Besides doing research, I was also in town for a concert. I know the band leader slightly and had actually seen him and his band a few weeks prior, a little closer to home. I enjoyed that show, in West Virginia, so much that I was eager to have another chance to see them before the tour moved out of the region. Since St. Louis boasts several labyrinths, a maze, and a major labyrinth-building enterprise (and New Harmony, Indiana--home to a famous historic maze--was on the way) it seemed like a decent plan. I believe I asked my sister to go with me, but I ended up going alone.
The hotel was new, in a section of St. Louis called the Delmar Loop (on Barack Obama Way, no less). It had a moon theme, from the decorations in the room to the names of the cocktails and the items on the restaurant menu. It was kind of quirky and fun, and it was the closest hotel to both the concert venue and the first labyrinth I wanted to visit: all were on the same street, an odd bit of synchronicity.
As I recall it, I was leaving my room, probably for dinner. My room was almost at the end of the hall, which was quiet; there didn't seem to be a lot of guests. As I was coming out, the person in the end room also came out, and though I didn't get a clear view over my left shoulder, I noticed that he stopped suddenly, apparently startled. I had the fleeting impression that it might have been Dave, the leader of the band I'd come to see, and I suddenly felt embarrassed. It's one thing to go see someone at a show and another thing to find yourself in a hotel room next to them at the end of a hall. I had always thought traveling performers were segregated from other guests for the sake of privacy, but in this case--maybe the hotel put all its guests on one floor for convenience? I had the impression that the staff was still working out the details of running things, so it seemed like the kind of thing that could happen.
So I had a gourmet pizza across the street, went back to the room with leftovers, and later went to the show. To my dismay, when I got there, I sensed a rather peculiar energy on stage. Dave seemed uncomfortable, I seemed to be getting some strange looks from the female band members, and I pretty much felt that I was persona non grata for the evening. Now, I'm here to tell you that I would likely have chosen a different hotel if I had known the band was staying there . . . and I started to feel really stupid for having come.
The energy had been quite different at the West Virginia show, although I did sit next to some mildly strange locals who encouraged me to check out a nearby bar afterwards, where, they said, the performers were likely to show up. (I didn't go, but I did run into the same people in the parking lot outside the performance hall, where they seemed highly startled to see me going back inside. I actually had to explain that I was heading for the rest room, but whatever.)
So, there I was, in St. Louis, feeling mortified, without being completely sure why I felt mortified. I knew that a lot of Dave's fans attended shows whenever they could, traveling great distances at times, and I sort of felt that he welcomed that. I had a great regard for Dave and was quite crushed, so even though it was, I have to say, an excellent show, I walked back to the hotel in a very sad frame of mind. A while later, I heard people in the hall and thought I recognized Dave's voice saying goodnight. I didn't see or hear anyone after that but had one of the worst night's sleep I've ever had.
This is what I wrote in my journal the next day: "I had a really bad dream last night. Dave was in the middle of it. Bad things just kept happening, medical emergencies, accidents. It was one thing after another, like a Shakespeare play or a Greek tragedy. "Judith" (a nurse I know) pulled up in a car, and I thought, thank God for some medical help. I can't even remember exactly what was going on, or to whom, or why. It was like a domino effect."
I left the hotel the next morning for my labyrinth walk feeling gloomy, though it was a bright and fresh Sunday morning. I persisted in feeling like a groupie all through breakfast, while checking out of the hotel (as expeditiously as possible), and while walking around the Missouri Botanical Gardens. I started to feel better after a couple of hours of walking around, regaining the proper "The hell with these people" spirit and reminding myself that I had a lot of research ahead of me. By the time I got home at the end of a long day, I was pretty well recovered.
I didn't know any of Dave's band members and was surprised about six weeks later to hear of the suicide of his fiddle player. While it surprised me, it really didn't seem to be any of my business. In videos I later saw of the band's performances that fall, everyone looked devastated. But it wasn't long after that that I started having peculiar experiences of my own: feelings of being followed, strange encounters on the streets to and from work, sudden appearances of cars with tinted windows, a greasy-looking man pulling into the gas station next to me at night, and other things too numerous to mention.
Well, I had no idea what this was about, but I called my brother and a friend and let them know what was going on, complete with a history of some previous things that had happened at work, to which I assumed all of this strangeness was related. I wasn't sure if either my brother or my friend really knew how scary all of this was, and how disorienting. My brother asked a lot of questions and seemed to think that if I had an enemy at work (which was my conclusion) it would have to be a "rogue" employee. Beyond that, he didn't offer any conclusions. I had my own idea of what was going on, though I wasn't sure what the latest spate of events had to do with what had happened before.
I also felt that I needed to let someone else know what was happening, someone who wouldn't want anything bad to happen to me, since everyone else I talked to seemed to be at a loss or in denial. The only person I could think of was Dave, whom I had formerly thought had some regard for me. I sent him a note on Facebook without much detail in it, just indicating that something bad was happening.
