I have a superstitious soul in me. A grand one. It takes up more space than I realise most days. I’d like to admit it unapologetically & with pride, but I tend to leave the untestable, illogical, voodoo-hippy, gut-feeling-with-no-basis side of myself buried to the masses unless pressed upon to be revealed.
I whole heartedly believe in something bigger, greater, and more magical than what I can see. I believe that I don’t know anything for certain, not even my own mind. Change is the only thing that is a provable & believable notion. Life in constant motion.
With this concept deeply planted in my soul from an early age, I have many different ways I let myself be influenced through life outside of my general conscience. To most, these indicators of good versus evil in the life of Laura seem like hokum. That’s ok. They might well be. I don’t care.
When I was 7 years old I went on a 2nd grade field trip to the Fremantle Prison. A prison that was essentially a fortified jail for early Australian convicts and settlers, which now stands solely as a memorial of those times. Our Alcatraz. Large limestone walls towering over my Primary school-sized self, crashing up against the white sandy coastline of a now popular beach. Windowless cells, dank hallways, echoes that had memories. It already spoke to me. I believed whatever it was going to tell me.
We were corralled through the clammy corridors out to “the yard” where the inmates were to attempt some sort of physical fitness on a tiny patch of grass encased by imposing walls topped with spikes & barbed wire, with no escape but for a single door used as entrance & exit for this one space alone. The only distinguishable markings of any kind my little brain retained were the numbers 1-20 painted on one of the four walls used for exercise games. I scan them back & forth, doing my best to remember my numbers correctly, and it strikes me each time that something is off. Of course! These fools have left out 2 numbers! I’m so clever! No one else has noticed! I’ll educate them!
I raise my hand & upon being called on, I ask the tour guide, “Why are the numbers 6 & 16 not on the wall?” The tour guide delights in my attention to detail & fills us in on the why of it. “When the prison was in use, back when criminals were hanged by their necks for their crimes, inmates were terribly superstitious & trusted in omens and signs to tell of what their fates would be. A 6 represents a hangman’s noose, a 16 was a man next to the noose. It was understood to symbolise whether you would live or hang depending on the date set for your trial … you were certainly going to die with 16! For this reason, no 6 or 16 is used throuhgout the jail.”
Needless to say, I was hooked. I believed! This was something that was going to mean everything to me. I didn’t know why, I don’t even remember choosing to sink in to its power. I just remember the overwhelming feeling that I too was meant to live life by the convicts code of 16. (It helped of course that my birthday was a 15, so 16 was obviously the worst because it was meant to signify the end of another birthday celebration of which I wouldn’t enjoy again for another year. It wasn’t that hard to give weight to its evil powers when you’re 7!)
I have experienced so many times in my life where this superstition has spoken to me. 15’s always led down a path that offered the fruits of safety & prosperity. I would see these forks in the road & the choice that I could connect to a 15 was sweet & safe. The new house number, the new job, the day to have a child, the model year of the car – its influence could be pointless, but limitless all the same. The 16’s always led down a darker path for all the same types of decisions, but which now felt unsafe & destined for failure and pain when a 16 was associated. Solid logic.
Now, who’s to say how or why this particularly spoke to me & determined my fate? Is it divine intervention? A means for a greater being to communicate their desires for my life’s journey? A way to signify the right from wrong in a way I could clearly see & abide by? 15 hooray! 16 stay away! Or is it a self-fulfilling prophesy? You asked for it – so you got it! You wanted 15 to work, so it did because you worked hard for it. You wanted 16 to be bad luck, so when it was unavoidable, you self-sabotaged! I honestly don’t know. Perhaps a little of both makes sense, or neither at all.
