Somewhere High in the Colorado Rocky Mountains
Exhausted, her body aching deep in the marrow and covered with a three-day grime from schlepping across the mountains, Rebecca Lear could only pray that she did not stink as bad as she feared. More importantly, she hoped she would not break down and actually eat tree bark, but it was becoming a monumental struggle-she had never been so ravenous in her life.
On the bright side, she was feeling remarkably transformed.
Enough that she managed to give it one more umph, hoisting herself halfway up the rock…only to slide helplessly back down again, unable to make the final push. Dammit! Tears burned in her throat; she wanted nothing more than to lie down on a bed of pine needles to die.
She was the last of seven women, her Partners in Transformation on this Journey to The Vision, and the last to climb this rock, cleverly disguised as a boulder. All the rest of them were up there in a spot that Moira, their Transformation Guide, said was heaven on earth, seated around a crackling campfire, probably roasting marshmallows. Or meat. Jesus, she was hungry!
Dammit, if they could do it, then she could do it, by God!
Rebecca rubbed her hands on what had once been a perfectly pressed pair of khaki cargo pants and eyed that goddam rock.
When her younger sister Rachel had first suggested the six-track Transformation Strategies for Women Changing Lives seminars to help Rebecca cope with the aftermath of her divorce, Rebecca thought it sounded ridiculous, and had politely declined to enroll herself in Track One: A peaceful and spiritual communing with the beautiful and wild nature of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, where the vision of a new life plan will emerge for the transformed.
Not that she didn’t appreciate the sentiment-she’d be the first to say she needed some sort of transformation after what she’d been through. But she’d never really been into sports, and God knew “packing out” was definitely not her thing, either, which she had explained to Rachel, who had (at the time, anyway) agreed. Naturally, she was quite surprised (when her older sister Robin showed up a couple of weeks later to pick up her son, Grayson) to learn that she had been enrolled nonetheless, was the proud owner of a plane ticket to Denver, and her gear was already assembled. Her sisters thought this was a very cool birthday gift for her. “Go get yourself transformed,” Robin had said cheerfully, foisting the seminar documents on her. “Come back as Angelina Jolie.”
While she had no intention of coming back as Angelina Jolie, it had been clear that Grayson really wanted to go with Aunt Robin (“She’s cool, Mom!”), and Rebecca figured she had nothing to lose at this point. Except a manicure appointment. So she had accepted her gift, personal reservations duly noted, and toddled off to Denver, where she met her six Partners in Transformation, all women of various ages and backgrounds sharing a common need to be transformed from a bad situation to a new beginning.
Then entered the fearless Moira Luting, who cheerfully announced that they’d be pushed to their physical limits to clear their mind, body and spirit so that they’d be completely free for The Visioning. And lest they doubt her, Moira quickly demonstrated that she meant what she said: three days of crawling, climbing, hanging, and swimming in ice cold streams had almost killed the group of women, none of whom had ever done anything more strenuous than a treadmill.
The funny thing, at least for Rebecca anyway, was that it worked. She did feel free. And alive! And she had come too damn far to let something like a little-okay, big rock-stand in her way!
So she gathered up all the grit she had left and jumped again. Her knee slammed into the rock wall, but she caught a ridge at the top of the rock and struggled and scraped to hoist herself up. Somehow, she made it, rolling off the other side and landing on one foot and one knee in the little clearing where the campfire was burning.
A howl-yes, an actual howl-went up from the others as she gained her feet, and frankly, it wasn’t bad for a former beauty queen, even if she did think so herself. This was her highest plateau yet, and although she was completely spent and near to starving to death, Rebecca felt nothing at all like the weak and fragile socialite queen she had come to expect from herself. She felt like…Angelina Jolie, Tomb Raider!
“There we are!” Moira sang in her lilting Irish accent, cheerfully noting Rebecca’s presence. “That makes seven, then! So! Good evening, ladies!” she said to them all as Rebecca half-loped, half fell into their midst. “How are we feeling? Alive? Rejuvenated? A wee bit transformed, perhaps?”
Rebecca was feeling transformed, all right, and glanced up at the pristine dusk sky. A few stars were beginning to twinkle at them through the pines, stars that looked close enough to reach up and touch. It was gorgeous at the top of the world!
Not everyone was appreciating the transformation or the scenery, however. “I’m dying, Moira!” Leslie, an outspoken alderman from the northeast moaned, her fists balled up in her stomach for dramatic effect. “When do we eat?”
Moira flashed a mischievous grin, planted her fists on top of ample hips, stacked like two bean bags on thick, muscular legs. “There now, I know you’re quite exhausted, love, but that is precisely the point, isn’t it? In order to transform to a newer, better, stronger you, we must tear down all the old insecurities and misperceptions, mustn’t we, for it is only then that we can build up new and fresh!”
Leslie wasn’t buying it. “Moiii-ra!” she wailed again. “Come on, when do we eat?”
