A Biltmore Story of Redemption

A Biltmore Story of Redemption

 It seems I have no choice but to write this to candlelight. If ever words on paper were to capture an almost forbidden feeling, surely it is to this glow in otherwise darkness. Somewhere is these shadows lie unspoken words of a place in time long ago- or rather a place not of this time long ago. I simply need to find them. They are not quite my own. Once upon a time I thought I owned them, but now they belong to the mist of these mountains, as if they existed before my name was ever spoken, and will remain when my bones are of ash.

 

 

Perhaps everyone has a story from their past that has no ending, and thus fear it might float around in the ethers for eternity, as I do. Maybe we as humans have an inherent longing to seek closure, wrap up chapters. Yet even when you close a door, some flicker of light still peeks through underneath. This story- this story, sits a door high upon a barren hill that I have tried to close for over 20 years. It’s as if this door is covered in bullet holes, the light beaming in against my wishes, each day dancing a different vignette upon these cracked walls.

When one taps into their past to candlelight with deep yearning to put pen to paper, all that is sacred can come forth.

Once upon a time, a young me visited a place called the Biltmore Estate. It happens to be America's largest home- a French Renaissance inspired chateau built in 1895 by George Vanderbilt in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in what’s now called Asheville North Carolina. The drive in a corridor of massive Oak trees, each granting permission to enter. The estate boasts over 250 rooms, 45 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, 8,000 acres, designed with materials collected from all over the world. Just as a man cannot take his eyes off a woman as she undresses, it’s impossible to look away from the Biltmore at first glance.

 

 

Upon entry, you can feel her unfolding before you. The Winter Garden room in the very center of the mansion houses exotic plants and palms of deep greens, light bursting down from ornate windows. The fertile smell of dirt can’t help but leave one lusting to see the next room, and the next.  Indeed, the mansion holds secret passageways, hidden rooms and locked doors. It is these unseen parts that capture me most, and stir this tale as old as time; of love dissolving into sorrow, then burning its way back to love. I believe it could also be called, “healing.”

 

 

Let me tell you a little about this 18-year-old girl I once was before I delve into that day trip to the Biltmore Estate that stands out so profoundly. To put quite simply, I was ill. One knew not upon looking at me. On the outside, I appeared as all young girls do; insecure, whimsical, unsteady and restless but pretty from youth. I had red locks then blond, tried this dress and that one, was quiet then loud, and got lost in the to and fro. On the inside, my guts were decaying. I had been diagnosed with an illness labeled Ulcerative Colitis just 3 years prior, just before prom. This disease made my colon bleed quite profusely unless I took poisons dressed up in the name of medicines. I took these medicines up until the time I went to college and lost my health insurance. About a month after stopping these drugs my colon dripped, often poured blood. With every single bathroom trip, the toilet glared back at me, a bowl of shiny red. Yet I dare not say out loud what was happening.

I felt as locked as one of those old, musky wooden doors on the estate that I longed to enter. I simply couldn't speak of the horror. Once words are spoken, they can’t help but ring true, like a lone church bell at midnight. To confess to anyone else would confirm what I feared to be true- that I was damaged, worthless, scarlet lettered even. I thought best to remain silent. After all, no one would ever see what I saw in the toilet. Bathrooms can be as private as those hidden rooms in Biltmore. They can keep secrets. There simply is no echo from blood dripping into the toilet that is loud enough for anyone else on the other side to hear. So a bathroom was my friend, yet an enemy I had to look in the eye’s multiple times per day.

Let me back up a year even further for a moment, if I may. At 17 years of age, just a year prior, I met a boy. Well, an Egyptian prince, really. I met him somehow knowing I would meet him. I took a trip to the Smoky Mountains, one of the most enchanting places I’ve ever known, and somewhere between the mist and the lightning bugs and the hot, dripping sweat of summer, he appeared. It was a matter of hours before our hands and eyes locked. I had truly never seen anyone like him. A majestic pharaoh from a land I knew nothing of, yet instantly wanted to be born into. I suddenly felt inferior and ashamed of my dull white skin and mousy hair. I of course never let on.

