Ari Book 1 — prose

Ari is about a relationship in my early forties that I pursued, gave to, and suffered through–riding a wave of passion not particularly steeped in wisdom.

I first wrote Ari in verse form, or prose that does not go to the end of the line. I felt a rhythm as I wrote it, which may not be noticeable for anyone else. From feedback in a writing group I created Ari Book I in prose, the first of a planned four. I learned to self-publish I needed to get the prose manuscript edited and commission a professional cover. Prior to about 2010 self-publishing was a death sentence for a manuscript. Several developments in the publishing world, including affordable print on demand, changed that attitude to some degree by 2013. I hired an editor and cover designer for not too much money. I received the cover design which looked a little trashy to me–but it was a book cover…! Preparing the manuscript to upload to a self-publishing house I went through it again and published…and bought 20 books. A couple friends bought copies. I shared some of my 20 books with people in my writer’s group and waited nervously for feedback. Then the editor finished her line editing and sent me the revised manuscript. Oops. I hope the copy I have put up here is the editor’s draft. It’s the latest saved copy in my computer.

RETURN TO PARADISE

            The cab door closed shutting me into the backseat feeling cut off from love.  I knew we were saying good-bye.  I knew why.  I could see her standing on the sidewalk less than twenty feet away.  The driver rocked the cab as he got in and closed his door.  Slowly we pulled away from the curb, maneuvering through traffic.

            I strained my neck watching her fade away.  My heart ripping out from my chest, I whispered, “Good-bye Beauty,” as I went blind in a rainstorm of salty misery.

            “Where to?” asked the driver in a gentle voice.  Grateful for his sensitivity, I struggled to not sob openly.  Tears were rolling freely down my cheeks.  I barely trusted myself to speak. 

            I blew my nose, my sinuses running from the cold air on the plane, and running harder now with my tears.  “The Ala Wai,” I croaked.

            “Which hotel sir?” he asked with such a polite tenderness my heart opened to him.

            “No hotel.  My home.  I’ll show you.”

            He asked no more questions.  As we left the airport and glided onto H-1 in his limousine taxi, the Koolaus passed on my left.  This green and lush Hawaiian mountain range ran almost down to the ocean on Oahu’s Diamond Head side.  Today the mountains held back a white turbulence of clouds just waiting for a nudge to send them down over Honolulu.  A nudge that seldom came.  As I gazed out the widow, I wished I could hold back the clouds descending on my heart.

            The ocean lay flat on my right, blue and sparkling.  Ari still stood back at the airport, her image captured indelibly in my mind.  The smile which lifted my heart like no other had already faded from her lips, a casualty of our situation.  A casualty of our return to Paradise from another Paradise deep in the South Pacific, now laying hours and light years away.  Her heart as broken as mine.  Her life much more confused.

            In pieces, I was being carried home by a gentle taxi driver.  In pieces, she stood still on the curb at the airport waiting to be collected by her husband, a man no stranger to causing her pain.

BEGINNINGS

            How did I get myself in such a fix?  In love with a married woman?  I, the other man, tasting the bitter sweetness so many women have known throughout time.  Often our only time together a hurried hour she could snatch from a too-full life, responsibilities filling each day.  Her duties to her husband and children coming before anything—or anyone. 

            Ari grew up Asian in a country only a border removed from decades of war.  Survival dominated their lives.  Conformity kept their culture together.  She learned at her mother’s side to care for their home.  Furniture was basic.  Nice clothes were unheard of.  Cars were a fantasy.  Ari watched as her mother served her father food and drink no matter when he came home, no matter how harshly he spoke to her or the family. 

            When she met a kind and worldly man in a salon where she apprenticed, she was drawn to him and the possible freedom he represented.  He was drawn to her exotic beauty and natural grace.  In only a few months, a magical hand swept her and her parents to Hawaii, she as his bride.  Ari soon found herself locked into her new home by immigration laws and financial reality.  She had no room to rebel at his constant criticism.  Her training stood her well, though, enabling her to become a proficient wife and mother while being stripped daily of her self-esteem.  All she could fall back upon was her illusion of harmony.  She kept peace in the home by subjugating her desires to her husband’s demands and her new family’s needs.

