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A Rough Start
A stomach lurching drop brought Hannah immediately awake. Gasps and moans surrounded her, the loudest her own. A short ding accompanied a disembodied voice. "Sorry, folks. Just a bit of turbulence. Please fasten your seat belts. We'll get you through this as quickly as we can."
Hannah closed her eyes, breathing deeply to quiet her insides, a technique she learned in one of the yoga classes she began taking as a teenager.
The plane suddenly rose again pushing Hannah deeper into her seat, as the engines whined in the pilot's attempt to find a smoother ride at a different altitude. A hand grabbed her wrist, squeezing painfully. The physical discomfort was immediately replaced by the sense of being sucked into a deep, empty, black hole immersed in a heavy blanket of dark emotion. She knew to label it regret, though she was personally unfamiliar with this feeling. A montage of images and words flashed through her brain.
A man grabbing a black leather briefcase, walking or running out a variety of doors; Getting into a car or a train; Reaching out from a mother's arms, crying, "No, Daddy. Don't go."
The man grows older, trees grow taller, car models change and the visual assault of memories continues: Waving goodbye from the window, "See you, Daddy."; Soccer team buddies high-fiving while searching the crowd on the sidelines after scoring the winning goal; "I promise I'll be there next time." Yelling down from the top of the stairs, "Don't bother."; Looking around at friends in caps and gowns, searching for the missing face among the families.
"I'm sorry," comes the answering reply with each change of scene.
"I'm sorry." Out loud this time. The band of pressure around her wrist released, allowing her to return her focus to the present moment, the plane now flying levelly. She opened her eyes, looking to her left, first down at her wrist, then, just out of the corners of her eyes, at the person seated next to her. The man was dressed in a finely cut business suit, though Hannah wouldn't know Saville Row from Sears. She noticed that a slight patina of sweat glistened on his pale face.
"Are you okay?" she asked him, vaguely registering another ding and the pilot's voice assuring them the worst was over.
"Yes, of course. Sorry." He ignored her and she pretended not to notice the way he shored up his shoulders, straightened his back and set his jaw, as if to force the memories away.
The man was obviously traumatized by the rough flight and Hannah didn't want to add to his discomfort by mentioning her vision. After all, this happened to her frequently enough that she had learned that some people freak out when they think she can read their minds. She had become very discerning about when to share her experiences with the people they involved. In an effort to make him more comfortable, she said, "Glad that's over. Hopefully, the rest of the trip will be smooth." Then she closed her eyes again, trying to squelch her curiosity about the memories he had re-visited during the turbulence, as her own mind replayed the images the man's touch triggered.
She struggled with letting go of her worry for the stranger and his emotions, wanting to help him, but realizing he didn't want to acknowledge what just happened. He was obviously a proud man trying to regain his self-control, she thought, and Hannah decided it would be best to leave him be.
She breathed deeply, returning to her own thoughts of the coming week.
Sedona. A magical place. The perfect spot for a weeklong journey into self-awareness. She hoped to gain a better understanding of this burden she has been saddled with all her life. She knew that the turbulence that caused the stranger's touch, coming after her careful avoidance of any physical contact with her fellow travelers, was no mere coincidence. Synchronicity, her mom would have called it. "Pay close attention to what happens next."
She vowed to attend the workshop, as the brochure read, "with an open heart and an open mind, with the willingness to joyfully explore whatever comes up." Her mind kept wandering back to the man next to her, keeping her stuck in her normal pattern of worrying over whether she did the right thing. She pulled herself back to the present and her own thoughts, only to be consumed by worry over the coming week. Will she run into more issues with other people and their emotions trying to take over her life? Would her mom be okay without her checking in every day? Could Lucy handle the restaurant with Hannah gone? Would she learn how to stop these voices in her head?
Or maybe how to make peace with us?
"Make peace with you? Are you kidding me?"
Voices this time rather than pictures. Was this her own internal dialogue? Or was it them? She felt like she was going crazy. Worrying had become a fortress from which she needed to escape, but could not figure out how. The Dramamine she had taken before boarding the plane lulled her back to sleep as she repeated her self-proclaimed mantra. "I am safe. I am happy. I am safe. I am happy."
Jolted awake by a slight bump, a squeal of the brakes and the loud whining of the engines slowing, Hannah felt herself being pulled forward into her seatbelt. She couldn't believe she'd fallen back to sleep, anxious as she was about spending the next week delving into her deepest fears and desires with a bunch of strangers, hoping to find ... what? Inner peace, her purpose in life, healing of her tortured body and soul? That wasn't too much to ask, was it?
The intercom crackled and that same calm voice that had promised them a smooth remainder of their flight announced, "Welcome to Phoenix, folks, where our ground crew tells me it's a hundred and fourteen in the shade ... but it's a dry heat. Stay cool and enjoy your visit to Arizona or wherever your travels take you."
