Many years ago, I worked with a young woman named Meredith. This was when I was 22 and flailing around rather cluelessly
(Not like much has changed! But at least I have Actual Goals now. Beyond just survival. This is an accomplishment.)
I believe Meredith was technically older than me, since I remember her age as 25 or 27, but she seemed so much younger. I say that because she was fearlessly eccentric and quirky, a true-blue free spirit hipster a decade before the hit show Portlandia debuted.
(Excuse me while I go listen to “The Dream of the ’90s Is Alive in Portland“ for the 1,067th time… be right back…)
*jams out to Portlandia music*
*greatest hipster song ever*
*oh how I love this music video*
Like the “hot girls” in the lyrics to that fantastic tune, Meredith wore beautiful square-framed glasses, the kind made with thick, bulky plastic, and even thicker lenses. Her dense, tightly spiraled hair sprang everywhere when she didn’t weave it into an elaborate braid. I never saw her without funky tights, tall black combat boots, handmade jackets and skirts in all different colors and fabrics, paired with antique ruffled blouses or men’s shirts and old ties. Necklaces, bracelets, wristwatches, and rings always enhanced her mismatch-y outfits.
I fell in love with Meredith, though I don’t mean that in a romantic way. She captivated me, with all her crazy textures and prints, her colorful corduroys and velvets and wild cottons. She was, in so many ways, my real-life version of Tank Girl.
Not movie Tank Girl. I mean the happy anarchist of the comic books, the chaotic neutral who bespelled readers with her brash unconcern for whatever the world wanted from her, and simply did as she pleased. That was Meredith.
She didn’t smoke. Or drive a tank. She didn’t date kangaroos or shave her head or blow things up with torpedoes. But in my mind, she made a certain kind of fireworks go off. I just really liked her a lot.
One day at the place where Meredith and I worked, our boss wanted to “do something nice” for her staff, so she allowed a friend of hers, a woman who read auras, to come to our job site and read our auras. For free.
I know what you’re thinking — this is just what every struggling, underpaid worker most desperately needs, when they have no health or dental insurance, survive on rice, beans, and peanut butter, and can barely afford to put gas in their car to commute to their crappy job — they long to have their aura read.
I wish I were making this up. I wish I could say this boss of mine did something that would have ACTUALLY been nice, like baked some cupcakes. Or stopped threatening to fire us over imaginary problems. Or given us a raise. We all worked for $7.75 an hour, and Meredith, like me, had a college degree. We had student loans to pay back, rent and utilities, and I never had a penny to spare. I was running a household at the time, with three extra mouths to feed. I don’t even like to think about how stressful my life was at 22. If I’d been given a free cupcake, I’d have taken it home and carefully cut it into four equal shares to pass out to everyone who lived with me. That was my life.
But instead, I got to have my aura read. So did Meredith.
Now, no offense to any aura readers who might be reading this post. I don’t know anything about this line of work. How does one train for this profession? And what are people meant to gain from having their auras read? Why is having your aura read beneficial? How long is this activity supposed to take, ordinarily? All I know is, for about five minutes, I was instructed to leave my frenetic, uber-stressful work area to walk into a small empty room, lie on a portable bench, and listen to a woman in a long tie-dye robe. I thought I was there to receive a five-minute back massage. Which would’ve been nice. But no. I had my aura read.
The woman dimmed the light and waved her hands over my body. She closed her eyes and hummed. Maybe she went into some transcendental state. The requisite odors of pot and patchouli radiated from her clothing. Crystal pendants hung from her necklaces and bracelets.
I was so tired, so exhausted, I wished I could just take a nap. Or trade my life for hers, which meant I’d be free of my current line of employment. Anything but stand up in four minutes and return to my job.
I had so many bills to pay, so many people to take care of, and my stress level was so incredibly high, there is no way I could’ve ever found enlightenment, diversion, or even amusement in this bizarre, unexpected activity. I was a cold hard realist by age 22, and this woman was so woo-woo, she needed her own zip code at Area 51. Which was — interestingly enough — exactly what she thought of me.
After fluttering her hands around and wafting enough secondhand THC over my head to make me even sleepier, the aura reader proceeded to tell me I was a being from another planet, a type of alien creature called a star child, and that star children were very, very rare on earth.
Not wanting to be rude, I didn’t point out to her that I thought we were all star children, as our atoms are quite literally born in complex processes that give rise to matter and nebulas in space. I let her share her star child information without interruption, which she communicated in breathy bursts of strange woo-woo language, and then she said I could leave. So I shuffled back to my hellish job.
