I was running up the stairs of my old apartment house one day just in time
to catch a glimpse of a world of strange and startling beauty as a door
It was by pure and wonderful accident that this happened.
The very secretive Miss Hawthorne lived across the hall from me.
Miss Hawthorne, the spinster school teacher was as nondescript as they come...
much like the most boring man I ever met, who turned out to be a special ops guy who had posed as an Iraqi businessman for several years prior to the invasion.
Which just goes to show you how totally and hilariously wide of the mark
one can be...
Anyway, Miss Hawthorne was caught off-guard by my unexpected appearance
at the top of the landing.
With a distressed cry, she hurriedly pulled the door shut behind her
and commenced to turn the array of locks that lined her door frame.
I can still imagine her pressed against that door, breathing heavily and hoping that none of that precious atmosphere had escaped and that no outsider’s eye had stolen into her private world.
Ahhh, but it was too late...
In that exquisite and painfully brief flash, I caught sight of a world unimaginable to me.
Behind the white door in the dingy white hallway of a plain white house
on a completely boring street was a spectacle of wild and unbridled splendor.
I had glimpsed a forbidden world...a gilded Amazon rainforest replete with exotic bird gods in bed with Tibetan polyandrous nymphs under garlands of diaphanous silks in intense shimmering sensuous hues.
I did a little heavy breathing of my own...
To calm myself, I drew a bath, settled into the warm bubbles and tried
to capture that scene forever in my mind.
In my reverie, I thought I heard a slight scratching in the wall next to my tub.
Moments later a drill bit appeared and quickly disappeared.
I sat up and put my eye to the hole just in time to meet up with another eye.
I uttered my own cry of distress in that moment and ran from the room, slamming the door behind me.
I dressed, bolted downstairs and dragged my landlady up to the scene
of the crime.
It seems my neighbor, a recently arrived Japanese exchange student,
had been busily drilling portals into my world...37 of them, to be exact.
While the landlady was completing her count, I was packing up my few things and heading off to my next perch.
What I learned from all of this is that we all had secret lives...
Miss Hawthorne lived in her alternate world as much as was humanly possible, rarely leaving her secure abode.
A bright exotic world filled her little space.
Her small, but extravagant quarters reminded me of the old spiritualist cabinets that were built to induce otherworldly experiences.
Now such a cabinet could be an attic warren or a cloth draped over a corner,
but its purpose was to attract and conserve spiritual forces…
a kind of spiritual storage battery.
What wonders was she summoning?
What bright and fabulous spirits came to inhabit her world?
Who was she beneath her bland disguise?
I had a similar internal world that was about to break its bounds if I wasn’t careful.
I have a distinctive scar on my forehead.
Just about center and a bit above the brow.
It took me a while to realize what it was doing there...
I call it my 'Near Miss.'
When I was a toddler, I managed to pull a heavy wooden high chair
down onto my head.
After the incident, I woke with perfect photographic memory.
And that was just the beginning of my problems... with the Tibetans, that is.
That was where my Other Life began...
I suspect that I have been found by the Celestial Truant Police from the old mountain monastery while attempting to hide out in this young girl's body.
They seemed bent on dragging me back to class.
No truancy allowed in cosmic-consciousness school...
I consented to return partly because they arranged night class for me
and partly because hanging with the other truants…and they are legion….
wasn’t near as much fun as I’d hoped.
But I have complicated things here...
The Dharma Police are everywhere you know...
At first, I thought that was just the name of the band.
My curious friend, Albatross and I had dug up some finery
and gone off
to hear their concert once.
"Hear all you seekers!
Belly up to your bellies
It was there all along
In the words of your own song.
You don’t get any new clues
Oh, you won’t get any new clues
Till you use the ones you’ve got!
Dudu dudu dudu dudut!
Till you use the ones you’ve got!!"
I was so inspired that I went right out and bought a piano.
And what a piano!
A 1930 rosewood Steinway baby grand.