            How did she become involved with a seeker of freedom such as I?  A crazy, impetuous man, no stranger to illusion himself, who looked so hard in his earlier years for an escape from discomfort that he—I—created more misery for myself than I could ever imagine.

            I am always seeking freedom, no matter how circuitous the route.  A never-married man of forty when I met her, ten years younger than her husband, I knew first-hand the attraction and pitfalls of involvement with partially available women.  When we met I was firmly committed to a long-term struggle to gain personal balance and to not repeat missteps of the past.  I was determined to wait for my next relationship until strong enough to attract someone fully available, someone committed to love and growth.  My commitment was both rewarded and soundly shaken as I got to know her. 

            Ari and I met in an environment where neither of us was looking for another, allowing us to become friends without challenge from her husband.  We harbored no plans for anything more than friendship, certainly not to bring so much pain upon ourselves and those close to us.

            We both were yearning to bring a greater flow of spiritual energy into our lives.    Through this desire to develop a stronger relationship with Spirit, we inadvertently unlocked a puzzle box scrambling our different values and turning our lives inside out.  We showed ourselves that we each in our own way needed a greater degree of experience before taking another step up the spiritual ladder.

            How much more exciting can life get?  Unfortunately I was drawn to the excitement.  My experience with the middle path, the path of neutrality, was in its infancy.  I tried to construct  the life I hungered for, not seeing it was a dream life.  Over many months and countless quarrels and heartbreaks with Ari, though, I learned that I could not will my dream into being.  Instead I gradually saw the havoc and pain I was creating.

            How did this start?  This adventure of love and grief?  It began eighteen months before that day in April when I left the Honolulu Airport in such distress, watching as I left Ari standing alone.  It began with a simple statement from a trusted spiritual friend.

SCORPION’S TAIL

            “Zachary you need to learn to control your sexual energy.”  It was Laureen who confronted me, doing so with love and detachment.  She surprised me completely.

            “That’s an understatement,” I said smiling as I lay on her treatment table looking at the white ceiling thinking of the rush of hormones that had carried me from one dance club to another in the past week.  I had been coming to Laureen weekly for more than two years of Jin Shin Jyutsu treatments.  Her mostly white office felt pure and ethereal to me, though a little too cool. 

            “I’m serious,” she said holding both my wrists as she felt my pulses with her fingers.  “You are so locked down today I can’t get your heart open and I damn sure can’t work on your liver flow until your heart releases its blockage.”  She took a deep breath, closed her eyes and turned her attention inward.

            I love Laureen deeply.  She is wonderfully irreverent and we go back many lifetimes.  We share the same spiritual path, called The Path, and she is one of the few Souls I know who feel older than I do.  If only age brought wisdom to me.  Opening her eyes, she looked into mine.  The light flowing around her increased.  Her greenish eyes became piercing.  “I guess it’s time to talk about this, dear Soul,” she said.

            “My sex life?”                      

            “Yes.  No!  Dear God!  I don’t want to talk about your sex life.”  She laughed and her red-golden hair shook.  “I want to talk about how you manage your sexual energy.  Who you do what with…” she paused briefly, “…is your business.”  She took my right hand in both of hers, patted it gently and spoke quietly.  She told me of women who had confided in her that my energy had discouraged them from continuing on our spiritual path.  She shared their feelings that I had come on to them, then turned cold.  “One dear friend of both of ours shared with me that she thought you and she were leading up to a relationship.  Then suddenly you turned cold to her and would barely look at her.  If I tell you her name you will realize you have not seen her around the Center much lately.”

            “Who?” I asked, stunned.

            “You know I can’t tell you,” she said.  Of course I knew Laureen could not tell me.

But I had to ask her.  Silently I ask myself, “Who?”  I thought about Sandra, about Akiko, about Leslie, about Terese, about Luciane, about Ute, about Kay, about…who else?  I knew exactly what Laureen was talking about, but I could not face that part of myself.

            Looking at Laureen was challenging at that moment, but I did.  “I haven’t had sex with anyone for two years!” I said.  “How could I be misleading her…whoever…or anyone?”

            “I am not talking about sex. Many women are drawn to you because you are a wonderful vehicle for Spirit.  But—and you know this—a higher degree of responsibility comes with spiritual unfoldment and it must be handled with care.  Unless you manage yourself with love and respect for others you will make a great deal of negative karma for yourself, as well as create road blocks for others.  I don’t want to see that,” she added and fell silent. 