The passengers applauded before filing into the aisle, grabbing luggage from overhead compartments. They murmured platitudes, comments that only those who have come through a distressing incident unscathed could understand, as they stood in the aisle waiting for the ground crew to push the metal stairs to the plane's cabin door.
Hannah pulled her rucksack from under the seat in front of her. She pretended to be searching for something, as she waited until everyone else left the plane and were all safely away from her personal space, to avoid a repeat of the earlier episode.
As the other passengers began their slow progress to the front of the plane, Hannah recalled one of her many childhood trips to Arizona.
Connecting to the Past
Seven-year-old Hannah was handed over to the pretty stewardess after her mom tucked her into the front row seat on the airplane with a kiss on her forehead, palm cupping her cheek, and that familiar smile that said much. I love you. I'll miss you. Both your dad and I will. I know you'll have a great time. I'm only a little worried. She grinned back at her mom, then clung to her and whispered in her ear, "Me, too, mommy."
A plastic cup of ginger ale was set before her, the lady telling her she'd be checking on her from time to time and to just ask if she needed anything. Hannah said thank you and turned to look out the window. She had wanted to bring her bear that played music when she turned the little crank on his back, but they told her Yogi was too big to take on the plane. So she had Petey, her little stuffed penguin to keep her company. His soft white belly smelled like pepper.
This didn't make sense to Hannah, since the penguins she remembered from her last visit, when Gran and Poppy took her to the San Diego Zoo, smelled yukky, just like when her mom drained a can of tuna fish into the sink. But she had laughed with such delight as the funny looking birds dressed in tuxedos waddled over to the edge of the ice and dove into the clear water. Through the glass, she had watched them swimming very fast, tumbling and playing, spinning in circles. Her grandparents hadn't been able to get her to leave the exhibit until Poppy had handed her a stuffed animal. He had found it in the gift shop and told her she could take it home with her so that she would remember how much fun they'd had. She had hugged the little black and white bird to her and said, "Hi, Petey. Do you want to come home with me?" Petey must have whispered back that it was a fine idea because Hannah cradled him in one arm, placing her other tiny hand in Poppy's large calloused one. "Ok, we can go now. Bye penguins. Petey is coming home with me so I can remember you always."
The little girl had fallen asleep with that memory playing in her mind. A few hours later the Dramamine wore off and the plane touched down in Phoenix. Petey was still in the crook of her arm and she put her nose to his belly and smelled the familiar peppery smell that reminded her of Gran and Poppy. She was so excited to be here and wanted to get off first, but knew she had to wait for the nice lady to hand deliver her. She liked how they said that. It made sense and she liked it when things made sense, which they didn't very often. Hand deliver - since the lady actually took her by the hand and walked with her out the door of the plane, down the steps, into the hot sunshine. When they got to the bottom, Hannah spotted Gran by the door of the terminal and squirmed away from the nice lady, who hadn't even yelled at her when she had jumped on the stairs to enjoy the tinny sound her shoes made on the metal grate. She ran across the pavement, even though she knew she should walk like a young lady, and jumped into Gran's waiting arms. Gran smiled and squeezed her hard. She was just as excited to see her only granddaughter.
The tall, elegant woman dressed in well worn boots, crisp jeans and a plaid shirt reached out to shake the stewardess's hand. "Thank you so much for taking such good care of my granddaughter. She seems like she must have had a good time."
"She was great, Mrs. Hawkins, a real angel. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed that she slept most of the way. I enjoy having kids on the flights. They're so much easier than businessmen and I get to think about having my own someday. Have a wonderful visit, Hannah." She patted the little girl on the arm. "Maybe I'll see you on your return flight."
"Thank you for bringing me to see my Gran." Hannah leaned over, while still in Gran's arms, to hug the stewardess. The little girl basked for a moment in the energy radiating from the woman, who felt bright yellow and sunshiny to Hannah. She liked being around people like that.
A Friendly Greeting
"Miss? Miss? Are you alright?"
Hannah looked up to see a stewardess leaning toward her and realized that everyone else had left.
"Sorry. I got lost in my memories." Tossing her rucksack over her shoulder, she headed through the cabin door and down the metal stairs into the hot Phoenix sun, recognizing a moment of deja vu - the last time she had visited her grandparents when she was twelve.
Once inside the door at the arrival gate, she had to search for Baggage Claim and Ground Transportation. The airport had expanded in the fifteen years since she'd last been here and as a child, she hadn't really paid attention to where anything was since Gran had always picked her up at the plane and led her to the truck.
As she waited by the carousel for her suitcase, a tall man in faded jeans and scuffed boots walked over to Hannah, removed his hat and placed it over his heart. He looked at her, head tilted, "Hannah?" Her eyes went wide at hearing her name. She looked up into the face of a man she guessed to be around her age or slightly older. She took in his pale blue eyes and the welcoming smile exposing bright white teeth in stark contrast to his deep tan.