Later, when Meredith returned from her turn on the portable bench in the closet, she told me she’d been informed she was an archangel. Specifically, the archangel Michael. The aura reader told Meredith that her purpose in life was to be a “helping spirit” to others.
Meredith laughed about her assigned aura. Made it clear she thought the whole situation was foolish and forgettable. I was just frustrated about having to copiously thank my boss for this “great kindness” she’d shared with her lowly peons (*grovel, grovel*), that I’d have rather pried off my fingernails than gab about my aura.
As it turned out, all my coworkers were labeled archangels — including our boss. (And FYI, her aura reading took more than an hour.) As I realized I was the only alien creature among the entire staff, my irritation transformed into outsider alien-shame, so I didn’t tell anyone what the aura reader had labeled me. Also, I just could not with the weird that afternoon.
I don’t know if Meredith is truly an archangel or not. That is far above my pay grade as a writer. Could I picture her giving a celestial curb stomp to Satan, before spearing him in the chest? Maybe. If Michael the winged warrior wore combat boots instead of golden sandals, and sported a pair of thick glasses, perhaps I could picture Meredith ass-kicking Lucifer, rather than pouring him a cup of chamomile tea. Which was Meredith’s usual MO when someone was having a freak-out.
While I have no business speaking to Meredith’s aura, I can tell you something that happened to her when she was sixteen. Something Meredith shared with me months before the aura reader showed up in the closet.
Like many American teens, this story involves Meredith riding in the passenger seat of her friend’s car, traveling at around 65 miles per hour, with her friend behind the wheel. It was night, they were on a deserted highway, and he swerved for a deer.
In his effort to avoid the deer, the driver slammed into one of those huge city streetlights. Meredith’s friend had an air bag to protect him. But the air bag on the passenger side didn’t deploy. She had on a seat belt, but the clasp opened during the wreck, and she was thrown from the vehicle, out the windshield. She landed more than seventy feet in front of the vehicle, on the asphalt.
She woke up as the ambulance arrived. The approaching siren and flashing lights jarred her back to consciousness, and before anyone could stop her, she stood and walked to the car.
Meredith had no injuries, other than dozens and dozens of tiny slices on her fingertips, like a rash of paper cuts. She’d been knocked out of her shoes and socks, which were on the floor of the passenger seat. So she walked, barefoot, down a path made of sparkling broken glass, cubed and crushed and unable to pierce her skin, back to her friend’s car, where he’d been stunned by the impact, but soon awoke and was discovered to be relatively okay, minus a broken nose and fractured arm.
Meredith had no explanation for surviving that wreck. No one did. The EMTs didn’t even believe she’d been in the car. They were convinced she’d wandered to the site of the accident from elsewhere. They had her tested for drugs in the hospital. Meredith had no drugs in her system that night. No alcohol, either. Same for her friend.
By all logical reasoning, she should’ve been killed in that crash. The fact she not only survived, but was almost completely unscathed, meant this was not a story she shared with me lightly. I can only imagine how many ways this story has been discounted over the years. “Oh, SURE you were sober. SURE you weren’t doing drugs. And your seat belt failed. And your socks peeled right off. Uh-huh. Tell me another one.”
And so on and so forth.
So when Meredith laughed about being an archangel, and shrugged off the (what I can only guess had been meant to be transformative) experience with the aura reader in the closet, I reflected on this story of the car accident she survived at sixteen.
If Meredith were an incarnation of the archangel Michael, “the Saint who is like God,” and was suddenly thrown from a car, did she unfurl her mighty archangel wings that night, and fly to safety? Or did her great wings perhaps wrap around her, and cushion her body as she went rolling at high speed over the unforgiving ground?
Who’s to say? If I really wanted to answer this question, I’d go to school for aura reading.
Instead, I’ll just say that a real-life Tank Girl archangel in human form is okay by me.
I didn’t work with Meredith long, not even a full year. She escaped that nightmare job before I did, flew herself off to greener pastures — aka Portland, Oregon — where she hopefully started earning more than $7.75 an hour.
I still think of her fondly, and hope she is well. Hope the world didn’t dampen her unhinged beauty or her postcolonial steampunk charm. I would expect she still uses her wings when she needs them. I feel the same way about any of her fellow archangels who might be reading this post.
And if you’ve ever been told you’re an alien creature from another planet, and then been too ashamed to admit to your coworkers that you’re not a cool winged seraph of God like all of them — well hey, join the club! We could name ourselves The Alien Creatures Who Give Zero F*cks About Being Aliens. Because it’s important to have Actual Mottoes in life as well as Actual Goals. Part of growing up and being less clueless. Maybe.
Sometimes I wish I could write an episode of Portlandia. But set in Durangolandia. I think the world needs this.