By Dawn M. Sanders
Being of a Pagan persuasion, I believe our life on this earth has evolved from a previous journey and will evolve to another journey when our life is finished here.
My journey in this life began on the 18th of March 1967 in Laguna Beach California.
I was born to a father who rejected me and didn’t want to know anything of my mother, so would grow up with a single mother of four other sisters.
From the beginning, my childhood was tough, lonely and blighted with being severely visually impaired and all of the struggles it came with.
I struck out on my own at seventeen – leaving a dysfunctional and volatile family life behind me.
Yet, having to be self-reliant and resourceful all my life, I adapted well to the responsibilities and challenges of adult life on my own.
At nineteen I went back to California, after having been schooled in my adoptive step dad’s native Texas.
I got jobs, shared apartments and maintained loose contact with family – keeping my mother at arm’s length.
After landing a good job doing data entry for Recycler Publications, a free-ads paper for people selling anything from antique collectables to cars, I made contacts, in the form of pen pals, via the sister paper, Loot in London, UK.
Any social life I might have had at the time was fragmented, but I met an English guy at a house party one night.
Martin from Portsmouth, a dark wavy-haired charm of a guy, gave me just enough attention that I sought him out, but as was my usual misfortune with men; he ‘really didn’t want to know’.
What he had told me though, planted a seed he’ll never know was planted.
He told me how, he would work enough to travel, work some more at whatever job he could, then travel back to England to save up more to travel again.
His adventurous spirit awoke in me, my own lust for adventure; a part of myself I never knew existed.
So, any lusting I had for Martin was forgotten as I pursued travelling to the UK, where I had read Harlequin novels in braille as a teenager and only imagined getting out of a place I never felt a part of.
Journey to a new life
When I came to the UK the first time, it was for a long two-month holiday and I was able to take up the newspaper job when I went back.
In coming the second time though, I had planned to stay for good and never looked back!
The first time, I had met the pen pals I had regular contact with and the ones who sounded the most sane.
I didn’t plan a thing and was very much the awkward American, who spoke too blunt/honestly and lacked the art of British subtlety.
Yet at the same time, somehow I had been before.
At the time I didn’t know when or why – it wasn’t just that I had read about it – I had been here before.
When I went back, all I could think of, was being in England, a pub on every corner, the contrast between regions, as I had spent time in London, Liverpool and Manchester during my holiday.
I was flabbergasted at the diversity of people and vibrancy of places – places which were old and steeped in history and character.
Nothing was the same for me and, I just had to get back.
When I returned the second time, I knew I was coming home. I had sold all of my furniture, quit my job at the Recycler and scraped all my savings and income tax return.
I had secured a 6-month work visa via BUNAC (a work abroad/exchange programme) and that was it; nothing was stopping me.
When I went back after the first time, California and everything I knew, hadn’t moved and seemed so predictable, colourless and steeped in convention; what the hell did I have to lose? – I certainly had everything to gain.
Little did I know, what I would gain is uncharted prejudices, a ‘cannot do’ blanket of cloud and a new life of fresh hell.
London life was dogma and full of twists and turns.
I met interesting people, but all the sudden my identity was in question. I had never been called ‘disabled’ or seemingly evoke repelling reactions from people to my visual impairment.
I was refused jobs with the patronising: “how will you make the stairs love?”
Looking for a room to rent, I would travel across London on a transport system completely foreign to me, yet liberating, just to get: “Uh, no, it’s not here, it’s taken…”
The spinster-type middle-aged woman at the YWCA hostel I stayed at in central London during my job hunt, sparked a hostile reaction to me, citing – they weren’t ‘warned’.
I had never experienced so much discrimination and adverse reaction.
I constantly heard: “Are you alright?” while walking downs a street, so I thought, shit! Do I have a wart on my forehead or what???
The years paraded past, yielding further sensory loss, one emotional upset after another. There was no ‘big adventure’ in my new life – it had just become this game of win or lose, prove myself or be disproven – try, or weather the trial…
In the midst of it all, I had met an expat who gave me some tips on legalising – so, I followed them, pretty much down to the letter. Yet, it would be three years and a relentless game of cat-and-mouse with immigration, becoming homeless, suffering a miscarriage through an abusive relationship and eventually becoming pregnant with my only son and soulmate, before the next phase.
My journey with Jasper
Coming off benefits and becoming homeless was such a senseless sacrifice. The cat-and-mouse game with immigration wasn’t going well and becoming homeless meant squatting in North London and selling the Big Issue street paper.
I was desperate though, to this day I could never put into a coherent explanation, but I just ‘had to’ get what I wanted – British residency, despite the damning discrimination and, eventually, to spite my bloody sanity…
I had gone from selling the Issue to begging for beer money down along Camden canal – on the way to my favourite biker pub.
There was a one-night stand that would change my life forever, an unwanted encounter with a platonic friend, then the suicide attempt.
The blatant discrimination for such a crap job, was just too much to bear and the last straw…
Then it happened; I found out I was pregnant during a computer course and the post trauma of being suicidal and hospitalised; it was from that one nighter with the guy in the Holey Arms (biker pub).