            I lay on her treatment table, silent too.  Her words sank into me.  She began to move her hands over my body, without touching and I felt healing energy flow through me.  After a few minutes words began to flow out of me without conscious thought, “I think, no I know this goes back to my Mother leaving me when I was a kid.”

            Laureen gave my one of her looks, “So now we are going to blame Mom, huh?”

            “No.  Really no.  I did blame both my parents for quite a while, but moved past that several years ago.  I am not sure what Karma I created or am working off with my Mother, but I know her leaving has had a deep effect on me.  I have run away from it for years.”  I paused, feeling old pain and confusion rush over me.  “When I feel in love for the first time in high school it was like the world went from black and white to color.  When we broke up, it felt like my world ended.  I took my father’s Mustang and set out driving from Indiana to California to find my mother.  Didn’t get too far, only had twenty bucks, but I was very clearly wanting Mom.”

            “What happened then?”

            “Well not too much, except I ached for a long time.  And I have been searching for the Mom who left me every since.  Searching in any woman I could find.  No that’s true.  In any woman I felt attracted to.”

            “So how old were you when your mother left you.  And why did she leave you?”

            “I was two.  And she left with my father’s trombone player because she had fallen in love with him.  They left Illinois in 1952 and headed to California because her father lived there.”

            “Whew.  As a child I can see why this was heavy for you.  It would be good for you to learn what you did in past lives which set-up this situation.  That will help you neutralize this old karma.  Are you really past blaming your mother?  Or yourself?”

            “Consciously, yes.  Not sure about deeper influences, except that I have a strong drive to be with a woman.  When I am in a relationship, though, I tend to feel trapped easily and then get the hell out.  Fast.”  I felt tears slide down my cheeks.

            “Your heart is opening.  Good.”  Laureen continued gently directing the flow of healing energy toward me.  A few minutes later she said, “I hope you can surrender this old pain to Spirit.  Until you do, you will keep making trouble for yourself and others.   As you think about your relationships with women, try to develop more neutrality.  And send your Mother some love.  I’m sure she could use it.”               

            Thirty minutes later I left her office, the welcome bell tinkling behind me as I walked down the tile hallway and out the back door, feeling the warmth of Honolulu.  I was dulled by the emotional pain.  The rest of the building was seedy compared to Laureen’s white office, which seemed to stay in the physical world only by the slimmest of tethers.

            As I headed to my car I thought about another Leslie, the woman at the Seminar in Florida.  Laureen would not know her, since she was not even at the Florida Seminar.  But then I knew I was wrong about my assumption.  Laureen is where she chooses to be and is not limited to her physical body.  She has developed her awareness and control more than most.  She would have checked on the inner before bringing this up to me.  She would not toss something so volatile my way on a whim. 

            My head ached as I drove home.  Laureen’s words filled my thoughts all evening.  Later, before bed, I sat quietly on the office chair behind my desk in my one-room apartment and sang “HHHuuuu,” quietly.  The Path teaches this practice as spiritual training.  I watched my inner screen swirl with the blue light of my spiritual guide.

            Without trying consciously, I left my physical body and joined Zand on an inner world bluff overlooking a vast valley of turmoil and darkness, where all life was distraught.  Just looking down into the valley I felt heavy and drained.  The Hu became a strong wind roaring through me.  We turned back from the cliff and sat on a glistening white bench washed by a pool of light.  Our bodies were full of tiny flashing points of light.

            As I sat silently by Zand’s side, Laureen’s words echoed through me.  “Is it true?” I asked him.

            “Yes, I’ve shown you this valley so you will have a clear reference point.”  As Zand spoke I felt a soothing love flow through me.  “As we unfold it is easy to lose sight of our growth, and become careless.  Greater attention is needed the farther up the ladder of Spirit we climb.  It is less painful to fall from the first rung than from a higher one.  And it’s easier to start the ascent again if we have fallen only a short way.” 

            A moment later I was again sitting in my chair at home.  My room was full of pounding blue light.  The bench and the valley were gone.  I sat still for a long still feeling the presence of Zand, images flowing through my mind.  I saw Sandra’s laughing face as we crossed the street from lunch between our Sunday Service and a planning meeting for our next Seminar.  I joked and played with her, sometimes risqué, sometimes just being silly, but often throwing my energy around.  Energy which spun off from my frustrations, energy I did not sit with well.

