Forest Wanderer & I start the journey by walking through the forest at night. It’s peaceful. The stars are out. We walk in silence. My mind is going 1000 miles an hour – is it possible I could un-fuse, and go back to the people I was before? If it is possible, is it something I want to do? I honestly struggle for answers. FW simply places a hand on my shoulder, and says, “Come”.

We start walking up hill. This surprises me, as FW almost always takes me down into the underworld. Surely, we’re walking to some cave entrance I’ve never seen before, that will take us down…. but no, we just keep walking up hill. It gets steeper, and the trees get denser. The trees block out the stars. Its dark, and my footing becomes unsure.

I stumble, I stop. I’m tired, so tired.

FW comes and whispers in my ear, “We have farther to go tonight, perhaps if you stopped carrying so much, it would be an easier journey. Try putting some of it down. If you need it, we can come pick it up later.”

I start to argue, to say I’m not carrying anything, but to my surprise, I realize I’ve been carrying a backpack full of rocks this entire time. Being my ever so eloquent self, I say simply, “Where the fuck did these all come from?”

FW laughs. “Haven’t you noticed? You’ve been picking up rocks this entire time. They are your thoughts, your uncertainties, your memories. As your mind asked more and more questions, you picked up more and more rocks. It’s time to put them down.”

“But who am I, if not my thoughts?”, I ask. “These things make me who I am.”

“Suit yourself,” says Wanderer. “I can take you no further.” And FW dissipates.

Fuck.

I was following FW, not really paying attention to where we were going. That’s the way this stuff is supposed to work, right? Now I’m just as confused as I was before the journey began, but I’m stuck in thick forest and don’t know the way out. Lovely.

I pick a direction that I think is back the way we came – downhill. The forest seems to close in around me even more, and that backpack gets heavier and heavier. But I’m sure if I just walk down long enough, I’ll end up back at the base of this hill. I’ll chalk this up to a big waste of time. I put aside my questions and just focus on trying to get out of this place.

Not long after, I come across a path. Did we walk on a path on the way up? I honestly don’t remember. I was busy thinking about 1000 other things. But, a path sure beats tripping over tree roots, so I decide to follow it. I see a few stars, and feel relieved. I’ll soon be back in my body, ready for a snack and bedtime.

I turn a corner as I follow the winding path, and come across a high wooden fence. I’m pretty sure I don’t remember there being a fence on our way up? Where the heck am I? “OK, Wanderer, where the hell are you?”, I say out loud.

“It looks like you are the one wandering, youngster,” comes a voice from knee level. It’s a garden gnome with a long beard. “I can help you, but you must pay my price.”

“Nice hat,” I say, admiring the tall, red pointed thing on his head. “What is your price?”

“That’s a mighty fine sack of rocks you have there,” he says with a grin.

“But these are my thoughts, I can’t give them away, I’ll lose who I am!”, I plead.

“And who are you?”

“I’m Jes,”

“That’s a name, not who you are. But, I like it, and I don’t have a name of my own. Tell you what, you give me your name, and you can keep your rocks.”

“I hereby dub thee Jes the Garden Gnome?”

“I like it,” says Jes the Garden Gnome, who seems to be standing up just a little taller. “Let me open the gate for you.”

The gate, it turns out, was right in front of me. Sigh. In my defense, it was dark, I was tired, and I was carrying a lot of rocks. I’m not used to finding gates in journey-space.

“Thanks, Jes”, I say, somewhat sad at giving away my name. I guess I wasn’t really that attached to it, I’d only tried it on for about a month. Everyone inside wants me to be Saoirse anyway, so…. fine. I continue to walk down the path.

This is definitely not the way I came, but the path is wider now, and I see more stars. I’ve been walking downhill, so, surely I’ll come out at the base of the hill eventually, right?! Besides, this is a nice path, it must go somewhere.

That somewhere, it turns out, is a stone wall. This time I check a little harder for a gate, seeing as the last one was right in front of me…. but no, it’s just a stone wall.

“Wanderer,” I call, “where the hell are you?”

“Perhaps I can help you,” comes a voice from a small gargoyle statue at my feet. What is it with me and statuary tonight?

“Great,” I say, “I’m trying to get home. Is there a gate somewhere around here?” I gather my back of rocks close, knowing what’s coming next… but it doesn’t come.

“Oh, home is it? I’ve always wanted to go home, ” says the gargoyle. “Tell you what, give me your destination, and I’ll open the gate for you.”

“Will this path lead me home?”

