Archive for the ‘New Memoir Chapters’ Category

Good bye to our mother, grandmother, and great grandmother, Maria Schreiner-Vermeer Diets

July 22, 2016

July 21, 2016

Maria Schreiner-Vermeer Diets, born February 8, 1921
Last night, while we were gathered around my dead mother’s bed waiting for the morticians to arrive, my eight-year old niece, Grace, was insistent that she wanted us to write our names on a piece of paper that she passed around. As her great grandfather, grandfather, mother, aunts, uncles, and cousins signed their name, we all jokingly tried to guess what this was about. She had a mysterious smile on her face but refused to give a hint. Her grandfather speculated that maybe Grace wanted our names for her special phonebook.
After she looked the list over, and was satisfied that everyone in the room had signed, she carefully folded the piece of paper several times. Then she walked over to her great grandmother’s body, still resting on the bed twelve hours after her death, with her husband sitting comfortably near the corpse of his wife like it was the most normal thing in the world.
Grace slowly pulled back the covers and searched for the small pocket she must have noticed in my mother’s sundress. She smiled, and quietly tucked the paper with our names into this pocket.
I cry as I write this. This was Grace’s first experience seeing a corpse, and later her mother and the other granddaughters told me they’d never seen a corpse before either.
Knowing that the morticians were scheduled to come up 9 p.m., I first stopped by briefly before walking Honey in the river bottom. I was amazed how at peace my mother looked. At that point, or maybe it was the light in the room, her skin did not seem to have the deathly grey white pallor that I noticed just before the morticians came. People were laughing and socializing around her bed. The room was filled with the sweet smell of flowers that visitors had brought during the day.
It did me good to see my mom looking so peaceful—much more so then when I’d left earlier after we first arranged her corpse on the bed—at that point we were trying to figure out a way to make her mouth stay closed. (We never did succeed in putting her dentures back in —the dentures went into her sundress pocket along with Grace’s list of names.)
For this special occasion, my father finally allowed my Aussie, Honey, to rest respectfully in the doorway of the bedroom, after his usual, “What’s that dirty dog doing here?” Honey quietly eyed everyone in the room as my father said a last long prayer for my mother. My faithful dog, with her ancient animal instinct intact, could sense this was a momentous moment.
Then we heard the doorbell ring. The two morticians in their black Sunday suits, one older and quite rotund, one younger and slimmer, both very shiny like they’d just had a shower, entered solemly and respectfully—just as described in that mortician’s memoir, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory.
As they assessed the situation, we wanted assurance that my mother would not be immediately cremated. Had the weather been colder, we would have kept her overnight. “No,” they assured us, “First we have to get a permit . . . probably nothing will be done with her body till Friday . . . ”
I’d been worried that they might put my mother’s corpse in some kind of a body bag but, after they rolled the gurney down the hallway, they scooped her up, bedding and all, her pillow still under her head . . . wrapped in her own sheets, only her head, the necklace around her neck, poking out, looking somewhat like a very dignified mummy . . .We made sure my dad was in the other part of the house for this part of the final exit.
Outside the full moon was rising high in the sky, casting her bright light on the landscape below. All was deathly quiet . . . all was well.
* * *



A photo of my parents taken a few years ago on their back porch in Ojai, California







This photo was taken at a wedding when we lived in Den Haag, Holland, before my youngest sister, Paula Francisca Klein Kee, (seven years younger) was born, probably in 1954. We emigrated to Ojai, California, in 1957.


My sweet mama has died

July 20, 2016

July 20, 2016

My sweet mama died around 9 a.m this morning. With the guidance of the hospice nurse, Carol, we undressed, cleaned, and rubbed lotion all over her thin, limp, lifeless body. We picked out one of her favorite summer dresses, bright yellow with flowers, put fresh clean flowery sheets on her bed, even a fresh Depends on her bottom, combed her hair, and arranged her as pleasant and lifelike in her bed as possible. We cried and laughed the whole time—the whole atmosphere in her bedroom begs for comic (cosmic) relief.

Her death, like life, was far from ideal but the hospice nurse assured us it was a very good death—a role model death for the rest of us. Another day I might dive into the differences of opinion between my youngest sister and I regarding the easing of her last hours on earth, but for now I let those differences be. I’m grateful to both of my sisters for all their help, for many years now, assuring that our parents die at home, in their own bed, with their Dutch-Indonesian eating habits and all their lifelong idiosyncrasies respected.

I’m still a bit shell shocked from it all . . . so intense to step back into the stream of life without a part of me back in the bed with my mother. She was so brave—showing me what to do and also what I don’t want to do, when my own time of departure is at hand.

We’ll keep my mom in her bed till 9 p.m. tonight. Then come the funeral folks to take her to be cremated . . . I’ll come back tonight to witness this last step . . . Hospice recommended we don’t wait till tomorrow, due to the warm temperature.

When I left the house, my father was eating pancakes in the kitchen, and three of my mom’s granddaughters were sitting by her bed, seeing death, possibly seeing a corpse for the first time. Tonight, I’ll massage my dad’s feet as usual, and get a sense of his state of mind now that his wife of 68 years  has gone to her heavenly home, as he describes it . . .

I feel so relieved that my mother’s days of  lingering in bed, growing weaker, the not knowing how she was feeling as she waved her skeletal arms in the air, are over . . .  I’m glad that her end-of-life wondering and confusion over dropping the body has come to an end.

Photo: My mother in Den Haage, Holland, when she was still known by her maiden name, Maria Schreiner Vermeer.


