If you think you’re enlightened, go back and visit your family! —Ram Das
March 20, 2014, Spring Equinox
The Universe works in mysterious ways, and somehow Honey, Chico, and I have landed in paradise. My new abode won’t be available till April, so in the meantime we’re housesitting a fat old cat and an eighteen-year-old dog who lives on mashed potatoes and turkey and sleeps most of the day in the luxurious bed of his loving mistress and obliging master.The house is a castle-like private yoga/silent meditation retreat, and I wander from room to room, practicing asanas in the spacious sunlit hallway or wherever I like. Or I flop on the comfortable dog-friendly couches, eating apples or Red Hot Blues organic chips and reading books like Female Buddhas
, Feeding Your Demons
, and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet.
Honey and Chico wander freely under the oak trees and through the gardens, which are piled thick with years of nourishing leaves. In other words, we are in a heaven where we do whatever we like, whenever we like.
1956. A Diets-Vermeer family photo taken in Den Haag, Holland, a few months before destiny brought us to Ojai, California, the land of sunshine and orange orchards
Only a few days ago, Sunday eve to be exact, I was sitting in the parking lot of Rainbow Bridge after getting in the worst fight with my middle sister, wondering if I could survive two more weeks of living out of my storage unit and “couch surfing” with two dogs. It had been a long weekend of teaching, desk work, family socializing, and elder care for my parents. I’d been getting along so well with my parents and siblings that I decided to give spending ONE night with my mom and dad, in the home I grew up in, a shot. My younger sister, the bossy one, was visiting from Paso Robles to take our parents to doctor appointments the next two days. Since my dad won’t let my perfectly clean dogs in the house, I planned to sleep outside on the back porch so she could have the guest room (my old bedroom), as usual.I arrived tired and hungry at around 6 p.m. All I wanted to do was feed my dogs, collapse for awhile on the nice cool lawn, and watch the full moon rise.
As I unloaded my car and shooed the dogs away from the street and into the fenced yard, the thin figure of my sister moved swiftly toward me from the far end of the driveway. Even before she opened her mouth, I could see from her facial expression and angry body language that I had committed some terrible crime.
Before I explain further, you have to understand that my sister was for many years a teacher and supervisor at an institution. (I myself forgot this in the heat of the moment.) In a tense, authoritative voice, she started lecturing me about being totally disrespectful of my parents’ wishes and not having boundaries. I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about–I had gone out of my way the entire weekend to accommodate my parents’ needs. Suddenly forty years of yoga practice and self-understanding flew out the window as I felt my blood start to boil.
“Leave me alone!” I yelled.
And, just like old times, she wouldn’t leave me alone. Instead, she followed me into the backyard and kept hounding and berating me.And what, you ask, was my great infraction? Well, that afternoon I had done my old 90-year-old father the favor of picking up and delivering a friend that he wanted to visit with. The two of them were chatting away on the back porch when I suddenly noticed that my dogs didn’t have any water. It was hot, and not wanting to miss what the two gents were saying, I dashed into the kitchen to get some water. Not seeing any old dog dishes, without thinking I grabbed a bowl out of the sink, filled it quickly with water, and set it down in a corner near the dogs.When my sister noticed this, she went ballistic. That’s the sort of thing that also drives my dad nuts. If I want to risk their wrath, all I have to do is use HUMAN ONLY dishes for my dogs!
Suddenly all the pent-up anger about the disparity in my family burst to the surface. It took every ounce of my willpower, plus the fact that the neighbors could hear us yelling, not to slap my sister silly right across her self-righteous face. I wanted to pull her hair, twist her arm, and rip her clothes! The urge to strike out was so strong that I about gave myself a heart attack.
I grabbed my African basket filled with clothes and all my overnight stuff and called Honey and Chico, who had picked up on the bad vibes and were eager to jump back in the car and split. As I approached the gate, my sister was still right behind me, determined to have the last word. I turned around and let loose a flood of expletives that I didn’t know I had in me: “What the hell is wrong with you? Our dad is dying and you’re worried about an effing dish! For crying out loud, I’m your sister. You’re not the head of our parents’ private nursing home. I don’t WORK for you! LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE!”
I drove in the dark to Rainbow Bridge to think, write, and get something to eat. The moonlit beauty of the evening was lost on me. I sat in the parking lot with the windows rolled down, waiting for the night to cool off a bit so I could leave the dogs in the car while I ate. I hoped no one could tell how shook up I was and that I hadn’t had a shower in three days.
I felt much better after I ate a big bowl of butternut squash soup . . . if only I had eaten BEFORE going home, maybe I could have laughed off my sister’s tirade instead of feeling the urge to kill. I must have been really shook up, because I can’t even decipher what I scribbled in my notebook.
That night I sought refuge at the third-born sister’s house and slept in her bed. Luckily for me, she was out of town, or my dogs might not have been allowed to sleep inside.
If there is such a thing as reincarnation and family karma, I hope I’m learning whatever lessons this lifetime has in store. I don’t want to go through this again! Thankfully, for now I’m enjoying a welcome reprieve in this animal-friendly Garden of Eden.
* * *
Postscript: And the next day, as is often the case with families, it was as if nothing had happened. We sisters were all smiles, united in our concerns and our commitment to the in-home care of our parents.
— in Ojai, CA.