            Both subtle and real, I could feel my lower chakra energy coming around from behind, stinging Sandra with titillation and exciting outrage.  It was such an elusive awareness that friends of earlier days would have laughed at me and told me to have another beer.  I also realized that Sandra had shown a little more affection to me than I was comfortable with in our friendly hugs and touches.  I had pulled back from her.  And I had felt relieved when I had not seen her at the Center recently.

            Guilt flooded me.  Realization settled over me, an uninvited cloak.  After a few steps up the spiritual ladder, I could no longer stand on one foot and hang by one hand to fool around with others nearby.  I saw clearly my sexual energy, unmanaged, coming around to sting Sandra, sting Akiko, sting both Leslies, sting Terese, Luciane and Ute and Kay and stinging who knows who else.

            My “Scorpion’s Tail” I named it without conscious thought.  Stunned, I sat with the awareness of the havoc my undisciplined sexual energy was causing and the chaos it—I—was creating.  Chaos I lived but did not understand, until now.  Half the women I saw in my inner vision were still on The Path.  The rest were not.  The throbbing blue light in the room fell quiet.  I sat alone, a somber realization flowing into my heart.  I did not want to fall.  I did not want to make it difficult for others.  I wanted to serve Spirit, not give disservice.

            Like I would with a toy pistol which had unexpectedly fired and injured someone, I put away my Scorpion’s Tail with shock and chagrin.  I could not cut it off.  It is part of me.  But I could groom it with such a firm hand that it would not cast its sting at others.

HER EYES

            One Sunday in February as Honolulu was deep into its winter, I sat with my back to the book display looking across the single room which is our Center.   Winter in Honolulu means rain every other day, lows near sixty, highs sometimes only into the mid-seventies.  Life is tough in paradise.  But there was no rain today.  I watched the morning clouds dance across the crystal blue sky.

            Someone passed in front of me.  People were taking their seats in the circle of chairs which filled the room.  I shifted my focus to the person who moved toward an empty seat several chairs to my right.  Blinking because my contacts blurred, I saw her.  She turned and sat down in a blue chair.  I stopped breathing.  My solar plexus squirmed.  Energy shot through me.  Then I caught myself. 

            “Stay neutral, Zak,” I said aloud.

            The man next to me asked, “What did you say?”  Maybe I answered him, I am not sure.                I was watching her, thinking stay neutral as my Scorpion’s Tail twitched.

            She was Asian and dressed simply, maybe expensively.  She moved as silk cascades, wearing her dignity as a protective cloak.  I forced myself to look away, then looked back immediately.  She was looking at me.  She smiled.  Before I could find enough control to smile back, she looked away.

             Her dark hair was cut short.  She wore a simple gold chain around her neck and a beige dress.  Her eyes and her high cheek bones were beautiful, the shape of her face exotic.  She looked back as I looked at her.  We both smiled at the same time.  Her eyes lifted me from myself, tossing me into the clouds.  My heart raced as I worked to calm myself, determined to keep my Scorpion’s Tail in check.

            The Sunday Service started with the facilitator explaining that she would be reading a quote from one of the books of The Path.  We would sing Hu for a few minutes; then we would sit quietly in contemplation until she said “May The Blessings Be.”

            She explained “Hu” was an ancient name for God which was untarnished by misuse.  Singing Hu she said was like singing a Love Song to God which can be uplifting, purifying and calming as it helps bring us to a higher viewpoint.  She explained that after the Hu Song and contemplation we would break into small groups to discuss the day’s topic; then come back together near the end of the hour to recap the discussion and end the Sunday Service.

            She read the quote.  I did not hear it.  We sang, “HHHUUUUUU”, then were quiet for about twenty minutes.  I was barely there.  We broke into small groups.  The woman in the beige dress sat across from me in the next group.  I tried not to stare.  Twice our eyes met.  I could not talk.  I could not think.  I fought to keep my stinger sheathed.  I had seen her eyes and knew I faced a major challenge.