Marriage to my father, Rene Ferry Diets, August 20, 1948


Nine months later, with me, Susanna Francina Diets, born May 24, 1949





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

July 20, 2016


Romantic love is the single greatest energy system in the Western psyche. In our culture it has supplanted religion as the arena in which men and women seek meaning, transcendence, wholeness, and ecstasy. —Robert A. Johnson, WE Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love  

Link to Part Nine

Full Moon July 19, 2016 

I can imagine the shock and possibly even betrayal Billy felt upon discovering he was the subject of my blog. But I think if he discussed it with a good friend or therapist, he or she might tell him, “Why are you surprised? You knew going in that this woman is a memoir writer. She even told you she was taking notes and saving your virtual conversations. She even mailed you a copy of one of her books about a dating relationship six years ago. Be glad she used a pseudonym and that her writing is not vengeful or bitter.”

Ted Turner probably wasn’t thrilled with the way Jane Fonda depicted him in My Life So Far, but far as I know, they’ve remained friends or are at least civil.

I’ve read over a hundred memoirs—I’m aware there can be unintended consequences when your friends or family members find themselves in your stories.

Once Billy started reading, he left a Comment every few minutes. Here are a few:

think the writing blog is really unfair  . . . Your retelling of events, to make yourself feel better,  is quite the passive aggressive diatribe. 

Your writing is an extention of your inability to stop talking.  There is something clinically wrong here. You turn everything around to justify and hurt others when you feel threatened. 

 Shame on you! Don’t you know that there are people always willing to participate in your unreality?

This blogging has shown me the real you at last.  How dare you?  Have you no self respect?

You have no idea how moronic your vomit writing is. 

It’s like you have an eating disorder of the pen. 

In the end,  its all about you and you think that men are your achilles heel.  Get over your self— you’re not that important!

Yoga brings silence, silence you do not have. Yes, I have compassion for you. The noise I felt in your head drove me from you.

It’s like what you wrote: “I tried to release the churning in my guts and relegate it to my own neurosis.”

You think all men are domineering.

You make literary tempests in a teapot. Stop babbling and you’d find the same release you gave to me.

Shame on you! Such rubbish– oy vey maria

No wonder you didn’t have the Kurds to pick up the phone or talk after I left!

Why do you want to write this crap?

I did not respond. I just sat with it.

I felt no urge to defend myself.

A little later when there was a pause in the comments, I wrote back:

Readers understand that memoir writing is one person’s perspective. I’m glad that you’re reading so that you have the opportunity to see things from my perspective. I hope that someday you’ll see the humor in my writing. I mean no malice in sharing my perspective. The reason that I gave you for not wanting to talk on the phone is honest: The sound of your voice tugs at my heartstrings. I cannot continue to bond with you the way we did before you came to Ojai. I truly wish you well and hope we both learn from this experience.

Judging from the time frame of his messages, that day Billy kept reading. In the mid afternoon, his comments were still coming:

You act as if you are the sole arbiter. But you fail to see your intent is an embarrassment to yourself. 

No wonder you’ve been alone all these years. Your behavior disorder is beyond your therapists ability.  I have no interest in pursuing any kind of friendship with a psycho yogini


It’s all about you— and your friends feeding your head.

At that point, Billy blocked me.  That’s like hanging up on someone and refusing to answer the phone.

I did not take his attack personally. I’d heard him use similar words to describe other people in his past.

A few days later, the day before the full moon, Billy unblocked me.

Paraphrasing the line from Bob Dylan’s song, It’s Not Dark Yet, he wrote:

 He put down in writing what was in his mind.

I have been digging deep into my writing process, telling my story. I feel the therapeutic side of it. I can’t focus on my intention . . . I start to write, and a larger dimension emerges. I have been advised to allow this just to flow and not try to edit as I go along.

My heart is moved as I let the threads emerge. So, I wanted to say, while I did not like being the object of your blog, I do understand you. The power that writing has is an immense and profound experience.

I confess that at first  I did not understand you and your need to write. I feel a mask falling away when I write. I think through all the contacts we had, casual and serious, riding in the car, playing piano at your parents’ house, we were talking, expressing ideas and wonderful things.

Some felt threatening to me.

I didn’t mean or intend to hurt you or anybody else and for this reason I apologize and take responsibility for acting foolishly.

I live by principles that you were speaking to, and I failed to respect you and those principles.

I think what you do is important and that you be who you are. And I’d like that same respect. I am trying to take responsibility while at the same time I do not fully understand everything but I don’t want to hurt you. I loved every second of every yoga time that we had.

I learned a lot. You touched a place in me that has to do with resistance and yielding. Fear and openness.  I apologize and take responsibility for allowing it into “the mix ” of our interactions. There is injury and I seek pardon.  I wanted to be understood rather than understand — I created my part of sadness rather than joy.

I wrote back:

I’m so happy to find your message above. 

It’s good we are talking again. I feel we have much to learn from each other. It’s not easy but the deeper understanding will be worth it. There are many things about you that I also do not yet fully understand–but I’m working on it.

I want you to know that my mom remembered you even a week after she last saw you. That says something as her short term memory is gone!

Later that day, I shared Billy’s new response with my friend Carla, a therapist by profession. I said, “This is a huge change from yelling (virtually) that my writing was like “vomit.””

Carla replied, “Wow, I’ll say! It takes a big man to turn his view around fresh off of being surprised and wounded by your blog. He saw some powerful things about his behavior and I’m so glad he offered you his apology. I’m impressed. How about you?”

