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Meeting Saige Hopkins
I guess this is a story about meeting a person. But it’s also a story about meeting a lot of people, and not meeting anyone at all.
But let’s start with meeting Saige. It’s not her real name; her first name is actually Margret. But I didn’t learn that until very recently. I’ll tell you that story first.
The wind whipped through the outcropping of the building as I struggled to pull my jacket on. Headlamps are useful when you need to see what obstacles to avoid, or step on. I put mine on and followed, shining the light for everyone else. We stopped rather quickly, more quickly than I would have liked. I like walking, and walking far, and finding areas with no one in them. With our group of eight I felt worried, on edge. The sky was black over the treetops and my head rested on Aaron’s lap, my lap being taken up by Ellie, my shoulder claimed by Kaia and Alex. The strumming of the guitar was the only comfort in the noisy silence.
She told us soon after she had arrived that she had heard the music and walked along the shore to find out where it was coming from. She laid her head next to mine, now that Aaron was no longer playing, and stretched her legs out over me. My shivering quieted down, and she sang about Skyrim. That’s when she told us her first name.
But starting at the end really isn’t going to do me much good, and this isn’t really for you anyway, it’s for me.
She didn’t say anything. Her curly hair was wet and she wore jeans, and when I said hi she didn’t say hi back, she just smiled. I felt slightly flustered at my outreach in being social combined with its apparent rejection, but then Els pulled me outside and I forgot about the girl with the wet hair.
The band room is pretty big, a large round shape that would be awkward if you tried to make rows of chairs in it. Stefan sees this potential awkwardness, however, and works around it, putting the chairs in what could only be loosely described as a circle. I always wonder if “getting to know you” games ever cause people to try and talk to people they have seen from afar. I did, that one day, when I came across Saige. It’s funny the sort of unimportant things you think about people before you know them, like what they look like and who they look like and what they might do every day. I should have asked her what she was and who she wanted to be. I didn’t however, and so we left without knowing each other.
I’m not sure why she interested me after I barely knew her. She had a habit of turning up alone when I turned up alone, and although I didn’t usually say anything, it still blew my mind that she could be somewhere only I was supposed to be. She would sing and laugh to the campfire songs, the haunting echoing strum coming from beneath Aaron’s fingertips.
She told me that if she could decide her looks based on her personality, she would be tall and gaunt and pale, with black hair and large eyes, too big for her face. Then she laughed, and I studied her round face framed by swirling and twisting red hair. I thought about it, and then tried not to think about it. I’m not sure you can put a personality into physical features. Would I be rough and rugged looking? But sometimes I’m quiet, and gentle. Would my eyes be large, or small? Sometimes I see, but mostly I don’t. My mouth would be large – or would it? Sometimes I go days on end without talking, too frustrated and mad to work up the courage to open my mouth and see what sprawls out. Would my forehead be large, like it is now? Sometimes I don’t know anything. I feel like I might be tall; I always assume I am taller than everyone else. But if I were tall, I might not assume that anymore. I might be positive. So maybe it’s better I’m short, so I can pretend to be tall in my mind. But a lie is a lie, and I can’t always live with a lie, yet I have in the past. Maybe I am now. It’s hard to tell when you’re in the middle of it. Maybe its irrational, it definitely is ineluctable, but I believe this is part of the truth. Part of the question, or the answer, I don’t think anyone knows.
A bear. My large brown eyes make me look like a small bear, she says. I am a hare. I look at her and see a lion. It isn’t until I catch her staring off into space much later that I see the hare in her. How did she know it was there? Can we see anything that other people can’t see in ourselves? I always thought I was a shaggy wolf, a small, bedraggled one in the rain, like the picture on a shirt my mother got for me once. Leader of the pack. Scratched into the bottom of the print of the wolf, which I am not. I don’t lead anything, especially not a pack. Lead and leave, such similar words, such different connotations. Leaving always happens, Sarah knows this, and Saige knows this.
I like not having a home, she told me. I agreed. Although I have one. I feel like leaving, like we’ve been in one place for too long already. There are some places that are closer to me than others, places I go with certain people, places I go with myself. But home was always people, for me, a few people. Sarah and Els are home back in Grayslake, IL. Mattie and Mei-Jing and Aaron are home in the Northwoods. Birdie is home in Kansas. Uncle Franklin is home in Missouri. I am home at the couch, at the comfort tree, at the homestead, at coon point. I am at home between Mattie and Mei-Jing on my bed, with my head on Aaron’s shoulder, and cooking donuts with Sarah in her kitchen.
How can one have so many homes and not like having a home? I guess I like my homes, it’s the buildings that are associated with them. The restrictions and outlines you have to fall into when you live in a house are clear-cut. I want to wander. I will never have a house.
Sarah knows about leaving, but not the way Saige knows. Saige is like me – she knows through experience. Sarah knows the stronger way, the tougher way. She was always the better one, the one who was left, the stable one. I wasn’t, and so I left, quite often, I’m still leaving right now.
I’ll come home to her one day soon, and then I’ll leave again, but she knows that’s how it works, she knows that she is with me – a song in my head. I was always going to be the one who left.
Saige is in love with a boy who’s moving to India. She told us this one night around the fire.
But we’re getting off track from the story. Since I am not telling it very well, I want you to go to meet Saige. I can’t tell you what she’ll look like or be like now, when you read this, because I guess if you’re here by now you’re planning to stick it to the end. But I’ll tell you where she can be found now. She can be found in a small room next to her friend Julia, they share a bathroom and clothes and stories. She can be found in the woods, looking for mushrooms and singing to herself on the lake shore at night. If you are very still behind a tree you can hear her life sung. If you go and get coffee at the small coffee shop down the road she might be there with her friends. She might be with me, walking and talking about books.
Go and ask her how old I was. I am thirty- two now, but when she talked to me on the trail I was only twenty-eight. Age is relatively relative, an elastic band that curls on top of itself, everything is here and now and there is only now, nothing else exists.
Her name is Saige.