And as fate would have it, two weeks later, the pianist
landed on my doorstep at 3 am.
He was one hellion of a preacher's kid with wild red tresses
and octopus eyes.
No, I am not kidding. Nor am I being obscure.
Take it as you please, dear reader, but it’s all true.
Keep your own eyes open. You’ll be surprised at what you see...
Seems some strange magnetism landed us in each other’s lives.
Turned out I was very nearly the spitting image of the woman
he'd felt destined to marry.
Or, at least, I was a reasonable makeover candidate for the real one
who’d had the good sense and good fortune to scorn him.
He came, he stayed and it wasn’t long before he made off with most
of my good fortune behind my back.
Still, in an effort to help a struggling artist, I let him stay on.
That was my first mistake...and my second...and my zillionth.
I should have beat feet the moment I laid eyes on him,
but I had a strange attraction to that fire of his.
Problem was that I didn’t know then what kind of fire I was made of.
It was a typical rookie mistake, but one that I paid dearly for, just the same.
While we're on the subject of fire, before long the preacher's kid’s folks
decided that I was headed for hellfire if I didn’t repent and marry
their precious offspring.
Far better than to live 'in sin'...
Again, being ignorant of these things, except for raising myself Catholic,
I acknowledged my sins, got a free pass on hell card and became the reluctant bride of Octopus Eyes.
Thankfully some fiery presence prevented us from consummating the arrangement, but failed to remove me utterly from the arrangement.
Apparently that was MY job.
I was in for a hard ride...
I did not yet know about that genre of tormented geniuses who create great art but treat everyone in their lives like crap.
A strange and unwarranted sense of entitlement attaches to these types and they tend to run roughshod over everyone in their path, looting and pillaging without remorse...that is, after the initial charm assault.
They are as charming as they are dangerous.
No one will ever believe you if you call for help.
It is not only angels that walk among us clothed as men.
He was about as far from a preacher's son as could only be imagined.
He wore his guise gleefully...mockery curling the edges of his smile.
Christians were merely sheep for the shearing...easy prey.
He had a pronounced effect on people...akin to a UFO scrambling your circuitry. He was fiendishly hard to outwit...highly psychic...inhuman in his responses.
As time went on, he was more unstable and volatile.
Many were the times when his blue eyes turned a cold, gleaming black.
How I survived his many attempts on my life, I cannot say.
Several cruel, tumultuous seasons passed this way.
Making my escape was far from easy.
Like a stretched rubber band snapping back, it took me several tries
to escape the orbit that I was trapped in.
Being proper church folks, we were in a ‘till death do ye part’ cult
(which is ill-advised for anyone, given the times).
One day, in a scene not unlike the one in which Abraham was about to sacrifice his son until a voice from heaven told him to look in the bush,
I found myself being carried over my husband’s shoulder who had similar ideas in mind. And by the look of it, I might soon become that burnt offering.
He was hearing his voices...and I was hearing mine.
MINE said to jump and run like hell!
And run, I did.
Help finally arrived in the form of one hot Portuguese chick from New York
and a woman in a wheelchair.
Their van was broke down by the side of the road.
They took one long look at me, exchanged a word or two with each other
and offered to stuff me under some quilts in the back of the van.
A few strides later, in hot pursuit, my now-stricken husband came upon
He gave the woman in the wheelchair a cursory nod.
The Portuguesa got the salivatory greeting with which we are all annoying familiar.
“We saw no one,” they echoed convincingly, and with a last hungry look,
he moved on.
“We did not like the look of him…what strange eyes and wild aroma he had!”
With that said, they plucked me out from under wraps and settled me
in the front seat between them.
The old engine coughed and caught on the third try and off we sped.
I had the uncomfortable impression they were reading the dust around me... They seemed to know everything.
I fell into a deep slumber as the pair made off with me.
It was the dead of night when I came to.
I woke to the rumble of trucks and the smell of diesel fuel and greasy spoon.
We were parked at one of those 24 hr. truck stop diners.
My new pals were already inside.
