July 13, 2016
The story so far: This story began with a three-part series posted on Facebook entitled Full Moon Musings on Romantic Relationships, written the week of my 67th birthday (May 24). After six months of virtual communication with Billy, the musician I befriended on Facebook, he jumped out of cyberspace and landed on my front porch. By the time we met in person, it felt as if we were old friends. Parts Four and Five described his first five days in Ojai, during which he gave my elderly parents two spectacular piano concerts. After his time at a local retreat center ended and other affordable accommodations fell through, I did the one thing I’d sworn I wouldn’t do, and invited him to stay at my house.
Part Six described the first evening with Billy at my humble abode, the little surprises that popped up in close quarters, and my fleeting glimpse into the vulnerable man behind his masks and defenses when I gave him a yoga lesson.
In Part Seven, Billy’s fifth day at my house, (ninth day in Ojai), after an evening with friends, one that brought out the best and worst in us, I decided that I needed to tell him that I was finding his presence—especially not knowing his plans or motivation—increasingly confusing. I still cared about him, which I tried to convey, but I needed my space and privacy back.
Wednesday, Day Ten in Ojai
This morning, when I began writing Part Eight, I realized that I’d I left out the most important part of the conversation with Billy the night before. Tuesday night, after things calmed down and I recovered from his outburst that “If we lived together we’d kill each other,” I informed him that I would like him to vacate the premises by Friday.
Of course I didn’t really put it so coldly. I was kind and diplomatic.
I had an early morning dental appointment and was eager to leave the house and give us both some space. Things felt fairly civil again as we brushed elbows in my small kitchen. I knew I wouldn’t be able to chew solids for a few hours after the dental work so I decided to make an almond milk smoothie—enough for both of us.
I’d had the organic almonds soaking for two days and enjoyed making fresh almond milk. After making the almond milk in the blender, I added three frozen bananas and a basket of fresh organic blueberries. (Billy had informed me that blueberries and strawberries were the best fruit for diabetics due to their lower sugar content.)
When I finished pouring my half of the smoothie in a large jar to sip before and after the dentist, Billy opened the fridge and announced he wanted his smoothie to be more creamy. Even as I protested and said, “It’s creamy enough,” he took the carton of half ‘n half that I’d bought as a courtesy for his morning coffee and proceeded to dump the contents into the blender, after which he gave the smoothie another whirl.
He poured his creamier version of the smoothie into a large glass and practically drank it in one gulp. “Delicious!” he proclaimed, smacking his lips with gusto.
I tried not to look judgmental but from my perspective, he’d just ruined the precious fresh almond milk NON DAIRY smoothie I’d so lovingly made.
I bit my lips and didn’t say, “You’re supposed to swish each mouthful of liquid food around in your mouth a few times, to mix it with saliva.”
As I type this I can see how someone might view me as “controlling.”
I can see how difficult I might be to live with. I’m afraid I’ve become set in my ways.
On my way out the door, much to my pleasant surprise, Billy was on the back patio, looking over things that needed fixing.
When he first arrived in Ojai, even before his stay at the retreat center ended, he’d mentioned that he was good at fixing things. I know some of my women friends who are as good with a hammer and nails as any man, will roll their eyes at this part, but truth be told his offer to fix some of the stuff hanging by a thread was music to my ears.
To back track for a second, Billy arrived in Ojai shortly after I’d had half the house painted and the painter hadn’t gotten around to putting back a few of the drawer handles and front door latch after the paint dried. Billy kept saying he’d take care of it. I even left my tool kit by the front door where no one could miss seeing it and assumed that he’d do these simple chores as a token of appreciation for staying at the house.
Much to my happy surprise, Billy promised he’d repair the latch to the back gate and all the other little things, this very day. I thought that was very considerate of him, even though I was a bit suspicious that maybe he was trying to stay in my good graces so he could hang out at my house a bit longer.
When I came home from the dentist a few hours later, everything was just as I’d left it, latches and door handles still hanging by a thread. Nothing was fixed. I found out later that he’d been going over to the musician’s house everyday to play her top of the line piano. This I can understand—it’s his profession. I totally respect that. There was no hanky panky going on between them and I applauded their friendship knowing these were the kinds of connections Billy needed to make in order to move to Ojai—if that was his plan.
I waited for him to mention the delay in making the promised repairs but he offered no explanation and I didn’t feel comfortable to ask.
That evening, even though it was still a bit warm, for the first time since his arrival in Ojai ten days ago, he came with me to the river bottom to walk the dogs. I promised we’d stick to fairly level ground and not head into the hills surrounding the riverbed.
Aside from the issue of the repairs, the day had gone well. After the walk, as we settled in for the night, I waited for him to bring up the matter of his plans to leave.
He started watching a movie.
Later that evening, trying not to start another fight but feeling even more clear that this was the right course of action, I brought up the issue again that he can’t stay indefinitely.
