Persis Newman lays a sugar-glazed donut on a paper plate, licks her thumb and index finger, and sits down to close the circle. She looks at the faces of the women around her and immediately feels the presence of what she calls the spirits. This gathering of women might be an AA meeting or a ladies’ poker club, or even a Sunday morning Bible study class, for these women come week after week, bearing their confessions to a strange sort of priestess.
They drive to the corner of Foothill and Mountain Avenue and ring the bell that signals that a new visitor has entered Kindred Spirits. Jillian, a former alcoholic with a loud voice and an aggressive sense of humor is among the first to arrive. She is the veteran of the group and it is her task to keep some of the more fickle members on track by driving to their homes and, sometimes forcefully, bringing them to the meetings. Jane, another one of the “usuals,” arrives a shortly after. She has been coming to these meetings for so long that it has become part of her routine, but she says it is helpful, even when she does not need it. She has been struggling with her father’s death for years. Over sixty now, she says that the hardest thing for her is to accept that their relationship will never change because he is gone. Sometimes new faces appear and stick around for a month or so, working on an unexpected problem or trying to gather strength for a new beginning. Two young Latina women, Soledad and Juanita, come to talk about their turbulent loves and abusive relationships. They are new to the group, but they have known each other for a lifetime. The bond between them is strong and inspiring to the rest.
They come ready to share thoughts and arguments, the small troubles of the daily routine and the more serious problems that make each week long and hard to bare—and wash them down with cups of cheap McDonalds coffee. They come open-minded and willing to absorb lessons and energy. To ask the right questions and listen for help, learning from each other, and from Persis, their teacher.
They come to a room full of stones and crystals and a table that offers three different decks of Tarot and medicine cards, but the woman that greets them is not a carnival fortuneteller. Persis Newman does not wear large golden earrings under a purple headscarf. There is no magic ball in her lap. Her curly grey hair is big and frizzy and the way she dresses reminds of the simple style of a favorite grandmother. Her appearance is basic. “I have been thrifty all my life,” she shares. “I have two pairs of pants, two pairs of shoes, and half a dozen blouses. I try to use the least I can in every direction.”
Persis grew up in Claremont and has lived most of her life here, but the town has not always been kind to her or her business. Vandals have broken into Kindred Spirits several times over the past fifteen years. They have broken her windows and written, “Fuck you, Satan worshippers” across the glass. Bibles with underlined passages have been stuck under the door. She has received death threats over the phone. On one occasion someone shot bullets into the walls of the store. Six months ago a man came in and threatened to burn the place down. Persis does not like to talk about these things. She considers them hate crimes. She has filed countless police reports but to no avail. “What can the police do?” she asks. Persis hesitates to put up cameras or hire security guards. “You can’t have a space like this, where people are invited to come and relax, and put any kind of surveillance,” she says. To an unobservant visitor, unfamiliar with the neighborhoods South of the Metrolink, Claremont might appear to be the perfect American town, small and contained, yet wealthy and developed—a real-life Pleasantville of sorts. Persis Newman and Kindred Spirits do not comply with this artificial image of universal well-being and complacency. “Many people in the town don’t know what we’re about; they think they do, but they really don’t,” Persis says. “It doesn’t matter. I love what I do and I know I can’t live in fear, because fear is the greatest problem.”
For the first four years of operation, Kindred Spirits was based at a central location in the Village, the corner of Second St. and Yale St. Back then it was one of the most successful businesses in Claremont. “We were part of the Chamber of Commerce for four years and we were doing fine,” Persis recalls. “Then the owner of the diamond center next door told the Chamber I had put a curse on her husband and they moved us up here.” The new location was too far north, outside of the elitist group of the Village, and Kindred Spirits lost many of its customers. “A woman came in the other day and said, ‘God, I haven’t been here for over ten years, since you moved from the Village’,” Persis says. However, despite the lack of support through the years, the center still exists. “We’ve been here so long that they’re not interested in getting rid of us anymore,” Persis says. It seems that, because of Kindred Spirits’ good standing in recent years, it is outside of the City’s commercial interest to lose it as a business. In 2004 it was nominated for the category small business of the year. Persis remembers the celebratory dinner very well. After asking her about the center, the man sitting next to her exclaimed, “Boy, it’s just amazing what people would throw their money away for!” “They don’t get us,” Persis says with a smile. “But they can’t get rid of us. We just try to keep our noses clean.”
