Toutouwai the Curious

lives in Dunedin, New Zealand. She is finishing up a Master's thesis in science communication, looking at how science and environmental activism affect one another's finite and infinite games.
Mark’s office was just as you’d expect it to be. An oblong room. Light. Simple. His chair sat at one end of the room, a couch at the other. Distance between us. I almost hadn’t come. How much more could talking do? I regarded him, hands folded across my front. A few pleasantries, then he cut to the chase.

‘You don’t have to give details, but if you tell me roughly what happened I can file an ACC claim so these sessions are funded.’

Here we go.

‘A year ago at Waitangi… Something came up. It gave me a pretty big shock.’

Details have never been a problem for me. I gave Mark a frank account of what had come to light. Tears surprised me, prickling for the first time in a while. I looked up at the ceiling.

‘Since then things have been… hard.’

A lump rose in my throat, fighting back memories of the last twelve months. Mark’s face showed not pity or surprise, but calculation. He uncrossed his legs.

‘Ah. You strike me as a person who wants everything to be OK.’

I swallowed. Well, shit. Doesn’t everyone?

‘And it’s not. You have lost something. I think you’ve been afraid to go there. Unfortunately, we have to go there. What was lost – what was taken from you…’

He looked at me squarely.

‘Is profound.’

* * *

I have always been crisis motivated. I’ve never been curious as to why. Everything is avoided – until it’s upon me. Even these words are hastily scrawled, barely before their deadline.

To write about these things, I came to camp beneath the cliffs on Warauwerawera Beach. Or Long Beach, as we Pākehā call it, ungracefully. It’s part of Otago’s rugged coastline, on the Southern East side of Aotearoa’s South Island. My tent is pitched in the shelter of the old macrocarpa pines between the cliffs and the beach. Their thick trunks are gnarled and knotted. Oscillating branches make for an easy climb. I’ve always found comfort in the crook of an old tree. Their species are introduced. Invaders to this place, like me.

Younger pines line up like sentries along the cliff tops, a reminder that farmland has marched all the way to the coast, beating back the native bush. Red billed gulls, Tarapunga, launch themselves from the rocky face, gliding over my head and out to sea. My heart always  lifts for seagulls  I share their chatter and keen eyes for unguarded table scraps. Down at the water’s edge, Oyster Catchers are going about their evening, probing the sand with long red bills for tiny burrowing creatures. There’s a lot of life out here. Absentmindedly, I pick up a stick and trace in the sand, ‘Kia Ora. I’m here to open the Devil’s Door.’ Secretly, I hope the beach will unlock my words. By morning the tide will have licked up my message, stretching the sand back into a smooth blank canvas.

* * * 

Unravel (verb): To separate or disentangle the threads of a fabric; to free of complication; or to become unravelled.

With my presence hinging on a colonial past, perhaps a life of existential unease was inevitable. Before I was a Pākehā in Aotearoa I was a mzungu in East Africa. My parents were teaching in Kenya when I came to be. We moved to Cypress, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, and finally immigrated to Aotearoa when I was 10. Otherwise known as New Zealand, Aotearoa broke away from Gondwanaland eighty million years ago, its species set adrift on a raft to evolve alone. Its frogs don’t croak, its lizards don’t lay eggs and many of its birds don’t fly. But behind the veil of ecological marvels and postcard scenery lie the deep wounds of colonisation and the invisible creep of psychological unrest that takes young lives without warning.

In February, 2016, a fellow activist invited me to attend a decolonisation training at Waitangi. It was on the Waitangi grounds that treaties between European settlers and indigenous Māori were signed in 1840. Māori never ceded sovereignty of Aotearoa, a crucial point conveniently forgotten by many settlers, and to this day, the New Zealand government. Like many Pākehā, I was woefully ignorant of Aotearoa’s dark past. It’s a familiar and excruciating story of cultural genocide and assimilation. The kind of learning I had to do can’t easily work its way into words. It came from the tension reverberating in the tent, the tones of voices, the raised eyebrows and sharp intakes of breath. I had no idea what white privilege had done to my psychology. There were gaps – gaps in consciousness, gaps in sensitivity. Dehumanising systems threaded their way through my words, my thoughts, my reactions; through my very view of the world and other human beings. My oblivious comments at the gathering hurt people. I hurt people. Our systems went deep, to depths I didn’t know existed. It was a huge shock. What are we doing to each other?

