I’m reading this book:
In Love with the World: A Monk’s Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying Hardcover – May 7, 2019
Through the “bardos…”
Bardos: Defined by wiki: ‘Used loosely, “bardo” is the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth. According to Tibetan tradition, after death and before one’s next birth, when one’s consciousness is not connected with a physical body, one experiences a variety of phenomena.’
“In Love With The World” opens with a ‘running away’ scenario. Having read this opening, 10:30 at night, quite sleepy, I was transported as I fell asleep into the recollection of an experience I had at the age of about 16. I woke up still thinking about the first chapter of this book and thinking about my own experience.
It was early 80s, pre-interwebs and pre-cell phones. On the second floor of a house on a hill, surrounded by cow pasture and corn field, was my room, the clean room, the uncluttered one with blue walls in need of paint; posters hiding the worst areas; and yellow comforter thick and heavy on the four poster white bed, a blanket enjoyed all year. I had an older silver poodle, various cats, parakeets and a few hamsters. I’d decided to take my friend up on our longstanding plan. Tonight was the night.
Earlier that day, curly phone cord stretched into the bathroom with the door closed on it, we had the usual conversation:
…”so fed up…” “yeah we’ll get out of here and go to New York or somewhere…we could find work, we look older than our ages…” “come on over, tonight when the parental units go to sleep…” “oh yeah that’s a plan…” “I hear the train downtown is pretty cheap…” “ha-ha-ha-”
My father always went to sleep with the TV going and my mother slept in the recliner; easier for her to breathe that way. It was a weekend. There was a dutch door between my room and the kitchen. I could lock the swing-top closed with a hook and eye closure or leave it open, which gave me a waist-up view of my father in the mornings, at the sink making coffee and preparing my toast he would cut into three soldiers for me with butter so thick it would not melt. “It’s a humdinger of a morning, poopsy! Wake up and smell the coffee,” he’d say; or some such thing.
That’s where the confusion sets in as I remember that night. What was I running away from? We weren’t rich, sure, but we had unconditional love amongst us three. My bevy of cousins lived downstairs and we often enjoyed softball games in the big yard, or bocce ball, badminton, croquet, kickball, picnics and bike rides. My aunt and uncle and mother and father were often tending the big vegetable garden, mowing the yard, or sitting in the screen tent, a protection against mosquitoes, and gabbing way past dark. My father, the non-smoker of the bunch, is the only one still alive today (he’s 87). Here they are. My parents are on the left, my aunt and uncle who lived downstairs, on the right:
My point is, I didn’t know it at the time, but this was a good time. Nevertheless, I’d spent a lifetime (all of 16 years) of feeling different. I wanted more than the feeling of a small town. I read a lot of books and I knew there was intellectual stimulation out there, but where? Perhaps a change of scene would transform my entire life. At that age, there’s so much to learn, and I was immature and insensitive to how my parents would feel when they found it.
I did a good job on it too because I had lots of pillows to work with. I imagined him glancing over the dutch door, seeing it, and buying me time to get further away. It was quite dark out, the night bugs were singing and big jersey mosquitos banged against my window screen, searching for a weak spot to get in. Satisfied with the arrangement of pillows and my stuffed Pluto dog beneath the comforter, I almost convinced myself there really was a body lying there. I shoved necessities into a zippered canvas bag- donuts in a Baggie, my hair shampoo and conditioner, my wallet, cash on hand and coins, a few bologna sandwiches, some clothes, dental care, and of course my blow dryer and the book I was reading at the time.
I made it downstairs and around the front yard when I met the first obstacle but I was prepared with a piece of bologna. I never understood why my uncle would not allow their big blonde dog into their house. His existence was solely to be chained to a shed, which was once a chicken coop and to strain its length for attention. He was a barker so I produced the bologna as I let him loose. I’d done this before. He would take off for the field, have a delightful run all night and be caught by the cousins sometime the next day. They’d scratch their heads, “…now how did he break loose again?”
It would take at least an hour to get to my friend’s house and from there, a twenty minute walk to the train station. There were dark stretches with no streetlamps; a winding steadily downhill trek through areas where people slept in dark houses and tree branches overhung the road. Just a year later, a girl my age would be abducted from this seemingly quiet area and murdered, found floating in a lake but I hadn’t the sense to think I was anything other than invincible.