On a Sunday morning in the beginning of March, she has welcomed the usual company around the table. There are flowers, coffee; there are latecomers and newcomers. Jane and Jillian, always on time, are already sitting in their usual seats on both sides of Persis. Jane is wrapped in her colorful jacket, her grey-white hair tied up in a lively indecision between a ponytail and a bun. Her eyes are big and delicately made-up; she is around sixty, but she looks younger.
The conversation moves to premarital sex, contraception, and how to handle grown-up children and someone tells a story about a mother who crushed birth control pills into her daughter’s breakfast cereal every morning.
“When my sons were old enough to think about girls and sex, I told them, ‘Be careful what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with because I don’t have the money to take care of a child right now,’” Jane says.
That was a long time ago, but she sounds determined and the circle approves.
“And if I had a daughter,” she continues, “I would do anything to protect her, but never behind her back.”
Questions and opinions bounce back and forth. Dora, a Mexican immigrant who came to the United States in search of a better living, disagrees with the group. She paints the picture of her one-room childhood home and talks about the hardships she has gone through before she settled down a little.
“Where would my children have all this experience from?” she asks in an accent that is still very strong. “I would do more than that. Anything. And they would be grateful.”
Then Persis speaks. Everyone listens as she says that if you have to go behind your child’s back in order to “protect” him or her, you have created a bigger problem by breaking the bond in the family.
“There has to be honesty,” she says. “A mother who has to act like that has already lost a big part of the battle.”
“Every single one of my cousins got pregnant before marriage,” Jillian interrupts. “I became a lesbian instead.”
She is loud and funny, her brusque voice invades any personal space. Jillian is aggressively open about her history of struggle with sexuality and alcoholism and her hard relationships with family members and friends. Everything she says is soaked with harsh dark humor. As her deep voice bounces off the walls of the room, one cannot help but wonder how it sounds when she is delivering her Friday sermon—Jillian is Reverend Jillian of one of the local Evangelical churches, but she jokes about that, too:
“I’m writing a book on spiritual experience,” she says. “The sequel will be about sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll—the real stuff.”
Most women in the group are between the ages of forty and sixty-five, with kids and grandkids, married, divorced, or widowed. They have known each other for months and, in some cases, years; some are close friends.
The newcomers are younger, all in their early thirties. Laura talks about her mother who is in an early stage of Alzheimer’s disease. Laura is trying to spend more quality time with her.
“We went shopping this week, just the two of us,” she says.
The others approve. Most of them are older; they are the mothers in their families. Many have things to say, advice to give.
Soledad and Juanita have the appearances of college students, but the stories they share reveal the wisdom of someone tortured and beat-up by life. Juanita cries first, talking about the abusive relationship she finally found a way out of.
“I’ve been in love with him since I was fifteen,” she says. “I am thirty-one now.”
She talks some more and then Persis asks the others to say what they see in the girl in front of them. The women go around the circle and say things like “courage,” “potential for happiness and the strength to achieve it,” “someone who is capable to give and take a lot of love.”
“If I say something I will start crying,” says Soledad, who is sitting next to Juanita.
“You have to say it; she needs to hear it,” Persis demands.
Someone hands Soledad a tissue and a moment later she is rubbing her eyes behind her glasses and speaking in short quiet sentences broken by sobs.
“I see my best friend… and a great mother… she is a supermom, very mature… Her kid is gonna grow up to be a good person.” She leans over and hugs her friend. They cry together; the others watch.
