Saturday, July 21st, 2012

Four of Sticks β€” Tarot of the Absurd

Four of Wands


The Handshake


I met Willis in a bar in Fairbanks, Alaska.Β  We were both finalists at aΒ  poetry slam and mutually curious of one other through the stories told by friends. β€œWill you live with me?” he asked. I don’t remember if there was prior conversation; he had not yet sat down at my table. I replied β€œyes” with little hesitation. Perhaps I took the question a bit more seriously than he had meant it.


I found a house for us: a giant, uninsulated box with a heater in one downstairs room and no running water. Pipes would never have survived. Two winters prior, four acquaintances of ours had lived there and nick-named it β€œThe Icebox.” Three women lived upstairs and a man named Jon lived downstairsβ€” for the most partβ€” in the front room. Using β€œprostate issues” as his excuse, he pissed in apple juice jugs. When the jugs froze in his room, he left the juice-colored contents on the kitchen counter to thaw. Willis and I kept our bicycles in Jon’s old room. Both of us biked everywhere, year round. Due more to obsession than lack of money, neither of us owned cars.


When we moved in, there was an empty paper towel roll on the holder in the tiny kitchen. It is immortalized in the background of a photograph I took of Willis playing guitar in the dim light of the television. The empty tube remained until we moved out. Neither of us generated any trash to speak of.Β  Although we were similar in many ways, I will never know if he adored me half so much as I adored him or if he merely found me curious and unannoying. We seldom spoke. We never argued. I adored him.


It was in this house, in the large, unheated upstairs room, where I illustrated a good number of tarot cards. I worked in thick insulated camp boots, a hat, fleece pants over long-johns, a few long sleeve tops and a fleece jacket. My hands were cold. I was working on the Four of Sticks: agreement, contract, good communication, ceremony or rite, harmony, community. I did not want to illustrate a definitive celebration, such as marriage; I wanted to leave the context of the agreement open to interpretation. Thus, I settled on a handshake. Many deals have been sealed and many great things have been settled on a handshake.


As it was eleven years before I would live in a house with internet, reference was not easy to come by. I eschewed models. The handshake was giving me unusual trouble. I had been working on it for perhaps over an hour when Willis came home. I stood as he came up the stairs.


β€œWillis?” I called, hesitantly. Truly, we never spoke.


β€œWhat,” he said, and came into the room.


β€œWill you shake my hand?” I asked. He held out his hand and I took it (I touched him!). He looked at me curiously for the half-second it took me to examine the placement of our fingers. I let go, hoping it would be enough. β€œI need to draw a handshake,” I explained.


He grunted some understanding sound and went off to go about his business. I sat down immediately to draw before the image of our clasped hands faded from my mind. I need not have hurried; the mental image of that painfully shy, awkward moment remains forever burned into my retina.


Perhaps due more to his good graces than to mine, we lived harmoniously together and parted peacefully. We lived on that handshake: the Four of Sticks.

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