Virtually Attached: Full Moon Musings on Romantic Relationships, Part Five

“She put down in writing what was in her mind” –Bob Dylan, It’s Not Dark Yet

Where we left off: After six months of communication with no face-to-face cues or physical contact, Billy, the musician I’d never met in person, virtually leaped out of cyberspace and landed on my doorstep. By the time he materialized in the flesh, it felt as if we were old friends, with none of the awkwardness one sometimes feels on a “first date.” After a pleasant evening where I welcomed him into my yoga room and fed him a nourishing vegan dinner, Billy headed off to a local retreat center where he had arranged to stay for four nights.

Part Four described the second day (Tuesday) of Billy’s visit with me in Ojai.  After breakfast at Cafe Emporium, and a walk in Libbey Park, that afternoon, he gave my elderly parents a spectacular piano concert. Part Five continues with Billy’s second day in Ojai . . . and on to Friday, Day Five.

Billy’s piano playing transported my 95-year-0ld mother to a higher realm. She could not believe that “a man of his high status” (as she later described him) was actually in our humble home. She had fallen that morning and bruised her knees, and was lying in  bed, so she could not see him play. But her bedroom is only a few feet away from the piano so she could hear the music perfectly.

After I convinced my mother that the tall man standing by her bed really was the pianist pulling the beautiful music out of her piano, I escorted Billy to meet my father in the back bedroom where he rests most of the day in a hospital bed.

After my father expressed his gratitude for the live music and for making my mother so happy, Billy left the room. Then my dad asked, “How did this big man get here?”

There was no easy way to explain that I’d met Billy on something known as Facebook—a concept virtually unfathomable for my father’s pre-Internet mind to comprehend. He’s never looked at a computer and basically thinks they’re the work of the devil. So I kept it simple and told him that Billy was a professional musician, visiting old friends in Ojai, and that he enjoyed playing music for elderly people.

After promising we’d be back later that week for another performance, I loaded Billy and the dogs back in my van and returned to my house. While Billy took a nap on the floor of the yoga room, I hoofed it over to Rainbow Bridge deli to fetch us a healthy dinner.

It gave me great pleasure to see Billy diving into the baked yellow acorn squash (cut in half and stuffed with walnuts, celery, and cranberries) with a side of brussel sprouts and kale salad. Even if he wasn’t a bonafide vegan, I could see that he enjoyed vegan food (although  I later noticed he got into the cheese that I save for my dogs).

While I cleared the table and washed a few dishes, Billy sat outside on the front porch, in the cool twilight, playing his magical flute—just like I had envisioned during the months of phone conversations. A little later, as the sky grew darker, he came back inside the yoga room. I again showed him how to relax with a bolster under his back to open the chest and heart center, a folded blanket under his head, like a nest for his skull.

Before heading back to his second night at the retreat center, Billy sat in Virasana (Hero Pose) and played another enchanting tune on his flute. He sat very straight and yogic. I was impressed with the prowess of his lungs. It was as if the energy of the God Pan had entered the yoga room, adding magic and merriment to the atmosphere.

I needed to go to bed early as I had to teach the next day.  I again walked him to his car and we hugged good night. He gave me a quick platonic kiss on the lips. We agreed to meet again for breakfast before my mid morning private lesson.

Day Three (Wednesday)

The next morning, Billy’s third day in Ojai, he arrived early to pick me up for breakfast at Farmer & the Cook in Meiners Oaks, a ten-minute drive from my house in downtown Ojai. I suggested that we take two cars because my mid morning private lesson was near Farmer & the Cook. “That way,” I reasoned, “we don’t have to drive back to my house and we’ll have more time to eat and visit.”

“No way, “ he said, “If we run out of time, I’ll take you to your student’s house.”

That sounded like a good idea so I hopped in his car. As I buckled the seatbelt and leaned back in the seat, a funny thing happened. I felt a deep well of anxiety in the pit of my stomach. I have no recollection if it was triggered by anything Billy said or did. But it was a familiar anxious feeling —one that I’ve felt many times over the years in the course of romantic relationships.

As he drove, it gradually dawned on me that my uneasiness had something to do with losing control. This was the first time I rode in his car. And, as he himself  pointed out when I told him how I felt, “when you get in someone else’s car you are on their turf, in their space, and at their mercy.”

As he drove through the winding, narrow streets of the park-like neighborhood we Ojaians call the Arbolada, (the scenic backway to Meiners Oaks), the tension I felt increased from his curt response to my driving directions.

When I tried to indicate where to turn, he barked, “Just say left, or say right, or say go straight ahead at the next stop—don’t say anything else.“

In my hyper-sensitive state, his voice sounded authoritative and patronizing. In my eagerness to tell him about my Ojai life, I might have said something like, “Oh, there’s my old high school. We were the last class to graduate before they switched and made this campus the Junior High . . . After that building, turn right.”

Even though it was a short drive, there were moments that I got distracted and forgot that he didn’t know the route. I’d get flustered when I accidentally waited till we got too close to the intersection to say, “Turn  right. “

Or maybe I felt compelled to say something like, “I love how the Arbolada is covered by a canopy of Oaks. . . Oh, now turn right at the next Stop sign.”

You know, the way we women tend to talk to our own kind!

In any case, the whole short drive I felt a familiar tension, one that I’ve experienced with certain men (not all) many times in the distant past.

I was aware of how easily my feelings were hurt and that it had been a very long time since a man had chastised or reprimanded me. I wasn’t used to it anymore!

On the surface,  things were going  well— and I so much wanted them to go well! I tried to release the churning in my guts and relegate it to my own neurosis.

Some readers may think that I’m making much ado about nothing but if you’ve ever lived with a controlling, domineering man, you’ll empathize with my gut reaction.

After we arrived at the Farmer & Cook, and I was back on friendly, familiar ground, I felt my good spirits returning.

As we sat across from each other, talking, sipping organic coffee, eating the very tasty breakfast burrito, absorbing the good Farmer & Cook vibes, I was aware that in spite of the bossiness I felt in the car, I still enjoyed male companionship and said as much. He responded in kind.

When it came time for me to go teach my private lesson, I cleared the table (on week days customers bus their own tables here) and promptly splashed left-over salsa all over my white yoga shirt. My instinct was to run cold water over the orange splotches but Billy instructed with great authority, “run hot water.” So hot water it was–but later, when I got home, I soaked and washed my shirt in cold water and the stains disappeared.

This time when Billy drove there was no tension as I gave directions to my student’s house—maybe a full stomach soothed us both.

When we pulled up into my student’s driveway, she right away noticed the strange man driving the unknown car and stepped out of the house to greet us. I had confided the week before that a man I had befriended on Facebook was coming to Ojai to visit me. She invited him to come out for a few minutes and see her newly landscaped garden. As we admired the lovely design, the bright flowers, as well as  the grand views with an Oak grove below, she plied Billy with friendly questions about his background.

Billy  thoughtfully said he’d pick me up when the lesson was over, even though I’d assured him that my student wouldn’t mind driving me back to town.

Later that week, on several occasions, Billy expressed that he felt that my friends were scrutinizing him. He called one in particular a “sly fox.” I defended my friends’ “snoopiness,” and told him, “Well, I’m sorry if you feel a lack of privacy in this small town but what did you expect? I’m a public person! I’ve lived here sixty years. People know me from yoga, politics, my books . . . and I have a large extended family. The people you’re meeting are my tribe and they’re looking out for me.”

And I also told him, “If I visited you in your hometown, I’d expect your friends to scrutinize me too. And I wouldn’t mind. I have nothing to hide.”

And I thought to myself, “For crying out loud. I’m a woman living alone. Naturally they wonder who is this strange man visiting me. They don’t care if you’re the reincarnation of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Ludwig van Beethoven himself. They’re interested in your character and whether or not you care about me . . . ”

That same day, I had another private lesson in the afternoon. By the time I got home, Billy had gone off to meet a friend for dinner. While he was thus occupied, I followed my normal evening routine of roaming the riverbottom with my dogs and eighteen month old granddaughter. It felt good to go about my regular life––I was glad Billy was occupied so I wouldn’t have to concern myself with dinner.

I should add here that earlier Billy had mentioned that the friend he was meeting for dinner was leaving town for a week. He’d mentioned that maybe there was a possibility that when his stay at the retreat center ran out he could stay at his friend’s house while everyone was gone. That would be the perfect solution to the “where will he stay after Thursday” dilemma I saw on the horizon. I crossed my fingers that free accommodations at his friend’s house was how things would play out.

Later that evening, while I did my yoga practice, Billy again played his flute. At that point, it started to feel very relaxed and comfortable having him around. As he was leaving, since he didn’t volunteer any information, I asked, “Will you be staying with your friend who is going on vacation tomorrow?”

“No, “ he replied. “That didn’t work out.”

I recall remembering how prior to coming to Ojai, when we were discussing affordable places where he might stay, he had mentioned that he was willing to sleep in his car.

That was the moment that I weakened and heard myself say that if he hadn’t found another affordable place to stay by Friday that he could stay at my house. As I said this, I set no time limit—the thought didn’t didn’t even cross my mind.

This is what my therapist friend meant when she said in Part One, “Your biggest fear is what you’ll do . . . the anxiety you feel is about YOU . . . that you will act inappropriately . . . ”

I really didn’t even have time to think it through because I was sub teaching early in the morning in addition to  my own classes for the next three days straight. I even told myself that since I wouldn’t be home that much, Billy might as well make use of my house while he explored Ojai and connected with other musicians.

I planned to move my computer and desk work into the yoga room. Then Billy could help me set up the futon frame I stored on my back patio. The guest mattress that I store against a wall fits on the frame—–with his help we’d turn my office into a guest room in an hour.

That was the plan—the flirt in me figured it would kind of be like a long date—I imagined that we’d give each other plenty of space since most mornings I’d be gone by the time he got out of bed.

I also felt confident that I wouldn’t do anything I’d regret.  I didn’t feel any kind of sexual vibe from him. However, at the same time, I enjoyed the close proximity of his male energy—so long as he wasn’t telling me what to do or mansplaining.

Also, I neglected to mention that the second day of his visit he promised to help me fix things—there were loose door hinges, the back gate latch was broken, and he was full of ideas to fix the place up.

Thursday, Day Four

The next day, Thursday, Billy’s fourth day in Ojai, I had to teach back-to-back morning classes so we planned to meet for lunch at Rainbow Bridge around noon. Two of my students, Marie and Jim, both also close friends, joined us. That gave me a chance to sit back and observe their interactions.

Marie and I had to get back to work so we left Billy and Jim bonding over baseball and rock ‘n roll.

When I was free again, I continued with my normal routine of taking my dogs over to my parent’s house. The canines romp in the yard while I babysit the elders and give my younger sister a break.

Upon arriving,  I saw that my mom had risen from her deathbed of two days ago. She was sitting alert in an easy-chair near the piano, wearing one of her colorful sundresses, her white hair neatly combed.

Her oldest great granddaughter, seven-year-old Grace, was drawing on the nearby dining table. Grace takes piano lessons.

When I saw my mom sitting alert near the piano, it came to me in a flash that I should call Billy and see if he would be willing to give another in-house concert. He didn’t take the call but I left a detailed message, explaining the situation.

I called again five minutes later. Still no answer. I tried a third time and this time he picked up.

“You answered!” I said.

“That’s what people usually do,” said Mr. Smarty Pants, oblivious that this was my third try. To his credit, he agreed to come right over and play.

I called my daughter who lives nearby and invited her and my granddaughter to come to the concert. My youngest sister, who sings and plays piano and guitar, was also at the house. So we had a nice audience waiting when Billy arrived.

When I explained to my mother what was about to take place, she looked dubious, like I was pulling her leg. But when Billie planted himself on the piano bench and his amazing fingers sprang into action, once again my mother’s whole demeanor changed. Her posture improved; she sat taller and straighter, her face became animated.

At first she closed her eyes, clasping her hands reverently to her chest. But moments later, as the music grew louder and livelier, she stretched her arms up in the air, high above her head and shouted in Dutch, “Ik will hem trouwen! Ik will hem trouwen!” (I want to marry him! I want to marry him!)

Grace stood close to the piano, watching in awe as Billy’s fingers touched the keyboard. For a long time she stood still, taking it all in. Maggie was swaying on her mother’s lap. She’s naturally cautious and tentative around strange men but after awhile she slid to the floor and began dancing.

I wish we’d videotaped the whole scene!

