People are always calling me a Free Spirit. I’d like to think it’s because I remind them of one of those Kabbalah types, the women with the rolled-up rubber mats tucked under their armpits, running errands in stretchy pants.
Fact is, I just look like Drew Berrymore, but with eczema. And, I like to steal.
I first heard the term as a pre-teen. My parents forced me to spend my summer out in The Country, picking crabapples and kicking dirt with Aunt Millie, after they found some poor sap’s billfold in the wash. Picked clean, save his State ID.
Courtney, I think his name was.
Anyway, we went into town to do volunteer work. There were rows of guys in empty stainless-steel tubs, veterans of the foreign wars America won. We were supposed to sponge-bathe them. I just wanted to play Tetris, told Aunt Millie as much.
My guy’s wife was still alive, seated on a folding chair next to his tub. She looked Hawaiian.
“This one’s a Free Spirit,” she said to Aunt Millie. “She’ll land wherever the wind takes her.”
“She’s a little cunt, is what she is.”
I did a week in County once, for lifting bus passes with the intent to distribute. I wasn’t going to sell them to anyone. I just needed rides home from malls I had no business being in, the ones where even the Lancôme counter girls have their Master’s.
The ones with the best shit.
It wasn’t awful, my incarceration. I had the top bunk and my cellmate only talked to herself, and in Polish. I read a book from beginning to end, a memoir about the author’s mentor/apprentice relationship with a toner cartridge salesman. The guy never let on that he was a terminal case and the apprentice ended up finding him dead on the stock room floor, ink everywhere.
The lady that processed my release papers was nice, too. She envied my nail beds, told me that they belonged in a Marie Claire. She even snuck me a lemon bar while I waited for another admin to get my street clothes.
“Congratulations,” she said. “Soon, you’ll be a free woman.”
I told her about my Free Spirit, how there wasn’t a space for it anywhere on the forms.
“Well, I suppose that’s the sort of thing that’s between you and your maker.”
Sandeep is sweet to indulge me. He runs the Speedway by my house and he knows I don’t mean anything by it. The petty theft, that is. He smiles when I walk through the sliding doors and, every time, I’m convinced he has the whitest teeth in human recorded history.
When I pay for my gas, I’m careful to throw in some extras every now and again. A quart of milk here, a Sudoku book there. That way, I don’t fret about the conditioner in my coat sleeve, or the nylons in my gym bag. Times are lean, and I don’t mean to add to his overhead.
It’s all about balance.
I bought Kit Kats once, only to discover they’re Sandeep’s favorite. He held the package up like a magician who just found the Jack of Clubs in your breast pocket before he checked me out.
“We are Kindred Spirits, you and I,” he said.
I didn’t mention my Free Spirit. I figured that, if what he said was true, he already knew.
Boyfriends tend to believe that Free Spirits make the best lovers. They read online interviews with famous martial artists, hear all about their recent Canadian trysts, and they get ideas. Positions they want to try, potions they want to invest in.
“I thought you were a Free Spirit,” they say. Then they bend your knees back behind your ears until you swear you hear your menisci tear. Then they look real disappointed when you suggest you keep things simple, that the Velcro and the pomegranates are really unnecessary.
They don’t understand that, sometimes, we just want warm skin, breath that doesn’t smell like bruschetta. They don’t understand that, sometimes, Free Spirits prefer an empty bed.
The hardest part about being a Free Spirit is the movement. We’re constantly on the go, tailing our dreams and dodging Service of Process, and this can be both tiresome and lonely. It’s not the sort of thing Dramamine can quell because, believe me, I’ve pocketed a few boxes from Rite-Aid in my time.
It’s not without its upside, though. Free Spirits get to lay out maps on picnic tables, pick towns with funny names to hole up in while things blow over. We get to throw horseshoes with tacquería owners, arm-wrestle piano tuners, before and after we comb through their luggage. We’re governed only by our own desires and, occasionally, the laws of the Continental Forty-Eight.
I’ll leave the pros and cons for the experts, the high school debate team members with their sights set on Dartmouth. Free Sprits aren’t exactly interested in crunching the spreadsheets or manipulating the wheel, in case you haven’t heard.
No, we prefer to navigate this life unencumbered, casing your snowmobile repair shop for weeks, maybe months, just to get a feel for your schedule so we can swipe your Garmin during your lunch break.
Thomas Mundt is the author of one short story collection, You Have Until Noon to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe (Lady Lazarus Press, 2011), and the father of one human boy, Henry (2011). Teambuilding opportunities and risk management advice can be found at www.dontdissthewizard.blogspot.com.