Head down as I walked, my bag was feeling heavy, (it was so lumpy and full, I’d barely managed to zip it). I put one foot in front of the other, sidestepping gutter drains and cigarette butts as it was very important I not step on any. Sensitive to so much, every cell on my skin alerted when headlights suddenly shone at me and a car drove slowly by, which was not too often. Maybe just two cars passed during my whole walk. Mostly I was concerned with walking in the right direction. There were no sidewalks so I walked close to the curb. The dead body with it’s ?lips? pulled back, exposed blood-stained sharp teeth that made me freeze where I stood. I held my breath. The rat had legs and a tail and a substantial body, curled up fat. I prodded it with a toe. The vision of it stays with me. At the time I tried reading meaning into the sight but could not think up what kind of an omen this could be. I went on.
Finally I arrived at my destination- the dead end street. I took the backyards. Under her bedroom window at last, I set my bag in the grass and tapped at the screen. It took a while to get her attention. How could this be? Perhaps she’d fallen back asleep waiting for me. When her drowsy face appeared in the window, hair every-which-way yet still somehow Farrah-like, I thought, “Let the adventure begin!”
She told me to go around front. To my surprise we were soon sitting in her kitchen, a small nightlight glowing. And talking. Well She was talking. She was expecting a baby. This floored me. How long had she known? We’d talked every day. Why hadn’t she mentioned it. Wouldn’t her mother hear us, maybe she shouldn’t talk so loudly. Her mother knew about the baby, everyone knew but me? She hadn’t expected I’d really “show up…” ha-ha-ha
And she excused herself. When she returned, her mother was with her. She greeted me with both my first and middle names which is never a good thing. Then she called my father, a light sleeper, and handed the phone to me. “But…why?” He stammered. I didn’t know. It was true. I had no words for it. “But…” he went on, and I began to feel badly for putting this sadness into his voice, “I just got up for a glass of water and checked on you. You’re right there in bed…” Sounds of him shuffling around. My mother asking what’s wrong in the background. “Oh! That’s not you in the bed. I’ll be damned. I’ll be right there to pick you up.”
The ride home was surreal. Neither of us knew what to say to the other. When I arrived home, my mother, a sour look across her features, took the bag from me roughly and began going through it. “You packed the blow dryer!!!???”
I replayed my conversations with my friend over and over in my head, in an attempt to understand where I misunderstood. I should’ve realized that all her “ha-has” meant that we were just joking about running away. I was taking it all literally and she was just… playing along for fun.
She would go on to make more normal friendships of course, friendships that weren’t so complicated, peers on her level, friends that probably didn’t feel like social work, and what did I learn from the experience? That people don’t always mean what they say, and that’s a valuable thing to know.
In retrospect, I realize that teens are supposed to feel angsty, restless, bored. It’s part of ‘becoming.’ Truly, the walk in the dark, the rat and everything was a bardo experience. I decided as I fell off to sleep sometime early that morning that it was just as well. I mean I had my various cats, parakeets, hamsters and poodle to care for. Here’s Suzy, a gift from my birth mother when I was just seven:
She was always smiling. I did not include (at least I don’t think I did) this runaway story in my book- seen pictured here:
(That is my parents on the cover, behind a Coney Island plywood cut-out that was popular in the day.) Reading the book I mentioned earlier, about the monk who ran away, I am more able to realize now… that at the time I ran away, I was focused on the destination: a faraway place to reinvent myself, a different existence to look forward to… when in fact I did do those very things. I didn’t fail at achieving that because it was never about the destination-where I ended up, at all.
I learned that my friend protected me from myself and had more common sense than I did. I also realize how our actions can confuse and hurt others and how sometimes when we think we are struggling or at our worst, it passes and these times will actually be remembered as the best times of our lives. We are just so caught up in what doesn’t feel right, that we are not truly ‘here.’
After the fancy art show, (consult the last blog or two in sequence for details on that) I was invited to a Yacht Party in Yonkers.
Nope on that!
I recommend the monk’s book, and if you haven’t read mine, it is here: