Note: Click here for Part Six
“She put down in writing what was in her mind” —Bob Dylan, It’s Not Dark Yet
The story so far: After six months of virtual communication, Billy landed in Ojai. By the time he materialized, it felt as if we were old friends. Parts One to Five described his first five days in Ojai, during which he gave my elderly parents two spectacular piano concerts and, after other affordable accommodations fell through, I invited him to stay at my house. Part Six described his first night at my house, the little surprises that popped up after he settled in, and my fleeting glimpse into his soul during his first yoga lesson.
Saturday night, Day Six
If this were a Chapter in a book, I’d be tempted to call it, “If we lived together, we’d kill each other.”
When Billy returned from the elegant Saturday night fundraiser party, we again relaxed on the cement table, under a canopy of stars, and watched the full moon grow brighter. As I lay beside him, platonically pressed in the crook of his elbow, he told amusing anecdotes about his explorations around Ojai, reminding me what a great storyteller he’d been on the phone. He then launched into a cosmic discourse on the nature of infinity—way over my head, practically putting me to sleep.
I suspect he’d inhaled a good amount of high end alcohol and wolfed down a stockpile of appetizers /hors-d’oeuvres, main courses, and probably desserts, as he seemed quite gassy, making me wonder if maybe all that incense he was burning was not so much to create a romantic ambience but more as a cover up.
My vivid imagination works both ways —it fuels both my fantasies and delusions. The thought of dead animals putrefying in any love interest’s intestines is enough to dampen my full moon ardor. (This party had vegetarian choices, so, to be fair, it’s possible that he passed on the lamb.) I think much of his prana, his vital forces, was channelled to his digestion —it takes a lot of inner fire to process and eliminate an omnivorous feast.
Perhaps if Billy could have stayed a few more days at the retreat center, or had checked himself into a hotel, and if he’d been more motivated to take me with him to the enchanting garden party, or to another party with flattering light, nice sips of wine, soul stirring music, an atmosphere conducive to laughter and flirting, and then taken me home afterwards and kissed me goodnight, disillusionment might not have set in prematurely, way before either of us had the wherewithal, or the love, to handle it.
* * *
When I woke up in the middle of the night and remembered that I was no longer alone in the house, I went into the yoga room to check if Billy had turned off the light and air conditioner.
As I surveyed the scene before me by the soft warm glow of a Himalayan salt lamp, I thought to myself,
“Well, I finally got what I wanted—there’s a man sleeping in my den.”
“Life’s greatest prize—a mate,” according to Anatomy of Love.
This must be what Carl Jung meant when he said, “Congratulations and condolences!”
The writer in me peered into the darkness so as not to miss any detail of this monumental moment. Billy’s soft snoring assured me he was dead to the world. He lay sprawled out on the mattress, near the wide open front door, with the cool night air wafting through the screen.
The light of his laptop, sitting by his head, flickered in the darkness. I could see the outline of his bear-like bulk through the flannel sheets.
The floor of the yoga room was covered with assorted electronic devices, men’s socks, underwear, Bermuda shorts, an Einstein T shirt, loose change, car keys, band-aid wrappers, Krishnamurti books, a half drunk jar of pink passion hibiscus tea. (As soon as Billy arrived, it gave me great domestic pleasure to brew copious amounts of herbal tea and squeeze lemons at night so that by morning the fridge was filled with jars of ice cold elixirs to quench our thirst during the hot day ahead.)
The yoga bolsters, blankets, blocks, sandbags, and straps that once rested neatly on the shelves I ‘d cleared for him now sat in a pile on the floor —I had to resist the urge to pick up after him and put his stuff on the shelf.
I just stood there for awhile in the dark, wondering, how did this man, a virtual Facebook Friend but a real-life stranger, end up seemingly oblivious in my yoga room?
I have to admit that I liked the novel sight of his can of shaving cream, his tooth brush, razor, and tube of Ayurveda tooth paste, all perched on the edge of the bathroom sink. And I liked the look of his beach towel hanging on the towel rack. These items, like his laundry mixed with mine in the laundry basket, gave me that feeling of familiarity and hominess.
I liked the half burnt incense sticks and fluffy piles of ash around the sink, bath tub, and top of the toilet tank.
And I still loved his music. When he played the piano or his magical flute, all sins were forgiven.
But I felt confused. Conflicted.
He’d been in Ojai six days, and I still couldn’t figure out his motives.
One of my confidants, monitoring the situation, had dubbed him,“Mr. Murky Motivation.”
I still wasn’t sure if he just needed a free place to crash while visiting Ojai, or someone to help him with a book he wanted to write, or if he was interested in me personally or just as a friend.
For a fleeting second I felt like I was suddenly trapped in a bad dream—a fate far worse than living alone. Like I was about to get stuck in some kind of loveless marriage. The image of him sleeping alone, falling asleep while watching a movie, was not what I’d pictured when we flirted online . . .
But maybe I was just impatient. I should just let things unfold, especially after I’d glimpsed his vulnerability during the yoga session.
I turned off the AC, the light, and went back to sleep.
* * *
Sunday, Day Seven
Sunday was uneventful. I invited Billy for an early morning dog walk in the river bottom but he declined. Later that morning, my daughter brought over my now eighteen-month old granddaughter while she went to Farmers Market and had breakfast with one of her girlfriends. I took Maggie in the stroller to nearby Libbey Park while Billy headed off for breakfast at Bonnie Lu’s.
It was too hot later in the day to take Billy to explore Meditation Mount and other places he’d not seen on his previous visits to Ojai.
He slept in the afternoon.
Sunday night, while it was still hot out, he treated me to dinner at Hip Vegan Café. I ordered a huge salad—enough to take half home to eat later.
Again, it gave me great pleasure to see him eating organic vegan food with great gusto. I could see myself falling for that old fantasy of imagining that “If this man was with me, I’d feed him healthy food every day and turn his life around.”
Later that evening, while outside filling the bird bath and watering plants, I spotted the full moon rising in all her glory above the mountains.
I wanted to share the moment with Billy, who was back on his laptop. I went up to the front door and said, “Come outside and see the full moon with me.”
He replied, “It’s too hot!” sounding to me like some lazy slob, one without a romantic bone in his body.
My fed-up inner crone finally bypassed my eternally patient yogini persona and yelled,
“For the love of God— it won’t kill you to step outside a few minutes and look at the moon with me!”
A few moments later he emerged from his cave and stepped out in the open. But it was not the same if he’d come out willingly.
A little later, he sat outside and played his flute. That soothed me somewhat.
That night while he watched the rest of his movie and I laid outside alone on my stone table, I felt confused.
I didn’t know what to do.
I’d invited him into my home without any discussion, no strings or conditions. I couldn’t just simply give him the boot. Plus, he was coming to yoga the next morning—I had to keep the peace.
I made more jars of ice tea and soaked almonds for fresh almond milk smoothies. I even had the bright idea that we could go on a juice/smoothie/watermelon fast together. He’d feel better and be more available if he gutted that gut of his.
* * *
Monday, Day Eight, Summer Solstice and Full Moon (this section still needs work)
I wish I’d videotaped the yoga class. Billy’s big presence filled the yoga room. Students naturally wondered who he was. To his credit, he tried to behave like a student but his competitive streak was obvious to everyone but himself.
He had a hard time following instructions. Since he thinks he knows everything, he thought he already knew what to do.
He fell out of the wall ropes . . . after that I was hopeless. I could hardly stop laughing.
After class we ate lunch with some of my students at Rainbow Bridge. When I sat down next to him with my legs loosely crossed in the chair like I always do, he glanced over and joked, “Can’t you sit like a white person?” He chatted with my close friend Sandy, who he later referred to as ” a sly fox,” from the way she was checking him out.
* * *
Monday night, his fourth night at my house, we bickered a bit over his late night electronics.
My bed is near the master box that runs the land line, WiFi, etc., Before I go to sleep I flick a switch that turns everything off.
I thought it was generous of me to give him till midnight to use his laptop. I explained that to sleep deeply I like all electronics off.
Instead of honoring my request, Billy suggested I put all the devices under my bed. I explained the cords didn’t reach— plus I didn’t want all that woo woo underneath me.
Of course, what this was really about, was, “Let’s give virtual reality a rest and commune with each other in real life. Or just sit in silence together . . . or alone.”
But I could not find the words to say this.
I’ve lived alone for so long now I’m used to being the queen of my castle!
* * *
Tuesday, Day Nine
During the months of virtual communication, Billy had mentioned that he had a high school friend in the film industry who had recently moved to Santa Barbara with his wife. He’d gotten in touch with him over the weekend and, after several calls, it was settled that we’d meet them for dinner on Tuesday night.
I was sub teaching that week and had a dental appointment—plus with my parents in hospice care at home, I was often called to help out. With the drive back and forth, plus the hassle of taking my dogs to a friend’s house, plus his wanting to leave an hour early, it would take up a big chunk of time. But I didn’t see how I could gracefully wriggle out of it plus I realized I was becoming like a little old lady set in my ways—it would do me good to get out of the Ojai vortex for a few hours.
Billy wanted me along. It would be awkward to have dinner with his old school buddy plus his wife without a female companion along.
Plus, they’d asked our food preference and he’d told them vegan, on my behalf.
I did have one condition for coming along: I wanted the windows of his car clean. I made it crystal clear (I thought) that if I was going for a ride I wanted to enjoy the scenery.
Tuesday afternoon, after teaching in the morning, I took the dogs to my friend’s house and Billy and I got ready to go out together.
Billy wanted to go two hours early in case we had trouble finding his friend’s house—we briefly bickered over how soon to leave—and compromised by leaving an extra hour early, giving us two hours to make what would normally be a one hour trip.
When I got in the car my heart sank.
The windows were filthy.
There went my yogic equilibrium. Billy drove off before I could run back in the house for paper towels and window cleaner.
Unperturbed, he ran the automatic window wipers which did little to improve the view. I tried to keep my voice pleasant but in that moment I exploded. “I thought I made it clear that it was important to me that the windows be clean.”
He responded that he’d stop at the gas station—he had to get gas and check the oil anyway.
That news immediately gave me even more of a bad feeling. He’d had plenty of time to do all that before we left. This too felt disrespectful and inconsiderate of my time constraints. Maybe he didn’t yet grasp that every day I’m in survival mode, juggling a thousand things.
Or maybe my time was not valuable to him.
After this confrontation, he suddenly pulled off Ojai Avenue —he needed to get directions. At first it didn’t compute —he never asked me if I knew how to get to Santa Barbara and he basically told me not to interrupt while he fiddled with his computer or iphone or whatever.
I couldn’t help myself. I blurted, “Why didn’t you do this before we left instead of rushing me to get ready early?”
When he pulled back in traffic, he was joking on the phone with that virtual assistant lady, Siri, asking her how to get to Santa Barbara.
I said, “I know how to get to Santa Barbara. You just have to decide whether to take the coast route or through the mountains.”
He had the speaker phone on. I could not control my annoyance and dismay and asked him to please get off the line with Siri. It felt so rude and invasive.
And then I saw him glance down at his screen while we were driving.
I shouted, “Stop right now. I do not drive with anyone who looks down at their screen.”
To his credit he agreed. He promised not to do it again.
We stopped for gas and oil and he took a swipe at the windows. They were still foggy but at least I could see the scenery.
I willed myself to enjoy the ride.
Now that Siri was out of the picture, he turned up the volume to his favorite classical music.
I could feel my inner anxiousness to connect, to communicate, increasing.
If you’re familiar with the book Attached, described in Part One, Two, and Three, you’ll recognize the anxious and avoidant dynamic between us.
After a few minutes trying to appreciate the piano composition that put him in ecstasy, I committed heresy.
I said, “You know, when you have someone with you in the car, it would be polite to ask what they’d like to hear.”
As we drove further away from the Ojai vortex and approached civilization, Santa Barbara, I felt my spirits perk up again.
I told him that I knew the exit—but it turned out that either I’d misunderstood the name of the street or he hadn’t pronounced it right.
Soon he was back on the phone with Siri, asking for directions.
This is when the fun really started.
We found the right street, no problem. But the numbers were all strangely low—many blocks away from our destination.
So, after going up and down the street several times, zigzagging a few blocks over, turning around, connecting with another section of the street (I thought maybe the street reconnected in another part of town) I started saying things like, “You know, if you’d given me the address the old fashioned way I could have printed the directions from Map Quest.”
Being a Luddite, I didn’t realize he could access Map Quest on his iPhone.
He pulled over.
By then almost two hours had passed and I desperately needed to empty my bladder. After another ten minutes and still not finding the address, even though he told me to be quiet and not be a backseat driver, I finally said, in exasperation, “Maybe your friend typed the wrong address. That’s easy to do. Why don’t you give him a call?”
Yes,” he agreed. “I’m beginning to think he gave me the wrong address.”