While the Piano Man played on, I checked on my father and told him how happy my mom was. That gave him peace of mind as he sank back in his hospital bed and enjoyed this second concert.

Billy continued playing. Toward the end he played some dance music and we all danced free style while my mom clapped her hands and looked adoringly at this amazing pianist who dropped out of the sky.

After this stellar performance, we drove our individual cars back to my house. I only spoke with Billy briefly as he had arranged to spend his last evening  at the retreat center  with another friend. I told him that I would be leaving the house early to teach and to be sure to keep the back gate and front door shut tight so the dogs don’t escape. I told him to make himself at home if he arrived before I returned.

Friday, Day Five

The following day, Friday, (Billy’s fifth day in Ojai), when  I came home after yoga, Billy and his car where nowhere in sight but his suitcase, a pair of socks,  a bag of flutes, and various personal items were scattered on the yoga room floor.

I saw that he’d put some dirty clothes in the laundry basket like I had instructed him to do—he didn’t ask me to do his laundry—I offered. It gave me a warm feeling, a feeling of familiarity, to see his T shirt in the basket.

When he returned home he told me about another Ojai musician he befriended who had a good piano he was welcome to use. And that she was introducing him to other musicians. That all sounded good to my ears.

I then started to explain that I wanted to move the futon frame into the house  if he could carry one end. I began to say that I would clear most of my stuff out of the office —but he immediately and forcefully dismissed that idea .

“No way,” he said. I’m not sleeping in there. I’m staying in this room.”

In fairness that might have been because one of my little male dogs had “marked” the rug, but if that was the problem I would have had the carpet shampood or spot cleaned it myself.

Maybe I’m prejudiced but if a woman friend had preferred to sleep in the more spacious yoga room, I’m certain we would have at least discussed it first.  The occasional  overnight guests I’ve had all prefer being able to close the door–there’s mutual understanding that  both host and guest need privacy, especially in close quarters like my small house. Plus, I need my quiet yoga room to practice and fortify myself for teaching.

But the way Billy announced it was like, “I’m sleeping here. End of story.”

There went my peace and quiet and privacy. Only it would take three days to fully grasp this. At the time I offered no resistance. I went right along with the new program.

Minutes after establishing his territory, Billy put a bolster under his head and fell asleep in the middle of the room. To his credit, he had no problem sleeping soundly on the hard floor.

When he woke up, I said he couldn’t just keep all his stuff on the floor—Chico or Benji might pee on it. I cleared three  prop shelves  to stash his stuff. And then, out of some deeply ingrained ancient mothering habit, picked his stuff off the floor and put everything neatly on the shelves. I stopped short of picking up the socks he’d thrown in the corner the night before—I pointed to the socks and joked that he’d failed my first “test.”  He right away picked them up, but, a day later, I noticed another pair on the floor—the “training” didn’t stick.

I cleared a towel rack for his towel. I explained it was best not to leave shoes outside at night or one of the black widows living in the cracks of the wall and under the window sills might take up residence. I reminded him that if he stepped outside at night to be sure to wear shoes and to be careful where he sat in the dark.

A little later, we moved the mattress up against the yoga room wall where it would be easy to flip it on the floor.

At this point in the story the weather was still relatively cool and we were both still on our best behavior.

It’s my nightly routine to do yoga and meditate on the sturdy large cement table built into my back patio. It’s big enough to comfortably hold two people lying side by side with arms spread, and one or two dogs. On hot summer nights, I often sleep there half the night, till the house cools off. This was the Friday night before the Summer Solstice and full moon—an auspicious time to my magical way of thinking. My head was full of hope and curiosity to see how things would unfold. Some things felt a  bit awkward, like to suddenly be sharing a bathroom, but I felt at ease enough to invite Billy outside to relax with me on the table and look up at the stars.

It felt comforting to lie beside him  in the crook of his warm arm, my little dog Benjie nestled beside us, Honey snoozing in the cave like space underneath the stone table.  He identified some of the constellations, and soon we could see the coming full moon peeking bright above the black outline of the branches of the nearby trees. After all those months of listening to Billy’s voice on the phone, somehow this felt right—although it still wasn’t clear to me, or to any of my friends who spoke with him, what his plans or motivations were.

To be continued, Part Six 

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