I asked straightforward “What are your plans ?“
“I’ll be leaving Saturday or Sunday—maybe Monday.”
The message I got was that he would leave on his terms. When he was ready.
I asked myself a million times why I couldn’t muster up the courage to enforce what I’d said the previous night—that he had to leave by Friday.
I just weakly responded that I had to know when he was leaving . . . but I didn’t say when, like I did the night before
I agonized over this.
I asked myself if it was worth it to push for Friday like I had stated the night before. I really craved my privacy. I needed to replenish and restore for the week ahead. But I decided not to make an issue of it so late in the evening and risk another argument. I figured I could bring it up again the next day.
If you’ve ever had a roommate or houseguest overstay their welcome you’ve probably experienced that once a person is under the same roof with you, it’s harder to lay down the law. You don’t want to make them mad —you want to keep the peace. Especially if they’re bigger than you.
The next morning, I asked my close friend Marie, who was married many years to a big overbearing guy, why couldn’t I muster up the courage to enforce what I’d said the night before—that he has to leave by Friday.
What am I afraid of?
Why is this so uncomfortable for me?
She replied, “ I understand better than anyone, Suza, how it feels to wilt in the presence of a large intimidating man. Don’t blame yourself for your reaction–our parents and our patriarchal culture raised us to be this way! ”
Thursday, Day Eleven in Ojai
Thursday morning I left early to teach. Most days, by the time I got home from yoga, Billy was out playing the piano or eating somewhere, so I hardly saw him during the day.
Ojai’s such a small town fishbowl that if one of my friends or family members spotted Billy at Bonnie Lu’s or Rainbow Bridge, I’d hear about it. Having lived here sixty years, I have spies are everywhere! We’re not quite like a small town in an old Western where every local yokel looks every hapless newcomer up and down and the local Sheriff follows them around to make sure their intentions are good—but it’s close!
That afternoon, I got a call from my friend Joel. I’d told him about Billy’s music background, and he wanted to meet him. He offered to treat us to dinner that evening at Agave Maria’s, a Mexican restaurant a few blocks away from my house, that served organic black beans and rice and other healthy options.
Billy was enthused about the offer so when the appointed time rolled around, off we went.
The weather was still quite warm so we found a spot in the courtyard near the fans. I sat on one side of the table where I had a grand view of all the other diners and Billy and Joel sat across from each other so they could easily converse.
I was already in high spirits but when the waitress took our order for drinks, I decided to go all out to elevate my consciousness and ordered an Ojai pixie margarita. The pixie season was coming to an end and this might be my last chance.
The last time I had the opportunity to enjoy a margarita was four months ago, back in the spring. On that occasion, joining two girlfriends for lunch, I was on the tenth day of a 21-day juice fast, and, as a testimony to my will-power, I demurely sipped fresh squeezed Pixie juice mixed with plain sparkling water.
After such an austere length of abstinence, the famous Ojai pixie margarita had a magnified effect.
I was enjoying myself so much in the company of these two fascinating men, each of them highly accomplished in their respective field, listening to them converse about music and philosophy, that when the waitress came around again and asked if we wanted another drink —after some typical Gemini indecision (should I be good or should I be bad?)— the pendulum swung toward hedonism.
I’d almost forgotten that Joel had long ago rented a piano and taken lessons. He plied Billy with questions which Billy was only too happy to answer, in depth.
As on Tuesday night when Billy was in the company of his old high school chum, I felt I was seeing the best of him.
The margarita quelled my appetite. I hardly touched my vegan black bean tostado bowl.
Billy and Joel also had a common interest in the teachings of J. Krishnamurti. I continued listening to their conversation, not even wanting to chime in.
I secretly think they’d both be better off reading The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, Anatomy of Love (the new edition), The Shadow Side of Intimate Relationships, How to Be an Adult in Relationships, Gods in Everyman, Why Does He Do That? Attached, The Conscious Man, He, She, and We, and dozens of other titles, old and new, that come to mind, and save the K books for when they hit the retirement home, but I kept my opinion to myself.
While Joel ate his vegetarian enchilada and Billy enjoyed some Mexican shrimp concoction, in my altered state I desperately wished I’d brought along a notebook. I so wanted to described every detail of the couples interacting around me as I tried to guess which ones were on a date and which ones were happily married.
I alternated sips of the second margarita with sips of water but I think instead of diluting the ambrosia effect the alcohol permeated my cells—magnifying the effect.
After Joel left the restaurant a bit early to meet a writing deadline, I sat a few minutes alone with Billy. With the two margaritas flowing through my system, I still hadn’t touched my dinner. I put the black bean avocado concoction in a carry-out container. Then I stood up and put the knapsack I always bring along on my back, so I could have my hands free and hold the container (and myself), steady.
After I stood up, I realized I had a little trouble walking. I deliberately made my way slowly out of the courtyard and back on South Montgomery Street. I tried to stand tall and appear “normal.”
