the empress

I remember the two hour ride into Manhattan more clearly than many other moments gone. I felt confident for the first time, somehow reunified with life. I had Connie to thank for that.

Connie was the teacher I mentioned, my first. She read my palm and offered me green tea. I drank her warm offering and she carefully tilted the empty porcelain mug to capture rays of autumn sun filling her kitchen window. Asymmetrical leaves lined the inside of the beige cup.

She told me so many things.

I met Connie in the local cemetery. I spent most of my younger years there. Listening to headstones. Writing in my poetry books.

Did you know that I write poetry?

Connie’s voice startled me from behind when she commented, “How long have you been waiting?” When I turned over my shoulder, the words that marched across my lips shocked me even more. Four uninstructed syllables took control of my voice before time made room for any gesture of contemplation.

“Where have you been?”

Connie is dead now. She was eighty-seven when I met her. She wore her hair in long white braids beneath a violet head scarf. Her wardrobe consisted of three black dresses and she wore leather ankle boots even on the hottest summer days.

There was more life in her eyes than I expected people to be capable of. She saw that in me, my apparent mistrust of her evident kindness.

“You cannot stay so angry,” she warned. “You carry it with you, it will destroy your health. Listen to what I am telling you. Anger is a costume for sorrow.”

Connie gripped my wrists like a vice while she studied the spiderweb lines carved into my palms. Rivers of lifetimes etched into my skin.

“Everyone assumes they know you, but you know no one except for one other,” she said running the sharp edge of her index finger down my sloping life line. I had never experienced comfort from any touch prior. “Do not speak unless you are certain. The protection around you is great.”

She gave me three books and I left.

I never saw her again.