Only when Soledad has calmed down does Persis speak:
“A relationship always contains more than just the other person. All the things that happened while they were a part of your life, all the bad periods that you went through together, are interrelated. The mixed energies tie you up. If you want to let go of that person and heal yourself, you will have to let go of everything else that is connected with him. And you can do it because you are strong.”
“I just want to say that if I had started working on myself when I was thirty, I would be a pretty cool bitch now,” Jane says. Juanita laughs and wipes her eyes.
Persis listens, then talks and listens again. She guides the discussion, asking and encouraging everyone in the circle to participate, but she is never pushy or demanding. It is a conversation. They talk about the challenges they have faced since their last meeting. They tell and relive the stories of the changes they have made and the growth they have experienced. “I’ve known most of these women for a long time,” Persis explains after the meeting. “Some of them just come to share. They are not the ones with the huge problems, but they feel the need to confess, bear something out. They want to say, ‘I screwed up this week,’ and have someone listen with an open mind.”
They have not lost their sense of humor.
“Dave didn’t believe in life after death,” one woman says about her late husband. “Now I bet he is sorry about that.”
Her expression is nothing but serious, but a mischievous smile soon breaks through the stage mask and the circle explodes with laughter. Another shares good news about the state of her recently hurt fingers—they are feeling much better; she says she can even use the computer again.
“Can you flip the fickle finger?” Jillian asks in a genuine mixture of caring and joking.
“Are you kidding me,” the first exclaims and gives a quick demonstration. “How would I drive my car otherwise?”
For Persis these jokes are more than normal; they are an integral part of the therapeutic process. “Healing information often comes with a lot of humor,” she explains. “It eases the pain and suffering experienced when eyes see and hearts feel for the first time.”
When it is time to go, they leave in groups and pairs, laughing and continuing discussions as they carpool home. Some of these women are broken, but the morning has energized them.
“I think I will come back,” Juanita says.
“We loved having you,” Jane says. “You should come again; this place could be a lifesaver.”
Persis and her husband Chuck opened Kindred Spirits in 1993. They define it as a “gathering and growth center” that offers card and other fortune readings, classes on what Persis calls miracles, self-empowerment, and the inner child, and a variety of supplies for self-help and healing. The front is the business part of store. It is alive and illuminated, with shelves piled with who-knows-whats that create the feeling of being in Wonderland. You can find a myriad of items: crystals and stones with particular functions, homemade candles in all colors, calendar-style photographs of flowers and birds, and unconventional music CDs featuring “Creating Inner Peace & Calm” and “Motivation,” and the college-oriented “Overcoming Exam Nerves.” Some of these items are more than just plain peculiar, like the handmade pomegranate seed oil soaps, the purchase of which, Persis assures, helps the manufacturers in the Afghan village of Kandahar increase production and minimize waste.
The door between the store and the inner room opens into a different world, a slow and quiet one in which people automatically whisper when they talk. It is not unlike a temple, a museum. The walls are covered with paintings and photographs, stones and bizarre sculptures. Soft rugs lead the way to a couple of couches and a low table on which Tarot and healing cards invite the wonderer to a self-reading. This is where the night classes take place. This is also the meeting spot for discussion groups and spiritual gatherings like the Sunday women’s group and others that struggle to solve issues like disillusionment and disappointment with religion. “Everyone should feel free to come in and just relax in the inner room,” Persis explains.
At the very back of the inner room there is another space used for professional readings. Carved into the wall and closed off with a curtain, almost like a secret, this intimate blue room fits no more than two: the reader and the inquirer. Here, on the small table full of cards, visions are revealed.
A strong, almost insistent smell of incense permeates the place. It stays with you even after you leave, soaking every pore of your body. Its intensity increases as you walk in deeper and discover sticks of every fruit and flower scent stacked against the back wall—a challenge for the senses. They come in dozens; some promise “Leadership,” “Open Heart,” and “Perfect Mate.” Incense is more than a sales item for Persis. It is the perfume that describes her everyday life. If you manage to take her out of her enchanted environment and into the “real world” of the Claremont Village, you will realize that the woman sitting across from you with a Starbucks cup between her palms exudes the smell of incense out of her every hair, pore, and piece of fabric.