“Yes, very impressed.  I’m going to weave all of this into the story . . .”

Most women spend a tremendous part of their energy in efforts to make a loving relationship with a man and to deal with his seemingly incomprehensible feelings, ideas, and reactions.

—-Robert A. Johnson, WE: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love

Epilogue (To come in August, 2016)

Readers responses to the story, including observations from readers formerly in relationships with musicians: (To come in August, 2016 )

Recommended Reading and Resources: (To come in August, 2016)

May we grow like the lotus, at home in the muddy waters of life

As one reader wrote:  I guess if the Fair Maiden wants to find herself a Prince, she just has to keep jumping back into the muddy water, kissing some more frogs and hoping for the best. I know that much can be learned “in relationship,” but I think I’m too much of a coward to get wet again. It’s SO much work!!!




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

July 20, 2016


Full Moon, July 19, 2016


You own everything that happened to you. 

Tell your stories. 

If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.

 —Anne Lamott

 Click here for Part Eight

Note to new readers: I began writing this Virtually Attached series on the full moon of May 21, three days before my 67th birthday. I had posted a Comment on Facebook that the one thing I wanted for my birthday was not to feel the anxiety I’ve felt my whole life when I fall into a romantic (or potentially romantic) relationship.  Reading the book, Attached,  helped me to understand the theory that each of us responds in relationships in three distinct ways: Anxious, Avoidant, and Secure. When I read the descriptions of these three attachment styles, I quickly saw that I was your typical Anxiety type and Billy embodied  Avoidant. Armed with this piece of vital information, plus every world renown relationship expert swimming in my head,  I thought there might be a slim possibility of finding Secure common ground.  

So now here I am, two-months and many pages later, on the full moon of July 19, writing the last chapters of this story.

The story so far:  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.  The opening Chapters describe Billy’s first days in Ojai, during which he gives my elderly parents, both in at-home hospice care, two uplifting piano concerts. A few days later,  on the Summer Solstice full moon of June 21, after his time at a local retreat center ends and other accommodations fall through, in spite of all the wisdom I’ve gleaned from books, tapes, counseling, and past experience, I do the one thing I know I should not do and invite him to stay at my house. Part Five, Six, Seven, and Eight of this story described the surprises that popped up in the close quarters of my abode, and my glimpse during yoga classes into the vulnerable man behind his masks and defenses.

In Part Eight, on the fifth day of Billy’s stay at my house, I saw that I needed to tell him that I was finding his presence—especially not knowing his plans or motivation—increasingly confusing.  

Even now as I reread Part Eight, it surprises me how intimidated I felt confronted with the dilemma of having to ask Billy to leave. I loved his music, saw his good side, and wanted us to at least remain friends.  In the six months of our virtual relationship, I’d gotten some idea of Billy’s pattern of turning on people close to him and, after all my inner work and outer efforts, I didn’t want to end up relegated to his “asshole full of shit” file—I wanted him to still like me even if I gave him three-day notice. 

Friday, Day Twelve in Ojai (8th day at my house)

 My friends couldn’t understand what my problem was. Why was it so difficult to ask a guest to leave? “Just tell him he has to leave. You don’t even need to give him an explanation.”

“Everyone knows that fish and guests start to smell bad after three days!
 You told him on Tuesday night that he has to leave on Friday. Three days notice is plenty long. Let him get a hotel room. 
He’s got the money! He’s being cheap! You are allowing yourself to be taken advantage of. You are being an enabler.”

So, that morning, as I showered and brushed my teeth, I made a simple, sensible plan. I would wait till I was all set to leave the house to go teach my  yoga class before bringing up that today was the day he would have to leave. That way, if he got mad, I could simply bolt out the door.

I was afraid of Billy’s anger. I wanted to avoid an outburst at all cost—this is why I neatly put my Smart Cart with the smooth rolling wheels for easy maneuvering outside by the front door with my yoga roll book, keys, cell phone, a bottle of water, some tangerines, my contact lens solution, makeup bag, and wallet—everything I might need if I needed to stay away from the house till he left.

When I was good to go,  I gathered up my courage.

My plan was to first ask Billy if he knew yet what his plans were. Then, if his answer was vague or if he reiterated that he didn’t know if he was leaving Saturday, Sunday, or Monday, I’d tell him in my best empowered crone voice, “No, you have to leave today.” And then I’d be all set to bolt out the door if he got mad.

None of my fears materialized.

When I walked into the yoga room where Billy slept, he was already up and dressed.

As I was about to open my mouth and make my speech, he beat me to the punch.

“I’m going to stay in Santa Barbara for a couple of days,” he announced.

My jaw dropped. His sudden declaration startled me. Along with a sigh of relief,  I felt  an almost overwhelming wave of guilt.

It sounded like he’d made that decision on his own and not because he respected that this  was the time frame I’d given him Tuesday night.

He didn’t say if from Santa Barbara he’d head North to San Francisco, or if he was going back to Santa Fe. Or maybe even back to Ojai, if it cooled off. And I didn’t ask.

I leaned forward and gave him a quick, warm, sad, sincere hug.

He returned my embrace.

I didn’t know when and if I’d ever see him again.

I felt too nervous and guilty to make small talk.

I moved toward the door.

Then Billy started to say something about his shoulder feeling sore, like maybe he’d pulled a muscle. It felt like he wanted to engage me. Maybe this was his way of seeing if maybe we could talk.

