My initial reaction to the bearded man on MUNI, the one who called us “faggots” and followed us off the train, was not fear or anger but rather shame laced with idignation; I don’t really look like a fag, do I?
That weekend in Palm Springs I saw a couple I knew from San Francisco, though I didn’t know them as a couple; rather, I thought they were the same man. Until I saw them together. Their similarity was eerie, their desire one I don’t understand. I’m not my own type. A man similar in physical appearance to myself sparks no desire. There is a certain suspension of disbelief when I realize a man finds me attractive. When he leans in for the first kiss I supress an urge to push a hand against his chest and ask “You sure you picked the right guy?”
“I remember so vividly a day in early spring when my whole reality gave out on me. Although it was before I had heard any Buddhist teachings, it was what some would call a genuine spiritual experience. It happened when my husband told me he was having an affair. We lived in northern New Mexico. I was standing in front of our adobe house drinking a cup of tea. I heard the car drive up and the door bang shut. Then he walked around the corner, and without warning he told me that he was having an affair and wanted a divorce.
“I remember the sky and how huge it was. I remember the sound of the river and the steam rising up from my tea. There was no time, no thought, there was nothing- just the light and a profound, limitless silence. Then I regrouped and picked up a stone and threw it at him.
“When anyone asks me how I got involved in Buddhism, I always say it was because I was so angry with my husband. The truth is that he saved my life. When that marriage fell apart, I tried very hard- very, very hard- to go back to some kind of comfort, some kind of security, some kind of familiar resting place. Fortunately for me, I could never pull it off. Instinctively I knew that annihilation of my old dependent, clinging self was the only way to go.”
-Pema Chodron, “When Things Fall Apart”
I went to Glide again this morning, to hear the music, to try and participate in something beyond myself. I couldn’t quite shake my gray mood. Before the service I looked down at the end of the pew and my heart stopped short. I saw my mother there. But of course it wasn’t her. It was a woman in a wheelchair, her headrest supporting her where her neck was failing, her thin arms wrapped in wrist braces, her mouth open, slack-jawed, a sliver of drool hanging to her chest. It was the exact way my mother looked in the months before she died; even this woman’s face, pale and flushed with pink, was familiar and unsettling. I couldn’t stop staring at her, watching her eyes travel over the room. I wanted to see her in them, wanted to see some kind of recognition flash there, wanted to see her arms rise up towards me as they had so many times before, offering a weak embrace.
One of the good things about being single is that I can go for a three-hour car trip to Sea Ranch and indulge my obsessive need to listen to the same two songs the whole way there. And back.