“We’ll fill your belly full, I promise! But first, I have a special treat for you!” she said eagerly, stomping over to a canvas bag. “The boys will be here with our food in about an hour, at which time we’ll feast on fresh river trout, asparagus in cream sauce, squash and peppers and shallots sautéed in a buttery rum sauce, fresh new potatoes…”
They were all moaning and clutching their stomachs now as Moira withdrew a long stick, polished to a sheen and adorned with bird feathers. She straightened up, a broad grin across a broader face. “But first, we’ll have our first visioning,” she said excitedly. “Who can remind us all what we talked about in the orientation before embarking on the Journey to The Vision?”
Most of the women were still lost in the dream of food she had created; no one answered. Rebecca couldn’t vouch for the others, but she was so exhausted she could barely remember her name.
“The first step on a journey to your vision of personal growth is what?” Moira prompted.
“To strip away the old so we can build the new?” June, the housewife with self-described empty nest syndrome, suggested.
“That’s it!” Moira proudly exclaimed. “And then what, June? Can you recall for us what the next step is?”
“Yes! Everyone, look around you now-we’ve stripped away the old, have we not? Not one of you has any of the trappings she came with, does she? And the last three days of physical exertion has wringed you dry of impurities, both in personal chemistry and thought, eh?”
The women around the campfire looked at one another, noses wrinkled, nodding solemnly.
“It’s true. I feel really beat, but I feel better than I have in a long time.” This from chubby Teresa, who had cried all through Day One.
“That’s marvelous! So who among you then can tell me what happens after detoxification?” Moira asked, and glanced eagerly from woman to woman until the flight attendant Cindy asked timidly, “The visioning begins?”
Moira liked that answer so much that she threw her head back and howled at the moon. Literally. Because that was the first step they had learned toward transformation, howling at the classroom lights during orientation. Wolves howl to show supremacy. Women in need of transformation howl their victory over shortcomings and insecurities. And just because they felt like it, apparently, to wit: Moira howled until she had run out of breath, at which point she lowered her head and beamed at the lot of them. “That is exactly the right answer, Cindy. We do the visioning,” she said, dropping down to one knee, and held out the stick so they could all see it.
“This,” she said reverently, “is our talking stick. Whoever holds the talking stick will speak her vision. Who will be the first to hold it?” she asked, and startled Rebecca right out of her wits by thrusting the stick toward her. “Rebecca Lear?”
Rebecca instantly reared back and looked frantically around the group. She was a convert to transformation, but still! “I, ah…I’d rather not go first, Moira, if that’s all right with you.”
“Real-ly? Why wouldn’t you?” she asked pleasantly.
“I, ah…I’m not really ready to, ah… Vision. Ing.”
“I know-that’s why I chose you,” Moira said, then surprised Rebecca by tossing the stick at her so hard that she had to catch it or be bonked in the face by it. “Now you have the stick, so there’s no point in arguing, is there, love?”
“Really, I’d rather-”
“Oh come on,” Leslie snapped. “We’re starving here! We’re all going to have to do it at some point, so suck it up and go first, or we’ll never eat!”
The expressions on the other women told Rebecca they saw it the same way as Leslie. And if she didn’t do it, they looked as if they were about one step away from spearing and roasting her right there. Reluctantly, she came to her aching feet.
“Splendid! Now hold the stick like this,” Moira instructed her, indicating she should hold it to her chest. “Feel the power it gives you.”
Rebecca didn’t feel anything but exhaustion and hunger that were making her dizzy.
“Now-some among you have never had the opportunity to speak. Others among you may speak and feel you are not heard. But not here, ladies. Everyone will hold the talking stick. And when you hold it in your hands, you will have the power to envision the course of your future. Your Transformation Partners will assist you by helping you to look beyond your current boundaries. And we’re ready to help you find your vision, Rebecca.”
“Oooh-kaaay,” Rebecca responded uncertainly.
“Why don’t you begin by telling us a little bit about yourself?” Moira suggested. “What brought you to the Transformation Strategy Seminar Series?”
“Oh…” Rebecca could feel the heat begin to creep up her neck. “Umm, my sisters gave it to me as a gift-”
“Could you go back a little further, love? To the beginning?”
“Of your life.”
“What year were you born?” Eloise, an ad agency executive called out.
Rebecca sighed, looked up as the purple dusk sky. “Okay. I was born in 1972, in Dallas. I have two sisters, one older and one younger.”
“What did your parents do then?” Melanie, the quiet one, asked.
“Ah, well…Dad was in the freight business when I was little. And then he started his own company, and we moved to Houston.” She paused there, not knowing what else to say. Mom and Dad fought all the time? She mistook Bud’s teenaged lust for love? There was a big hole in her that had seated then and now she didn’t know how to fill it up?
“Hurry!” Leslie shouted.
“Was your family rich or poor?” Moira asked helpfully.
That was a little personal, but okay, as she was feeling a little dizzy, she was willing to skip over mortified indignation and go right to will do anything for food. “Well…we were poor when I was little. And then my father started his own freight transport company in Houston, and it got really big, and now…well, now, my family is, umm…wealthy.”
