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Chapter One

Stumbling Around in the Dark

I didn’t sleep that night, not because the kids woke or the husband snored. I didn’t sleep because I worried the kids might wake or the husband might snore and I needed to be up by five o’clock and out of the house by six.

I swung my legs over the edge of my warm bed and pushed off the duvet. My spine cried out. I eased from the bed in an attempt to mitigate both the pain radiating across my back and the squeaking of the mattress frame.

The alarm clock threatened only minutes until five. Nervousness combined with anticipation of the day’s events prevented me from crawling back under the covers and passing out. I kept it together long enough to slip quietly around the foot of the bed and alongside my sleeping husband to disarm the alarm clock. I couldn’t risk disturbing slumbering bodies that might result in a cranky day for them and interfere with my quick escape from the house.

My eyes stung. I shuffled down the stairs and into the bathroom where my clothes and makeup waited, carefully laid out the night before. Leaning on the cool porcelain of the pedestal sink, I brushed my teeth and applied the standard blush, liner, shadow and gloss. I pulled my dark hair into a stylish ponytail, bangs swept across my brow.

I stared into the mirror. It didn’t reflect my depleted mood and body. I felt frail but with my mask in place, appeared beautiful and strong. I tried to hurry, but my body had one gear: tired. I had packed most items the previous night: yoga mat, books, notepad, pen, a second pair of pants, extra socks, hiking boots and a picture of my family for the altar, as per the group email instructions. 

I popped two slices of bread in the toaster while I laid out a few last minute items. I slapped peanut butter and jam on the toast, placed one piece atop the other, sandwich style, wrapped it up in paper towel and set it on the back step while I loaded my gear into the trunk of the car. I drove west through the dark down the highway, eating my breakfast.

Thirty minutes later, I pulled into the small hamlet and parked my car in the empty lot of the main shopping plaza. I stepped out of my vehicle and stretched my arms over head to wake my body. Blood rushed my spine in comfort. I took a deep breath of country air, relieved to be out of the city and in the quiet hours of the hamlet.

Two vehicles crept onto the lot and parked a couple aisles away, no movement from the occupants. The air stood still, heavy with darkness. I waited for someone to step out and join me. I took a deep breath and decided to layer up while I had the time.

I balanced on one foot, leaning against the car to mitigate the pain while I removed each rubber boot, pulled on my second pair of pants and stepped into my hiking shoes. Still no movement from the other cars. What next? I wanted a familiar face or at least better instructions.

I pulled on my jacket and gloves as a large, dark truck cozied up alongside me. A door opened and a couple women in the backseat leaned over and invited me to join them. It was like a strange scene from a spy novel.

I complied with the orders I’d received in the email. I grabbed my gear, locked my car and jumped into the truck. I introduced myself to the other passengers, unable to make out faces in the dark. The warm cab smelled of new vehicle and men’s cologne — an inviting combination of wood and spice. The soft orange glow of the dash lights, and the scent and warmth in the truck’s cabin, provided strange reassurance as my thoughts pointed out that I was in the backseat of an unfamiliar truck driven by a man I didn’t know, in the dark early morning hours, heading to who knows where.

I didn’t feel scared. My body felt cozy and comfortable, only my mind pointed out the myriad of reasons I should feel scared. I stared out the window into the dark. Where was Anna? She got me into this.

Nearly fifteen years earlier, before husbands and kids, Anna had become a friend when I’d forgotten what it was like to have one. Several years of my life had been marred by destructive relationships and resultant low self-esteem. At twenty-three years old, I had landed a job in an art gallery in the small tourist town of Banff, Alberta. The upscale shop offered original art, sculptures and artisan jewelry. The owner reminded me of Katherine Hepburn in her later years: gracious and graceful, despite her trembling hands. It was a comfortable place for me to land — an inviting environment filled with elegant art and civilized people, the most civilized of whom was my dear friend, Anna.

We opened shop each morning, selecting from the stunning array of bijoux and bobbles to accessorize our well-assembled ensembles. We chose the day’s music: What a difference a day makes… Dinah Washington’s sultry voice crooned through the gallery as we sipped apple-spiced tea and gazed upon the Rocky Mountains through the large gallery windows, awaiting the arrival of the diverse, well-heeled tourist clientele.

I loved the atmosphere of the shop, the slower pace, the pleasantries and the company of the ladies who worked there. I particularly enjoyed the artist receptions where Anna and I dressed up, put on the dog as well as our jewels. We’d make silly faces at each other, sticking out our tongues when neither clients nor bosses were looking. We behaved like two young girls in church expected to act like ladies yet taking great delight in covert rebellion. 

“You know he was on acid when he painted that,” Anna whispered.

“What?” I burst, caught off guard by her comment.

She chuckled. “He just told me that himself.”

“Well,” I cocked my head sideways to consider the large painting. “I guess you’d have to be to work with those colours.” 

I needed to feel like a child again, innocent and playful. I’d given up much of it while I’d given up my self-worth in the preceding years that led me to Banff and to Anna: years of leaving home for school, life as a starving student, post-secondary burnout and diving into a destructive relationship in search of reprieve. Looking back, those impressionable young adult years were fleeting and foreign, yet felt definitive at the time. We are not condemned to be who we once were: poor judges of men, starving students and college drop-outs.

Our paths took us in different directions over the years; mine led back to the city and Anna’s to the small hamlet. After nearly fifteen years of roving friendship, we always reunited in delight of one another’s company while we caught up on adventures and plans. Sister cats, we called ourselves, the name borrowed from a humorous birthday card Anna gave me one year.

When Anna emailed me about the year in yoga with a group of strangers in her hamlet of Bragg Creek, I had been apprehensive about joining, but her participation reassured me that I had not embarked on the journey alone. Nothing to worry about; sister cat would be right there with me … but where was she?

The journey begins.

Continue the journey…

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