My whole conception of the world was shifting shape at speed. I called one of my best friends, Rupert. We’d known each other since high school, and he was in northland. I was delighted to see that cloud of frizzy hair and big Ruperty grin. I bombarded him with three days of learning and unlearning. But my explanation didn’t hit him with the gravity I was after. I was impatient for him to understand. Desperate. I recalled one woman’s analogy about discussing decolonisation with white people.

‘It’s like when men and women talk together about rape culture – the power inequality of that culture still hangs in the room.’

The conversation took a turn. Sexism. Victim blaming. Something stirred uneasily in my stomach. All those internalised systems… I began piecing fragments together. My heart sped up. The feeling you get at a cliff edge. I’d held the fort for six years. But now… My throat tightened. A nervous smile tugged at the corners of my mouth.

‘Rupert, I’ve protected you for a long time… About Michael.’

* * * 

There’s one cushion on the couch on Mark’s office. Square, bold colours, not too squishy. I gripped it on my lap, trying to find my anger. Or sadness. Something. But the feelings are buried too deep, and there’s no map to find them.

‘He sent me a message, years later. He told me he filmed the whole thing. That he’d put it online two years ago, and to my credit it was getting plenty of views.’

Mark answered, evenly.

‘It’s hard to think of a more disrespectful thing you could do to another human being.’

* * * 

Rupert cried out in shock as I spoke. His voice cracking in pain and disbelief, grappling with my words. I shrank back, wary. In all our years of friendship I’d never seen Rupert angry. Michael had been Rupert’s best friend. Mine too. Anger gave way to tears of anguish. I heard myself reassuring him, ‘Water off a duck’s back, mate.’ But I caught the horror on Rupert’s face. Worse was his look of deep, deep concern. And he didn’t know the half of it. That’s when I realised – I was in trouble. And with that, my world fell unexpectedly, and unceremoniously, apart.

* * *

I put down my pad. Too many thoughts whirling in my head for any one to find its way onto paper. Overactive cognition. A defense from feeling, so I’m told. Chaotic yes, confusing – god yes. But it works. Wandering among the pines I collect sticks for a fire. How do you find words for a psychological unravelling? They’re all so neat, so gentle. Through a writer’s lens it’s tempting to romanticise the collapse. The cascade of consciousness was unlike anything I’ve seen. Post-traumatic stress is a fascinating thing. I hope it never happens to you.

* * *

What the hell just happened? What is happening? I knew what Michael did. I was there. Was I? I knew what that was – no I didn’t. No I didn’t. Not like this. Where is this coming from? How did I not know what that was? Oh god. What happened to me? Six years. Six. Why is it happening now? This can’t be what it does. Yes it can. No. Please no. Those are feelings. Those are my feelings. I am feeling. I am a completely different human being. What the fuck happened to me? That’s me, in the mirror. That’s not a body. That’s not an object. I am that body. That’s me. My eyes. They look scared. I look terrified. I am terrified. That’s me? Oh fuck. Oh fuck.

I’ve never been good at keeping secrets. How had I kept this from myself?

I exploded. I imploded. Rupert’s reaction breached my defences. Domino chains of realisation fell fast in all directions. I knew the cultural tendrils of sexism denied and obscured the experiences of women. But this – this was beyond anything I could have imagined. Māori lore of connection between mind, body and spirit rushed at me with chilling clarity. I had blamed my body. I had punished it. Tried to escape it. I had wreaked havoc on my mind, with my mind. Māori talk of spiritual warfare because they know what human minds are capable of. I pulsed with terror.