He pulled over and I thought he was going to call his friend to check the address. I saw him looking down at the screen. He turned to me and casually confessed he’d copied the address wrong.
“It’s 411, not 4111.”
“Well,” he added, laughing the whole ordeal off.“ At least I admitted that it was my mistake.”
I thought to myself, “Just imagine if I’d done that!”
He then drove over to the nearby parking lot behind Starbucks, where I could use the ladies room before my bladder burst.
I swear, as he pulled into the parking lot I looked up and saw a big sign that said, URGENT CARE.
“Just drop me off right here,” I joked.
Now we come to the good part of the evening.
His friend was also a musician and as I soaked up the ambience of their beautiful, creative home, and tranquil, Zen-like garden, I saw the best of Billy.
The two highschool friends were genuinely happy to see other and soon Billy went back to the car for his flutes. After he instructed his friend, they played the sweetest tune together.
A little later, we headed for the vegan restaurant. I still had a buzz from the wine at the house, and everything felt right. I had left my Ojai monastery. I was having a real night out on the town with a loving, committed couple (secure role-models, the kind described in Attached that feel comfortable with intimacy.)
To my mind, this secure couple was an antidote to anxious old suspects like me, still preoccupied with romance, and avoidant suspects like Billy who equate intimacy with loss of independence and bolt like a spooked racehorse at the first sign of closeness.
The vegan restaurant was delightful. Delicious food. . . great company . . . Billy and I both on our best behavior —the rest of the evening went off without a hitch.
After we said good bye, I watched the friend and his wife walk hand-in-hand back inside the oasis they’d created.
On the way home Billy played music he knew that I liked. The evening had turned out well. He even praised me, saying, “You were great!”
I’d made a good impression on his friends.
In the presence of his friends it had almost felt like we were an “item.”
After we picked up the dogs and settled back into our comfortable sleeping duds, I had in mind to relax with Billy in the yoga room like we did all last week before he moved in, and talk.
Alas, when I came into the yoga room he was already in bed, watching a movie, just like the night before.
It struck me that it had begun to feel like his room — like I was the intruder on his space.
I felt confused.
I didn’t know what to say and I slipped —I forgot all about Loving What Is.
I accidentally launched into an escalating tirade about how rude it was for him to watch movies while I was trying to do yoga.
I said the flickering screen and background noise was bothering me.
I was headed straight for the abyss, When Things Fall Apart!
Instead of responding to my plea to communicate, HE PUT ON EAR PHONES!
Now he was not only blind to my needs but also deaf!
I put two chairs in front of his bed and hung a yoga blanket over the chairs to block the computer light.
I could no longer ignore that this was not going to work for me.
Not even the Goddess Pose could save me now. I moved next to his bed where he could not ignore me. He glanced up, took out the ear phones, and slapped his laptop shut.
I said, “I need to tell you how I feel. I’m confused. You staying here is starting to confuse me.”
I could have kept it simple and said, man-to-man, “Look Billy, I think five days in my digs is long enough. I need my space back by Friday (three-day notice).”
Instead, I desperately wanted him to understand me. To care about my feelings.
That’s when he blurted, “If we lived together we’d kill each other.” (His exact words —I swear.)
At that moment I felt the full blast of his anger, his pent up frustration, and the insecurity that drives his forceful, aggressive, controlling, domineering personality—all magnified by his 6’2’, 200 plus pounds of body mass.
“I knew this wasn’t going to work when you said that you were uncontrollable.”
(I secretly thought that was the highest compliment a man has ever given me but I refrained from making a cheeky remark. I longed to tell him that I’ve worked my whole life to stand up to men and not be pushed around—but I kept quiet.)
He proceeded to tell me how difficult I was. That I was impossible to live with.
I tried to defend myself. I said, “Most of the problems we have are due to living in close quarters. I don’t know anyone who could put up with you sleeping in the living room (my yoga room) for more than three days!
I’m not used to not having any privacy.
I knew enough to back off.
I sat yoga style in the corner, a few feet in front of him. When he was done venting, he changed tactics and said everything he liked and admired about me.
On the surface we hugged goodnight and made peace. But his words, “We’d kill each other if we lived together,” were burned into my consciousness.
I wanted to run for the hills.
By now, if you’ve gotten this far, you probably wish this saga was over.
But to let this go, I have to finish the whole story. Even if I’m the only reader left. The witness to my own story. The observer and the observed.
Next: Part Eight