What was I thinking?

(I’m continuing this story that seems to be writing itself, so I gave it a name and a tag: Fool on the Hill. If you want to read all of it, click on that tag and start from the bottom.)

What was I thinking? Why did I say yes to that guy? It’s like he picked at the scab, and poured salt in. I bet he’s one of those work hard, play hard idiots. Driven, have to step up, have to, what was his expression? Make something happen. I don’t want to step up. I don’t want to “make something happen.” Who is he to criticize me? Jerk.

Everybody wants me to mature, to step up. Well screw them, all of them. Mom especially. Amy found a husband, and does her life look so awful? Would it be so bad if you did the same? She’s so happy with the twins. And here you are, living all by yourself, is that any kind of a life for a young, attractive woman? You know they say people who live alone and don’t get married aren’t as healthy and don’t live as long. Doesn’t she know how painful it is to have to explain over and over that after the way it ended with Justin I just don’t want to do it again, maybe ever. I can think of fates a thousand times worse than being single and living alone.

Everybody has their big, dramatic, grand tragedy. I mean, Mom when Dad left her. What a spectacle. And why doesn’t she have a husband now? Huh? Next time she comes after me, I’m going to say all the things I usually hold back. I’m going to hurt her. Well I don’t have a grand tragedy, but the thought of living through what happened with Justin is grand enough for my purposes. That slow, silent death of excitement, of love, of sex. Watching the disappointment in his eyes when I said I was going to get a “real” job instead of pursuing my painting. Of the way we stopped having sex and then he stopped being affectionate. And then I didn’t want to touch him, didn’t want to sleep next to him, didn’t even miss it. The way we were still friends and would laugh and gossip and tell each other how our days were, but there was no fire left. It would have been better if he beat me, if he cheated, if he spit on me. All because I didn’t want to face those canvases any longer. Because I ripped myself up and turned myself inside out and threw my blood and guts all over those panels and no one cared, no one saw it, all I ever got was, “What are you trying to do here? I’m not sure I understand why your palette is so muted.” Don’t you understand, that’s where the beauty is, in a palette that shifts subtly, not some lurid puke of all the colors of the rainbow that’s like pouring bleach into your eyes. No. No one got it. Certainly not Justin.

Subway Platform

(Without planning to, I seem to be writing a story in installments – this post is a continuation of the previous narrative. If it continues I suppose I will have to come up with a name for it and start tagging the pieces.)

A woman I hadn’t noticed earlier is getting off the train in front of me, and she looks kind of familiar. She’s crazy pretty, but in an unexpected, not-obvious way. In an instant it connects, yes, this summer, the hill at the meditation center. The picture-perfect day, the offhand comment about her book, her storming off. Before I had completely recalled all the pieces of the story, I had touched her lightly on the arm. Did I really just do that? The pit in my stomach was already telling me it was a mistake. “Hi, do you remember me from this summer? The field at the meditation center?” Oh shit, I’m in it now. Her eyes flash. She doesn’t hesitate. “Yes, I remember you. You’re an asshole. What do you want?”

“Um, I …” I don’t know what to say. I know what I want to say. What I want to say is “Look, what I said obviously provoked a really strong reaction, and the strength of your response intrigued me, so I couldn’t resist saying hello and seeing if you wanted to explain it. I wanted to see if you even understand it yourself.” That’s what I want to say, but obviously that would be a colossal mistake. I try for a more conciliatory approach, “I feel terrible I wrecked your peaceful afternoon. Would you consider letting me buy you a cup of coffee and explain what I missed in the book?”

“Why would I waste one more minute of my life with you? So you can ruin another day for me?”

“No, not that. Because I will listen to what you have to say and maybe I can understand the story differently if I hear it from your perspective. You could consider it a service to the author.”

I’ve never done anything like this and my heart is pounding. Usually I run from any sort of confrontation. She starts to say something and stops. We’re on a crowded platform and there are people pushing past us, but she stops and turns so she’s facing me fully. She looks intently at my face as if she’s deciding whether to tell me to drop dead. Again, she starts to say something and stops. Then she says, “OK, I will have one cup of coffee with you and explain the story that you’re too thick to understand. But that’s it.”

