Fine Rifles: Part 2 A Wicked Pack of Cards
CW: A quick drug reference at the end. A mention of death. And generally speaking, this is a trauma dump.
The college year ends and I go back to my hometown. It’s a beautiful place, nestled in between a circle of low, rolling mountains with fields that stretch golden until they abruptly stop at the forest’s edge. From there the woods climb, thickening in growing numbers as they rise in elevation. You can see for miles across the farmland and forests from the right spots. When I was younger, I used to hike trails towards the top of our mountains occasionally (not a remarkable feat, the Appalachians aren't that high or that steep) until a hiker’s body was found along a trail when I was in high-school. They had been mauled by a large cat and left in a tree.
Mountain lions, the wildlife commission reminded us, do not exist in the state.
I don’t see my roommate for the summer. I don’t see any of my other college friends either. I don’t really see much of anyone. I don’t have a car and our school district was larger than Rhode Island in total square mileage. Most of my old friends live between four and twenty miles away. The two friends I used to have who lived within two miles of me aren’t around anymore: one’s in jail and one’s become a nun.
I hope I can fare a little better.
I work thirty minutes away in the city at the same animal hospital my mother does. I ride in with her at the crack of dawn, walk dogs, clean cages, and scrub surgical instruments. I make about enough to cover textbooks for the next year of school along with the occasional movie or dinner not from the campus dining hall. It’s draining work that leaves me with little time for anything else.
My tarot cards are hidden in the center of my box of books. I don’t unpack most of my things. My parents wouldn’t like me having them (they’re late-in-life Christians) and I’m too tired most days to really focus on them. Fortunately I’ve gotten good at hiding things through the years. A little too good if I’m being honest.
I don’t know when I started using them, whether it was before or after being hunted. My memory of most of life isn’t great, a haze of faces and places. I think I bought them because they were an easy thing to pass off as a novelty if anyone ever asked about them. I dealt them out when no one else was around, scooching my keyboard of my finicky and dying PC forward on my dorm desk to just barely make enough room for a celtic cross layout.
Why? Did I expect to augur the future?
No. I needed help just to understand the present.
“We always thought you might be autistic,” my parents would say now and again; usually with a chuckle. Apparently this is funny to them. If they thought this, then why was I never tested? Their answer, I assume, would be that they didn’t want me to have to live with the social stigma. That I was doing well in school and had friends, so why ruin a good thing?
The problem being, of course, that it wasn’t a good thing.
I did well academically but I didn’t have any feelings besides frustration and contentedness for most of my life. I had friends, and I liked them and still do like many of them, but our connection was only around our shared, common interests and only went as far as talking about those things. I was isolated in the country and taught to never ask to be invited anywhere or for a ride from anyone. I was left alone to develop the coping strategies of fitting in and being a person, and so much of that was mimicry. My self was incomprehensible static, so I borrowed the forms that others created.
It worked well enough while others were around. I fit in well with all kinds of groups. But it was never me, just a part I was playing. To make others happy, to feel loved, to survive; some, none, all; I don’t know for sure. I just knew that whatever staticy entity existed behind my mask was something people wouldn’t like or understand.
I still don’t know for sure that I’m autistic. My current therapist doesn’t think actually seeking a diagnosis is necessarily helpful. Part of me wants to know, just so I have something conclusive, but she’s right. Getting better is what matters and I think we’re making progress. However, that’s the 2022 present. Back in 2010 I had to find my own ways to cope.
Tarot cards are pictorial depictions of scenes representing concepts archetypal of a person’s life. Sometimes they’re laced with suggestive imagery, sometimes not. There are existing frameworks for learning to interpret them and, in most cases, an encouragement to think beyond the rigidity of the framework when you feel comfortable doing so. To use the existing meanings as guidelines for exploring and creating your own meanings for the cards and their pairings.
That fascinated me.
That fascinated me because I could finally start to organize my thoughts. I could finally sit alone while my roommate was off in class and think. I had a filter now that I could use to focus on specific aspects of being and feeling human. I could sift through the static and focus on a humanity not lost but undeveloped. Some days I drew a single card before I left for the day and just focused on looking for things that matched its meanings. Some days I did a full spread and recorded it in a notebook to ponder.