I said, “Maybe you hurt your shoulder when you fell out of the ropes at yoga on Monday,” thinking to myself, “why are you bringing this up now? Why didn’t you ask for help the last four days when I would have been happy to help you with any shoulder pain.”

On some level I felt like I was giving my own father the boot.

My poor father. The fearsome authority figure that made me go to the pentecostal church all those years; the angry male figure that filled me with shame when I stood before him as a teenager and confessed that I was pregnant. Soon my patriarchal father will be nothing but dust in the wind. Ashes in an urn.

As I write this, trying not to digress, I can’t help but remember how last night, as I massaged my father’s feet, he asked, “Suzan, will my ashes be put in a box?”

“Not a box, ” I replied.  “We will put your ashes in a nice urn. If you like, we’ll scatter some of them in the mountains or at Meditation Mount, Or even here in the backyard. Whatever you like. We’ll put your ashes and mom’s ashes next to each other . . . “

After the hours of helping care for my elderly parents and all the other endless responsibilities, it had been fun to come home and talk to a great story-telling-musician, safely in another state.

As I left the house I reminded Billy to be sure there was a barricade in front of the broken back gate and to shut the front door tight so that the dogs  don’t escape.

* * *

When I came home a few hours later, I saw that Billy’s car was gone. My neighbor has a similar car so I looked twice. Billy’s car had a clever bumpersticker that said “OBEY GRAVITY. IT’S THE LAW.”

When I stepped back inside my home-sweet-home and closed the front door, the first thing I noticed was that the front door latch was still hanging crooked by one screw. Exactly as it was the night Billy arrived.

All Billy’s belongings were gone. Except for the two CD’s he gave me with a really nice picture of him on the back cover. Those I would play again after I recovered.

The guest mattress was propped against the wall, sheets in a pile.

Yoga props on the floor—no effort to straighten up the yoga room.

There was no thank you note —not even a scribbled scrap of paper.

I had my whole house back again.

I was once more the queen of my castle.

I could turn the air conditioner off when I deemed it was cool enough outside.

I could once again let the dirty dishes pile up in the sink while I write.

A great cloud of sadness and disappointment came over me.

I was back where I was six months ago. Alone in my nunnery with no hopeful romantic interest on the line.

“But,” I told myself, “if I sort out what went wrong, maybe I would land in a field of endless romantic possibilities.”

I gathered all the props off the floor and put them neatly back on the shelves I’d emptied for Billy when my hopes were high

Two days went by.

I still didn’t know what Billy’s plans were. Maybe he was still in the vicinity and coming back to Ojai to play the piano or connect with the musicians he’d met.

I decided just to send a short, friendly, innocuous Facebook private message.

I wrote: 
Hi Billy. I hope you are okay and somewhere cool. Are you still in Santa Barbara or are you on your way back to Santa Fe?

No reply. After another day of silence I began to think he was ghosting me.

Five days later he wrote:

I’m back in Santa Fe. I’m back at work. Thank you for the yoga lessons and the cosmic concerts at your family’s house. Do whisper in your nieces’ ear that I believe in her music ability. Tell her that I said that she has “the goods.”

His curt reply caused a flood of emotion.

No mention of what went on between us in Ojai. That would come later. After he read this blog.

Instead of quietly sitting with his response and not reacting off the top my head, I wrote: I’m still in emotional pain and processing what happened between us. I thought that the first four days when you stayed in your own place at the retreat went well.  Having you sleep in my yoga room with a shared bathroom, especially when it got so hot, turned out not to be a good idea. I hope you will remember that moment during our yoga lesson when you were deeply relaxed and I put my fingers on your forehead in the space between your eyebrows, your third eye. At that moment I felt a spiritual transmission and your defenses fell away. I cry as I write this . . .

I had nothing to lose by being a little bit dramatic.

Billy boy wrote back:  I never forget anything. Tell your niece she has great talent playing the piano. 

Dear Reader,

Do you see how smoothly Billy gallops past my feelings?

His response verified all my fears. That he cared nothing about my feelings.

I showed a therapist friend his message.  She said, “It’s wild how he avoids going near your feelings. . . and I suppose his own as well. I’m sure he’s done that at some cost to himself. . . whether he knows it or not.”

I showed Billy’s reply to my close friend Sandy.

She responded, “He is speaking to you with kindness here, as though nothing has really passed between you. I think he has little interest in what you have to say.

 It works for him, better than interaction.”

She added, “By not responding to the note you sent him about your feelings after he left, he’s telling you he doesn’t want to go there anymore. He feels safe and confident just talking about music. If he cared about your feelings, he would not have taken four days to reply. And he would have left you a note thanking you for allowing him to stay at your house, and maybe saying he was sorry it did not work out in the way you both hoped for but that he hoped you could continue to be friends. There would have been some acknowledgement of what transpired between the two of you. Some responsibility and a sense that he cared about how you felt.

By directing the conversation back to music and acting like nothing happened between the two of you, he’s telling you he doesn’t want to go there. Don’t bring it up again.”

When I speculated with Sandy that I thought maybe the breakdown came due to a battle about who was the boss, she reminded me to consider the generational implications too.