How? How had I not told anyone? His suicide threat. Oh. God.

My brain was changing. Profoundly. Irreversibly. Overnight, my foundations were washed from beneath me by a tide of cognition and emotion. Michael had driven me from my body, driven me from my mind, driven me from myself, all while I looked the other way. I felt sick. These were new feelings. Feelings I had no clue what to do with. This was an entirely new brain. A brain I had no idea how to use.

There was no retracing steps to the person I was a day ago. I tried to reach back to her. She was gone.

So I did what any scared animal would do. I ran.

* * *

Tea swirled in the mug Mark handed me. This was harder than I had expected.

‘He was creative. He said people wouldn’t find me interesting if it weren’t for my unusual name.’

Mark was level, as ever.

‘He took your identity. Psychological abuse can be harder to process than the physical. It affects your perception, your ability to understand your own reality. Do you have any idea of what is real for you?’

I laughed. Then I realised he was serious. After the year I’d had, he could not have asked me a more hilarious question. The stories I used to understand the world had fallen away. My ‘self’ had been an illusion, created by power imbalance and pretence. If the ‘truth’ of my own experience couldn’t be trusted, what else lay waiting to crumble?

I scoffed at the assumptions underneath this flimsy delusion. I questioned and critiqued every layer of perception I could find. Then I found fault with any mechanisms we might use to interpret them. Any story we created to understand the world, I was determined to reduce to chaos. I wasn’t losing my grip – I’d just stopped pretending there is something to cling to.

‘No. But I think the idea of “reality” is just a functional illusion. Anyone who says otherwise hasn’t recognised the lies holding them up.’

Mark smiled.

‘You’re good. Very good. I bet you’ve fooled just about everyone.’

Indeed, the blasé jokes and philosophical sidesteps had distracted a lot of people, including me. Intellectual deconstruction is a neat mask for debilitating confusion. But Mark had seen through me. Behind the fronts, I was exhausted. And I was terrified.

I had yet to face something I’d expertly avoided for years. The thing that scared me the most me.

* * *

Question (verb): To ask or inquire; to doubt, challenge or dispute.

After Waitangi I returned home to Dunedin and hid from myself in the best way I knew how. In plain sight. I mastered the art of intellectual vulnerability. I told people the true story, which couldn’t have been further from the truth. I built and hid behind a wall of rigorous politics. I jumped on every train of thought I could, unpacking the patriarchy, power imbalance, systemic oppression, objectification, emotional abuse, rape culture, epistemic injustice. The ‘system’ became more real to me than I was.

I started to see sly narratives spread throughout our culture, our language, our communication. Playing tricks on our conscience – casting a light here, putting out a light there, until we can’t tell form from shadow. Narratives turn humans into puppets – heroes, villains, and victims. They turn people into objects. Beings into products. The living to non-living. We make people spend their lives being expendable. We tell stories that turn our consciousness into self-consciousness, and our curiosity into caution.

The English language has toyed with humanity, cutting us into groups, ‘men’ or ‘women’, ‘young’ or ‘old’, ‘able’ or ‘not’, ‘well’ or ‘un’. Our language conjures a vision of division. Words sever us from one another and the world we live in, chopping our family and our time into pieces. Our sentences are built to co-opt, commodify, compare, compete, combat, conquer, claim, own, use. What you can’t count, doesn’t count. Ours is a language of entitlement, putting the ‘our’ in ‘resource’. It’s a language of sexual contempt, seeing only the ‘man’ in ‘human’.

Processing the tricks and games of Western society allowed me to feign recovery. But behind my intellectual enthusiasm, anger and distrust were at a rolling boil. When Rupert dominated our conversations I prickled, listening to the realities of the powerful while my own lay obscured and unexplored. The microcosm was the macrocosm, the patriarchy was a conversation with my friend. When my gentle partner Harry put an unexpected hand on my hip in the kitchen, I recoiled, surging with hatred. All I knew was the full psychological gravity of what happens when physical boundaries are crossed. ‘The system’ haunted me in every human interaction, every off-hand comment, every moment of intimacy.

