Tuesday, September 6, 2011
The Tortoise and the Zen Garden
My hands shook slightly as I crumpled up the letter. My husband sensed something was off, and turned to me.
“Is everything okay, honey?” He asked in concern.
“I just read a letter from my friend’s mom… He’s finally back.” I didn’t need to specify which friend since I referred to this particular friend just often enough that my husband knew who I was talking about.
When I was a child, from about age 8 to age 12, my best friend in the whole world was the boy next door. He’s a year younger than me, but we talked about everything, and played games. Not card games or board games or even video games, but the type of games where we were Kings and Queens, and we could do anything we put our minds to.
My childhood was a bit rough, and I quite honestly think that I needed those fantasy games in order to cope. I used to think our friendship would last forever… I couldn’t imagine anything would ever separate us, but something did.
It wasn’t anything evil, or even bad; in fact, it seemed like a good thing at the time. My family simply moved to a better house. I was no longer his neighbor and constant companion, and we just sort of… fell apart.
We talked over the phone once in a while, but I noticed that he never called me. I tested this theory by waiting longer and longer before calling him, until one day, I realized that years had passed. Why did he never call me? That question still eats at me to this very day.
We still went to the same school, but we were in different grade – therefore different classes. I almost never saw him, and when I did, he seemed to avoid me, like he didn’t want anyone to know he knew me. I never was the type to push myself where I wasn’t wanted, so despite rumors that he had fallen in with the wrong crowd… I left him alone.
Time passed. Years passed. I got married and had kids. I heard from his mother – who I still kept in touch with from time to time – that he had joined the army… and then went to war.
I had a small knot in my stomach ever since. The good news was that he was theoretically no longer hanging out with the wrong crowd. The bad news was that he might die before I ever got to see him again.
I was worried about him to say the least. I mentioned him to my husband just often enough that I knew he knew that I felt like a piece of me was missing. Don’t get me wrong, I did not dwell on him and bring him up everyday – it was really only like twice a year – but it was enough to make a point.
I let my husband read the letter I clutched before it disintegrated under my mistreatment. It really didn’t say much, and did not take long to read. It basically said, “I know you worry, so I’d like to let you know that my son has returned home from the war alive and well.”
My husband smiled at me. “That’s great news!”
“Yeah,” I began to sob inexplicably. “It really is!” So… why was I sobbing like he was reported missing or dead?
“You should go see him,” my husband suggested after wrapping his arms around me and stroking my hair.
“Yeah right, and say what? ‘I know you haven’t seen me in almost 20 years, but I used to be your best friend, and I miss you like I would miss my arm if I didn’t have it!’ That will only freak him out, and then he would probably slam the door in my face, and… I don’t think I can handle that. It’s better if I just forget about him.”
“But you’ve tried that, and you just can’t… right?”
I sighed in utter depression. “Yes…”
“So go see him, chat with him, hang out with him… reassure yourself that he really is alive and in one piece.”
I stared at my husband as if he has just spoken Greek – which was a language I didn’t know at all. Had he spoken French or Spanish, I might have understood him, but no! He chose Greek!
“And say what?!” I demanded. “You don’t get it! This is the guy who never called me after I moved, and then avoided me whenever I saw him after that! What exactly am I supposed to say to him?! It’s not like I can simply finish a conversation we started 15 or 20 years ago! I don’t know this man anymore!”
My husband had the grace not to get upset that I was shouting at him, and waited for me to calm down. He watched as I paced the room in agitation, and a weird expression crossed his face. I’m certain he wasn’t used to me mumbling to myself as I paced a room in agitation since I was usually very serene and composed.
Cool as a cucumber I normally am. I didn’t even panic as I watched a large TV fall onto my then 18 month old child. I simply turned off the faucet I was standing in front of, walked over to my baby, and picked him up to check him for major owies. He’d had none, but I was the only one in the room not freaking out at the time. To see me like this was pretty rare, and it probably amused my husband to no end.