            Our annual local seminar was the following weekend.  I was the director this year.  In addition to coordinating the event, I had the spiritual responsibilities to stay clear and neutral and to be the best vehicle I could be for Spirit.  At the end of the Service upcoming events were announced.  I was passed the microphone to discuss the seminar.  No one gasped, shrieked or moaned.  They may have laughed.  I know I said something but had no idea what.

            Then she was in front of me.  “Hi, I’m Ari,” she said holding out her hand.  I hope I introduced myself as I looked into her eyes and felt her warm touch.  Ever met your mother, brother, sister, your father, friend and lover all in one?  Past lives shot across my inner screen.

            She asked about the dream video showing to be presented the following Wednesday night.  She could not attend, so I offered to show her the video whenever she had the time.

I gave her my card and looked into her eyes.  Again.

CLEARING THE PATH

            Seminar Day arrived.  I managed to lose my thoughts of Ari while mulling over a hundred details.  My awareness of my Scorpion’s Tail hovered in the forefront of my consciousness, a treasured gift from Laureen.  With help from Spirit and from my inner guide, Zand, my work throughout the winter had prepared me for this day.

            My stinger was tucked away.  I wondered if she would come.  I marveled at how little real work I had to do.  People old and new to The Path and each other set up the one day seminar at the University School of Travel, working fluidly and smiling with love and joy.

            Then she was there, late in the morning, after I had stumbled through my introduction to the event.  We talked as we went to the same workshop on dreams.  As we walked out of the workshop room, I asked her to have lunch with me and she said, “Yes”…!

            She offered to drive and I said, “Sure,” wanting her to be comfortable.  Her Jaguar sedan was a quite a step up from my Celica.  We drove to a health food market not far away, making chatterly small talk.   Nervous conversation for me.

            I ordered a chicken and feta sandwich, she a garden burger.  Then we both ask for bottle green tea and sat at one of tables on the surrounding lanai.   A pause full of unanswered questions followed.  Finally I said, “Hi,” as we looked across the table at each other.

            “Hi back,” said, smiling.

            “It’s really nice to be here with you.”

            “I agree.  It is nice.”

            Another pause, then I plunged in, never one to hesitate, “What caused you to come to the Center last weekend?”

            She thought for a moment and then said, “I guess if I said it was your amazing eyes, you probably would not believe me.”

            “Well, yeah.  Since we met after you got there!” We both laughed.  She seemed to be hesitant to say what was on her mind, so I kept quiet. 

            After a minute, she finally began, ”You may laugh at me, but I feel really driven to find out about my past life.”  I could not help but grin.  “See you are laughing at me,” her eyes locked onto mine.  “Aren’t you!”

            The counter person brought our sandwiches and drinks, but we did not notice.  I felt a strong current flowing between us, delighting me with its intensity.  Finally, I said, “What makes you think you have only one past life?”

            “Oh?  Do tell!  I knew I liked you,” leaning forward over the table, her modest top stretched tightly, distracting me.  “Please.  Please tell me more.”

            “Sure, but let’s eat while we talk.  I have a feeling we could miss the rest of the seminar if we aren’t careful.  We might not mind, but I don’t think I want to run out on my responsibilities just yet, even at the first flutter of so charming eye lashes as yours.”

            She leaned back, with a pretend pout.  “I am not flirting with you.  I am a married woman.”

            “Really.  You don’t seem married at the moment, ” I said grinning.

            Ari laughed from deep within her, as sensual and frank an expression as I have ever heard.  “I sometimes feel that myself.”

            We began eating our sandwiches and I reminded myself to be careful.  Our eyes met briefly and I found rivers of shared past experiences flowing between us, but remained quiet about them.  The realization that I was to clear the path for her settled over me in a taffeta cloak of golden light.  My job was to make her initial steps on The Path free of unnecessary clutter–without pulling her.  Better cool your jets, Zack, I thought.

            “So tell me about past lives.  How many have you had?”

            “743.”

            “No!  Really?”

            “Maybe,” I smiled.  “If it is helpful for me know the answer to that question, then I will learn it eventually.”

            “But why do you think we have more than one past life?”

            “It’s my sense that we do.  Or rather that I have had many past lives.  What I like about The Path so much is that no dogma is jammed down your throat.  Our journeys, our spiritual unfolding is based on our own experiences.”

