She stumbled into the warm glow of the frosty cave. Her legs ached, her feet throbbed, and the tips of her fingers were slowly morphing into miniature icycles. The soft warmth in the air sought to envelope her as she pulled off her coat and welcomed the throes of the silent fog.
She was so lost in the healing sensations that she almost missed the tall woman approaching her slowly.
“Welcome,” the woman said calmly. “You have found your way here.”
“Yes,” responded Tilly, almost too softly to hear. “What is this place?”
“This is the place people come to heal. It’s called the Ice Caves.”
“Where am I? I got lost…” her voice wandered off as another swoop of warm air encircled her body and stole her words.
“Are you in pain?” the woman asked.
“What? Yes.” Tilly said, still lost in her voluptuous reverie. “All over.”
“Well, then allow me to show you around.” The woman began making her way methodically through the misty corridor. Tilly followed cautiously, still dead in the joy of the unexpected warmth. As they walked, she began to notice the soft drumming of small drops of dew tapping against the cave floor. She wondered how soothing those drops would feel on her skin; how divine they might taste. She closed her eyes for a moment and focused in on the sounds – like a small chorus of low bells singing her a ballad.
“You will want to open your eyes for this part,” the strange woman insisted.
Tilly’s eyes flew open from her trance as stepped through a thin stone doorway that carried a soft yellow glow. On the other side, she found herself unexpectedly confronted with a waft of smells, lights, and sensations – oh, the sensations. Like a million tiny fingers massaging her every limb. She forced herself to resist the overwhelming feelings long enough to observe her surroundings more closely. She was in the largest cave she had ever seen. Perhaps even larger than the valley from whence she came. It certainly did not hold a candle to any of the caves she had explored as a child with her friends at Westgate. The massive room carried a calm shimmer about it that seemed to dance atop the heavy fog. Light reflected off the stone walls in disorderly fashion from the translucent gold and silver crags winding across the rounded rock skeleton and into the ceiling. The ceiling – what ceiling? She seemed to be able to see into eternity from where she was standing. The eternity wasn’t black, as she expected, rather it was a soft yellow accented by diamond-like specks.
“Wow,” she breathed.
While caught up in the intensity of her amazement, she could feel the sensation of her muscles relaxing and her bones recharging. She was quite shocked to find she was still standing even in her hypnotic state.
The tall woman gestured to her, inviting her to remove her clothes and step into a vast pool of water that curled comfortably into the base of the cave. Tilly began moving forward almost immediately, but soon stopped. Something wasn’t right. She looked around at the other people relaxing in the water: they were all naked. They were all naked, but none of them seemed to mind. They were all lost in their own bliss. Without her permission, Tilly’s mind wandered back to Rose’s cruel weekly bathtime ritual:
“Nobody needs to see that awful body. Cover it up or stay in the bathroom!” she would say while throwing a wet and ragged towel around the door.
Tilly had never been naked in front of anyone before. Her mind was insistent on warning her to be cautious.
The woman looked at her with curiosity. “Is everything okay, my dear?” she asked.
“Um, yes.” Tilly responded, “It’s just….”
She hesitated. Would this woman understand?
As if reading her mind, the woman continued, “Are you proud of who you are?”
“Of course,” replied Tilly, a hint of insult tinting her voice.
“Then be proud of ALL of you,” she said. And with that, the woman removed her beautiful blue robe and stood confidently before Tilly in her most natural form. With a reassuring nod, she turned and moved slowly into the pool of water.
Tilly tightened her arms around herself. Her body was such an integral part of her; she couldn’t stand to have it ridiculed again.
“Diamonds and rubies are beautiful objects,” the woman stated, observing Tilly with concern. “Even perfect objects, if you find the right one. But people – people are flawed and broken, yet which has more value?” She moved toward the back of the cave, disappearing into the clouds “Come heal with us,” she called.
Tilly hesitated for another moment, then began to remove her boots. Then her socks and her coat. As each item was removed and more of her body revealed, her awkwardness grew…but so did her confidence. She glanced around nervously, awaiting mocking adversaries, but none came. No one seemed to be concerned with her. She looked down at herself, completely naked in a room full of people. It felt good.
She walked forward and put her first toe in the water. An icy blast ripped through her person almost causing her to retract, but she held strong and determined to experience what everyone else seemed to be enjoying immensely.