The Five of Cups. Have I experienced disappointment recently? Loss? Sorrow? Have I connected with those? Am I turning my back on what remains?
Exploring even that much was far better than ubiquitous, impotent, aimless frustration.
Six of Wands. You’re riding high, have you taken time to really enjoy it? What victories, great or small, have happened recently? Are they bringing you joy? Peace of mind? Are they too much? Are they going to your head?
The lukewarm contentedness was stretching into a spectrum with definitions. I started to exercise parts of my mind and psyche I had neglected for at least a decade. I was starting to make myself whole day by day, card by card.
The Chariot. Are you lofty and distant with others? Are you indirect in your approaches? Do you stay invulnerable by blocking everything else out? Do you feel pulled along, and not always in the same directions; like your self is splitting apart?
That one… I don’t like that one. That one hurts. I draw it a lot though. I think about it a lot. How do I get better?
I don’t have an answer yet, but for the first time in my life I’ve begun identifying the problem.
I pull them out occasionally over that summer, pick a card from the middle, and think about it for a few minutes before hiding them back away. There’s a lot of hiding away in my life, my self. A lot of things I shoved deep because they’re not supposed to be things one wants to be or that one is or that one desires. But in this little deck of picture cards, I have a hidden thing I’ve learned to pull out and use. Something that can help me find meaning amidst the noise, that helps me genuinely connect with my feelings.
I have my first fine rifle.
Faith granting a god or entity its power has become a well worn trope. To believe is to empower. The demons we conjure, the spirits we battle may only be in the mind, figments of our imagination, but we have created them just there: in our mind. Imagine what havoc can they wreak there unloosed. In the abstract it seems easy to banish them: just stop believing in them. But if you believed in them enough to give them power, then you often find that you can’t just flick off that belief like a lightswitch.
If you believe you can see spirits, your senses start trying to warp phenomena to fit that belief. You’ll see wisps of smoke and shadow that move in ways suggestive of your belief. You’ll hear the creaks and moans of the wind as voices trying to tell you to flee or come closer. If you believe ugly thoughts about yourself or the world around you, your senses will find a way to make you see those too.
Paranoia, self-loathing, overwhelming anxiety.
I’ve conjured a lot of phantoms to feed at my veins over the years, mostly inadvertently. Given them life, given them power. A few I still blame myself for (and a few are probably my fault), but the important thing to uncover is not the blame. The important thing to uncover is that they are a part of me. Not insurmountable bogeymen that creep in the night, but also not nothing. They’ve spawned from trauma and terror and neglect and hurt and can suzerain over me if I don’t learn to control them, combat them, placate them, or defeat them.
Or love them. That is an option too. One that it takes time to learn. More on that later.
Therapy is a good approach towards understanding and confronting these things. Based in research and helpful, proven methods for dealing with trauma, neurodivergence, and mental illness.
I wasn’t allowed therapy and was discouraged from seeking it. “That’s for crazy people and people who can’t handle their own shit.”
Medication can help with many problems. Our thoughts and our reactions to them are largely biochemical. Meds may not solve your trauma, but it can help get you in a position to do so.
I was strongly discouraged from any kind of psychiatric medication. “Is that how you want to live your life? Dependent on medication?.”
The occult though, that didn’t leave a paper trail. There were no pill bottles I had to get out every day, no therapist I had to ask for a ride to. My parents liked the X-Files, so it was easy to pass off my general interest in the subject as stemming from the broader paranormal genre. I slid under the radar and learned how to help myself. I learned a lot of stupid, useless stuff too; but some things helped.
It’s like trying to cut down a tree with the folding saw on your pocket knife: it’s stupid, it won’t work well, you should really get some better tools; but if it’s all you’ve got then it’s better than nothing.
But back to the past for just a moment more.
When I return to school in fall I start making new friends. I feel like I have an identity outside of others for the first time in a long time. I still rely a lot on mimicry and copying a group to fit in, but I’ve started to interject a bit of myself into the mask. I talk with some of my new friends about occult stuff. Some enjoy it as a novelty, some dabble in practicing. No one does more than dabble though. That would be silly for people receiving a bachelors of science.
My old roommate lives off campus and we still hang out from time to time, albeit very sparingly. We smoke a couple times here and there over the first few months. Then as his birthday approaches he broaches an idea.
He wants to do LSD.
(To be continued.)