Humans had made me less human. Words had put me at war with my mind. Touch had put me at war with my body. If we’re not heard, we don’t learn to listen. If we’re not seen, we don’t learn to see. If we’re not felt, we don’t learn to feel. It makes it easier to pretend. To pretend that what’s happening to your body isn’t happening to you. To pretend that what’s happening to your mind isn’t happening to you.

When you’re left with no place to exist, you cease to.

* * *

In these moments the damage is obvious. Every sentence is interrupted by a dozen others. One paragraph starts and another begins. Each too afraid to see itself through. It’s no easy thing, admitting that someone damaged your mind. It’s even harder admitting the damage you’ve done yourself. Trying to pick apart psychological impacts and find what you’re missing is like being a fish. A fish trying to realise it’s wet. A fish doesn’t know it’s wet, that’s the world. It just is. Water’s only wet if you’re dry.

* * *

Collapse (verb): To fall or cave in; to break down; to come to nothing.

In the early months my thoughts could skip like smooth stones across water. But eventually they lost momentum. The surface broke, and I was plunged into the depths.

I was stable in my instability. Secure in my insecurity. Comfortable in my discomfort. Danger was my safety net. And I worked hard to keep it that way. Whenever I felt myself getting too close, I found a way to slip away. Psychedelics helped me shift shape, escape. Drugs took me to a self I could enjoy, or a self I had to survive. Either way, they kept me moving. I was alone, with whirring cogs of cognition for company. I felt like one of those flip books. The ones where flicking quickly through the pages make the characters move. There’s a different drawing on each page, each page separate. The character is not continuous. Their movement is an illusion. No thread of continuity moved me from one moment to the next. Each living moment an island, isolated and unfamiliar. Fractured. Frightening. It felt too dangerous to admit that I was in danger – I was too scared to be scared. Fighting trauma with trauma is easier than facing it. Doing yourself damage is more comfortable than feeling it. The fear of irreparable harm is deep and denial is easy. That explains the ecological crisis. I did what we’ve learned to do so well – evaded my humanity.

They were wrong at Waitangi, when they said Pākehā don’t practice spiritual violence. We do. In a cruel, less obvious manner. We wage war on our own spirits. We sever ourselves from the very idea of our ‘selves’. We do it by insidious suggestion, filling each other with ammunition to deny and dehumanise. Slowly but surely, we make each other a little less real. Each time we’re treated a little less human, a little more object, a little less living, it adds up. Insensitive comments made in jest, we ingest. Bit by bit, we chip away at each other’s worlds.

Imprisoned by my escapism, I pulled further back into my head. Hearing too much to listen, seeing too much to see anything. Moving too fast to get anywhere. Memories are hazy, fractured. The panic attack when I’d tried to be intimate with Harry… The heart-wrenching mix of pain and care on his face when I slept with Scott. My own protective love and anger talking to Dad, who could never, or perhaps didn’t want to, understand. But, worst of all, was the feeling of cold grey emptiness when I looked at all the stories of the world without interest – in any of them.

Somewhere along the line, the drugs stopped working. Instead of taking me away, they began bringing me to the far corners of my mind. One night through my haze I heard the hollow screams of a 19 year old girl. Doubled over, naked, cold. Locked alone in the dark with raw, wracking sobs.

I left her there.

 * * *

Mark held a hand across his mouth. In all our sessions together, I had never seen him upset. He was looking at photos of Michael and me in Europe, all those years ago.

I tried for a smile.

‘What’s the prognosis, doc?’

For the first time, his voice quavered.

‘I found this hard. I don’t usually find this hard. You’re in these photos, your body is anyway. But… you weren’t there, this isn’t you. You weren’t real – well, you were in a way, but you weren’t. It’s like now, you are real, yet at the same time… you’re not.’