“Not if you give your destination to me. Instead it will take you Where You Need to Go.”

“The gargoyle must hang out with Wanderer”, I think to myself. “Fine, you go home, I’ll go Where I Need to Go.”

“Done,” says the gargoyle with a smirk…. and the ground underneath me gives way. I fall. And fall. And then fall a little more.

I land on my bag of rocks. Ouch.

“That looks painful,” says a voice. “Why would you want to fall on such a big bag of rocks”?

I look around. Yup, I’m in an underworld. The voice is coming from a Raven in a dead tree.

“I didn’t want to land on them!”

“Then why carry them?”

“They are my thoughts, my memories, my uncertainties, I need them, they are who I am!”

“No, they’re not,” comes another voice. I shift to look at an identical Raven in another tree. “You’re attached to them because you’ve forgotten who you are.”

“Yeah, well, comes with the territory. I dissociate. Sometimes I dissociate and journey. Part of me is writing this as I experience it. I’ve given away my name, I’ve given away my destination, I suppose you want a rock?”

“Yes,” says one Raven. “I’d love to dine on some of your uncertainties.”

I hand him the Uncertainty of Who I Am.

“Good,” says the other Raven. “Now, who are you?”

“I’m certain I don’t know. This whole thing is getting rather long and strange,” I sigh. “Really, this could have stopped at Jes the Garden Gnome and I would have been fine.”

“And did you start this journey so you would be fine?”

“I started this journey because I want my system to be fine.”

“Ah, and what does that tell you about who you are?”, asks the second Raven.

“I do what needs to be done.”

“And if giving away your rocks is what needs to be done, will you do it?” the first Raven asks while crunching on the last of the Uncertainty of Who I Am.

“It wasn’t exactly on my list of things I wanted to do, no, but if that’s the sacrifice that needs to be made, I guess I’m ready. I’ve already given away my name. I’ve given away the path home to where I was, to who I was. All I know is this is Where I Need To Be, and I have two Ravens eyeing my bag of rocks.”

“The Ravens, they’re real you know.” comes a familiar voice behind me. It’s Wanderer.

“About time you showed up. I thought we were going to visit Lethe?”

“Have you ever ended up where you thought you were going, when you went somewhere with me?”, Wanderer says with a smile. “These are Hugin and Munin, and they are here to help, for a price.”

“My rocks?”

“Your sacrifice. You knew that coming in though, didn’t you? You do what needs to be done.”

“I wanted to be something new. I wanted to be something beautiful. I wanted to heal,” I say with tears in my eyes. “That’s not a bad thing is it? I was just confused, there was so much new information. I forgot my job.”

“And what is that?”, asks Wanderer.

“To Protect & To Provide. To Work for the Good of the System.”

“And why do you do that job?”, asks Wanderer softly.

I burst out in tears. “Love. I do it out of Love. I care about the others, and the only way I know how to show it is through action. I didn’t expect anyone could love me back just the way I was. I didn’t think I’d be missed if I became someone new.”

Sobbing, I dump my bag of rocks on the ground, “here, here is everything. My thoughts, my uncertainties, my memories, everything I am”.

Munin flaps down and nudges a small heart shaped stone my way, “this isn’t a thought or a memory, you can keep it”.

Hugin & Munin sort through my rocks, to see what looks enticing. Some rocks are crunched on. Some are put in a pile for later. And some, some are put back into a battered old backpack with two compartments in it – one labeled Saoirse, and one labeled Janet.

“Does this mean I’m no longer going to be fused?” I ask.

“Yes and No,” says Wanderer, “you won’t lose access to either compartment, and you can move between them if you wish. But, neither compartment is big enough to hold all the rocks the Ravens left you by itself.”

“And what about all the things they didn’t leave for me? Am I going to be missing memories again?”

“Oh, I think you may get them back some day, which is why the Ravens didn’t crunch on them. All that they ate were the uncertainties. If we had gone to the River Lethe, it would have erased everything. I thought we needed something more surgical. There were some Jim memories you weren’t ready for.”

“So this was your plan all along?!?” I say with exasperation.

“Hey man, I was just going to have you leave some rocks in the forest, you’re the one who found the Ravens. Now then, we need to get out of here. You should be feeling lighter, how about we just float back up?”

“My bag of rocks is still too heavy”.

“What about that heart shaped stone? The one with your Love in it? Doesn’t it feel light? Focus on it.”

And that, ladies and gentleman, is how I learned to float my way out of the underworld.