“Wait…are you Rebecca Lear as in Lear Transport?” asked Melanie, who used to be the quiet one and had, remarkably, developed a definite Texan accent. Rebecca nodded sheepishly. Several sucked in their breath. Apparently they had heard of LTI.
“I know you!” Melanie exclaimed excitedly. “I thought you looked familiar! You’re one of the Lear girls! Y’all used to be in the Houston papers all the time when I was growing up. Hey, wait a minute!” she cried again, pushing up to her knees in her delight as recognition washed over her. “Weren’t you the one who was Miss Texas?”
Oh no, please no… She really hoped at the end of this seminar she would have transformed right out of that old tiara. “Well, actually-”
“Jesus, what are you doing here?” Melanie the Chatterbox continued, her smile fading. “Your life is perfect!” She looked at the other women and announced, “We’re starving for someone who has a perfect life!”
“No I don’t!” Rebecca irritably shot back. She was sick to death of everyone thinking that beauty queen somehow equaled perfection. “Just because someone has a little money and a beauty queen title does not make her or her life perfect, trust me!”
“Then why are you here?” Moira asked cheerfully.
“Because!” she cried, confused.
“Your sisters seemed to think you needed help transforming,” Moira, all atwitter, reminded her. “Why? What is it that you need? Hold that stick and let it come, Rebecca. See what you are moving past, see where you are heading! Why are you here?”
Rebecca closed her eyes, tried to see, even tapped the stick against her forehead to try and knock the vision loose before she died of hunger. “Because I just went through a divorce,” she admitted.
“And you thought, after the divorce, you needed to be transformed because…you were not a good wife?” Moira prompted.
“No, of course not!” Rebecca said instantly, feeling suddenly and terribly self-conscious. She was not the sort of person to wear her emotions or her problems openly. Actually, she wasn’t the sort to wear them at all and usually pretended they just didn’t exist.
“Then were you a good wife?”
“Yes!” She was, wasn’t she? At least in the beginning?
“Then what is it, Rebecca?” Moira asked, coming to her feet, her broad, smiling face, peering closely at her. And as Rebecca struggled to find an acceptable answer, Moira clasped her hands, began to slowly walk around her in a circle. “What. Do. YOU. WANT?”
She swallowed a lump in her throat. “I want…I want…” Okay, really, if she knew what she wanted, she wouldn’t be standing on top of some mountain trying to explain her existence, would she? “I want…confidence!” she blurted.
“Why should you want confidence?” Teresa groused. “You’ve got more money and looks than any of us will ever have!”
“That’s not true! I lost it all when my husband left me for another woman,” Rebecca said angrily, startling even herself. “Did your husband leave you for someone else? Or announce it the very day you learned your father was dying? Just look at me now! I have never been anything but a beauty queen! I gave up all my dreams to be his wife, and now I have a young son, and I’ve never had a job, and I never finished school, and I’m still trying to figure out why I wasn’t good enough for him!” she cried. “I want to find out who I am! Who I really am! And I want to believe in myself!”
She stopped, shocked by her uncharacteristic outburst…but she clearly had their attention.
“So what you are saying is that while it may seem like you and your life are all picture perfect, the truth is, nothing’s really very perfect for you at all, is it Rebecca?” Moira asked, unfazed. “You don’t believe in yourself, do you? You don’t believe you are worthy or capable of love or hope, do you?” she pressed, moving in closer, her face looming larger.
“No!” Rebecca cried. “And I don’t know what to do!”
“Get a job!” Teresa called out to her, her voice kinder.
“Please!” Rebecca scoffed. Were they deaf? “I have no experience at anything, and I’ve never worked, and everyone in Dallas knows my husband. And I don’t need a job.”
“Move to a new city!” Eloise cried angrily. “Leave that cheating sonovabitch behind and go somewhere and be yourself!”
“Move?” Rebecca echoed weakly.
“MOVE!” someone else shouted.
“What your partners in transformation are telling you, Rebecca, is that you should move out from the shadow of your husband, because he represents the insecurity and feelings of inadequacy that have bubbled up to toxic levels inside of you. And whether you need a job or not doesn’t really matter, does it? The point is the only way you’ll ever believe in yourself is to prove that you can do whatever you set your mind to. Only you control your future, only you can prove yourself. What do you need, Rebecca? Say it!” Moira shouted, pointing at her.
“A job?” Rebecca asked.
“A job!” Moira cried. “What do you want, Rebecca?”
“A job!” Moira echoed to the stars above.
That was it, that simple! What had seemed so ridiculous a few months ago now seemed genius. Suddenly, everything seemed clearly genius, and Rebecca felt a burst of hope throughout her body.
She suddenly tossed back her head and howled at the moon, then lowered her head, beaming at them.
At which point, Leslie clutched her stomach and turned pleading eyes to Moira. “For the love of God, can we please eat now?”