Mud and a rat

Marcia and I set up our sleeping bags before going off to find some food. I’d never slept outdoors before, so I was a little concerned.

It was getting dark and I thought I heard animals in the distance.

“Calm down, Katie,” Marcia said. “We’ve got bathrooms, payphones and security guards.”

She was right. We weren’t in the woods. We were camping in front of the USF ticket office with about 500 hippies.

All waiting to buy Grateful Dead tickets.

We roamed around campus until we found a vendor selling hot dogs. Then we hightailed it back to our bags. Deadheads were a friendly bunch, but we didn’t put it past any of them to scoot our stuff out of the way in order to take our place in line.

Marcia followed the Dead all over the country. I had to work in order to pay for college and my car, so I could only do regional tours. Besides, although I liked them a lot, the Dead weren’t my favorite band.

I was there mostly for the experience.

Marcia spread out her tarot cards and did my first reading while the crowd burned incense and played bongos around us. I loved the smell of patchouli oil.

“You’re going to move away,” Marcia said, in her usual singsong voice.

That girl was always happy.

“Probably New York,” I said, trying to concentrate while in Tree Pose.

Marcia wrinkled her nose.

“I don’t think so,” she said. “You’re leaving Tampa for sure, but I don’t think you’ll be drawn to New York.”

I thought for a moment.

“Marc and I know that city, have family there, so I figured that’s where we’d go,” I said. “But we have tossed around the idea of Washington or Boston – where we don’t know anyone.”

“Yes, one of those. Keep your mind open,” Marcia said.

“Always.”

Marcia looked at her other cards.

“You’ll get married.”

Now, I wrinkled my nose.

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“You love Marc.” Marcia continued looking at her cards, moving them around.

“More than life – but we don’t need a piece of paper from the government. We’ll stick around because we WANT to, not because we HAVE to…”

Marcia smiled.

“Not all marriages are traditional and imprisoning and suffocating.”

“I know,” I said, not at all convinced.

“I don’t see TYPICAL in Marc’s future. Or yours. But I see you both in each other’s.”

“He talks about getting married, but promises we’ll make our own rules.”

“Yes.”

“What if he changes his mind some day? Comes home at 40 and wants a traditional wife?”

Marcia shook her head.

“Minds can always change,” she said. “But you two will carve out the life that suits you…and it looks to be a good, happy life.”

I looked up at the moon, the stars, and felt exhausted. How to know for sure? We settled into our sleeping bags and fell asleep. In the middle of the night, I had a bad dream. Stuck in quicksand, I was slowly going under. The mud seeped into my mouth, throat, ears, and eyes.

It smelled and tasted like rotten eggs. I was drowning.

As the mud covered me, someone reached in and grabbed me by my hair – tugging, pulling, yanking. Trying to set me free. It wasn’t working. I went limp, waiting to die. I woke up and realized my hair really was being pulled. Hard. Then it stopped.

I looked outside the sleeping bag to see what was happening as others did the same.

A rat.

A rat scurried over all the sleeping bags and people and had gotten caught, for a moment, in my hair. Then he disappeared into the darkness.

I didn’t go back to sleep after that.