Billy walked out of the Agave Maria courtyard several feet ahead of me.
As I started to follow him toward Ojai Avenue (in my altered state he seemed to be speed walking) I realized that I couldn’t keep up with him and that for me the noisy Ojai Avenue route was a mistake.
I was in no shape to make my way past dozens of people (half that would probably recognize me) and negotiate crosswalks and noisy traffic.
I decided that it made much more sense to take the road less travelled.
So I turned and headed for the footpath by the Art Center that leads to the back of Libbey Park. The same path that Billy and I had walked his first promising morning in Ojai, after we had breakfast at Café Emporium.
I looked in Billy’s direction and shouted, “I’m going to walk through the park—you can come with me if you like.”
He didn’t turn around. Maybe he couldn’t hear me. Maybe he didn’t care.
I’m sure he could see that I was a bit wobbly on my feet. But he kept right on going in the direction he was pointed in.
Maybe he was tired or had other good reasons to continue walking in the opposite direction –but what woman wouldn’t think, “If this man cared about me wouldn’t he at least accompany me to the park—and check to be sure I was okay?
I quickly recovered from my initial disappointment and felt happy and carefree to be alone, with no one to censor my thoughts or behavior or move me along at their pace.
I could walk at my own speed (in this case very slowly) and stop whenever I liked to look at everything .
+ + +
A few minutes later, I found myself alone in the wooded area behind the back of the Art Center. I stood still on the foot bridge and saw that I was in a cool green enchanted glenn, dappled with early evening sunlight.
As luck would have it, this was the Ojai Golden Hour. When I looked down into the baranca, into the gnarled tree trunks, I could almost see the hobbits, elves, and fairies peeking from behind the branches.
I think sipping the second margarita, alternating with sips of water, had an almost mystical effect.
As I look at the notes scribbled quickly on the back of my checks, this must have been a special magic Ojai pixie margarita that seeped into my cells and transported me to the Garden of Eden.
All earthly cares and concerns drifted further and further away. I allowed myself to stand very still, feeling all my cells grow quiet, and just breathe, breathe, breathe, and fully absorb the beauty of this golden hour . . .
While thus transfixed, I became aware of a woman walking toward me. A real flesh-and- blood, curly-haired fair-skinned woman in a beautiful long skirt, not a hallucination.
She looked familiar and I realized it was a long ago friend from way back when we were both young hippy single mothers with toddlers—almost fifty years ago.
She smiled at me in warm recognition and as she came closer, we leaned in and gave each other a warm embrace.
I whispered, “I’m a little bit in an altered state. I just had two Ojai pixie margaritas . . .” She smiled back knowingly and laughed, “So did I.”
We stood silently together on the bridge, looking down into the ravine—this was old Ojai, an undeveloped oasis, almost the same as when we were young. Back then the high end condominiums now on the border of this enchanting spot were low income Evergreen cottages . .
After a little light reminiscing and another hug, we went our separate ways.
As I walked toward the Libbey park playground where I could relax on a bench under a canopy of oaks, I could hear children laughing and playing in the distance.
It had been many months since I’d been in the park alone, without my toddler granddaughter running off or my rambunctious dogs biting at the bit to keep moving.
I would enjoy the luxury of sitting alone on a bench, meditate under the trees, unencumbered, the same as I did fifty years ago when I was in my teens, when I was myopic and shy, and, having grown up without brothers, raised to be submissive, I was afraid and in awe of men.
My consciousness was fully present but also aware that time is an illusion. Everything is happening at once. I could feel everything that ever happened in this lifetime—and maybe reaching further back.
When I was sure I could walk steady, I made my way home four blocks away. The sun had set but it was still light out. Billy was deep asleep in my yoga room, a big bolster under his big head.
I drank some water and quietly put the vegan blackbean tostada that I had carried carefully the entire time, in the fridge, to eat later, when the appetite of my food body returned.
I leashed my excited, energetic, exuberant dogs.
Still in an altered state, but now steady on my feet, my canine entourage and I walked to Cluff Vista Park. There we ignored the downtown traffic and took in the expansive view of the Ojai Valley, looking toward Meditation Mount. The white leafed Matilija Poppies with their soft brown gold center were in full bloom. Sage and other natives of the plant kingdom were nodding goodnight.
All this Billy missed.
But that’s not my fault. I invited him along but he’s not ready for the ride.
The house was dark when I returned —Billy was either still asleep or watching a movie.
So ironic. If Billy was far away, we’d probably be talking on the phone.
I didn’t want to disturb the tranquility so I came in quietly through the back gate and stayed out of the yoga room, in my half of the house. As I ate the delicious cold black bean tostado left overs alone outside on the cement table, now stone sober, I made up my mind that I would tell Billy in the morning that I needed the house to myself for the weekend.
He would have to leave tomorrow, Friday, on my terms, not “Maybe Saturday, maybe Sunday, or maybe Monday . . . “
Next: Part Nine and Epilogue