ALTHAEA – September, 1966
I could feel his eyes on me.
I pretended I was reading, but every few minutes I would casually glance up to see him watching me from across the room. When he stood, I bolted.
James Porter. I had heard there was a new kid in school. I didn’t usually bother with new people, not that we got many in our small town. Once they gathered my story from bits and pieces of rumors strung together like Christmas lights, they were like all the rest. Quick to shut me out. So, I focused on dimming my light, not wanting to add to their strand.
My family isn’t for everyone. I come from a long line of healers, the latest of which is my mama, Adelaida Ray Campbell. For decades, the women in my family have held healing sessions right in their kitchen. Some with herbal remedies cooked up on the same stove Sunday dinners were made. I remember the first time I snuck in the cupboard, and explored the collection of herbal jars that had been passed down through generations of Ray women. I inhaled their scents, longing to know what magic each held. When I was younger, I spent hours pretending to heal my dolls, laying them on the same kitchen table Mama healed the townsfolk.
The Ray women believed in healing the chakra, which is made up of the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. In order for total well-being to take place, everything must work together. When one is weak or blocked, it has an impact on all the other parts, throwing off our balance.
My dad, Wilfred Campbell, better known as Will in our town, didn’t fully understand what Mama did. He did, however, respect it. He always left the house when someone arrived for a session. When I’d hear that screen door slam, I knew he would be gone for at least an hour. Funny, how he always knew when to return. He wouldn’t speak of it. It was like it never happened, though we all knew it did. Stranger still was the fact the townspeople seem to know to come mostly during the times he wasn’t home.
One day, after hearing the screen door slam, I slowly made my way down the stairs. I stayed close to the wall so as not to be discovered. Mama had made it perfectly clear I was not to disturb the energy during her sessions.
She didn’t always use the home remedies she created. Sometimes, it was merely about “adjusting the energy” as she liked to say. I peeked around the corner and saw our neighbor, Mrs. Carmichael, laying on the table. Her cream-colored slip with the lace border was showing, and I could see clear up to her white panties from where I stood. She would’ve been mortified if she knew I was watching. Mama would be furious, but I couldn’t help myself.
“Today, let’s work on your Root since you said you’ve been feeling sluggish lately. The Root keeps us grounded and gives us energy.”
Mama then turned to a row of stones laid at the end of the table. She picked up a tiny bell, and gently rang it over each stone. The first stone she hovered over Mrs. Carmichael was brown and black.
“While I hold this Agate crystal over the base of your spine, I want you to visualize yourself in perfect surroundings, a place where you are safe and warm. Breathe slowly and deeply through your nose. Now, I’m holding a quartz. This will help dissolve negative energies and anything blocking your emotions. Finally, the bloodstone, known to alleviate anxieties that can unbalance the body.”
The last one looked like it had specks of blood on it. I leaned in to get a better look.
“Althaea, kindly come in here, and quit your hovering. You’re disturbing the energy.”
“Yes, ma’am. I was just curious is all.” I took a step into the kitchen.
“Well, let’s satisfy that curiosity, then shall we?” Mama motioned for me to come closer.
“Mrs. Carmichael, you don’t mind if I use this session as a teaching experience for Althaea, do you?”
Mrs. Carmichael sighed and lifted her hand in acknowledgment. She appeared to be in such a state of relaxation she couldn’t even speak.
I looked at back at Mama as she placed a small stone in the palm of my hand. It looked like our cat Taffy’s eye with some black, dark brown and yellow in it. Mama closed my fingers over it.
“Now I want you to focus, Althaea. Feel the energy this crystal is emitting. It sheds light on the steps needed to achieve certain goals. Mrs. Carmichael, I want you to keep some of your own personal goals in mind while Althaea holds the crystal over you.”
Suddenly, I was a bit nervous. It was one thing to watch from a distance as Mama conducted a session, but being a part of it made me feel funny inside.
“Do you feel it, Althaea? When you’re ready hold the crystal above the base of Mrs. Carmichael’s spine.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond. I felt something, but it was more akin to wanting to vomit. I took a few deep breaths and closed my eyes. Slowly, I reached my arm out and held my hand over Mrs. Carmichael, face down with the crystal inside. I kept inhaling, then exhaling, waiting for something to happen. If this was it, it was a bit anticlimactic. Mama must have sensed my disinterest because I suddenly felt her hand over mine. I kept my eyes closed not wanting to disappoint her. After a few seconds, she lifted her hand from mine and stepped back. I continued my rhythmic breathing.
“Ouch!” I opened my palm and dropped the crystal right on Mrs. Carmichael.
“That burned!” Mama grabbed my hand, and inspected my open palm. It was fiery red, like I had burned it on the stove.
“Does it always burn like that, Mama?”
Mama pulled me to the kitchen sink, and ran cold water over my hand. I noticed her own hand was shaking.
“Mama? Are you okay? Did I do something wrong? I didn’t feel anything at first, but after you removed your hand, the crystal started to warm up. It felt kinda nice, then suddenly it was burning me like I stuck my hand in a pile of fire ants like the one behind the barn.”
I was rattling on to fill the silence in the room. Mrs. Carmichael had gotten off the table, and was sitting in one of our kitchen chairs. She still looked a bit dazed, like someone had interrupted a good nap.
“It’s okay Althaea. You didn’t do anything wrong, child. Maybe you’re still too young for this. It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have brought you in here. Next time, just stay in your room during my sessions. This is clearly no place for someone your age.”
Mama didn’t sound mad at me, but I went to my room feeling I had somehow disappointed her nonetheless.