“Men of a certain age were raised with a sense of ‘being in charge’—-just by the fact that they are male. That has been changing since the cultural revolution in the sixties. Younger men seem very different to me. In some ways, these old guys are like dinosaurs still roaming the earth and wondering why their environment is different. “

When I discussed the situation with my other close friend, Marie, she said, “As women, we devote an enormous amount of psychic and emotional energy worrying over WHY the man is acting like a self-absorbed asshole. . . There is an explanation.   When we are abused as children (physically, emotionally, sexually, verbally, religiously, etc.), there are three ways we can react to the abuse, summed up in the Four Fs: Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Fawn. Billy was abused in some way–he chose “Fight,” the choice of the narcissist. You and I are Fawners: We seek to smooth things over, to soothe the angry man, to change ourselves first instead of demanding change from others. We always placate others, and swallow our anger, which shows up as tears and sadness, and self-blame.”

I honestly thought that this was the end of my  virtual conversations with Billy. I figured there was no point in trying to have a dialogue with him on the phone. He had too much of a hair trigger temper ––but I needed to process what happened, so I went to my blog and wrote this story  instead.

A week later, much to my surprise, Billy called.

On the message machine he said the one thing that might have tempted me to return his call. He said that he remembered how I’d said that we change and grown through relationships. And that this was important to him.

I left him a Facebook message that I needed to take a break from talking on the phone.

* * *

I often write Facebook Posts about nature and the weather. On July 1st I wrote:

Almost every night a merciful coolness descends on our sacred valley. It’s almost as if the stifling heat wave is saying, “Okay now, I’ve done my job. I’ve driven those who aren’t serious about living in Ojai, away. It’s safe now to fling open your doors and windows, walk the park-like streets with your kids and canines, and come out to play . . .”

Now it’s 5 a.m., and the air outside is actually icy cold. Most summer mornings early risers are blessed by a spectacular, energetic sunrise . . . but today there is a surprise thick blanket of promising, cool, grayish-blue fog . . .

Billy took my comment about the heat driving away people not serious about living in Ojai personally. He suddenly erupted with an angry message that said:

You never stop talking!

Oy! The fidgeting!

Your aggressive behavior and magical thinking drove me away from you . Not the Ojai heat. Ojai is in my blood.

You’re a good yoga teacher but you should avoid telegraphing your neuroses in print messages.

The arrogant and self serving expressions you post in public would be best in therapy


To this he added a positive note:

You have a lot to offer. Your knowledge of food, yoga, and the basic principles of self-awareness save you from a good many things. 

I know that you are aware of this. So don’t make yourself feel better by saying that the heat pushes people who don’t belong in Ojai away.

I regret sending the following response as it only added fuel to the fire.

I wrote:

Billy, I’m sorry if you thought that Post was about you. It’s a long standing joke among us old timers that the heat drives many people away. That’s a fact—many people cannot take the heat. I myself sometimes think I can’t stand it one more day but then usually cooler weather comes.

I even took time to back up my Post by copying a Comment left by a longtime Ojai resident. She wrote:

It’s true…..if the weather was moderate people would be clamoring to live here. The heat is a blessing in disguise


Billy dismissed my efforts at waving the white flag. He fired back:

Nonsense! You people have an over inflated sense of importance about the Ojai heat!  The heat in many parts of the country is far worse.

As beautiful as Ojai is, it has been terrifically spoiled by all the people who have clambered to live there


Nobody really has anything to complain about in Ojai regarding the heat because the evenings cool off beautifully.  Cooling off at night is a blessing.

I did not respond. I would wait till he cooled off.

A few days later, a friendly message:

What’s up yoga girl?

I told him the truth: Yoga girl is writing her heart out


Five days later he wrote again:

You’re not talking to me these days. Are you playing hard to get? (smile icon)

Again I told him the truth: I’m writing a new memoir. I’m not taking any calls except my daughter and emergencies.

He joked back: Just don’t steal all my good lines

I joked right back: I wouldn’t think of it!

He wrote: You’d be foolish not too.

And I wrote: Well foolish I am not!

He added: That’s up for debate. 

Glad you’re writing.

And I wrote: My Life depends on it!

I made it clear that I couldn’t talk on the phone but every few days we bantered a bit like old times on Facebook. He sent links to great music. One evening he sent, It’s Not Dark Yet, the song by Bob Dylan, where I found the line below which I’ve inserted into this story.

“She put down in writing what was in her mind”

I told Billy, This is going in my next memoir, thank you.

When Billy called again, I did not answer.  I reminded him via Facebook message:

When  you first contacted me on Facebook you were very willing to communicate in writing. I hope you understand why it’s painful for me now to talk on the phone. The long phone conversations created a bond, at least on my part, that I no longer feel safe to have. I care deeply about you and want to see you flourish. But the things you wrote upon your return to Santa Fe  hurt me to the core.

He replied as follows:

Suza, I meant no malice saying the things that I did upon returning.

I experienced someone that could not control herself in many situations.

This inability to be silent and to sit still when someone else is giving or talking is something that I think you could look at.

There is no question that your heart is good, that you do good work, that you are a wonderful spirit.

But there is some injury that I keep seeing that makes you a chatterbox. That makes you fidget. I do not say this to hurt you. I say it because it is always about your world even though you give the appearance of giving to others and being open spiritually.

I do not take lightly the gifts I received from you, to open my heart, to do yoga and have your hands upon my head.

Therein lies the paradox.

Dear Reader, You can imagine that I was a bit taken aback. I recopied  the exact words that Billy wrote upon his return and wrote him:

If you meant no malice than you need help in better communication because there are kinder ways to say things. This was intended to hurt me. You at least owe me an explanation of what you meant by my “aggressive behavior.