A few years back all signs pointed to “yes” when a decision was to be made to relocate to Seattle, WA. It was time for a change. The well had been sucked dry for years in our current situation and it seemed like the right change to make. My (then) husband & I ventured out sans children for a house-hunting trip to Seattle in hopes to find a new place to call home. I remember one of the most distinct visions surrounding me upon my arrival in the late December grey of a Pacific Northwest winter, was the inexplicable amount of crows that littered the view. Everywhere I turned, there they were. There’s a reason they’re called a murder – one look at a gathering of crows & people seem to convert to “believers” in the omens these creatures foretold. I shrugged it off. They gave me a sinking feeling. I ignored them. There was too much to love about the new home I could make for my family here. The possibilities were too enticing. I wasn’t going to let some meaningless superstition dictate my life … (oh wait)
Eventually I would succumb to the crows.
We moved, we settled, we got in to a routine. I still saw the crows and I continued to ignore them. Whatever misfortune they were warning me of was obviously a concoction of my own fears mingling together to overshadow something that should be bringing me joy. No negative self-fulfilling prophesies allowed here, thanks! What could go wrong anyway? We had a good job, good money, health & wellness for our whole family. We lived in a nice neighbourhood, went to a good school, made wonderful new friends – we wanted for very little, and mostly trivial. Life was finally getting on a track toward a version I had always imagined it should. I had worked hard & sacrificed to get here, it was time to enjoy it.
As it turns out, the visions of perfection Norman Rockwell littered our dreams with to make us believe things were heading in the right direction were full of shit. We’re hand-fed ideal images of what all our lives should look like. Intricate oil paintings overflowing with beauty & nostalgia that invite us to partake. Believe. In reality, how many of them actually look like this? And if they do, for how long?
As the months rolled on and the seasons inevitably changed to mark the time passed in our new life of perfection, that old murder would flock about reminding me that something wasn’t right. I ignored countless signs around me (un-crow related). I explained them away … Enter the crows. Why did I only believe in the power of my childhood superstition, but this one was somehow too juvenile & broad to put stock in?
Things started to slowly unravel, then seemed to gain unearthly speeds towards total annihilation. New adventures in friendship & family began to corrode before my eyes. In every corner of my world I would begin to fail. My friendships, my marriage, my religion. All my best efforts to keep them alive & well were in vain. The harder I fought to fix my ideal life, the quicker it disintegrated. In my mind, there was no excuse for unhappiness. What right did we have to complain, to fail? I felt weak in the chaos.
I attempted new levels of “mature conversations”, the kind I was under the impression could convince adolescent behaviours to be abandoned in our mutual favours. As my social world crumbled, I clung tightly to a precarious marriage as all I had left. I tried therapies, mindfulness, prayer, meditations, medications, activity, solitude, breathing.
Major life events have naturally occurred on these 2 numbers, 15 & 16. Instinctively I flinch at the 16. What, you ask, was I possibly going to do to survive the entire year of 2016? I wondered the same thing. Then I would quickly dismiss the notion that an entire year could be tainted. What juvenile thinking. What unproductive thinking. I’m an adult, what place does this sort of frivolity have in my world now?
As my family prepared to leave Seattle for a Christmas packed with relatives, I remember seeing the crows. I laughed a little to myself at their expense. What did they know? During our snowy-white, Norman Rockwell-esque holiday I would be punctured with the final nail in the coffin of my white-picket-fence dreams.
A husband I had left family & country for, for whom I sacrificed 12 years of youth, an education, career, identity. A partner I would love & bear children for; would reveal to me the most challenging truth I think I’ll ever hear. No future news could conceivably shock me as much as this did in that moment. This was a turning point in the kind of life-changing news that would make all future “controversial declarations” seem commonplace & manageable in the aftermath of the first of its kind.
In an instant I knew that everything I imagined my life would be, it could never come close to now. There was no turning back from the news – the kind that shakes you to your core & calls in to question all that you are now & all the memories you’ve ever shared together. No amount of expert maneuvers, nor blinders or denial could keep it at bay. Life had been irrevocably branded now, whether I liked it or not. All the futures I could have possibly conceived would need to shift a dramatic course in to the abyss. A fog laying over the standard narrative for happiness that I still grow weary of ever navigating out of. Searching for a new life of contentment & simple joy. The journey now overwhelming.
This announcement would come on the cusp of a new year. New Year’s Eve for 2016. Fuck.
Those damned crows. They knew. They’d tried to warn me all along.