Chapter 15 – Left Alone

The eye with which I see God is the Eye with which God sees me.
Meister Eckhart

Walter had been back from Mexico for almost two months and had bid farewell to Mara at her home in River City and then left to make a pilgrimage, of sorts, to parts of the land that had raised him. He had loaded his Honda Civic with the items he wanted to keep himself comfortable; his sleeping bag and pad, a tent, some books, clothes for hot and cold, wet and dry conditions, some cooking and eating utensils, his camera and laptop computer, running gear, and a few talismans to serve as reminders. He took his sarong, of course, and would cover himself with it when he napped during his occasional stops at the rest areas along the interstate highways and back roads. On top of the dash, but without obstructing his vision, he’d Velcro mounted “Skully”, the blue and black porcelain skull with the glittering flowers and birds, which would serve to remind him of his death and its place in life. He also hoped it would remind him to keep his eyes on the road and the oncoming traffic. Hanging from his rear-view mirror was a leather strap with an aquamarine stone attached, a solid representation of the color of the sea, as well as a dragonfly constructed from small, colorful glass beads – just in case he came across any mosquitoes.

On the ring finger of his right hand, he wore the same ring that he’d worn for the past five years, silver and black with the Mayan calendar, and next to it he wore the one with the wings, crest, and tab. Both of the rings were flat and low-lying to the skin on his large fingers.

His younger brother, on seeing his strong hands, had once remarked, “Look at those meat hooks!”

At times, when Walter was driving, he’d look out through the windshield at the road and horizon and then, as his gaze drifted back in, he’d see those hands on the wheel and think that it was his father’s hands he was seeing, that his father was driving. The realization, a moment later, that they were his hands always came as a shock to him. His destinations, so far, had been Wyoming and Colorado, Utah and Nevada and the trip had been good for him. He had plans to hike the Continental Divide Trail for a month or so but, now, Walter stood in line on the campus of Dominican University in San Rafael, California. He knew that the people around him were “Spiritual Seekers” and he supposed it would be fair to place that label on his being, also.

He was looking the people over – they seemed to be good, gentle looking people, as most people on the path were.

He was listening to them and thought, “Is it that they understand that there is no true Awakening and they’ve chosen to attend satsang just to be better people, to feel good, and to surround themselves with community? “

He let that thought go, and then, “Most of them don’t really want to awaken.

There’s all of this head nodding, and maniacal laughter, and egoic conversation about energy, and bragging about other satsangs they have recently attended, and all of this bullshit just to make clear, to themselves and whomever is listening, how special they are.”

He did see, however, some quiet creatures in the midst of the carnival that, he thought, might honestly be hoping to awaken.

So, for Walter, it was back to the question, “Does one spiritually awaken when one is ready, regardless of focus, effort, and intention, or can one cause their own awakening through intention and autolysis?”

The California weather was slightly drizzly, that day, but the campus grounds were beautiful and the old stone building where the talk was given was cozy with wooden floors and comfortable seating. The man, whom he’d come to see, the one who gave the talk, was someone he once idolized but was now someone whom he accepted as a brother and respected for being wise, kind, and humorous – and awake. Through the morning session, Walter thought how the formal lecture, and then the conversations between the teacher and the audience, were good and rang true but he felt, in a sense, that he’d wasted his time and his money coming all this way to hear what he’d heard and read before and what he felt that he already understood.

“Maybe it is good to hear it as often as possible,” he thought.

All of the seats were filled. There were two people who were, obviously, a couple seated to his right and, on his left, there was a pleasantly attractive woman that he judged to be around his age and, to the left of her sat one of the most beautiful, older oriental women Walter had ever seen. During the lunch break, most participants left the hall but Walter sat, in silence, leaving only to hit the restroom and take a short walk outside. When the break began, the woman, two seats to the left of him, pulled her legs up under her long white gauze gown, lotus style, closed her eyes, and remained fixed that way for the hour of the break.

The people returned, refilling the auditorium, and the same individuals sat on each side of Walter.

The afternoon session began, and Walter, again was thinking, “This is just more of the same stuff I’ve read in his books and heard him say. I should just leave at the next break.”

Fifteen minutes later and without warning, the truth that was unspoken but carried in the silence between the words that the teacher spoke, pierced Walter’s heart, took his breath away as if he’d fallen to the ground and had the wind knocked out of him, and left him sobbing, trying to keep from disturbing those around him. His emotion passed to the woman on his left, and she accepted his handkerchief with gratitude. He sat through the remainder of the satsang, feeling emotionally drained, but in a good way, as if he’d had some tumor or sickness excised from his soul.

At roughly the same time, but 2,200 highway miles to the east, Jade was just driving into River City. The day before, she had a chemical face peal and, her skin pink, raw and covered with gel, her two Papillions safety-belted behind her in their car seats; she was driving home to see Sam and planned to spend the week in seclusion with Mara at the lake cottage, letting the skin on her face heal before having to interact with coworkers and the public.