I was so hurt by your description of me as a “chatterbox” that I ran it by my close friends, both men and women.  I’m happy to consider everything you wrote as I want to grow and be a better listener. But I sincerely hope that you also consider other viewpoints.

I showed Billy’s message to my close friend Marie. She replied:

When I saw you in Billy’s presence you said hardly a word. He did all the talking. It’s hard for me to imagine you as a “chatterbox.” This is a very, very old chauvinistic complaint, that women “talk too much.” He is demanding silence from you. He wants to lead the “conversation,” not participate in a give-and-take.

Arrogant! Describing you as arrogant makes me laugh. He really is describing himself here. The last thing you are in the world is arrogant!

She added,

The entry in Webster’s Dictionary for “arrogant” has Billy’s picture beside it, not yours.

In spite of this, I was happy that Billy and I were communicating again. For what it’s worth, I’m a Gemini and my astrological chart is all about my need and ability to communicate.

At this point, I didn’t know if Billy was reading my blog, or not.  But I wondered if he’d read Part Eight, about our date in Santa Barbara, when he wrote:

I did say to you that I admired your presence when we were in Santa Barbara but between Ojai and Santa Barbara it was nerve-racking. I am not a chauvinist in the least and I’m not trying to shut you up. But you were not aware of how much you fidget, how much you talk to change the subject every 30 seconds.

When we were in Santa Barbara visiting Bob and Barbara I was totally impressed by your presence, and you may remember that every time I spoke I looked in your eyes and  I included you.

The rest of his message referred to things mentioned in earlier Posts—maybe this was a coincidence as there was no admission that he was following my blog, till we get to the end of Part Nine. He wrote:

But what I am talking about is what was going on at your house, when I was playing the piano at your parents. May be a good deal of all of this is you are an enthusiastic Live wire. What I am pointing at, that you don’t have self-control and listen.

It hurt my feelings a lot when I was giving music to your family that you couldn’t sit still and be with me.  You were fidgeting on the floor and distracting me.  It may seem like a small thing but you are constantly spinning.

When you touched my forehead during yoga you stopped spinning— my tears came out and I was sharing openly.

I wanted to talk about that moment because you said that no person can be in a relationship without changing and I felt that, and I felt frightened that I would be warming up and getting next to somebody that couldn’t calm down.

And for future reference: please do not try to validate yourself with your friends feedback. It should be fairly obvious that everything would be out of context.

 We’re not in a court of law spiritually or psychologically.

I wrote back:

Thank you for taking the time to say all this. I had no idea that the way I behaved at my parents house was as you describe. That totally surprises me! The first time you played I was with my mother in the other room and the second time I was enjoying your music with my 18 month old granddaughter –and we are all having a wonderful time so this surprises me!

If by fidgeting you mean I stretch and do yoga all the time, that’s true. I have very little time to myself so I do yoga whenever I can.

And Billy shot back:

Make no mistake, I know that you felt  the music. But there’s a time to sit still and that time is important to me, it has nothing to do with having so little time to do yoga, surely you jest, you are a yoga teacher and it’s beautiful and I love doing yoga with you but there’s a time and place for everything.

I do not want to sound like a controlling idiot. 

I felt comfortable letting go with you but feel there’s something inside you that foments.  It’s not for me to say but I do have my feelings thoughts about it.  You may have issues with your father and mother and  sisters


Clearly you are an effervescent personality —Bubbles is a good nickname for you and I love that about you, but there’s something that bothers me and I don’t understand you.

I asked him:

Are you talking about the first time that you played when my mother was in bed? Or the second time with the kids present?

He replied:

I was talking about the time when you were sitting on the floor and you grabbed the leg of the piano. I was in my concentration mode and I was trying to find the music and I know that you meant well, your heart was in the right place, but the point I’m trying to make is you could have been a calming influence for me and you were fidgeting.

In my defense I wrote:

Billy, I always sit at the base of the piano—I’ve sat there for years while my mother played.

He replied:  

For me, it was inappropriate

. You could have been sensitive

. I’m not trying to make you feel bad so don’t give such easy answers.  I’m not your mother.  I’m a full-blown artist. I felt insulted. I’m not some jerk who just sits down and plays church music or pop tunes, etc. You understand

 if I were watching you do a yoga routine for the benefit of your students I would sit with the utmost attention

. When it comes to doing the yoga, I have total respect


Anyway, it’s all good.

I’m just asking you as someone who cares deeply about you to consider this. You saw another figure emerge from me when I was doing yoga and that means that I trust you . You get the gist of what I’m saying—you saw me when my ego fell apart.

I replied:

I really had no idea you were feeling all this. I’m glad you told me.

Thank you for taking the time to say all this. I had no idea that the way I behaved at my parents house was as you describe. That totally surprises me! The first time you played I was with my mother in the other room and the second time I was enjoying your music with my 18-month old granddaughter –and we are all having a wonderful time so this surprises me!

That day Billy wrote:

I’m really good with you and care about you.

But then, a few days later,  Billy, who claimed not to read, especially not ‘long stuff,” said that he’d started reading my blog. And he wasn’t happy about the way I depicted him!

Continued, Part Ten



How Close to Death is My Mother?