If anyone was watching us right now, they would probably wonder why my husband was so gung-ho for me to go spend time with another man, and all I will say about that right now is that my husband and I are pretty open. Spending time with members of the opposite sex does not set off our jealousy alarms at all. No… our jealousy buttons are pushed by other things – money for example. If I found out he won a hundred dollars from a lottery ticket, and then spent it on something nice for him, I would definitely be in full jealous rage.
I finished my pacing and slumped as if someone had just punched the wind out of me. “I still don’t think it’s a good idea, but I’m going to go. I am not sure I can move forward until I do.”
“I know,” he smirked.
My mom lived a lot closer to my ex-best friend than I did, and I took advantage of this fact by staying with her.
“Where’re the boys?” She asked.
“I left them home,” I replied with my usual cheery smile. The first day, I hung out with my mom.
The second day, I stalked the neighborhood where I had once lived. My friend’s mom still lived there, and she had indicated in her letter that he was staying with her for a bit. I told myself that I would be satisfied if I could just see him.
No seriously, I would be fine with that. I would know he was alive, and maybe I could see him smile. That would be enough for me.
No such luck! I saw her leave at one point, but there was no indication if he was even there. I sat in my car – parked in front of a house far enough away that it didn’t seem like I was casing his place – and contemplated knocking on the door.
Maybe I could call! I still had his mom’s number – memorized, heh heh. If I called, I would know if he was home.
I stared at my cell phone. Dial it! I ordered myself, just dial the damn number! My hands shook.
See, the problem was that I already knew that he didn’t want to talk to me. I knew that he used to avoid me. What if my showing up unannounced – or calling – ruined his whole day? He probably was grateful that I had stopped sending him a card every year on his birthday.
He probably was relieved that I had seemingly forgotten about him…
After a thought like that, there was no way anyone would be able to call much less knock on his door. I chickened out, and drove back to my mom’s. It was probably for the best anyway, much longer, and I bet the cops would arrive to see why I was loitering suspiciously.
The next day, I went to an entirely huge mall, and simply walked from one end to the other. I don’t think I actually saw any of the many things for sale. I may have grabbed a bite to eat at some point, who knows?
That night, my mom watched me with a worried frown knitting her brow. “Did you and your husband have a fight?” She finally asked.
“No,” I replied in confused honesty. While my husband and I did fight from time to time, never once have we fought so bad that either of us felt the need to leave for a few days. I wondered what would give my mom the impression that we had?
The next day, I drove around the city aimlessly until I found myself parked a few houses down from my friend’s. I suppose that was inevitable. After all, the whole reason I was freeloading at my mom’s house was to summon up the courage to go see him, but… nothing had changed.
Perhaps I should have stopped off at a liquor store and bought some liquid courage. I was a super giggly and fun drunk, and it might help me throw my hesitation to the wind and just go for it. Except, I merely wanted the courage to say hi; I didn’t want the inebriated maljudgement of overly flirtiness. (I told you I was a fun drunk, right?)
I took a deep breath, and held it. I continued to hold it, and then held it some more. I started to see spots, and feel a bit woozy. I decided that it was definitely time to start breathing again, but I couldn’t remember how! I banged on my chest, and opened my mouth. Breathe, damn it!
Finally, I gasped in some air, and panted for a few moments until I stopped feeling like I was going to die. To hell with this! I needed some divine guidance.
I crawled from the driver’s seat to the backseat – which I had folded down to make a good, flat, clear spot to sit. I folded my legs into lotus pose, and set my upturned hands on my knees. I inhaled purposefully, and then exhaled to the count of seven.
Seven repetitions of this had me ready to meditate. I mentally walked into a small clearing, and saw a circle of rocks surrounding a small Zen garden. Looking around, I saw that there was nothing else, and so I sat on the large rock in the garden.
A huge tortoise slowly made his way across the sand of the Zen garden, and I noticed beautifully complicated patterns emerge behind him. Eventually, he stopped next to me, and somehow managed to look me in the eye. I smiled; I had never seen this particular guide before, but I knew that he must have something important to say to me, or else why would he have come?
“Something is troubling you?” He stated more than asked.
“Yes,” I sighed, and explained the situation.
“I see, the solution is simple…”
I was tempted to hold my breath again, but had no wish to repeat the fiasco from a few minutes ago. “Yes?”
