Strange. That’s what it is. Got a note from my first wife, a woman who deserved to build a life with someone who liked her more than I did. Of course at the time I did not know that was the case. We began falling apart early in what turned out to be an 18 year marriage; less a testament to hard work and commitment and more an example of lethargy and expectations. We, like most of the folks around us, put the obvious aside in the name of the immediate, be it a mortgage or daycare or a vacation or just plain “what the hell did you expect?”
Back to the note. She congratulated me on our anniversary. Thirty-eight years ago we got married. Fourteen years later we got divorced. Eighteen years in all when you count the living together. It all began one night in May as we talked about the revolution in the streets of Paris; we too were filled with the passion of revolution as we made love under the watchful eyes of a Che Guevara poster, placed high enough on the wall at the end of the mattress on the floor to watch every every instant of my own acts of revolution — in the name of love, free sex (there ain’t none) and power to the people.
It didn’t work out. Neither did the next one, marriage that is, 13 years later. Thought she could save my life, keep me from the mean streets of my own making, away from the drugs and the hookers and the broken mornings of a self-styled dreamer in search of paradise. She lived on an island in the Gulf, I lived in town, we met up on the weekends, had great sex for a while, bookended by an evening ferry on Friday and a ferry home on Monday mornings.
I knew very early on, maybe the morning after the wedding, no honeymoon, that she had made a bad decision, one that terrified her and one which, more poignantly, she had no idea of how to change. It didn’t last nine months. And it didn’t end without a full measure of mean, laced with a generous helping of frustrated rage.
I left the island one day in May and went home to the horror of my city life. I handled my unhappiness in my time-honored fashion of single malt, cocaine, women with cheerleader names like Tiffi, Tori, Terri and Natasha (not one of them a true name). The hard distance of their days was frozen in their cash register eyes.
Not surprisingly, my personal program of recovery had mixed results. No results at all if one takes the narrow view that getting loaded and checking out is no real therapy at all. A more salient understanding is that it made everything so horrible that eventually I began to look for other ways to salve the pain. Oh, I didn’t stop using but I thought that between the last toke and the next one I could get some Eastern wisdom, some Buddhist centering, a peaceful loving kindness way of being.
This search took the form of breathing workshops, often made more difficult by blocked nasal passages and scarred lungs, dance workshops, chanting, cross-legged therapy on Persian carpets and long walks with spiritual teachers, all women, all tall, all blonde, none named Tiffi, and often ending with, “what the hell, let’s have a glass of the cheap red with the lamb, just this once,” followed by the usual recriminations. Salvation and grace were not easy to find in the red wine, lamb chop world I was living in. I didn’t see it that way until years later.
One night after an intense session of multiple short breaths preceded by rhythmical long breaths and counter balanced by something akin to panting and snorting at the same time, I noticed an astonishing woman across the room. Astonishing for a quiet sense of place that seemed rooted to forces deep beneath the surface of the earth and hence all things. She seemed almost sacred. She was also staring directly at me. I made no attempt to ignore her.
We began to talk and it emerged quickly that I had lost yet another marriage and that she was a Reiki healer who worked with broken hearts. This is a perfect fit, I’m thinking. Would I like to come to her farm outside of Bellingham and ‘work’ with her? Of course I would.
Early the next morning I headed south, found the road she had described, made the turn at the gnarled tree and parked in front of a surprisingly modern suburban home, replete with tricycles in the driveway and a creek behind the house. The sunlight shafting through the evergreens was as if in a fairytale, yellow and green sparkling, misty, enchanted. Fog rose from the river. I went to the creek, saw a rope attached to an overhead branch, grabbed hold of it with my inner child (or inner trespasser as it turned out), did several touch the sky arcs and came back to shore. That she wasn’t there didn’t strike me until then. I waited, I knocked on the door, I paced serenely about the gravel parking area. It was the wrong house.
I discovered this as I left after an hour and drove up to the gnarled tree, whereupon the house with the green roof revealed itself on the other side of the road. Ahh, left turn at gnarled tree, not right. Got it.
Erica (“please call me Willow”) met me at the door of her splendid 100 year old farmhouse. With weathered clapboard, newer windows, and wood smoke curling from a recently repaired brick chimney, the place was serene, perfect in the morning light. So was her husband who stood behind her and welcomed me by asking if I wanted organic egg whites and homemade bacon mixed with his freshly pulled scallions. Oh yeah, and the home fries with onions and — you see where this is going.
The next surprise was that the kitchen was warm and homey, unlike the rest of the place, which was a construction zone of partially reconstructed framed walls, plaster fixings and hanging wires. Erica pointed to the “mess” and said something about building organically to reflect their new way of life. I noted that her husband, whose name I never got, but I imagine it should have be Sven or maybe Hendrik, was not a day less than seventy-five; a new way of life for him was most likely built in to his marrying this 38 year old, blonde haired, well built, unblemished Reiki master, wife and seeker of wisdom.
We ate breakfast, after which Willow took me on a tour of the construction site. We found our way to the healing space. It was complete in the sense that it was not in the process of being rebuilt. The room had unbroken walls, was ancient and apparently meditation-ready. Its plaster cracked along the full window sashes. It had blinds, electrics and furnishings. In the middle of the room stood a long treatment table and above it a subdued tie-dyed umbrella lamp shade that threw a perfectly normal 60 watt light.
Willow explained that Reiki (ray-key) is a form of energy therapy, that when translated means “Spiritually guided life-force energy.” It is a laying-on-of-hands form of energy healing that is believed to have existed for thousands of years. During a Reiki session, the energy is channeled through the practitioner into the client on all levels — physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual — to provide stress reduction and relaxation, which in turn, leads to wellness. It seemed darned magical to my skeptical and drug-addled mind but what the hell.