Then I realised. Nobody is coming to save me from myself. I’d decided to survive. But couldn’t yet bring myself to live.

How do you come out of your shell, when you think that shell is you?

 * * *

I need a break from words. Walking to the caves at the north end of the beach, a long grey form to my left makes me jump. It’s a leopard seal. An immense apex predator from Antarctica, lying quietly in the sand. It must be young, north for the winter. It is beyond me, that I could swim in the same sea and sit on the same beach as this incredible being. I lie down a few metres away and watch. When I’m in the presence of any animal I feel an awe that quietens my mind. They set an authentic example. Around them I feel more like an animal and less like something playing at being human. It’s easy to stop second guessing your own world when a completely different one is lying a few metres away in the sand. The seal yawns, with jaws that could swallow a penguin, shaking its head at the flies. This magnificent hunter survives in the icy depths around the South Pole, yet helpless against the flies landing on its nose. I have to laugh. The seal shifts uncomfortably and I notice a dark mark on its side. It must have been injured. I feel a pang. It’s easier to accept other creatures’ vulnerability than my own. I am so astoundingly lucky to struggle for survival alongside those in other shapes and forms. Why can’t I just allow my self to be here? Stretching out in the sand we lie there, the seal and I, listless, exhausted, alone. Together. Two dangerous animals, rendered fragile, waiting for wounds to heal.

 * * *

Concede (verb): To acknowledge as true.

In the new year of 2017, I was forced to answer to my own brain. After three nights of reckless abandon, I jerked awake in my tent, heart racing, breath shallow. I’d had a very physical, very real flashback. In my sleep, I felt my head being grabbed and smacked against something. Hard. In the days that followed, I could not shake the image of my impish, smart-ass self dancing away from me, forever.

It scared the shit out of me.

I had to make peace with my subconscious. Up on top of Takaka Hill, there’s a place called Canaan Downs. On top of the hill, a large clearing is surrounded by a very old and very strange forest. Big, old Mountain Beech trees, with thousands upon thousands of tiny leaves, their trunks covered in a velvety black mould. They stretch and billow out, like giant cauliflowers. The place is covered in large, grassy sinkholes, where the ground has fallen in to the warrens of limestone caves that tunnel through the mountain. A festival was being held in the clearing, almost a year to the day after Waitangi.

The festival itself was set out immaculately, the tents, music zones and artworks looked perfect, almost too perfect. The opening ceremony made me uneasy. No one mentioned that we were standing on stolen land. The violent colonial prequel to the festival was ignored, and masses of people danced naked around a fire. Naked is what humans look like, but this struck me as a performance of freedom, instead of an expression of it. My mind can be a right snob sometimes.

Cautiously, I kept back from the thick of it and explored the liminal spaces. The edges of dancefloors, the fringes of drum circles, the paths between camps. It was between established spaces that I started to come alive. Perhaps my feelings of not-quite-belonging were because I belong between the spaces, where the ground is moving underfoot. I belong on the way to somewhere else.

Every day I climbed a small hill to sit amongst the tall trees and the stone that pushed up out of the earth. Here I could let my mind wander out into the rich patterns of the forest. I felt myself becoming quieter, nature’s deep patterns coaxing my mind from shallow eddies of thought. Slowly, my words began to meet me in my surroundings. The osmosis of mosses, the tones of stone, the feel of leaf. Toadstools became stowed tools, and the forest became softer.

The worlds of other living beings brought me gently out of myself and, for the first time in months, I wasn’t in my head. I was here.

I spotted a snail. Tiny. Sliding along a twig. Its shell was gold and brown and shiny. Its body soft and grey and slimy. Every time its little stalked eyes touched a leaf the snail pulled back into its shell to reassess. Then it slowly emerged and carried on its way. No rush. I pondered. Its hard shell looked vibrant, it kept the snail protected, alive. The soft part of the snail was less colourful. But only when its vulnerable part was exposed could the snail move, or see anything. Squishy, easy-to-hurt bits allowed it to explore. It takes bravery to show softness.