The Afternoon Continues

(this is a continuation of the previously-started story)

“Wow,” I thought as I watched her storm off. There was a knot of fear in the pit of my stomach, like I get when someone is really angry at me. It felt the way I used to feel when I was in trouble as a child. My first reaction was to run after her and apologize, but apologize for … what? For saying what I thought about the stupid book she was reading? For upsetting her? I wasn’t sure what I would even say. The buzzing of a far-off locust framed the stillness of the hillside. Although I was definitely ruffled by what had just happened, the perfection of the sunny afternoon drew my attention away from the explosion that had just passed over.

As I sat, the fear held me, but I noticed another feeling underneath. I was amused at the intensity of her response, and I was pleased with myself for provoking her. I laughed quietly to myself. “That was really something. I would hate to be the person who has to hang out with her tonight.” Although it felt like a transgression, I realized I was proud of myself. I hadn’t backed off and I hadn’t apologized. I hadn’t said anything I needed to apologize for and I hadn’t. That was new for me. In the past, I would have done anything to deflect that kind of heat. The feeling of amusement turned curiously into affection towards her. There was a kind of intimacy in what she had just exposed to me.

I sat in a mix of different sensations: the sun on my face, the fear of her wrath, and the warmth of my attraction to the rage she had shown. It was a perfect combination of pleasant, afraid, and exhilarated, and I didn’t want it to dissipate. My evening was clear and the only thing waiting for me when I left was an empty apartment, so I stayed sitting until the shadows started to lengthen and the light started to turn the color of honey. As I walked back towards the parking lot, I realized my feeling of affection towards the woman with the book had grown and swept away the fear. The closer I got to the moment I would drive away, the more I wanted to see her again. When I reached the parking lot, I hesitated. I looked up the hill towards the meditation center, wondering if she were there. If there were a retreat in progress, I couldn’t just barge in.

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.

August Afternoon

There came one of those weekend days that followed a brutal week of working too many hours. I had not had time to return any of my friends’ calls about plans for the weekend, and I was so fried, all I could think about was sleeping in and not having anywhere to be. I slept until almost 1:00 Saturday afternoon and woke up to see it was a perfect August afternoon. I was in a pleasant fog of being not-fully-awake, and didn’t feel like seeing anyone, but I wanted to get out and get a taste of the sunshine. I decided I would ride up to the Buddhist meditation center and walk the grounds.

It appeared someone had mowed the grass trail recently and it looked like a green carpet. It had been decades since I had spent the entire summer barefoot and grown shoe leather on the soles of my feet, and I knew my feet were tender, but I had to feel the grass. I took off my shoes and the path felt like velvet under my bare feet. There were big lazy bees buzzing in the purple clover by the side of the trail and a few fluffy white clouds in the otherwise spotless blue sky overhead. Even though I had ridden more than an hour to get there, I still felt the dopiness of recently waking up, and my head was delightfully clear of any thoughts at all.

Just before I reached the crest of the hill where the trail turns into an open field with a view of the valley, my foot stepped on something sharp. I stopped to look and it was the wristband of a green Fitbit that blended into the grass perfectly. I stuck it in my pocket, thinking I would leave it in the parking lot in some obvious and conspicuous place so whoever lost it could easily find it.

When I reached the field, I stopped at the edge to take in the view of the valley. The sunlight sparkled on the surface of the river several miles off, and the hills on the far side looked blue and misty in the distance. My eyes swept down the hill and I realized there was a bench under a tree about halfway down I had not noticed before. And there was a figure on the bench I could not make out because it was in the shade of the tree.

The figure waved to me and I waved back, thinking it was simply a friendly inmate of the meditation center completing their afternoon contemplation. But as I started along the trail at the edge of the field, a woman’s voice called out, “Hello.” Yelling across the field to her seemed unbearably awkward, so I walked in the direction of the bench, still carrying my shoes. When I was still several yards off, she said, “Hi, could you tell me what time it is? I seem to have lost my watch.”

I consulted my phone and said, “It’s a few minutes before 4:00. But did you lose a watch or a Fitbit?”

“Actually it was a Fitbit.”

“With a green band?” I asked.

“Actually yes! Did you see it?! Oh, that would be such a relief!”

“Yes, but I wouldn’t have found it if I hadn’t been silly enough to take off my shoes. By the way, do you mind if I share your bench to put my shoes back on?”

“Of course not, here, sit down. Oh, thank you. I’m so happy you found this!”