Almost the first month down. The yearlings are getting the hang of the place now, June's starting to make friends with some of the other students, my two classes have each met at least once, now...and I still have no clear idea what I'm doing. I still spend my days mostly wandering around, hanging out, taking in a workshop or two, my most serious intellectual or spiritual challenge my efforts to get my fiance alone someplace private. And we still haven't managed that.
The others who started with me seem well on their way, now. Ollie, for example, who wants to deepen his practice as a Christian therapist and pastor, is now more or less Allen's full-time apprentice. Not that Allen is Christian (or a pastor, though he does have one of those mail-order ordinations, so he can perform weddings and so forth), but he is a phenomenal therapist. Besides his work here as a psychology professor and group therapist, he sees individual clients in his home office one or two days a week. There's always more people who want to see him than he can take on, so he recommended some of the others to Ollie, and now, as of last week, Ollie has something like ten clients--whom he sees at Allen's house. He's basically living there three days a week, now.
It sounds pretty intense, living with your teacher. I know that they talk about Ollie's cases and sometimes observe each other's work (with the client's permission, of course), though of course Ollie can't tell me any details. I wonder what that's like for Allen? He must suddenly have almost no time off.
Rick has just gotten his assignment, now, too, though, being from Charlie, it's not nearly so straight-forward. Or, rather, it is straight-forward, but Rick doesn't know how to get started. He talked to me about it this morning as we were getting ready to go out.
"I am supposed to care for a human being," he said, as though the duty sounded strange and onerous to him.
"Care for?" I asked. "Does he mean like babysitting or nursing care, or does he mean, basically, give a shit about somebody?"
"Give a shit," he confirmed. "I think it's a little more than that. I think I'm supposed to devote, you know, like Eddie does with Kit...or like Greg's Cat with Greg. Something transformative. But, basically, yeah, I've got to give a shit about somebody."
"And don't you?" I asked.
We were standing in the Green Room, putting on our layers of clothing, but I stopped and he stopped, too, and looked at me with an odd expression. I think he had just realized he might hurt my feelings if he wasn't careful. That sort of thing rarely occurs to him, though he never actually means to hurt anybody.
"I like you," he said, slowly. "I like some people. I enjoy you. I wish you well. If you needed something, I would give it. But I don't love you. I don't love anyone, I don't think. I never have." He seemed puzzled, puzzled by love.
"Do you love anything?" I asked. I'm not shocked, or even surprised, by Rick's distance. I know him, and that's just the way he is. I just thought I knew what Charlie was up to. Rick had asked for his help learning to work with humans better, without being so irritated by us. I remember that once, when I was out in public with Charlie on a field trip, some stranger's baby was crying loudly nearby, and someone said something about how annoying the sound was, asking Charlie, rhetorically, whether he was irritated. He rather famously can't stand loud, discordant noises. But he shook his head.
"No, I'm not irritated, I'm sad. That baby is a human being. He's having a bad day. Or a bad five minutes--long enough, when you're a baby."
Charlie sees children as people. He's sympathetic to them, so they don't bother him, the way they bother some. I think he wanted to teach Rick that humans are people, so that he would develop an equivalent patience. And he wanted to teach patience for all people by asking him to love one person. Only Rick doesn't know how. I thought that if he loves something, that might offer him a starting point. I was trying to help.
As we spoke, I faced the large picture windows. He faced me, and must have seen the coat rack over my shoulder, but over his I could see the snowy garden and the hedge and part of the sky. It was growing very grew out there.
"Do you love anything?"
"Sure," he told me, and held up the inside of his forearm for me to see--where he had a small smudge of a tattoo, just like mine.
"I thought I was the only one Charlie took through that ritual," I said, though I really had no reason to think so. He wouldn't mention the ritual to anyone. It's not the sort of thing one chats about. I had told Rick and I'd told June. No one else. For all I knew, Charlie took all his students through it. I know he gave some of the others deer knives--Rick has one, as does Raven G. And yet I thought no one else had tattoos. I hoped no one else did. I wanted to be the only one.
"You are," Rick, though I have no idea how he came by such authority. "You told me about it, so I performed the ritual myself, alone."
"Where?" I asked, meaning what place had he consecrated himself to. What place did he love?
"I won't tell you," he said. Of course, he wouldn't.
"How did you find it?"
"When Charlie told me to find a favorite place on the Island," I told him, "I looked all over, I explored lots of places, but none stood out to me as the best one. Until I just chose a place. I decided it was my favorite. And it was. I've been there since. It feels like mine. I care about it. It's my favorite. Maybe you can do that with a person?"
"You think loving a person works the same way as loving a place?"
"Love is love, isn't it?" I said. "Anyway, the process Charlie took me through to earn to love the land is the same thing I did learning to be in relationship with June."
"Yeah. I showed up regularly, I paid attention, I learned everything I could about what she needs and likes, I abandoned my own pre-conceived ideas and wishful thinking...I did that several times, I have to keep doing it...."
"And that worked?"
"I'm engaged, aren't I?"
"Crap." That was me, again. It had started snowing. Rick followed my gaze and turned and looked out the window. The flakes were coming down hard already. There would be no tracking for another couple of days.
"Well, that's that," said Rick, after a few seconds. "I have some reading to do." He nodded at me politely, and walked back inside. It was an abrupt end to an intense conversation, and I felt strange, emotionally hyped up with nowhere to go, psychologically. I decided to go for a walk in the snow.
I love walking in the snow. I like tracking, and you can't track in falling snow, but I like the snow more. I live the smell of it, the silence of it, the otherworldly sense of it, and yet somehow the falling, swirling flakes are calming. Even when I was living outside, first for Charlie's assignment, and then on the Trail, I could never mind the snow, though I could appreciate the inconvenience and the danger of it.
This day, the temperature wasn't even that low, maybe just below freezing. I walked around campus with my hood down, letting the flakes build up in my hair. They were just starting to melt and run down behind my ears--and I was just starting to get cold, when Allen crossed my path. He, too, had snow in his hair, even on his eyelashes. He kept blinking his eyes, because of the snow falling on his face, but I know he does not feel the cold.
"Oh, I'm glad I found you, Daniel," he said. "I wanted to tell you, when you're trying to solve a problem--any problem--sometimes there's no key, because there aren't any locks."
"The key to your problem is that there is no key because there are no locks. Think about it."
"Allen, why do you so often speak in riddles?"
"Because I like watching you solve them. And I know you're capable of it." And he clapped me on the shoulder and went on his way.
Aren't any locks, huh?
A few minutes later, I stood in front of the door to Chapel Hall. I tried the door. It opened. There was no lock. Come to think of it, I don't think there are any locks on any doors on campus--I've never noticed any, I've never had to use a key, I've never heard of anyone else having to use a key or find a key or get a key. No keys, no locks. The building is closed right now, and I'd just assumed that meant I couldn't go in it, but that's not the sort of thing we really have rules about around here. A closed building just means it's not heated or cleaned and nothing is scheduled there. No one has to go there, just like no one has to go in certain parts of the Mansion basement, or lots of other places around campus. That doesn't mean you can't. There are no locks.
How did Allen know I was looking for this sort of information? I certainly didn't tell him. June wouldn't have. Maybe it's just that Allen was once a mastery candidate with a fiance, too.
Anyway, I'm thinking of the storage place on the fourth floor, the one Charlie popped out of that one day to play a prank on Allen. It can't have much stuff in it, or he couldn't have moved around in there so easily. Yes, Chapel Hall is probably about twenty degrees right now, but I have a sleeping bag. So does June. And they zip together.