July 19, 2016


July 18, 2016
I can tell that I’m totally losing it. I was on the phone with a friend, describing how close to death my mother is, and I heard myself say, “It’s different for my sister. I think she’s counting on seeing my mother in the afterlife, so it’s not such a big deal to her.”
I honestly don’t know what to believe. I only know that I want to go sleep in my mother’s bed so that I can hang on to her nightgown and go with her if she flies away.
10857245_10153067402699703_7603214433623327342_oMy dad says he’s going to hang on till my mom goes. “She’s already gone,” he says, “but I’ll wait till she dies. Then I’ll follow her.”
This afternoon I noticed another change in my mother. She wants me to put my face up close so she can feel my hair and skin with her bony hands. When she runs her fingers through my hair, I can feel the death grip in her hands.
She’s also moving her arms and hands slowly back and forth through the air, stretching her hands wide open and then closing her fingers, as if feeling the ability to move them for the last time.
My mom was thrilled when her red-headed granddaughter, Kelsey, came to visit. She spent many minutes playing with Kelsey’s long red hair. Maybe this wanting to touch our hair and faces is her way of saying goodbye.
My dad is so enthusiastic about my foot massages. He thinks I should massage elderly people’s feet for a living. “You should get paid a lot to do this, Suzan. Most people neglect their feet.” We discuss how cruel it is that so many people never get a foot massage—or any kind of massage. Since the end is now so near, on this day I give him two deep foot massages.
During the first massage, early in the afternoon, I notice that his feet and lower legs are ice-cold, in spite of wearing thick socks under the covers. By the time I finish, his feet radiate heat!
The second time, in the late evening, I notice that his feet are still warm. Good sign!
I can tell that my foot massages are getting better and better. My dad has fabulous, strong, sturdy Indonesian feet. We agree that his feet are the best part of his body. As I massage the ball of the foot, the arches, the heels, in between the toes, he reminisces how many miles his feet have travelled. And he remembers how the Japanese tried to break him in prison camp by making him carry heavy oxygen tanks. “They tried to break my back, Suzan, but they didn’t break me. I grew stronger . . . ”
Just when I feel too tired to do anymore, he sits upright in his adjustable hospital bed and asks for a back rub. How can I possibly refuse?
My sister and her husband, who moved in with my parents a few months ago, are still out on their nightly run. So I take a short nap in my mother’s bed. Then, when I see her moving her hands in the air again, I sit up and meet her hands with mine—like we’re playing a game. I tell her, “Just think mom, right now millions of people are dying and millions are being born . . . ” I don’t know if that’s the right thing to say at a moment like this—but this is all beyond words anyway.

Link to Reader Comments on Facebook
Photo: My daughter, granddaughter, and mother, 2015.

Once an elderly person stays in bed to die, how long does it take?

July 19, 2016


July 17, 2016
This morning I Googled, “once an elderly person stays in bed to die, how long does it take?” The article below describes what I’m seeing my mother going through and gives a response to many of my concerns, such as dehydration.
Most days my 95-year-old mother is peaceful, looking more and more ethereal and angelic with her white hair spread out on her pillow like a halo. But early this morning my youngest sister reported again that last night my mother was restless, shouting, removing the covers, though we do not feel that she is in pain. My sister tried giving her a small amount of medication (as recommended by Hospice) to calm her —but she can hardly swallow water . . . This death feels like a long gestation . . . We don’t want to rush death but neither do we want to prolong any suffering.
From my experience some years ago helping an elder friend who consciously refused both food and water and who said she was “comfortable” and was totally lucid without any sustenance except one cup of camomile tea around the midway point, I have some idea how long my mother’s dying process might take.
I can feel my mother’s pulse, the blood flowing . . . the body has a will, a life of its own. My mother often stares down at her skeletal arms and hands, as if wondering, “How did this happen?” As if her body is totally foreign to her now.
My long ago elder friend who refused food and water was surprised to find herself still alive as she approached the two-week point. Hours before her death, I helped her shower. “The water feels so good,” she said, but I never saw her drink it. The day she died I read her a favorite story . . . She was in good spirits and tranquil when her body finally gave up the ghost in the early morning hours of the seventeenth day . . .

The story of my friend’s conscious death: Winter Solstice Liberation

Recommended Reading:
Caring for the Dying: End-of-Life Care
Comfort Care Choices – Information on Palliative Care

“Imagine what this world would be like if there was no death.”