I stumbled in, splashed a little water on my face and joined them.
I was feeling a little undone, which is just what they were after...
They laid it on me pretty straight.
Their words beat a tattoo into my head:
"The most dangerous lies are the ones you tell yourself..." they intoned.
In my dazed state, I barely understood their message.
As far as they were concerned, I had lost my mind
"Why, oh WHY would I consume myself with his misdeeds and not my own?" they wanted to know. Hmmmph!
“He is on his path, hell-bent or not, and YOU, my dear, are going to have to clamber back up onto your own feet and resume yours."
"Now beat feet!!”
With that said, they simply vanished.
They left me the van, however.
I got another 100 or so miles out of it before it gave out for the last time.
I at least was able to leave it in a forested patch as its final resting place.
Easy come, easy go.
“Beat feet, Girlie!” I thought I heard.
I had always dreamed of living the life of a gypsy and now, unexpectedly,
I had been catapulted into the role.
The initiation was tougher than I’d been led to expect.
My rug was yanked out from under me along with the rosewood Steinway
and everything else but the clothes on my back and $20 I scavenged
from the van.
My reward, however, was all the fresh air in the world, my freedom
and whatever was behind Door Number Three...
I take a portion of that back...
I also carried a scorching load of guilt and sorrow along with
a nasty hangover of his essence for a long time.
But that is how these things go...
My destiny lay sprawled before me, like some unknown sleeping creature...
beautiful, exciting, and unpredictable... with teeth that smiled a crooked smile that was beyond interpretation and flashing eyes that transfigured without warning.
The Dharma Police were never far behind...
Now, there being no gypsy caravans operating at that time of year,
I took on the task myself. I hopped a freight train,
not caring where it took me...
I imagined wandering aimlessly and at will for the rest of my days,
though my friend Mario had gotten into some trouble attempting this
in 21st century America.
Now there was a real gypsy!!
One morning as I was breaking camp, I caught sight of a diminutive figure scurrying past my campsite.
I felt that sudden solid thump in my insides that told me to listen up!
I caught sight of him just as he disappeared around a corner.
I jumped up without thinking and ran after him, but somehow I lost him!
I felt oddly heart-broken for some unknown reason.
There was something magical about him!
When I turned to leave, there he stood, grinning at me.
“Good morning!” he said as he doffed his little helmet and bowed deeply.
He spoke with a mysterious accent, which I later learned was Romanian.
Not to be so easily beguiled, I demanded that he remove his oversized
white diamond-studded sunglasses and show himself to me.
When I saw his eyes, I melted under his gaze.
Not only did he have diamonds in his eyes, but he seemed to carry all the hurt
of the world inside.
There was no turning back.
I gazed back.
Something deep inside me awakened.
In the next moment, we simply threw our heads back and laughed uproariously!
The black tuxedo festooned with the broad red cummerbund did nothing
to disguise him. Gypsies are unmistakable.
You can feel them. And the feeling is as upsetting as it is exhilarating.
Mario was the apparent dual reincarnation of a 16th century Benedictine monk and Charlie Chaplin, recently arrived, in fact, from 3623 Chaplin,
the minor planet discovered by Soviet astronomer Lyudmila Georgievna Karachkina in 1981.
He was a bit battered by the trip, as well as the effort to keep in touch
with the Home Office, but was a fairly resilient character nonetheless.
In his 44th year, he had taken leave of his business, family and various
other earthly concerns.
He carried only a spare tuxedo, a violin and an umbrella.
Oh yes! And a bottle of red wine...all packed in his violin case.
He was crossing America on foot...(talk about 'beating feet!)-
from sea to shining sea to ask the President of the United States a question.
For that unspeakable crime, he was subjected to nearly daily run-ins
with the Homeland Security forces.
Apparently it is now forbidden to walk across America in anything
but designer label rumpled shorts and t-shirt, hiking boots
and the appropriate PR people and camera crew at your heels.
