the vilaine

When I was in my late teens, a river nearly took my life.

I can’t blame the river herself, as I was acting the fool that day, but nonetheless I considered myself a goner, accepted my fate as I felt myself pulled under, and then was given a second chance thanks to a concrete pillar holding up a historic bridge. To this day I’m not sure if the river herself guided me to the pier or if there were other forces at work. But needless to say, from that point on I was terrified of rivers.

The incident happened at the tail end of a string of traumas, traumas that I was attempting to shake off that day when I decided to swim across the Delaware and back in a foolhardy attempt to “prove” something to both myself and the world. And after nearly paying for my foolishness with my life, I broke in a very concrete way. In the subsequent months I sold most of my possessions, left home for the energy and anonymity of New York City, and tried to start over the best I could.

In those early days, much of my healing came from my first attempt at self-employment: playing ukulele at the southern entrance of Washington Square Park by the chessboards while offering three-card tarot readings for $5. I didn’t find much financial success, but I found myself over time, and over the course of a few years managed to pull myself out of my trauma and enter into more stable forms of self-employment by teaching myself how to silkscreen. Blocking out the fact that I lived a stone’s throw from the confluence of two rivers, the Hudson River and the East River, I made peace with much of my past.

And then a few years later, some six summers after the incident with the river, I was struck by lightning. And again I barely escaped with my life, but this time the damage was not just psychological. And once again I fell into a deep trauma, a process that echoed my previous cycle. Terrified of storms and terrified of myself, I ended up selling most of my possessions and fleeing 3,000 miles from my adopted city, away from a temperate climate where thunder and lightning was the norm to the Pacific Northwest, where drizzles were common but storms were rare. Once again I found myself living near the confluence of two rivers, this time the Willamette and the McKenzie, but I kept a healthy respectful distance and once again was able to find my place.

But the cycle continued. Trauma struck again, and I uprooted myself two hours north to Portland, once again at the confluence at two rivers, the Willamette and the Columbia, hoping that I would fall into old patterns and find myself once again. But this time it did not happen as it had in the past. While I felt at home in a sense, I was depressed, stuck, I felt trapped.

After two years, not knowing where else to turn, I listened to the Gods whispering into my ear, decided to fulfill an old promise, and embarked on a pilgrimage to Europe. What I did not understand at the time was that I was setting out on that journey for reasons other than I assumed, and Their reasons were colliding with my own struggles.

The moment I stepped off the train in Rennes, I felt I was home. I felt like I was speaking to the Earth with my feet. I was once again at the confluence of two rivers, the Ille and the Vilaine, but unlike in the past I felt a pull towards these bodies of water, my fears seemingly evaporated.

‘Vilaine’ means ‘ugly one’ in French, which struck me when I first heard it as the river is anything but ugly. In fact, she was the most beautiful river I had ever seen. Forgetting my previous trauma around rivers, I befriended her quickly, taking daily walks along the bank, talking to the ducks and sharing with her my secrets.

The Vilaine, as she was the first time we met.

And it was a few weeks later that I learned through a local friend that long ago, before the Romans came when Bretagne was Gaul, that the Vilaine was dedicated to Taranis, the Gallic god of thunder and lightning.

The pieces suddenly fell into place. And one night, at the bar with friends, I realized I knew. I knew where I belonged. I knew for what I was fated.

But then I denied it, pushed it away, went back to Portland, tried to continue living as I had been. And the Gods would have none of it. And They did what They do… first they knocked softly, then they knocked insistently, then they broke the door down and proceeded to destroy the house from within, so to speak.

On Samhain, I finally admitted it. I knew I had to go back, and I knew that I had to make an effort to stay. And once again, the cycle, selling all that I had, saving every penny I could, this time asking others for help. This time it was 6,000 miles, not 3,000. But a week ago I found myself once again at the banks of the Vilaine. I was home.

And both in honor of patterns as well as the past, I reverted to my former self, quickly acquiring a ukulele and a pack of Tarot cards. Being led rather than leading, I found myself at the bank of the confluence, singing to the Vilaine, playing songs I haven’t played in years, allowing my feet to touch the water, allowing my fears to evaporate, allowing myself to just *be*.

This afternoon, I went down for the second time, and as I arrived at the confluence a storm started to roll in. For an instant, the smell triggered my PTSD, but as I continued down the bank it faded as quickly as it came on. Despite the rain, despite the river, I sat just inches from the water.

She wanted to hear the Beatles, and so I obliged. And the rain came down, and the river lapped at my feet, and I reflected on twenty years’ worth of trauma as I sang to the river and the thunder god. The sun came out as it rained, the warmth and the wetness colliding with my fingers on the strings and the tears down my cheeks.

I was happy. And once again healed. And most importantly, I felt at home.

The confluence at dusk, just after the rain cleared up.

2 thoughts on “the vilaine

  1. Syren Nagakyrie April 1, 2017 / 12:27 am

    This is beautiful, Alley. Thank you for sharing your healing with us.


  2. Gersande April 1, 2017 / 3:38 am

    Taranis connait bien ses coups, et la Vilaine connait bien son peuple. Tu es bretonne de coeur, Alley. Beaj vat, eo va ganit.


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