Later That Afternoon

(please read the previous post below before reading this)

I think walking away from the rest of the group was what I needed to do. All morning I felt restless and fidgety, and I was starting to ache for some stimulation. The first day of the meditation retreat had been fantastic, and I was in a cloud of bliss when I went to sleep last night, but today was different. The weather was perfect and my mind kept drifting to the thought I would be better off on the beach. The silence was exactly what I had come for, but it felt like too much, like it was strangling my thoughts instead of releasing them like clouds drifting across the sky, as the instructor had said so smarmily. I felt even more agitated during the first session after lunch, and I craved a change. Although it felt forbidden, I grabbed my novel and went roaming around the grounds. In a an open field on a hill, I found a bench the monks had put under a tree in a perfect spot.

I dove into my novel and was instantly a million miles away. It was a trashy story about a woman with an endless string of liaisons, but it titillated me in exactly the right way and as I devoured page after page, I could feel the bliss returning, even though novel reading wasn’t exactly the plan. A while had passed when I started to think I should get back before the evening meal, but when I looked to see what time it was, I was annoyed to discover my Fitbit was gone from my wrist. In an instant my contentedness evaporated and I could feel the frustration and irritation I had come here to soothe rising up like bile in my throat.

I stood up and looked on the ground around the bench, but it wasn’t to be found. I looked up the hill towards the path and saw this guy emerge into the field. I didn’t recognize him as being part of our group, and he clearly wasn’t a monk. I waved and called hello and he walked towards me.

As he sat and tied his shoes, I saw his eyes drift to the cover of my novel. “Do you like it?” he asked.

“This?” I said. “Yeah, I’m really enjoying it, although it’s admittedly not high literature.”

He laughed dismissively. “No, definitely not high literature. But it is fun.”

“Oh, have you read it? I thought only chicks read stuff like this.”

“Yeah, I read it, and liked most of it, but I got frustrated towards the end. But I don’t want to say too much and ruin anything.”

“I’m very close to the end now so I don’t think there’s too much you can ruin. What frustrated you? I really like what she did with the story.”

“Don’t get me wrong – I really enjoyed most of the book. I just got frustrated at the end at the way she didn’t like take control of anything, of her life, and make something happen. It was like she was just passive when the moment came for her to step up. I mean, I get that that’s what the author was trying to do, was trying to show us, that she wasn’t really capable of stepping up, and that’s why all those things she did ended the way they did, but it still left me frustrated. Not really a big deal.”

The way he said “make something happen” and “stepping up” caught me and I could feel my irritation rising. “Well not everybody can just take control, you know, of their lives. It’s hard for some people. Why does every fucking story have to be about ‘stepping up?’” I was taken aback at how hot the sentences came out. And did I really just say “fucking” to a stranger talking about the book I was reading? That was not like me.

“I mean, of course not every story has to be a redemption story. But that’s sort of my point, in a way,” he says. I can tell he wants to back off, that he’s not looking to get into it. “I want to read a book about someone who’s not just the usual everyday loser.”

It’s when he says “loser” that I lose my cool. I started yelling, “What the fuck are you saying? Are you saying that people who can’t get out of their own way and have issues that can’t be resolved in 250 pages are losers? Is that what you’re implying? What if she had a mother who was always on her about not getting married and not having kids, what if that same shitty divorced mother was always criticizing her for not reaching for the things that she couldn’t make herself want? What if? Huh, what if? And what the fuck makes you so high and mighty that you can judge her for not reaching some standard that you set?”

He watches me as I rant with a slight smirk; it looks like he is holding back from saying something. “OK, I see your point,” he says, but it’s clear he’s saying it just to placate me.

“You’re an ass,” I spit at him. “And you totally wrecked my quiet afternoon.” I feel the rage boiling in my veins. I grab my book and storm off with hot tears running down my cheeks. He watches me walk away, and does not say a word.

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