Persis was only five years old when her family moved from Florida to Claremont in 1955, but she immediately felt a strong connection to the new place. She describes the connection as numerous voices coming from the trees, the stones, and the nearby mountains, flooding her ears and mind, talking to her. “It was overwhelming,” she says.
“I was a very sick baby,” Persis shares. In the first two years of her life, she suffered nine clinical deaths, but was brought back to life every time. She says that when the family moved to Claremont everything changed. “I think I hit my power spot on the planet,” Persis explains. “I have never moved and I have never been sick again.”
Persis’s father was an electrician, fascinated with nature and science. From him she learned basics about the practical side of the mind. “My dad always talked about ‘getting the roots out,’” Persis remembers. “If you have a problem, any problem, and you don’t get to its core, it will grow back.” Her mother worked on an egg ranch, she was the “Egg Lady.” “People drove for miles to talk to her,” Persis shares. “They talked about their problems and she made them feel good about themselves.”
In Claremont the family sustained itself with farming and agriculture. They grew avocado, oranges, and lemons, and raised horses, pigs, sheep, chickens, ducks, dogs, rabbits, and cats. “There was physical work all the time, but we felt so accomplished at the end of the day,” Persis remembers. Everyone had responsibilities. Persis spent her days outside, helping out or playing with her two brothers. They pretended they were grown-ups and established fake businesses. “I developed a business side very early,” Persis says and explains that the influence came from her father.
In this free and open environment, Persis became aware of the strong connection between the human and the natural world. “It’s simple,” she says. “If you plant a corn seed, you get corn. You can’t pretend it’s different.” Everyone in her family collected rocks; Persis still has a piece with the year 1919 written on it.
Persis’s parents were not religious, so the concepts of religious guilt and shame did not exist in the family. There was no fear of God, no one went to Hell for doing wrong. Instead, mom and dad punished disobedience and misbehavior. “They were the god and goddess,” Persis explains. The family’s Irish heritage and background were formative for Persis’s belief system. Through myths and legends told and preserved in the family, Persis came to know the nature deities of the Irish and Scottish pagan communities. She watched her grandmother bake bread and talk to it, blessing every ingredient. “Everyone in the family believed in magic and miracles, and they really happened,” Persis says and delivers a proof: “Once my grandmother showed me a box in which she had kept her wishes since she was a girl. It contained a picture and a note that said, ‘I want this.’ The picture was a magazine photograph of the house she later lived in with my grandfather.”
When Persis talks about the spirit, it is a capital Spirit. It is similar to the chi in traditional Chinese culture and is defined as the natural energy flow of the Universe. This energy, Persis explains, is impersonal; it is not essentially good or essentially bad. In her opinion, both positive and negative energy is needed to create a world. “In agricultural belief systems,” Persis says, “things have to decay and go down in order to come back again. Like with the seasons.” She explains bad experience as something necessary. “It’s just like in nature,” she says, “there is acknowledgement, but not resistance. It is each person’s responsibility to muster the strength to attract the positive and fight the negative.”
“Bad things happen, but when they do, it is up to the person to overcome them. Good people step up and do good deeds.” Persis concludes. The central idea is that the good results always come from an individual and not from an outside force like God. She believes that if people can create harmony within themselves, they can achieve peace in the world. “It starts within us,” she says. “Happiness is a choice and people need to make better choices.”
Still, Persis believes in divine assignment. Looking back on the events and stages of her life, she points out the arrangements she sees. When she was eighteen, Persis married her first love, Chuck, but divorced him within the same year. Very shortly after the divorce, she met Bob who had just returned from Vietnam with her brother. “The sixties were a very political period,” she explains with a smile. “Bob was so active and experienced, I couldn’t help falling in love with him.”
