Tonight I lie, with a full belly and clean wet hair, in the cozy berth of a sailboat moored in a local marina. The only smell this ship gives off is a hint of diesel fuel, so I suppose it's fairly new. The owner is in Florida visiting his mother, and his family considers his recent purchase of a boat to be the sign of a mid-life crisis; they're not likely to use his expensive toy while he's away, so it's just me, the narrow berth and the sea tonight.
Sometimes I forget just how pleasant a boat can be for a temporary habitation. I love the compact qualities of a sailboat, how every inch of space is made useful. I love the feel of being rocked to sleep by the soft, steady breathing in and out of the sea. And as always, I find and focus on the sense of warm radiant satisfaction that comes from being self-contained, self-reliant, unmoored, unseen, alive.
It took a long time to find that feeling. When I left Corey for good, I was frightened and exhausted, a shell-shocked, weeping mess. I was so green I didn't know the first thing about living outside -- I had no skills to make money, and only the sketchiest idea how to find food and shelter -- and for the first month I lived almost completely in the woods, cold, wet and terrified of being caught by other people or savaged by wild animals. Having skipped a meal once or twice in my entire life up to that point, I went from being exquisitely well-fed to being almost constantly hungry. And I stank. Even if I'd wanted to curb my desperate loneliness by going among people, I doubt my three-weeks-unwashed ripeness would have been welcome anywhere.
Then one day, following the train tracks west, I discovered a warm and empty farmhouse. The children were in school and the mother gone into town to run errands. At that point I was so desperate I didn't hesitate; as soon as I was sure the place was really empty I opened the back door, let myself into the kitchen and shamelessly raided the fridge. I indiscriminately wolfed down leftovers and cheese and milk and fruit, anything I could get my hands on, never stopping to think how the family would react when they came home and found Goldilocks had been in their refrigerator.
In fact I was so busy filling my hungry belly that I failed to keep alert, and when I heard the sound of a car door slamming outside I froze in terror. I had just enough time to close the refrigerator, stand out of the way and put a breath charm in place before the mother came in, lugging several heavy bags. Too late I realized I'd made myself invisible, but not unsmellable; the mother sniffed the air, gagged at the funky odor I'd introduced to her kitchen, and proceeded to spray a thick fog of Lysol which nearly made me sneeze. Fortunately I managed to hold the charm in place just long enough for her to move out of the kitchen, so I could slip out the front door and bolt for safety. From then on, though, I knew I had a reliable method of finding food and shelter. (Also from then on, I never passed up a chance to bathe.)
It took some time to figure out ways to get by without using magic; I never realized how completely I'd relied on the knack all my life until I suddenly had to make do without it. But somehow I managed to survive and eventually to thrive on this makeshift way of living. I discovered survival skills by experience or accident, honed them with practice. I became self-disciplined, my mind teaching my body that it could temporarily be cold, or hungry, or even lost, because I would find it warmth and food and a place to stay in a day or two. And eventually, when I was proficient enough to keep myself alive, I even found something to live for.
I know I have every reason to be proud of myself. I've taught myself how to live outside a safe harbor. I've had a warm meal and a hot shower today. I've been discreet and unremarkable in my bearing, and no one has noticed me. And tonight I rest in luxurious quarters, rocked by the sea; I should have remarkable dreams.
I just wish I could sleep.