THE RETREAT

Published January 7, 2020 by Nan Mykel

The afternoon shadows were lengthening as the last car drove into the makeshift parking lot in the field adjacent to the camp and a hooded figure covered in drapery exited from the wooden gatehouse. The figure, shrouded in a yellow toga, said, “Welcome. You are Tee. You are familiar with the rules?” Tee guessed that it was the voice of a man, but could not be sure, due to utilization of a voice modifier. Only fingers flashed momentarily from beneath the loose sleeves of  a toga, with which everyone had been supplied in advance.

Tee nodded. Tee was covered in a green toga.

“You are assigned to the third cabin on the right down the path. Dinner will be in the large building further along the path, and will be announced by a gong, as will other gatherings, in the same building. You are not to reveal your birth sex to any person, whether registrant or staff.” A pamphlet describing the rules and goals for encampment changed hands, as did a proffered voice modifier and a pad of paper and pen. “Most folks write notes instead of talk….Oh, and each cabin has its own privy and running water….And you’re just in time for dinner.”

Tee’s head bowed briefly. A week of meditation, contemplation, education and sharing with other non-binary individuals lay ahead. Twenty individuals had paid the tuition, seeking what?  An additional six had completed an earlier camp and functioned now as staff.  The combination totaled the 26 letters of the alphabet, each letter assigned as a name for members of the gathering. Tee’s stomach spasmed alarmingly. What was he afraid of?

The large suitcase on wheels rattled as it passed over occasional rocks along the well-trod path. Tee deposited the suitcase just inside the door of the third cabin, and headed for the privy just as the gong sounded. Following other robed figures in silence beneath a canopy of occasional bird song felt unreal as though Tee was in a stage play.

Well, it was staged, but it wasn’t playful. Would everyone really maintain their anonymity for an entire week? Of course an accidental flash of skin would reveal little, since all were either in a pre-transitioning, current or post-transitioning stage.

Upon entering the rustic mess hall which would double for meetings, Tee was greeted with silence. Only the clinking of plates and silverware along the self-help cafeteria line filled the air. Someone stifled a sneeze. What few sounds there were echoed hollowly. A figure in the corner at a rear table seemed to be weeping silently. A scrap of paper was handed down the long table at which Tee sat: please pass the salt.

The meal was tasty, a large serving of either regular or vegan vegetable soup and a mixed garden salad. It was not until the dessert of baked apple had been finished and each participant had returned their utensils that a figure of medium height spoke, utilizing a voice modifier.  The figure was wearing a hooded yellow robe and stood, directing the registrants to the far side of the large room.

“Welcome, bearers of the life force!  If you are seriously on the non-binary journey that phrase will not sound smaltzy to you. I am Ex. Our first task is to bond, and to facilitate that we will join in chanting, an old and revered tradition. You may have heard recordings of monks chanting, as well as nuns. We will develop our own version, after first listening to the following recording.  At any time you may add your voice through the voice modifier or naturally—we won’t notice the difference.”

The lights were dimmed and a  recording began to play. After several minutes of absorption with eyes closed, Tee imagined God being present, then with a start realized he was He: binary. So much for trying to tie religion into this concept. Evolution was responsible. Tee had earlier felt a connectivity that floated above, below, within, accepting the totality of one’s own being. That feeling was returning now.

So religion was out and spirituality was in. Was it the chanting or the setting that was responsible for the increased percolating of realizations about the binary/nonbinary conundrum?  The voices of an indeterminate sex rising now from the gathering blended in with those on the recording. When the recorded chanting came to an end the chanting of those present continued for an extended period, with the droning sounds rising and falling until there was absolute silence.

`           Tee became aware of a thrill or a chill, at least a quivering awakening inside. The bonding had begun–spiritual, if not religious.

There was a soft rustle as the entire staff, dressed in their yellow attire, stepped up to welcome the newcomers. Everyone’s identities were private. Only the body size could not be modified.

“We will break into two groups in order to share our hopes and expectations for the retreat.” The groups counted themselves off and sat at some distance from each other. Three of the staff accompanied each grouping.

Silence followed, as each reflected on their hopes and needs. Finally, one said through the voice modulator, “I’m tired of feeling like a weirdo. I want to feel connected to humanity.”

Another spoke, and another, the momentum growing. “I want to experience myself.”

“If I’m really non-binary I want to find out who I am, then.”

“I want to quit feeling ashamed of myself.”

“I want to understand what’s happened to me.”

“I’d like to know why.”

“I know I’m up against evolution, and that’s scary.”

“I want to connect with reality…if there is any.”

“As I get clearer things get muddier.”

And so it went, one of those dressed in yellow drapery joining in.  “I sought integration in the face of sexuality. I received help, but I need more.”

The silence was heavy as the new members—devotees—seekers—the wounded–departed for their assigned cabins, each wrapped deep in solitary reflection.

THE END

Words:  1014

c nan mykel

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