She gave birth to four sons. “I was either breastfeeding or pregnant for twelve years,” she says with a smile. Being a mother was her dream: “I wanted to take care of my children, to train them early to be good people.” Family life was challenged again when Bob died of heart attack shortly after their twentieth anniversary. But Persis believed that the Spirit would not abandon her. She decided to spend some insurance money on an old obsession, a yellow Volkswagen. She ran into some high school friends and found that Chuck had moved near by. Persis was glad to see him, and they had a lot of catching up to do. But when he showed up for lunch driving a yellow Volkswagen, the coincidences were one too many. In 1993 they remarried and opened Kindred Spirits and Persis was convinced that some kind of a force had kept them apart and brought them together years later in order to help them learn something. “A challenge always makes you stronger,” she says.
Nowadays Persis and her husband live in the same house she grew up in. “I’ve had the same phone number and address all my life,” she says. That is where she grows most of the herbs and incense sold in the store. Her home has preserved some of the characteristics of the old “big red barn”—the trees, the animals, the open spaces for the grandchildren, five in number, to run and play. “The whole house is involved with the kids,” Persis says. “Chuck and I are glad; we didn’t have kids when we were married.” The four younger children, all under the age of two, spend every Tuesday and Thursday with her grandmother. Persis explains that her approach is “very hands-on.” “We do art every day they’re here, we do painting, sculpture. We play in the yard. There are toys everywhere!” She is particularly proud of the living-room wall that has been painted in black to be used as a chalk drawing board.
For Persis, family and lineage are extremely important. “We established a very solid bond after Bob died,” she explains. “Now we see each other all the time.” This does not mean that all four sons and four daughters in law share Persis’s belief system. “Everyone is allowed to believe whatever they want,” she says. “My oldest son is pagan, the second is a non-believer, the third is a born-again Christian, and the fourth—Catholic. We never talk about religion, but when they leave their kids with me they know we will talk to the trees, do some art, and get dirty outside.”
“My daughter comes home with stones in her pockets,” says Vince, Persis’s second son, who helps out at the store twice a week. “My wife thinks its funny. She is not interested in any of that stuff and makes fun of me for working at the store.” Vince shares that he is not religious in any way, but finds Kindred Spirits very important in his life that bounces back and forth between an intense office job and a three-year-old daughter. The few hours on Monday and Wednesday afternoons help him cope with the overall pressure in his life. “Sometimes I just go there and sit in the inner room,” he shares. “It keeps me sane.”
When a crashing economy leaves people hopeless and confused, many turn their backs to the compromised stability of institutions and start looking for new ways to empower themselves in a situation that gives them no control. That is when alternative philosophies and religions become especially appealing to the average person, who already carries the burden of past problems and troubles. People need a change, if not in the world outside, then in their own internal values. Gathering the courage necessary for such a transition, however, is a heroic deed. “Fear is the biggest problem,” Persis explains. “Sometimes people are just afraid of making changes.”
For Persis’s clients and students, this decisive transition has to happen on the inside, and they believe that people like Persis Newman and places such as Kindred Spirits have the knowledge and the tools to help. Persis always emphasizes that her main goal is not to provide people with the solutions to all problems, but to help them ask the right questions, so that they can find the answers inside themselves. Her clients go to her in search for an outside perspective on their internal issues. They want to learn how to help themselves, or, in Persis’s words, how to “heal” themselves, come out of “victim mode,” and do their own “emotional work.”
The members of the Sunday group and the clients who visit Persis for readings and other services have one thing in common. They have been disappointed with a failing religion, a feeling similar to the one produced by a failing economy. Many of these people are what Persis calls “single practitioners,” people who have been brought up and live as part of an organized religion like Christianity and Islam, but have ultimately failed to find a place for themselves within it. They have seriously doubted their ability to fit in with their religious community and have reached the conclusion that they need to learn how to achieve the same freedom and tranquility without the community, on their own. Thus, they enter Kindred Spirits with the clear objective to look deep within themselves. The environment they find is perfect for developing this new and personal kind of spirituality.