"I'm Bill. Laura asked me to meet you to take you to La Paz."
"Oh. I was going to rent a car and drive up." Hannah was looking forward to spending the time on the drive reminiscing.
"She thought this would save you the trouble of finding the place." Laura had told him Hannah was on a budget, but he didn't feel he should mention that, having just met this young woman. "You won't need a car at the ranch and it was no bother. I had to come to the city for supplies anyway, so I just arranged my schedule around your arrival. It will give us a chance to get to know each other and for me to fill you in on what your responsibilities will be for the coming week."
"Well ..." She trailed off, reluctant to accept his offer. She had always been proud of her independence. Too proud, she remembered her mom telling her more than once.
"How do you feel when you are being of service to someone?" Her mom would ask. Then, watching Hannah's face light up, she'd say to her, "Not allowing others to help you deprives them of that joy." She wondered how many times her mother would have to repeat this same conversation before Hannah would accept assistance without an internal struggle.
"Thanks. That was so nice of her - and you." Looking again at his kind face, glimpsing the halo of warm light that surrounded him, she admitted, "I was a bit nervous about the whole thing. Nice to meet you, Bill." She nodded and grasped her rucksack with both of her hands to avoid shaking his. Bill shifted his offered hand to point toward the bags heading down the conveyor belt toward them. "Do you see yours?"
She pointed to a worn green suitcase covered in stickers of places she'd like to visit, but probably never would.
Reaching out to carry it for her, he led her to the parking lot, talking about La Paz and its owner, Laura Hughes, the wonderful woman her friend Emily had introduced to Hannah only a few weeks before.
"My wife, Cera, and I met Laura a year ago when we stayed at the ranch while I was doing some research for a book I was writing about herbal folk remedies. Laura had lived in Sedona for fifty years so she knew the area better than anyone I had met before. I could describe the terrain and environment in which the plants I was looking for would grow and she would, without fail, take me to an area where I would find them."
"This is us." He opened the back of an older station wagon that had its windows cracked open. "In Sedona, we never lock the car, but things are different in the city. We'll want to wait a bit before getting in," he explained as he opened all the doors wide and cranked the windows down the rest of the way. "The sun is brutal here most of the year with all the pavement and concrete." He gently set her beat-up old suitcase in the back, in an area he had kept clear of the boxes of supplies that nearly filled the car. He helped her into the passenger side, shutting the rear doors on his way to the driver's seat. "Ready?"
"Ready." She smiled, a bit hesitantly, repeating his word, hoping it was true.
They drove in silence to the freeway, heading north toward Flagstaff. Bill seemed content with not talking, something Hannah found most people couldn't do, especially with strangers. She was grateful for his quiet presence. He reminded her of Laura Hughes and she understood why the woman had invited him to stay on at her ranch.
She breathed deeply, savoring the smells of the desert, the sharp bite of creosote so different from the damp, earthy smells of the woods back home in New England. She thought of her mom, growing up out here in this water-starved land, and told herself how lucky she was to have had the opportunity to experience the beauty of both.
Though noisy, the open windows eased the harsh, dry heat in the car. Hannah looked around at the landscape. The houses reached much further into the desert than she remembered. The steady cadence of tires on the seams of concrete pulled Hannah back into her childhood memories.
When they arrived at the ranch, Poppy was still out with the horses. The kitchen smelled of freshly baked cookies, just like home. But there was something different here, too, a whole bunch of new smells unfamiliar to seven-year-old Hannah. Gran told her it was chili and cornbread. The hands needed good hearty food since they worked hard in the hot sun all day. They would all eat together. Hannah probably didn't remember that since she was only five the last time she visited.
"Hop up here on this stool and stir in the masa. It makes the chili thicker, the way the men like it. Good. Now, we'll just let this simmer for a spell and go rustle up your grandpa. I think he has a surprise for you."
"A surprise! What is it? I love surprises. Well, if they're good surprises. Is it a good surprise?"
Laughing, she said, "You'll just have to wait 'til we get out there and see. You're just like your mom. She was so impatient as a girl." Gran pulled the bottom of her apron up to her eyes to wipe away the moisture.
Excerpted from "Hearing Voices"
Copyright © 2017 Beth Thran Bunch.
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
A Rough Start, 1,
Connecting to the Past, 7,
A Friendly Greeting, 11,
Coming to La Paz, 19,
The Arrival, 35,
Building the Fire, 51,
Sweat Lodge, 57,
I'm Wrong, 71,
The Smell of Memory, 111,
Letting Go, 117,
Balancing Energies, 133,
Asking the Right Question, 141,
Meditation Brings Peace, 147,
Hearing Voices, 155,
The Web of Life, 161,
Joyful Integration, 169,