If only everyone could see this.

A south island robin, a Toutouwai, landed on a tree in front of me. They’re bewitching little birds: long black legs, erect bodies, white speckly chests and grey backs. This one hopped to the ground, tilting its head at me, inquiringly. Beady black eyes. Inquisitive. Interested. I looked inquiringly back, wondering what it saw. The next day, it flew onto my boot.

Midway through the festival I went to a communication workshop. We got into pairs, then we were asked to beckon our partner as close as we felt comfortable with. Without warning, I burst into tears.

A day later, my friend Verena offered to do a shamanic drumming journey for me. I was interested, and a little apprehensive. People seemed to be having spiritual awakenings all over the show. I was wary of all attempts to convince people of any ‘reality’, no matter how attractive or interesting. I didn’t want to be shown new realms, I wanted to get a handle on this one. After witnessing one young woman’s dramatic introduction into spirituality, I was pretty bloody glad to have hold of my mind, however tiresome it may be. I might be unfair, but when blissful or wildly confident people claim to have the answers, I just assume they don’t understand the problem. But Verena’s approach to the sacred is a practical one. Have a sense of humour about it, she said. It doesn’t have to be a serious thing. Just see what help lies waiting beyond the sharp edge of thought.

We walked into the forest to a small patch of flat ground, dappled by the midday sun through the canopy. I lay down. Verena got out her goatskin drum, hitting it with her stick a few times to test the sound. It was full, deep, foreboding. She laughed at the look on my face. I was somewhere between amused and embarrassed.

‘Oh dear. So it begins. Don’t overthink it, eh?’

She winked, and began to beat. I closed my eyes, tried to relax. Thoughts swirled. I tried to visualise a place, any place. Patterns appeared and disintegrated. I kept hold of the centre spot in my vision, hoping it would change into something. A guide, perhaps. Nothing. Colours came and went and my thoughts scattered. I knew I was putting up barriers. It’s no coincidence that when you rearrange sacred, you get scared. I kept trying, nothing. I wished that for once I could open to this kind of thing.

If you’re pushing and the door stays closed, try pulling.

I heard something land lightly on the leaves near my head. It hopped closer, then chirped. My heart nearly stopped. The robin. Toutouwai. I heard it hop to my head. It began chirping in my ear. A stream of high whistling chirps. It was the best sound I’ve ever heard. I surged. Indescribable joy. Of course. Of course I hadn’t needed to seek out anything from the spiritual world, the reassurance was already here, a real live animal in the forest. I was wild with excitement, like a child. I tried to think things to the robin, then cast that aside, they don’t speak in words. Of course they don’t. What was I thinking? Why was I thinking? Fuck thinking, fuck words! There was a robin next to my head and it wanted to be there, chirping at me. It trusted me. I could feel it. A warm rush of comfort and love poured from the top of my head towards its little body. It felt warm, magnetic. It was so close, its chirps so clear, I could sense its body. Its whistles echoed into the deepest, least-seen parts of me. I was communicating, I was listening, I was utterly in love. I heard Verena telling me to retrace my steps to come out of the meditation. But I hadn’t gone anywhere, the robin and I were right here on the forest floor, so unbelievably here.

I opened my eyes. Verena was packing up her drum. I lay still for a while.

‘Verena… there didn’t happen to be a robin sitting next to my head did there?’

She grinned.

‘No.’

I was incredulous. I had heard it perfectly – leaves rustled and everything. I had been so certain, so convinced. It was real… Ah. I see. Right. It got me. The hole in my armour was found. Throughout the day, the metaphor got stronger. I didn’t need to go looking, I needed to be where I was. To listen, to feel. Toutouwai showed me trust and curiosity. The two qualities most injured in me, the ones I needed to reconnect to.