“Here no one is above lessons and learning,” Persis explains. She understands the needs of her students, because she herself has never stopped being a student. In the Sunday group, she is part of the circle and, just like the other listeners, she learns from everyone’s questions. “They walk away not with the memory of the problems others shared, but with the reactions these problems provoked within themselves.” Persis concludes. “It is the same for me.” There is one thing she is always careful about in her relationship with her clients. “I am not their mother, or their guru, or their friend,” she says. “I offer knowledge and empathy, but no sympathy, because I need to keep the balance between teacher and student. Otherwise they won’t listen.” She admits that it has not always been easy for her to separate herself from her clients’ problems. “At the beginning I used to take a lot home and process it,” she says. “Some of them had hard childhood memories, abandonment issues, or husbands who beat them, terrible things… I would see these people at the grocery store and it would all come back, but I could never bring it out.”
Persis finds detaching herself much easier now. Her late husband Bob was an alcoholic and she went through many hard times with him. That was when she realized she was prone to enabling behavior and codependency—getting caught up in another person’s disease and playing a significant role in its onset and evolution. When Bob went into recovery, Persis did the Twelve-Step Program with him. The Higher Power she submitted to was not God, but what she calls her “higher self,” the part of her being that has all the knowledge and is able to give wise answers, as opposed to the “inner child,” which only asks “Why me?” without producing any positive results. Having this painful recovery process to come back to makes it possible for Persis to relate to some of the people she works with. “It also taught me how to keep my distance and heal myself, when others’ wounds strike a chord,” she said.
Common experience with alcoholism and twelve-step programs creates a strong bond within the women’s group. Many of the older women have been addicted to alcohol, drugs, other people’s problems, and various other poisons and they have a lot of hard experience to carry around and share. They have been to the meetings; they have followed the steps. In a way, the women’s group is another twelve-step program for wounded people who need incense to be able to breathe again. In a way, it is a religion for disillusioned believers who crave to know that a Higher Power lives and works inside them. At times, this internal Higher Power seems just as hard to find as an unresponsive God. Sometimes, however, it is closer and easier to contact; it gives power and optimism to the weak and the hopeless. In any case, there are people who need Persis Newman and her philosophy. Whether they believe everything she says or find it more than a little odd, she teaches them how to fill the void they feel. Her world helps them bear their own.
The strong appeal that Persis Newman and her store exude says a lot about the American people. In a way this woman has found a treasure. Inspired by her own Irish and Scottish roots, she has found a way to market the madness of other cultures and sell it to a society that has been tied up and starved for spiritual freedoms. When times are hard, as they are now, people will buy whatever the likes of Persis have to say and sell. She is not too insistent on monetary payments. “Some people give me a $100, some people bring me pie,” she says. Regardless, Persis is successful. Her redeeming quality, if she needs one, is the fact that everything she stands for seems to fit together in her mind. She believes what she says. Maybe others do, too.
Thus, in a time when businesses suffer cuts and households adjust to a new way of life, Persis shares that Kindred Spirits is “doing great.” Nowadays she does between twenty and thirty readings a week and is surprised to note that some of the people who come to her are professionals in different spheres—lawyers, physicians—that is, in her experience, people who are less likely to use and trust her services. “I did a reading for a priest a few weeks ago,” she says, as if telling a funny joke. “I thought, ‘What are you thinking?’” Persis was also astonished when some of her clients turned out to be psychologists and psychiatrists who, although trained to help others, were unable to help themselves. “People are just looking for comfort,” she concludes over a cup of coffee on a Wednesday afternoon.
Persis’s clients can be a motley crowd. “Gang members come here,” she says, laughing. “All these tattoos and earrings and stuff… But I don’t dress all fancy, I just look like someone’s mom, and they see me as the mother they never had.” In the tiny blue room she has absolute authority. Sometimes people ask her to contact dead friends and relatives in order to figure out an unresolved complication or simply find comfort. For such cases, Persis has worked out a kind of “system” of visual language.