It took a month to trace him, but I found him – the intelligent yet arrogant guy I had met.
He knew what I had to say and, he insisted I say it in front of his dopey mate outside a gay pub in Camden Town.
Just before going to live in Brighton, to escape the noose closing in on me in London, I felt him kick.
I first stayed with some friends of Matt’s (my baby’s father) then, I was nearly eight months pregnant before being rehoused in a grotty studio flat in Brighton’s North Lanes.
Then he came to me, at 2.55 a.m via an induced birth – my Jasper came to save me in the dead of winter, December, 1996…
With curly thick brown hair and slightly lighter skin than my own olive, he was tiny but strong.
The fact that, he too is visually impaired broke my heart, but at the same time, it was so natural to me.
Matt blamed me and struck up a blazing argument, fifteen minutes after I gave birth – nearly ruining the most important day of my life.
I gained my residency when Jasper was three months old, we moved from the grotty studio with no proper heating, to a nice maisonette and the next several years were triumphant, but the pain and loneliness lingered like my shadow.
When he was nearly six, I moved us to Mid Wales and did a degree in international politics.
Finally, something ‘just for me’ and the biggest challenge I had taken on sense becoming a single mum.
I finished with a second place degree result and left Wales and the people with their hostility towards us, fully intact.
Jasper had gone away to a special school in Manchester. Not only was he partially sighted, but deaf.
He had only spoken a few times during his toddler years, but then, the glue ear, the neurological damage, the endless hearing tests and his absent speech development – by that time, I think I was just numb.
The other huge burden which was seemingly born out of leaving Brighton, was the utter antagonism by local authorities.
Every time I changed areas, each council was worse than the one before.
Shamanic journeys and revelation
In the year 2000, before moving to Wales, Jasper and I had travelled to an off-grid community in Wales.
He was not quite three and by that time, we had lived in an eco-community, travelled through Ireland, to various eco-conscious festivals/gatherings and gone to road protests and demos.
The reception we got at this community in West Wales, was unfriendly, silent and lurking with Chinese whispers.
Yep, a single mum ‘with a visual impairment’ and kid with special needs in tow, dared to step out of the conventional life and penetrate their precious little insular world.
Despite this, a couple introduced themselves, who didn’t live in the community.
They were kind of special in their own right, because she did dousing with rods – answering life’s hard questions and he was a shaman.
They had invited Jasper and I to their home for some spiritual sessions while Jasper played with their children.
Howard was in charge of the kids while Beth spent time with me and the dousing.
Then it was Howard’s turn to do the shamanic journey with me – the thing I really anticipated.
I just counted backward from ten, but there was no trance-like state. I could still hear the kids down stairs and was aware of everything.
The first part of the journey, was just my spirit and completely non-physical.
I had travelled backward from the California desert, to the sea, crossing the sea and ending up on an overcast, green island.
It was England or maybe France in the European continent?
No, I was pretty sure it was England; probably where I really came from.
My real father, who I never knew, was French and my mother knew nothing of his ancestry.
The second part of my journey, was more physical – coming into a solid, jungled place.
A little boy appeared by my side, it was Jasper.
In this journey from another life and time, he was not my son, but I befriended him, gave him an apple and we went skipping off together through the trees – swept away on the breeze and into the past.
At the end of it, I of course was reeling from disbelief.
Had my imagination just concocted this whole farfetched thing?
“No” Howard had said.
I told them both how, it was all like memories which were always there, but just hadn’t been tapped into yet.
It took very little to reach out to these journeys; so, it all fit together: I ‘had been to England before’ and, Jasper was my soul mate, which I always knew anyway…
Life is as hard as an uphill climb with a ton of weight on my back.
Jasper is a generally happy young man – toting a beard and always a hoody and big boots.
His anxieties have increased along with his OCD tendencies, obsessions and other fascinations.
His Sagittarian fire has erupted at me in the worse way on many occasions – landing me across the room and shaken.
Now living in Sheffield, the worse possible harassment from the likes of social services have pushed me over the edge.
Jasper and I only get support which is funded, so I have many demons and untameable monsters.
On a brighter note, I’m engaged in a master’s degree in journalism.
After a failed business, which only received negative responses and no funding for the advocacy scheme I wanted to offer, I decided to answer to my passion for writing, as I have always had an inquisitive mind.
My mother never encouraged us to go after our dreams or question the world, so we’ve had to muddle our way through.
As I write this piece in Brighton, my place of Pagan roots, it is beckoning me back, so I think I’ll succumb
Although Jasper hasn’t found his niche, I have hope that, with the right help, therapy and communication, he might let go of his self-defeating stubbornness.
Then again, he’s a chip off a stubborn block…
I’m like the proverbial soldier – fighting, fighting fighting; trying, trying and trying…
While the road ahead for us both is uncharted and scary, I’ll have the hand and heart of my lifelong friend and soulmate, to walk with, when the wind blows hard and the journey becomes treacherous.