on the other hand,” he continued, “deal with inside the cave. if she wants that bear-skin rug that she dutifully made for you in the corner, you,” he said, looking at my fiancé, “move it to where she wants it. And when she decides, ‘No, that’s not right…put it over there…’ We dutifully obey because she is in charge of inside the cave.”

My beau and I clasp hands over the table and looked lovingly into one another’s eyes. “That’s about the wisest thing I’ve ever heard,” my soon-husband said, and my heart melted at his immediate respect for someone I respected. Even if someday our love were to end, I knew I was making the right decision for the near future. I was walking on sunshine. As we were heading to leave, my fiancé left Shaman and I to talk for a while.

“I can see why you chose him,” Shaman said. “And you’re right to do so, but I must warn you, it won’t last.”

The joy I was feeling sank like a stone and I looked at my feet. “Yeah, I know…” I hoped at least I would get a family, maybe get divorced when the kids are 10, create a new life but stay connected… i thought the ties that would bind me would be sweet. But I also knew people weren’t supposed to be monogamous, and we live much longer than our ancestors ever dreamed. I could hope for a marriage for a lifetime, but I wan’t going to hold my breath either.

“It’s not going to last,” he repeated, ” but I will marry you. This is what you need right now.”

My mood lifted as I looked up at my fiancé’s face. He was so handsome and so caring towards me in my time of need. I had done enough therapy (so I thought) that this world work long enough… Long enough for me to feel I had fulfilled the part of my life that wanted a family. I was beginning a new journey into womanhood. A marriage is a right of passage, one of the Three M’s that change your life forever: Marriage, Mommy, and Mortgage. These are commitments that are not quit lightly, and I was ready for this new responsibility.

We were married on the side of Mount Rainier, and we were supposed to be married at sunset. However, as Shaman liked to remind me, “We Shaman can take shortcuts that other’s can’t. It comes at a price, of course, but that’s our special ability.”

So when it was approaching 10 PM and we were set up in the darkness, Shaman began the ritual by saying: “It’s sunset somewhere!” We took a moment to visualize ourselves where ever that sunset was, and then began. I don’t remember much of what was said, my knees were shaking and not from cold. I wore white, he wore his family’s tartan. We jumped the broom and entered our bridal chamber as Mr. and Mrs. I was overjoyed.

Shaman left.

I didn’t even see him depart, and I wasn’t to see him for another year. By the time I returned, he’d forgotten about me, but his wife Verity, whom I’d only met briefly, remembered me immediately.

For next time… The Year in the Desert