I climbed back to the knoll in the forest and sat down on the slope, legs outstretched, watching the trees. The robin, Toutouwai, appeared almost immediately. It flew down onto my boot, and stood upright, regarding me. I could feel the slight weight of its energetic little body. It hopped forward up my leg, cocking its head to stare at me with beady black eyes. I felt its tiny claws through my leggings. It hopped to where my hand lay on my lap, and gave it an inquisitive peck. Chirp. It pecked again. Then looked at me. Peck peck. Stare. Are you here now? Peck peck. Are you listening? It made eye contact again, and I burst. Here was the magic of the world. In the spirits of non-human animals. In the knowledge that a wild one would want to share its time with me. It was completely and unmistakably real. Finally, something to hold to. Finally, something that was real for me. A story that didn’t feel like a story. I touched base with my existence, as part of the whole. In the robin’s eyes, I saw my humanness. Because it saw me. A human animal. What was lost was profound, and I had found it.

That curious little bird disarmed me like no friend, therapist or lover ever could. It stared into the heart of my reality, and I awoke to the reality of my heart. In the shafts of sun, through wracking sobs, I felt myself brush up against the sacred. And for a moment, I was no longer scared.

 * * *

If you’re a fish trying to understand that you’re wet, talk to the birds. Ask them about the sky. If you don’t have perspective on your own world, look to another who might see you, through crafted layers of bullshit. The robin trusted me when I could not trust myself. It flew to me while I ran from myself, and spoke to me in the only voice I’d listen to. Communicating with animals was everything I could dream of dreaming of. And for me, that’s where the sacred lies, where your reality and imagination become curious about one another.

I build my fire, snapping the pine branches I found earlier, lighting the scrunched up pieces of newspaper. Bright adverts for frozen chickens and ranch dressings curl into flames. I toss a cup of kerosene on the fire, for theatrical effect. And for fun. It’s my last night at the beach, before heading back to the city to domesticate my words. In front of my computer is where devious voices distract, dishearten and disturb me. Far from other kinds of life, confined in stark walls, with no living being to reflect and confirm my existence. That is where my walls are. Both real and imagined, with little difference between them.

The heart of the fire pulses. Maybe I have to forgive myself for not finding forgiveness. Some things are just too big. Maybe what I have to accept is that there are things I will never accept.

Packing up to leave in the morning, the sky is a pastel mix of greys and yellow. The waves lap gently, and there’s no wind. A long white cloud stretches along the water. Aotearoa means ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’ in Te Reo Māori. And Siana is Masai for ‘place of still water’. I trace my finger along the horizon, where sea and sky meet. Siana. That’s my name. It’s nice to share this magical accident of a world with you.

* * *

It was windy outside the office window. I was tired. Mark sat, arm along the back of his chair, calm.

Open up the Devil’s Door and it will open wide. It will open deep. But it won’t stay open. It can rust shut, vines growing thick across the door.

Mark spoke.

‘The girl you found, up at Canaan Downs. She had her shit together. She felt safe. That’s the real you. Yet for some reason you can’t accept her. In fact, you try to destroy her. What if I told you that girl was a choice? A choice only you can make.’

I’ve always been crisis motivated. I’ve never asked myself why.

But now,

Wonder (verb): To desire to know something; to feel curious.

Dark Mountain: Issue 13

The Spring 2018 issue is a collection of essays, fiction, poetry and artwork about what it means to be human.
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  1. As a fellow traveller and therapist I both recognised and felt deeply moved by the experiences you have chosen to reveal to us. You write with such stark simplicity, beauty and directness that I wanted to cry out: “yes, yes, yes! That is indeed where the sacred lies”. Thank you and may your robin in turn visit us all.

  2. That was a beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing your truth with the greater community.

  3. Thank you for sharing so intimately Siana. Always especially good to see a fellow New Zealander in Dark Mountain. I am also in Dunedin and would love to hear about your thesis. Best Wishes Gabrielle

  4. lovely. thank you. your story reminded me of the time a bumble bee came to communicate with me.

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