            Ari looked at me as she sipped her green tea.  There was a light breeze, temperature in the low 80s, about half the tables were filled with other customers and little gray birds were poking around the wooden deck under our feet looking for crumbs.  “So how can I learn about my past lives?”

            “Why do you want to know?”

             “I am not sure.  I just feel driven to know.”

            “Maybe it’s because there is something to learn from a past experience which will help you take your next step.  Spiritually.”

            “That’s a very interesting thought.”

            We had finished our sandwiches so I suggested we head back to the seminar.  On the drive back I asked her about her family, trying to hold my desires in check.  She told me she had two girls—Sarah and Sally—who were ten and eight.  She said she was Thai and her husband Swedish.  I suggested her kids were “Sweets.”  She laughed with reserve.  I felt stupid.  She said she had a happy marriage, but was not convincing in the way she said it.

            “Oh there you are,” ____________ said when we walked back into the seminar area.

            “Sorry, I took Ari to The Healthy Market for lunch.  We lost track of time.”

            “Actually I took you,” Ari said standing beside me, smiling with her gentle restraint.

            “That you did,” I said.  “Hope you enjoy the afternoon session.  I’ll be around afterwards if you have any questions.”

            “Come Zack, we are about to start,” _______ said.

            “Go.  I will see you later.”  Ari said with a sparkle in her eyes.  “Be prepared for more questions,” she said, laughing.

            The afternoon session went smoothly for the eighty or so participants.   When 5:00 pm came, and people were leaving, _____ bounced over to me, gave me a hug and said, “We had twenty-two newcomers.  Good job, Zack!”

            “Good job, all of us, silly.”

            “Yes, but you were the Seminar Director.  It all flowed through you for this event.”

            “Yeah, right.  And how many times have you served as Director?”

            ________ sparkled.  “But I never had twenty-two newcomers.”

            “Oh, quit.  You’re just teasing.”

            (another Person) _____________ passed by, Great work, Zack!”

            “Thanks,” I said.

            “See…!” ____________ said.

            “Oh, good grief,” I said smiling.  People waved, hug and moved out the doors reluctantly.  It had been a good seminar and I felt great. 

            A moment later Ari was standing by my side.  “That was wonderful.  I really enjoyed listening to your talk,” she said.  I blushed.  “I don’t have to hurry home.  Do you have some time for more of my questions?”

            “Sure.  Do you want to sit outside?” I said, thinking I have all the time in the world for your questions.

            We ended up sitting in her car instead.  We laughed and talked about everything and nothing.  She told me about meeting her husband, Robert, when he came to the salon she worked in near her home in Bangkok and being swept off her feet.  She told me how hard it hard been for her adjusting to life with him, but she was determined to make it work for her family.  She said she did love him, but felt battered and bruised in her heart by his criticism.

            Listening to Ari open up so much and so quickly stunned me.  I said as little as I could, not wanting to interrupt her flow.  After a while she got to a question I sensed was at the heart of her heart.  “If I should join The Path does that mean I would have to give up my family, my home, my lifestyle?”

            “No, there are no rules which require anything like that.  The Path encourages people to give up their attachment to the things of the outer worlds, which is different from giving them up.”  What went unspoken was my awareness of the experiences of thousands before her who walk The Path.  With each step Spirit enters our lives more fully bringing greater awareness.  It is not possible to live with Spirit more each day and remain asleep.  Whether Ari would face losing her home or family would depend on the sum of all her past choices in her past lives and how well she listened to her inner voice and her inner guides.  I felt this awareness was mine from my experiences.  I did not want to color her expectations, but rather let he have her own experiences step by step.

            She thought for a while, then said, “Ok.”

            We parted soon after—with a hug and promises to get together again when she could find the time.  I drove home elated, conflicted, and full of determination to not let my Scorpion’s Tail loose. 

BACK AT WORK

            During the days ahead I thought of Ari often, but did not call her.  I knew she had my number and I could have dug out hers from the seminar registration forms.  But I did not.  I focused on making uplifting choices in my life and fending off challenges.

            “So there you are,” Bob said as I walked into our mortgage office on the Tuesday morning after our local seminar.  “Wondered if you were coming in before noon today.”

            I glanced at the wall clock in our mortgage office.  “Hey, it’s only 10:45.”