At that same exact time, Mara had just sped home and hurriedly parked her car in the garage, shutting the door behind it, before running through the breezeway, locking the doors behind her as she went, then into her house, past the piles of new clothes still hooked with their tags, and into her bedroom closet to hide next to her hidden booze. Huddled there in the dark, amid the dust and cobwebs, on and between her shoes and boots and under her hanging clothes, she made a call to Jade.

Jade pressed the answer button on her steering wheel and said, “This is Jade,” and heard Mara whispering a scream but couldn’t, quite, understand what she was saying, although it was clear that Mara was frightened.

Instantaneously infected with that fear, Jade phoned Sam, who lived two blocks from Mara. He had been up all night and was trying to sleep but was awakened by her call and with a skill of the eldest child, which she’d refined over the years, Jade commanded him to go to his sister’s house immediately.

Just as Jade’s Lexus rounded the corner to Mara’s place, two county sheriff’s officers on a mission, pulled their separate cars into her driveway. Within minutes, the two burly policemen, red-gel-faced size one Jade, Sam with his hair in disarray and shirt on inside out, the growling Paps, and having been found in her hiding spot, handcuffed and crying Mara, were all clustered in the driveway; and that’s when the shouting began. Before it was over, Sam had been warned to back off and threatened with arrest, Mara, for the second time since returning from Mexico, was hauled off to the county jail, and Jade could not believe what had just happened. Back on the west coast, Walter had left the satsang, and spent a pleasant night in San Rafael, ordering a salad and carrot cake, to balance things, through room service before drifting off to a peaceful sleep that night.

The next morning, he checked out and drove south to Los Gatos, enjoying the drive and the scenery. In The Cats, he visited his childhood friend, Jou, and his German wife, Kati. They shared lunch together at an outside café, taking joy in one-another’s company, catching up on things passed and past. Walter was struck, again, at how similar Jou’s mannerisms were to his own but was also impressed by how calm Jou seemed and how truly peaceful he looked. It was a good visit.

After parting, Walter headed east, driving through the almond orchards and into the El Dorado National Forest, headed back to Colorado. Taking his time, enjoying the natural beauty, he stayed out of touch with family and friends, traveling on some of the smaller, less used roads, making his way to Creed, Colorado, in just over three days.
In Creed, he dined at a small, combination general store and restaurant, having a veggie sandwich and some good coffee. The waitress was a dark haired, athletic woman of indeterminate age; he couldn’t tell if she was younger or older than he was. She took his order, served him his food, and then took his money when he got up to leave.

“There’s a reason why you came in here,” she said to him.

“I was hungry,” he responded, with a laugh.

“I mean, there’s a reason why you came into THIS restaurant, rather than the one next door, or the one next to that, or one of those across the street,” she fired back, as if a little irritated.

Walter tried to always watch for the signs.

“Okay,” he said now attentive, open to what she might say.

“Can you stay until I get off work and then meet me out front?” she asked.

He paused, thinking about it. “Sure, what time?” he asked back.

They agreed on the when and the where and then he went for a walk, and then took a short drive up the canyon and back, before finding a bench in the small city park and planting himself there, alternating between reading and just sitting and being aware. At the appointed time, he walked the short distance to where she was standing, waiting for him, and then they hopped in his car and she directed him to the turnoff to a dirt road that took them to a good lookout point, above the little city, where he parked.

Moving from the car, they each found a dusty but comfortable place in the buffalo grass between the sage and pines and mica, and she began to talk, asking him questions and telling him things about her experience, as she tried to understand why he had triggered this fateful feeling in her. She continued asking questions and leading the conversation until he began to understand; she quieted and it was his turn to ask the questions and take the lead.

The sky was beginning to darken when they’d finished. They rose from where they sat and kissed.

He drove her back to where they’d met and they said, “Goodbye.”

He drove away, taking the night and the darkness with him as he passed out of those canyons and pointed the Civic back towards River City, thinking to himself, “a fortiori.”

The next morning, when the sun had arrived high in the sky and Walter had taken time to wash his face, fuel the car, and purchase a waxy paper cup of coffee in a drive-thru at a chain restaurant, he phoned Mara. It had been a week, at least, since they’d spoken.

The phone rang and a voice answered, “Hello.”

It was Jade. “I’m sorry. I thought I was calling Mara,” he apologized.

“Did she call you?” Jade asked.

“What do you mean? She’s called me but it’s been awhile,” he answered.

“Oh, so you don’t know,” she proclaimed; and then she proceeded to tell him the story of Mara’s repeated shoplifting, her arrest, the mess that her house was, the mess that her life was, and that she was still in jail but would be making bail today.

He told her how he’d caught Mara stealing in Mexico, and how it had been the final straw.

There was a pause from Jade, and then, “YOU LIED TO ME!”

“What do you mean” he asked, totally confused, trying to think where he might have.

“You told me everything was okay. That she was doing fine. You knew about this and you didn’t tell me,” was her reply, and then, “YOU LIED TO ME!” again.