When he spoke, long wavy locks the color of night dripped down past his shoulders, whispering to me in-between his words. This would forever describe a sort of rivalry I experienced every second I was with him. His voice up against his waves, each speaking over the other. I still to this day can’t always decipher what I learned from him verses the archaic chanting that seemed to emanate from his locks as they swayed when he moved.

This may sound extreme- after all it's just hair. You must believe me when I say it transcended all aspects of mere hair. I swear there were times that just touching it landed me kneeling on the steps of a temple at sunset, draped in silk, the smell of frankincense wafting all around. There was so much to be found in this place. I wanted to lay my body against the temple walls and let the hot stone burn my skin, create new flesh.  Then as quickly as I went there, I’d come to, only to find this mere mortal standing before me, silently begging me grow. To dig deeper, to reinvent myself. But I just couldn’t do it fast enough for him. I wanted to.

 

 

 To this day, although I have not shared the same space with this boy in over 20 years, he remains a great teacher. In fact- I think he might have saved my life.

The frequencies of heritage can be felt, not seen. It’s all there in a person, right beneath the surface. My own Appalachian descent, while one of pain and struggle also speaks to deep connection with the Earth and all things unseen. My bones seem to vibrate to tribal ceremonies that took place in these mountains not that long ago, where bonfires were the only warmth. The Appalachian quest was never an easy one; a fiercely independent, intense lineage of battle and discord. It seems most of us Appalachian souls can still be found licking our wounds, still stained of our ancestor’s bloodshed.  

But somewhere in the Pharaohs’ timeless wisdom, he seemed to accept my intensity and restlessness of spirit. Because we were so young, I don’t think either of us were conscious of the exchange that was actually taking place. I desperately needed his sun-god energy to bathe me in it’s solar wonder, make me feel just OK enough to be, just be, on this earth.  I so badly wanted to beg him to rid me of this entrenched, inherited darkness that left me feeling at any given moment I might go to battle, sword in hand, even if just in war with myself. He silently calmed these instinctive responses….until he couldn’t anymore. Until I once again repeated patterns of my ancestors and found the only comfort I could find in the oblivion of alcohol. Even a Sky-God can’t compete with the devil found in the bottom of a bottle of vodka.

 

 

I so deeply digress. Back to this day-trip I took with this Sun- God to a French renaissance mansion, underneath a Southern sky. It was late summer so the air was cool in the mountains that day. I remember him offering his jacket to drape over my shoulders, as Ra would. I had just chopped off all my hair in an effort to cleanse myself of all the putrid venom within. This attempt didn’t work, and just left me feeling like an even more wounded warrior, as if I had lost all my tresses in battle. Although I knew I was looking less and less like myself during that time, he still stayed near, ready to pounce at my every gasping demon.

 So we enter the estate and feel what most people feel upon entry- an overwhelming feeling of awe and almost inability to accept such beauty. I was suddenly aware of a sort of electrical pulse connecting this space in time to somewhere only my spine seemed to remember, as it jolted a little further towards the heavens.   I recall not feeling well at all that day, and certainly not feeling worthy of taking up space in such grandeur. It’s like once I stepped foot on Biltmore my body was suddenly aware of my ancestors at my very core, the hundreds of years of fighting, and all of my battle wounds were throbbing.  Maybe it was the soil the Chateau was built upon, maybe these rolling hills were my very blood. We continued our tour of this unearthly palace, going room to room with little words spoken.  

“I have to run to the bathroom,” I told him. “OK I’ll wait for you here” he replied. And wait for me he did, for many moons to come. I’m not sure he felt equipped to hold space for me in that moment, his very core sensing my fragility. While I sat in the bathroom at quite possibly the most regal place on earth, dripping red, feeling and breathing fire on a battleground of my own making, unable to speak, he waited for me just outside. How does a girl with dirt under her nails and deep battle wounds from century’s gone by walk outside and tell an Egyptian pharaoh that she’s bleeding profusely, and that nothing even exists on earth to stop this torture?  

This pattern ensued for the remainder of our relationship. You can imagine what that does to one’s psyche. Actually, you can’t. Nor do I wish that you could.

So I take his hand through Biltmore. I recall walking past a large, antique hourglass sitting on a throne like table that dripped its last grain of sand just as we passed through the grand hallway. I wondered how strange, to walk by in just that moment. I still wonder how that could be.