I sure got some strange looks in the office the next day after sending that note, and most of the weird encounters on the street instantly stopped. In fact, everything seemed to go back to normal for quite a while. I started my blog and my dissertation clock at the same time, things settled down at work, and I assumed (rightly or wrongly) that it was Dave who had stepped in on my behalf. I saw a few of his shows that spring and summer, and while he never said anything, I assumed it was because he wanted to remain in the background. He always seemed glad to see me.
The respite from weirdness only lasted until the fall. I remember a gradual sense that things were getting strange again: that creepy guy at the World Equestrian Games who seemed to be taking my picture; the sudden appearance of cars with skull decals, often directly in front of me as I drove to work, morning after morning; the suicide of someone I didn't even know, a graduate student in history, that seemed to unaccountably unsettle our library assistant (who did know him); the sudden onset of noise, complete with loud sex and some rather evil-sounding music, from the neighbors upstairs; that Facebook connection, supposedly a Pacifica grad, who began posting increasingly peculiar and suggestive messages; a comment by a coworker about how surreal the atmosphere in the office had become; a rather uncomfortable visit to San Francisco before Christmas; people on Facebook who seemed to be speaking in code; a friend who was surprisingly calm when I started telling him about the strange state of affairs in the office (I would have run for the hills if someone had started telling me things like that); a pedicure from hell in which I had the sense that the stylist was trying to cut me (fortunately, no hepatitis, though); and a raft of other things, too numerous to mention.
To what end? Well may you ask! That's what I wanted to know, but if anyone knew, they weren't saying. I actually have a pretty high tolerance for stress, but this was something I had never seen before. I was so stressed that I began to have occasional feelings of disassociation, that my actions were not my own. I didn't even know why that was happening, but I knew it wasn't good.
But proving, I guess, that the show must go on, I somehow managed to get my dissertation proposal finished and turned in. Unfortunately, writing about labyrinths isn't the most comforting thing in the world when you feel you're in one, so I can't say the writing was therapeutic in any sense, just that I got through it. By January, the atmosphere was so strained at work that it was like walking into a battle zone every day. It felt completely unsound, physically and emotionally. Concentrating on anything became nearly impossible, and one day, I just decided I couldn't do it any more. If I stayed there, I was going to lose my mind--if something else didn't happen first. My brother seemed supportive when I talked to him, but I couldn't tell how much he really knew. He never alluded, at least directly, to the things I'd told him the previous year. But no one was being very direct about anything.
After a short stay in the hospital, I went home. The doctor told me what I had experienced was a normal reaction to a very abnormal situation--but then no one ever talked about the "situation" after that. What situation was it? Hilariously enough, I actually considered going back to work, but how could I do that when it was the toxic environment that made me sick in the first place? I used up all of my many accumulated sick days, used my disability insurance, and traveled, hoping to clear my head of the evil memories that lingered from the fall and winter. I spent a lot of money and did a lot of things differently than I normally do; I found that I still had trouble concentrating, a problem that persisted until late in the summer, when the enthusiasm for my dissertation returned. Once I started writing again, it took on a rhythm of its own, and I began to enjoy it.
Throughout that summer and fall, I took in a lot of Dave's shows, in the course of my travels. I still assumed it was he who had intervened on my behalf two years previously. He always seemed glad to see me. There was this, though: I was at a show in Somerville Massachusetts, that summer, and a man I had never seen before, someone in the audience, came up to me after the show and said, "Mary, we've got you covered." Huh? (I'm not making this up; I know I didn't know him, and I know that's what he said.) If that happened to me now, I'd ask him who in the world he thought he was and what he was talking about. It still happens to me that people I've never seen before will sometimes behave overly familiar toward me, but that was a particularly egregious example. He actually knew my name.
I always maintained that if someone had told me what was going on, my stress would have disappeared, but no one ever did that, and I gradually had to try to put it all together myself. It's a peculiar story, to be sure, but all true, nonetheless. Someone said to me that writing about the labyrinth seemed to have constellated it in my life. I'm not actually sure I know what "constellated" means (it's Jungian jargon), but in any case, I don't think that's what happened. It was a coincidence that my topic was labyrinths; I could have been writing about flower gardens, and the same things would have happened.
I see that Dave has a show in our area next month, but I haven't decided if I'll be there or not. I noticed he's got a fan group on Facebook that, to me, has kind of an inappropriate tone, but no one else commented on it when I said so. If those are the kind of people who show up for concerts these days, I'd rather stay home. My pecuniary circumstances don't allow for spending money to sit around with a bunch of louts and neither does my patience.
I get tired of people who act as if they know more about what's going on with me than I do. If there's one thing that makes me cranky, it's a know-it-all, and I've seen a lot of them. You may be thinking: "remind me never to write a dissertation." Oh, well, I wouldn't go that far. I think the real moral of this story is that you have to resist the attempts of other people to tell you what your story is. I've found that telling that story, whether face-to-face or in writing, is the best way to stitch together a seemingly incomprehensible series of events. The art of narrative, for me, really is the art of meaning.