We began by talking; mostly with me answering questions about what had happened in my marriage. After what seemed a very long time, I lay down on the table, on my back, fully clothed and prepared myself to accept “my wellness.” I also did my best to keep the embarrassed giggle that was stalking my throat at bay. I noticed the light had dimmed and there was the peculiar if remarkably musical sound of whales chatting with each other to the accompaniment of a flute. Oh well, I thought, in for a penny, in for a pound.
The time went by. I could not tell you what transpired save that apparently I fell sound asleep and I know I awoke refreshed and disoriented. I was familiar with the disorientation as you might imagine but the feeling of peaceful placement was unusual and very welcome. The whales had headed south I guess since they were no longer chatting in the room. Willow told me that it was unusual for the practitioner to give the client a summary of what thoughts and feelings emerged but she thought it would be useful to me. I said something agreeable like, “Well, okay.” But I dreaded it.
Willow told me that rather than stay in the room, we would take a walk to the woods and when we arrived at the “special place” she would tell me of her thoughts and the session would wrap up. Despite my rampant skepticism (read: total unwillingness and dismissal prior to investigation) I went along to find the “special place”.
We walked under the now blazing sun, oppressive and blinding, across the hardscrabble abandoned fields (in truth a perfectly normal field under a normal late spring sun) and found our way to the tree line and Willow’s special place, the Talking Tree. I have no clear idea what kind of a tree it was, Oak maybe, because I was sick at the thought of what I knew had to come next. Laying on of hands, whale music, chakras and organic home fries were plenty to take in at one time. Talking to the tree. Oh boy. It occurred to me that I was a long way from anywhere, a long way from home.
Willow: “You have had a very complicated time with loving.”
Willow: “You believe in romantic love, in the holiness of women, in the sacred act of kindness to others.”
Willow: ” Your marriage was wrong for you because she was not on the same enlightened journey that you are on.”
Me: “Makes sense to me.”
Willow: “Your mother would have been proud to stand with you that day, as she would, if she were here, to stand with you now at the Talking Tree.”
Me: “Oh my.”
Willow: “Through the tree, our words, thoughts and feelings are blended with the life force of the universe. We are connected to a plane of existence where all things are one, where all matter is energy and the force that is created by that energy is love. Speak of your love to the tree and be free of what has troubled you.”
Me: “Time to go, past time.”
Willow: “It is daunting the first time.”
Me: “I get that. Thank you for everything.”
I turned back towards the house and started walking. I felt that if there were any fairness in the universe I could get out of there without another word being spoken.
Willow caught up with me, put her arm through mine and said sweetly, “I am going back to the tree, please leave the money on the kitchen table.”
No mistakes this time. Got down the road, found the gnarled tree, turned right and headed back to civilization. And none too slowly either. The feeling of being chased by something sweetly horrible that would eat me and spit my masticated remains outside the gates of hell was pushing my foot to the floor. At about a hundred and ten I realized that no monster was necessary if I kept driving this way. I brought it down and kept driving. That is, I kept driving until I realized I was completely lost, that I recognized nothing around me as familiar. That I was numb, empty, exhausted, that I was there in body but long gone. I pulled over to the side of the two-lane country blacktop and shut down. Completely.
I noticed the knocking on the window and opened my eyes. A state trooper was tapping the window. I lowered the glass and looked at him.
“Are you alright, Sir?”
“Yes,” said I, “Of course.”
He looked back at me and said , “You look very troubled and you’re parked too close to the road.”
“I guess I was tired and stopped to take a nap.”
“You haven’t been drinking have you?”
“Oh no, not at all.”
He paused with attitude as cops do and finally decided that I was simply a bad parker but not a true hazard to the community. He turned away slowly as he said, “Pull it over next time. For now there is a lay-by a quarter mile up the road. It’s Mother’s Day and the traffic is going to pick up any minute.” I got his drift.
I sat up, turned the engine back on and turned to check the road behind me. Without any warning, as if the universe had shifted gears, I became aware that someone was sobbing, gasping for air, keening. It was the sound of a funeral wail, of the completely inappropriate wailing that disturbs and unsettles the other mourners but is the beginning of healing, of acceptance even if it is filled with rage and helplessness. I looked around until I realized that it was me.
It made no sense. And because it made no sense, it seemed absolutely right, if utterly incomprehensible. What the hell? What brought that on? That crazy shit with the tree? C’mon Buddy, you ain’t that way. And yet, here I was, 50 years old, broke down by the side of the road, out of drugs, out of another marriage, running out of time, running out of dreams, just plain running out. And crying. What had she said? “Your mother would have been proud to stand with you…” That was nuts. What the fuck was she talking about? My mother would have thought I was a lunatic to marry the island woman. It was a good thing she had died 13 years before and not….
My throat closed and my tears came harder this time, silently again, unstopping as if held back for years and years and finally being let go to seek the light of day, to begin at last to accept that she was gone, that I had never for a moment grieved as proper people do. There had been no tears, sadness yes, but no tears, no sense of true loss, nothing as long as the drugs flowed and the whiskey poured, the grief stayed buried, hidden away in the darkness of addiction, in the terror of the light, in the slow breaking of a heart with no hope of repair.
After a while everything calmed down. I headed back up the road. The days that followed became years and still the cocaine smoke rose to my ceilings, the whiskey glasses stacked up empty in the sink. And yet, whenever I think back to that day, I can still see the light and damned if I can’t conjure up an image of the fuckin’ tree. And I remember that on Mother’s Day in the year 1998 I gave my mother the gift of remembering and she gave me in return something far more valuable, the gift of grief and the possibility of redemption.
“morning mood” alice pokorn @ flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.
“.Mandalas.” Le Petit Poullalier @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.