“At first I sense the energy of the person,” she explains. “Then I see a fireplace with framed photographs and I focus on the frames that start moving. My guides help me and the reading goes quickly and smoothly.”
Persis recalls a recent visit from a woman whose brother had died. “He was just chatting through me,” she remembers. “I saw him and I saw a dog next to him. Then the woman told me his dog had just been put down.” The process is a mystery to her. “It’s just the coolest thing!” she says with amusement. “I don’t even know exactly how it works.”
Still, Persis is critical of irrational behavior. “Some clients use credit cards,” she exclaims. “You really shouldn’t spend what you don’t have.” She says that sometimes she has to talk people out of buying things from the store. Coming from someone who owns a business, the statement sounds like a joke, but Persis is serious.
Irrational behavior is not rare behind the doors of Kindred Spirits. On a regular Wednesday, two women buy $82 worth of small stones of different shapes, colors, and, as promised by a multitude of paper tags, beneficial magical functions. “Another tiger eye…” they repeat in a frenzy. They must be hoping for “health and spiritual well-being,” “success in business,” and “clarity.” When they leave, having spent a small fortune on rocks, Persis’s son Vince puts away the extra stones. He explains that people use the stones in the so-called medicine bags, trying to employ their frequencies to achieve certain goals. “We sell a lot of stones,” he says with refreshing objectivity. “Some people come in every week; others spend like $400 in one visit. Honestly, I don’t know what they do with so many stones!”
It is Sunday again. Kindred Spirits, permeated by the usual smell of incense, welcomes its female visitors on an early April morning. Persis is sitting on a little couch, finishing up a note. She is dressed in a pair of old light blue jeans and a grey shirt; her hair is held back with bobby pins. The bell at the door rings every few minutes and Persis greets the women as they arrive.
The circle fills up; the clock on the wall shows it is past nine.
“Did you hatch that egg?” Jillian asks Persis.
“No. It’s still in my fridge,” Persis says and explains to the rest, “My friend gave me an emu egg. I have ninety days to decide what to do with it.”
“Yeah… I am not sure I want a six-foot bird. Anyway, we can start. How was everyone’s week?”
They start talking. As Persis says, it is a conversation: each woman responds to what the others have to say. Around nine-thirty, Soledad and Juanita join the circle. They have been regular visitors for some time and are already part of the group. This Sunday they have brought a friend. Her name is Maria and she, too, is young and sad. When her turn comes, she says that it has been a hard week. Like her friend Juanita, who has been doing good work on herself, Maria is trying to get out of an abusive two-year relationship with an alcoholic who has isolated her from her friends and family and has recently moved in with a different woman.
“Today is actually his birthday,” Maria says. “But I’m here, not there. I really want to stop him.”
The way she talks about it, he is an addiction.
“I know he is awful for me,” she says. “He’s told me some really bad stuff. I used to drive him to the bar every day after work. Sometimes we fight and he hits me, if he’s drunk. And then I leave him and I’m fine for a few days, and then I wake up in the middle of the night and I crave his voice.”
Persis recognizes herself in this young girl. She talks about enabling and codependent behavior and her experience with Bob.
“He was an alcoholic and it took him six months in rehab to get better,” she says. “I’m still working on myself.”
“I am actually in therapy,” Maria says. “I don’t need him to live—that’s what I’m working on.”
Again, someone mentions how lucky she is that she is young and relatively unattached; she has no kids to consider.
Maria bursts into tears. “He made me get an abortion… At first he was like, ‘I don’t think it’s a good time for us to have a kid…’ Then he was rude. He said that if I didn’t take care of it he would…”
The circle is a circle of compassion. Maria’s story is too deep for her young body and childish face. The dimples on her cheeks make her tears seem even more hurtful. The other women—old or young, experienced or still searching in the dark—open their hearts for her and in the exchange of words, tears, and emotion genuine human magic is born.
 The names of the characters have been changed out of respect for their privacy.