Poor Mario, the accidental subversive…
However, he was on a mission… That much they were right about.
That they were unable to comprehend their apprehendee’s mission is about what you’d expect.
Much the same happens to us when the Dharma Police turn up...
We spend much of a lifetime figuring out the purpose for which we are apprehended.
But, again, I complicate things…
Our friend lived rough, shall we say.
He slept with stars as his blanket and the earth his bed.
He lived on whatever was offered along the way.
If he ate, fine. If not, he had other ways of sustaining himself.
Mario had stumbled on the secret of his peculiar being.
That is what drew us together for the brief time we shared.
You see...Mario had learned how to live on the essence of things.
How Mario acquired this knowledge is a curious tale in itself….
"Whatever puts one in a suitable trance will do, Mixed-up Young Gypsy."
Mario had learned to live on starlight and music, the quest for Truth, laughter and love, along with a simple communion of bread and wine.
The earth restored him as he slept and the heavens revived his ebullient spirit.
I learned about living on the essence of things via my run-ins with the hungry ghosts, but that is another set of tales.
Finding yourself is not that hard to do...
I would gypsy around for a spell and then set up camp for awhile.
I journeyed east until I nearly ran out of land.
Taking one final leap I quit the continent and washed up
on a most unlikely shore, although, truth be told, it could just as well be said that I was pretty washed up when I got there?
Aahhh, but no matter...
I rinsed myself off, headed for the nearest collection of tents and began again.
Before long I acquired my own hand-hewn hut complete with outhouse
and spring-fed well.
By the following spring, I had my own collection of tents, courtesy of the Canadian government.
I was, like the others, out to find myself, as they used to say back then.
Now anyone who truly tries to find themselves does... and that in short order.
The revelations that followed sent me scurrying into hiding.
I was not prepared for those revelation at all...though there was that part of me that had always had its suspicions.
Revelations of such a personal nature are not to be shared.
But my apprenticeship had begun...
Trouble followed me wherever I went and when I stayed in one place for any length of time, it seemed to concentrate and get a little more explosive.
Speaking of explosives, it wasn’t long before Fulty MacPherson showed up
at my door, offering a warm welcome to the island as he did for all newcomers from 'down north.'
He'd heard tell of some unwelcoming behavior from some of the locals
and so he'd come to offer his explosive services as well...with a grin…
and a red-headed one at that!
Now Fulty was a mining demolitions expert who had travelled the world displaying his prodigious talent.
So when he found out that the locals had stopped up the well supplying water
to my gypsy encampment, he felt compelled to assist.
“Let me just lay up a couple of charges and we’ll rock those hills and get you all the spring water you'll ever need!"
He jokingly added "I could rock all your worlds, girl, if you’d just say the word.” His bit of mischievous humor...
Now I knew that he had rocked his wife’s world numerous times between assignments around the world. There were at least 9 or 10 rambunctious little redheads to prove it. So I told him to hold his fire for the time being.
Nonetheless, Fulty had some private words with the locals over a pint or two of Schooner beer and from then on, I never had a problem with water.
Though I did not realize the implications till much later, I was back
in my ‘chop wood, carry water' phase.
I had once again made the great escape only to land in the same classroom.
Different locale, different century.
I had running water again, thanks to good old Fulty.
The only problem was is that it was running about 200 yards from the house.
I carried untold numbers of buckets for washing, cooking, bathing and the like in all kinds of weather. My own personal trail of tears.
As for Cape Breton, there was never such a place with so much weather.
It is the principal export of this tiny island municipality.
It was arrayed in all its amazing splendor all day long, every day.
A never-ending exhibition managed by a capricious and sometimes sadistic overseer.
I was a sorry sight learning to hold the ax just right, whacking away at the wood
until I could produce enough scraps to serve as kindling.
But there was more…much more.
For those of you who harbor romantic ideas of living simply, let me assure you that this is exasperating business.
First you had to chop the tree down. Then you had to limb it, dry it, haul it about a half a mile down to the house from the woods and saw the logs into various size pieces.