“You must go say hi to him,” the tortoise announced.
I admit that I let out a growl of frustration. “I know that!”
The tortoise laughed. “I’m only joking. As I see it, all you really want is to know that your cherished friend is alive and happy. If you knew that, you would be able to live the rest of your life without ever seeing him again. Correct?”
“Yes,” I nodded for emphasis.
“It is not actually necessary to see him to do that. Your souls are connected, and always will be – just as all souls are connected and always will be. If your friend had died, you would have known it long before the news reached you. Therefore, all you need do is look inside yourself for the answer.”
“Isn’t that what I am doing right now?” I asked a bit sarcastically.
“Yes, but you need to go one step further… Picture him, and you will intuitively know how he is doing,” the tortoise advised, and then vanished.
I nodded, and closed my eyes. I hadn’t seen him in years, so picturing him was a bit tough. I briefly wondered again why I didn’t have any pictures of him.
Just when I felt like I was getting a pretty good mental image, a car door slammed, jarring me out of my meditation. As loud as it was, I immediately feared that someone had just entered my car! I looked around in mild panic, but saw no one.
I faintly hear a car start, and looked around for the source of the noise. It took me a moment, but finally I realized that it was my friend’s mom. I frowned, and looked at the clock. It was almost the exact same time she had left the first day I had sat out here like a crazy stalker.
I watched her drive away, and realized that she must be going to work. I didn’t know that she worked second shift. In fact, I was pretty sure that she never had to work at all.
The lotus pose had become stiff, so I stretched out a bit, and worked through a few other poses as much as there was room to do so in my car. Once I was finished, I felt relaxed and refreshed… and ready to take on the world!
I opened the car door, climbed out, shut it, and strode purposefully up to his door. I can do this! I can do anything!
So what if he doesn’t want to talk to me? It’s not like I was going to force myself into his house. The Tortoise was right, all I really wanted was to know that he was alive and happy, and that would be easily accomplished by saying hi, and then watching his body language.
If he was open and easy going – as I remembered him – then I would know that he was happy, or at least happy enough. If he was closed off and broody, then I would know that he was not happy, but even that is not so bad because happiness can always come later.
If he was full of rage or even depressed… Well, I sincerely hoped not. I brushed that thought aside so that it couldn’t stop me now that I was about to step up to his door.
I located the button to ring the bell, and waited patiently. I took careful breaths so that I wouldn’t faint if he opened the door, and forced myself not to fidget. Sure, I was nervous, but it’s not like I was a door to door salesman or something.
The door finally began to open, and a bright light stung my eyes. I closed them temporarily to protect my vision, and waited for the brightness to fade. I smiled, glad that my goal was almost accomplished. I felt incredibly peaceful, like I knew that everything was right with the world, and opened my mouth to say hi.
“Honey,” I heard my husband say. I opened my eyes, and saw my husband smiling at me. “Did you have a good dream?”
I groaned, and rolled over. My blanket had come off me a little as I slept, and I was cold. So, I tugged my husband’s blanket over me, and snuggled into his warmth.
“Uh, kinda,” I replied. “I can’t remember all the details now, but I remember feeling like things were good. Really good.”
“Sounds nice,” my husband murmured, and wrapped his arms around me.
“Yeah,” I agreed. I honestly couldn’t remember what the dream had been about, but a thought crossed my mind: my friend was doing well, and I had nothing to worry about. I smiled.
“I don’t supposed you’ve made me breakfast in bed?”
My husband laughed. “Nope.”
“Aw damn!” I sighed in mock sadness, and then laughed.
“I tell you what, wait here, and I will.”
I absolutely loved the idea, and grinned to let my husband know. He laughed, and gave me a quick kiss. “Love you.”
I waited until he was nearly out of the room – since it took me that long to shift into his thoroughly warm spot on the bed – and then tossed out my reply. “I love you too!”
I cuddled up to his pillow, and drifted in the place between dreams and awareness. Suddenly, my eyes flew open. “A tortoise?! Why would I dream about a tortoise?” It made no sense to me, so I shrugged it off. Whatever…