It took Walter three more days to get back to River City and, by that time, Jade’s face had healed and she had returned to her home, her job, and her life. Over the objection of his lover and the ensuing verbal battle between that woman and Jade, a battle in which Jade had prevailed, Sam bailed Mara out of jail for the second time that summer. Walter arrived back in Michigan, finding Mara at the lake cottage where she was taking refuge from both embarrassment and temptation. Their reuniting was, understandably, emotional and meaningful. To Walter, the course of his path had now become clear. Days passed. The weather was good for running, and Mara and he put as many miles under their feet as they could, running the paved or gravel and dirt roads that connected the chain of lakes around the cottage. They’d spend their other hours on the water or sitting together on the balcony overlooking the water, talking and just being.

One morning, when he started out the door to run, Mara had asked him, “Do you want white or black?”

She was making him a “special” friendship bracelet, with the primary beads being made from stone and carved in the shape and detail of skulls so as to remind him, again and in another way, of his death and its place in his life.

“Oh, they’re both beautiful. It’s tough to decide but I think I’ll choose the black.”

“Even black men have white skulls,” was all she said as she turned back to her work and let him leave for his run.

He ran south from the driveway of the cottage, down the hill of the paved street named Gordon, through the dead spot where it was always hot and where there was no breeze as the road bridged the channel between Pickerel Lake and Kimball. He pushed up the first hill of the run then turned, at three-quarters of a mile, on to Pickeral Lane, heading east between the lake cottages, past the boat launch and privy, up the incline and then down again and then back up to Little Switzerland, the local resort. Passing a cottage, he was startled and lurched sideways away from the noise, as someone unseen started a lawnmower in his or her garden shed. He ran by the unchained Bouvier des Flandres that he always saw, seeming passive if not friendly, taking care to pass on the opposite side of the road and keep aware.

Off of Pickerel, at just over two miles he turned left, up the paved shoulder of Centerline and ran another half-mile or so to the turnoff to Emerald and Sylvan Lakes, where the road turned to dirt and gravel and the surroundings became more enjoyable with the cottages being fewer and the space between greater. Deer flies buzzed around his head and, now and then, one got him on his back or through his running cap on the top of his head. He ran the loop that, in spots, turned to sand near the water, passing a few people who were walking, coming up behind them and coughing or breathing loudly to alert them of his presence, not wanting to startle them. He saw no other runners but spotted running shoe prints, not his or Mara’s, in the sand.

At 6 ½ miles he hit the pavement again and turned right, heading up the first part of what was mostly an uphill run, as Centerline Road became 48th Street. It was another mile, nearly two, and a turn before cresting the hill and coming back to the driveway of the cottage.

He walked down the driveway and, knowing the front door would be locked, walked around the side of the building and took the ivy covered wooden steps up to the balcony.

He could see Mara a short distance out on the water; sitting in the 11-ft aluminum boat he’d bought her that first summer. She’d named it “Candy” after one she’d seen, and become fond of, on a trip they’d taken to the Dominican Republic.

He sat on the wooden bench that was backed against the cedar-sided wall of the cottage. The sweat, from his run, was running off of his body. He leaned forward, letting the drops fall from the brim of his running cap to a gap between deck boards on the balcony beneath him. He counted the drops several times and came up with an average of 180 per minute. He kept his head, his hat, and the drops positioned so that they remained in one spot, filling the gap between boards above a truss that supported them; until he could hear the water, having filled the dry wood and the gap, make a splashing sound. He looked at his shoes, he was wearing his Mexico shoes today, the New Balance 769’s that were durable and supportive but, sometimes, took his toenails. He used Vaseline to prevent blisters and felt fine. His socks were the new, synthetic running socks with no seams. He watched the muscles in his right calf, and then his left, twitch as they always did from the damage in his spine. He knew that when he eventually took off his shoes and socks, he’d see the same twitching in his feet. His running shorts, blacker now, soaked with sweat, clung to his thighs and crotch, his shirt to his belly and arms.

Finally, he lifted his head and looked to the left arm of the bench.

Hanging there, in anticipation of his return from the run, was the black-skulled bracelet she’d made for him. Strung between each carved skull was an uncarved stone of another color and texture that balanced the skulls beautifully. Between the black obsidian skulls she had strung Aquamarine, Amethyst, Amber, Citrine, and Calcite. He took the bracelet from the wooden arm of the bench and pulled it over his left hand to the flesh arm of his body and felt a rush of energy, as if, for just a moment, electricity was running through his wrist, and then it settled.

There was a nearly empty blue plastic glass on the table next to the bench. He took it and smelled it and knew that she’d been drinking already.

He raised his head and looked out at the shimmering lake that was reflecting the morning sun. He could see and hear Mara, out on the water, head bent to her cell phone, talking through her tears.

“Probably to Jade,” he thought.

He could see the game of Mute Swans, white with their black eyes and orange bills, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen; it was seventeen that he counted on the water around her that day. In the background far behind her, he saw a rainbow.

There was no easy way for him to tell me the rest of his story.

“Just tell me,” I said.

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