 

 

We enter the Music Room. Echoes of dissonant chords can be heard from almost crumbling wooden instruments before me. I am reminded in that room that I come from a land of fiddles and mandolins, and he harps. I pause from this realization, glancing at my fingernails again. I look down to see a bright red carpet only to see flashes of a most recent bowl of red glistening in my secret hideaway called the bathroom. I look at him and think, I’ll never tell you. I’ll never tell you the pain I am really in. I’ll never tell you the disgust I have for myself in this moment. I’ll never let you in to see what is really going on. You would never want the real version of me.

I wasn’t aware in that moment that I was on a severe down-spiral, just on the verge of a self-destruction that would last for years. It would leave me alone, deeply sad, and embarrassingly bathroom bound to a degree I had yet to experience. I had no idea in those moments that in just a few years I would be hospitalized again and again, with doctors pleading to take my colon from me. I had no idea in those moments that this man- who’s hair dripped of the very essence of Egyptian sun worshipping, would haunt my existence for many years to come. His voice would guide me through the most tumultuous times of my life, only to find me again on the other side.

This man- or was he a man? Was he a dream? Sometimes I wonder if he was a figment of my imagination. Surely I conjured up quite the tale, so desperate for a knight. However, I have pictures of that time and space that remind me it was real. And when I close my eyes, I can still feel it.

Today I live several blocks from the Biltmore- I actually pass it every day. I sometimes lie in bed at night, thinking of how close those now desolate halls and empty kitchens exist, and wonder what it must have been like a hundred years ago living within in its quarters. As the candle beside me flickers, I can see figures moving about, lanterns in hand up and down spiral staircases. I can almost feel my body getting warm from one of the stone fireplaces as I imagine sipping scalding hot tea against a green embroidered sofa. I hear the crackling of embers up against silence.

My recent visit to the Biltmore brought all of this up and out. I had not been back since my visit with the Egyptian prince. I imagined this young version of me peeking outside the curtains from the 3rd floor of the mansion, seeing me frolic around down below, in a goddess like dress, long grown out wild hair blowing in the winds of Winter, smiling, care-free, in the absence of self-hatred. That scared little girl watching this grown woman prance around on the ground below, just waiting to be her. And this grown woman looking back up at that girl, telling her- soon. So soon. You will go through not one but endless dark nights of the soul and you will be better for it. It will be anything but easy, you are practically an orphan but you will befriend kind souls to help you through when you need it most. One day you will have no trace of this illness called Ulcerative Colitis, you will feel empowered by your heritage and you will honor the Warrior spirit within yourself in the absence of shame.

These two women lock eyes and this prayer reverberates all throughout the mansion, time itself bear witness.

 

 

 

I never got to say some things to this boy. I never got to come home from battle and tell him- this time I won. This time I slayed all the dragons and I’m done now. From here on out I drink magic potions, not booze. I never got to see his eyes as a woman, never got to share my hero’s journey with him. Never got to thank him, from the deepest chambers of my heart, for blessing me with all the energy he brought from the sun itself, that would change the course of my life, forever.

So this tale is in honor of him. Here are just a few of the things that found its way to paper in candlelight:

“You taught me to not be so afraid of change, which is constant. You showed me that true kindness does exist. You brought a mystique to my world that helped me transcend all the serpents trying to strangle me. You beheld with you the gifts of the Sun God Ra and the wisdom of ancient times without even knowing it. You honored me so that I came to know honor. Your radiance was the catalyst for my self-discovery. The greatest thing you gave me was my reflection, softened by your gaze.”

 “I’m so sorry I never told you how sick I was, how my physical health poisoned my psyche and vice versa, leading me to destroy myself. I have thanked your soul for the light you embody in the very heartbeat of the jungles of Costa Rica, in the gushing Amazon of Brazil, in temples of Italy and ashrams of New Mexico. You made the world a better place by making me a better human. My path became one of service, as you served me.  I try my best to help others heal from the very things that you helped me heal from. This, begins a new lineage.

Since I don’t think I will ever get the opportunity to tell you these things in person, I say them here. Your message (our message), is one of hope and inspiration.  A story of how a profound connection with another human can greatly enhance the evolution of one’s soul. And I’m not sure there’s anything more worth speaking of.”

May the warmth of Ra bring healing to us all- especially you, Christian.

 

 


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