If life and limb were still intact, and by some strange miracle they were,
you would stack the wood just so, carry a few armloads a day inside, restack it and then wait for the firewood to warm up.
Once the wood got warm, the resident log bugs would stream out and attempt
to lay claim to the house. I would then spend the next several hours capturing and relocating them back to the forest.
Sometimes, I would call a truce and fetch my fuel from the shore.
I tried to warm myself with anything that would burn.
I experimented with 6 different kinds of seaweed, driftwood, whale bone, broken up bits of lobster traps and whatever else caught my eye.
I eventually found old sneakers to be my best source of fuel.
Ahh, the cadillac of heat sources...
I would throw an old shoe into the flames and in minutes, I was basking
in heat...delicious, intoxicating, take-off-your-socks-and mittens heat!
My little stove turned a cheery molten red and I stripped off a couple
Just before I got to the embarrassing part, there was a sudden commotion
as six burly volunteer firefighters burst in my door, replete with hoses,
axes and fire extinguishers.
I jumped up and stood guard over my precious stove.
“Close that door!” I yelled. “You are NOT putting out my fire!
This is the first time I’ve been warm since I landed here!”
Apparently, my chimney had caught fire and there were great flames and sparks leaping from it that could be seen at some distance.
I was clearly a menace to myself as well as the neighboring countryside.
That's where improvisation gets you sometimes…
“Ten months of winter and two months of bad weather,”
as I chopped wood back behind the old house.
By now, there was beginning to be rhythm and fluidity in my movements.
I could still count 10 digits and that was worth something.
Numerous near misses as my targets would bob and weave.
Sometimes I would grant a presidential reprieve and set the prisoner aside.
Otherwise, I stayed doggedly at my task even after learning that freezing
to death was one of the easier ways to go.
It was nearly spring. If I could hold out just a little longer…
I’d been told that gypsy caravans still rumbled through these parts.
I would offer my fields, share my fire, enlarge my tents in exchange for their music, their stories, their tales of travels in far-off lands.
Some unknown radar brought them to my humble doorstep, though some
still knew how to follow the stars.
There was a night, however, that challenged my theories in that regard...
Said humble doorstep was the setting for one of the strange events
that took place on the island with unusual frequency.
It was just past midnight and on the doorstep, picture a pair of hiking boots balanced carefully over a stream of pee.
Many such seemingly insignificant events as these escape our awareness.
But this night our fellow looked up into the night sky.
He saw an unusual formation of stars in the northeast.
He called for us all to come look at the strange emanation.
We gave heed to our resident magi and clambered out of our late-night conversations and jam sessions, our beds and sleeping bags to see
what was up there.
There did seem to be a strange cluster of stars moving our way.
At first, it seemed our eyes were deceiving us, but slowly, slowly
Then the pace suddenly quickened and it was as if the stars broke into a gallop across the night sky.
The armada floated our way, slowly spreading out and engulfing the whole firmament above us.
As if drawn by a magnet, we grabbed quilts and sleeping bags and laid out
in the tall grass of the fields till we were spread out like the stars ourselves.
The 'stars' came closer, hovering just out of reach, but not out of earshot.
The 'stars' bore little horsetails of light from which a soft swishing sound
could be heard.
As they hovered over us they were pulsing.
The entire sky pulsed above us.
No one spoke a word.
We were all transfixed by the power and beauty of it all.
There was a loving feeling emanating from the craft.
We wept from joy...tears streaming down our faces.
It was a visitation. A transmission of energy.
I had the feeling that each one of us had been gathered there that night
as though hand-chosen.
The stars pulsed over us through the night.
A little before dawn, the stars returned in the way and manner in which they had come.
The following morning, the gypsies quietly dispersed.
Everyone left. No one spoke of it.
There were no words for what we had experienced.
to be continued....
Note to the reader...all of the above is a true story... woven together
in order...every bit of it.
I have, however, left out one angel in the telling of it, for brevity's sake.