July 14, 2016

July 11, 2016

“Soon it will be your turn,” says my old dad. “Imagine what this world would be like if there was no death.”
I don’t know why merciful death does not come for my parents. They are truly scary looking now. My dad looks at me from behind his brown skinned skull—his eyes so deep in their sockets, like he’s already beyond the grave. It pains me to see him like this. He’s strong enough to get in and out of his bed and walk down the short hallway to my mother’s bed—always dragging the oxygen tubes along with him.
Tonight my mother has a death grip on both of my hands, every once in a while shouting as if in labor, “Help me . . . help me.”
“We are here, mom,” I try to assure her. I have plenty of time to examine her. Her arms are so thin–like you could snap the bones in half. Tonight I really see just how fragile her bones have gotten.
My old parents—two skeletons with skin hanging off their bones. Yet their life force continues.
I pray my mom is passing in the night, as I write this. My dad is relaxed, waiting for death. He’s gotten used to it. These past weeks, he’s been virtually pain free, still taking himself to the bathroom, totally coherent, though he repeats himself more and more.
But my mom was tense and stiff tonight—like she didn’t know what was happening, like she was scared. She stares out from her bed to the objects in her room. I tell her where she is, that we are with her, in my feeble efforts to assure her that she is safe.
She’s aware that she’s dying, yet she’s not aware. When I tell her that she’s 95 years old now and that she’ll live on in her grandchildren and great grandchildren, she glances down at me—almost with a look of anger and disbelief. It feels lame to tell her that she’s going to the spirit world now, somewhere beautiful.
None of it makes sense, yet we spend our whole life denying and grappling with it.
My dad tells me that my mom will be saved by proxy—by virtue of being married to him. When he seats himself on the bed beside my mother’s head and swings his bony stick legs on top of the cover, my mother screams. I don’t know if it’s coincidence but it seems like she’s so sensitive that if we brush against her it’s like an electric shock—our proximity gives her a jolt.
Oh, my poor, sweet mother. I tell her once more how much we love her. Her bony grip is so strong—she’s hanging on. Her voice is still strong. Her eyesight and hearing are perfect but she’s had only a few sips of liquid for almost two weeks. She doesn’t want to drink tonight and my dad orders me not to try to give her water. “She might choke Suzan. Don’t do anything . . . ”
My mom is confused. “What’s happening?” she asks, again. She lifts up the covers and stares down at her body, now living on itself. Every once in awhile she winces. I don’t know how much she comprehends the magnitude, the finality of what’s really going on— this unfathomable final wrestling of her spirit out of her flesh.
I look around at all the pictures of her life, on the wall near the bed and on the dresser. My parents’ wedding pictures—she looks so beautiful in a long lace dress, one that I still remember hanging in the closet as I was growing up, her wavy black hair combed neatly back into a flowery headband. She’s holding a bouquet, my dad standing so proud next to her, in his perfectly pressed new suit, so handsome, recovered from his years in the prison camp, both of them looking into the future, their roles defined.
“We are one flesh,” my father tells my mother. “We are united for eternity. . . If you go first, I will soon follow. A few days later or in a few weeks . . . in the span of eternity, it doesn’t matter. I will follow you and we will be together in our heavenly home.”
My dad can relax in the assurance that his heavenly father is waiting for him. That He has prepared a place for him. He tells me again that he’s ready to go—that he’s not afraid of death. That sometimes in the night, when he cannot sleep, he prays for his heavenly father to take him but that He tells him, “Not yet, son. Not yet . . . ”
I came home tonight beyond tired, falling asleep with all the lights on. I have all these books on death—at least thirty—inherited over the years from when I did elder care. I don’t know how I did that—sometimes twelve-hours overnight and even three-day shifts. But now sitting in a hot room in the flow of death exhausts me . . .


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

July 14, 2016

July 13, 2016 

Note: Click here for Part Seven

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


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

July 11, 2016

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.

Dear Reader,

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


What a strange, transient, ever-changing dream this life is

July 10, 2016

Note: Click here for current writing yoga memoir, Virtually Attached: Full Moon Musings on Romantic Relationships, Part One to Six. (Part Seven coming July 10, 2016)

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July 8, 2016
What a strange, transient, ever-changing dream this life is. Tonight, when I went to check on my elderly parents, I found my dad sitting on my mother’s bed for the first time in many months. Until recently, they shared the same bed for 68 years. They were holding hands, my mom under the covers, in her white undershirt, my dad in his old flannel pajamas, with the tubes to the oxygen tank in his nose . . . two frail, skeletal elders, on the brink of death.
At first I hesitated to disturb their communion but they were happy to see me. My mom, who fades in and out of the present, said in a cheerful voice, “Wat gezellig. allemaal bei alkaar, ” (What a pleasure, all of us together.) She was so happy that her husband had come to see her, she kept kissing his hand.
As soon as I sat on the bed beside my dad, he indicated he wanted me to massage his back while he sat upright. I could feel every rib, every bone in his back. These past few months I’ve written many times that I don’t think he can get any thinner, yet now even his bones feel bonier. The same with my mother, who now hasn’t eaten in over a week.
The other day she looked me over and said, “Jei bent zo lekker vet, maar Paula is zo aakelek dun.” (You are so nice and fat but Paula is so painfully thin.)
My dad sat still, holding my mother’s hand, while my strong hands kneaded his shoulders. My mother, still speaking Dutch, said she wanted to go for a walk on the beach tomorrow, a long walk along the ocean, a place she called “de hoek van Holland.” She described children playing —it saddens my dad that her mind is gone, that she goes on and on saying things that make little sense to him. Every once in a while her far away mind comes back to the present, to tell me for the thousandth time how messy my hair is, how I must comb it to the side, and how important it is to look “netjles” (neat).
These last several months, not knowing whether one or both of my parents will slip away before my next visit, I’ve fallen into a routine. First, I fortify myself by wandering the river bottom with my dogs and granddaughter, Maggie, whose chubby seventeen-month-old legs are now sturdy enough to run up and down small hills.
When she falls or one of the exuberant dogs flying past her cause her to lose her footing, she may cry for a moment, but then she picks herself up, brushes the dirt off her legs, and goes back to the pure joyousness of being in a brand new young body.
Maggie and I are so perfectly matched—I pretend I’m the shaman- prankster grandmother—she’s my little apprentice. She calls me “mam” —same as my daughter does. We wander the dirt road or rocky riverbed with no agenda. If Maggie plops herself on the dusty ground to play with sticks and pebbles, I sit or squat nearby, drinking in this fleeting moment. We sing silly songs, we dance, whoop, and mimic animals (her favorite is when I pant like a dog, my tongue hanging out . . . ) After we whoop it up, we sink into silence, into bliss together. We listen for the subtle sounds of nature. Then, after I return Maggie to her mother’s breast (the matrix), I’m fortified to massage my dad and amuse my mother . . .


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