            “Only to you, maybe.  I’ve been here since 6:00 and you have a stack of messages on your desk.  Let’s get cracking, Ok.”

            “Sorry.  Yeah, I’ll do better.  I got involved in writing this morning and lost track of time.”

            “Same as yesterday, right.”

            “Yeah, right,” I said a little sheepishly.

            “Last I heard your writing was not paying the rent.  Has that changed?”

            I looked at Bob and saw he was really stressed out.  “I’m sorry about the time.  I will do better.  But there is more going here than my lateness.  Want to talk about it?”

            “Oh, jeez.  Yeah maybe we should later today.”  Bob’s expression softened and he rubbed the back of his neck.  “One of Ram’s deals is not doing well.  But get your files caught up first.”

            I was Vice-President to Bob’s role as President, though we had a small enough office that we all took the trash out as needed.  Bob and I had worked hard to push our business to a new level and the result was good cash-flow for the early months of the year.  We had established a niche as an independent mortgage brokerage company with the lofty sounding name of Hawaii Federal Home Loans.  The only thing federal about us, though, were the withholding taxes Bob paid, when he paid them.

            I churned thorough my phone calls and sorted the faxes and mail, putting documents with the files they supported.  By 2:00 I was caught up and hungry.  Walking over to Bob’s work area, I leaned over the divider and said, “Want to go across the street and get some Thai food?”

            He looked up from his computer and said, “Uhhh, Yeah, I guess I need to eat sometime.”  As we headed down the stairs, he turned back, saying, “Kintaro, you need to stay here, buddy.  I’ll bring you a treat,” and rubbed the little dog’s head.  Kintaro stood his ground, but made a half growl in protest.  “If you ever get a dog, Zack, think about a Welsh Terrier like Kintaro.  Best dog I have ever had.”

            Too unsettled in my life to have any pet, I said, “Sure,” just to be agreeable, but knowing I was a cat person at heart.

            Over curry and sticky rice at Pae Thai almost directly across King Street from our office, Bob and I hashed over different loan files which were moving along well and some that were not.  Finally I said, “So what’s up with Ram’s deal?”

            “Jesus, it’s that god damn Bishop Estate.”  You remember a couple years ago they gave in and finally agreed to begin selling the fee interest to homeowners.”

            “Yeah.  A lot of people in Hawaii Kai who built homes after World War II, but only leased the land.  I have a couple of borrowers who are trying to refinance their loans and buy their fee.”

            “Yep that’s it.  Well recently Bishop Estate has begun pricing the purchase of the fee at full price, as though the homeowner had no remaining leasehold interest in the land at all.”

            Finishing my iced tea, I said.”That’s criminal.  Appraisals are based on how many years are left on the lease.”

            “Not any longer, it seems.”

            “How can they do that?”

            “They are the biggest trust this side of the Mississippi—or so I have heard.  They can do pretty much any damn thing they want to.”

            “Those guys out to be put in jail.  Think of the value the homeowners have lost over night.”

            Bob rubbed his chin.  “Unfortunately, Ram’s deal is on leasehold property.  In Hawaii Kai.  Landowner is Bishop Estate.  It’s time to refi Ram out of that private loan.  But the value is now down to the point where we may not able to do so.”

            “Oh crap.”

            “Oh crap is right.  Actually double crap, because we guaranteed that loan for Ram because he was so skitterish about doing it in the first place.  University physics professors are very bright people, but don’t always understand mortgage financing.

            “I remember that.  So if we can’t do the refi to paid him off, we have to come up with the money ourselves?  Is that were we are?”

            Bob, who always had a disheveled look about him, ran his finger around the top of his water glass, then looked up through his smudged glasses and said, “Unfortunately and exactly.”

            “How much?”

            “Forty-five K”

            “Can we do that?” I asked because Bob handled the finances.  I was the junior partner VP and my income was based on my loan commissions.  We had not made enough money to have any profit to split.  However, I was very liable for my share of our company’s obligations.

            “No. not and stay open.”

            “Shit.”

            “My feelings exactly.”

**********************

OPENING TO SPIRIT

            (Do writing intro)  During the days ahead I continued writing a short story which grew into the “b” word: book.  “I’m writing a book,” I finally said after suddenly buying a used laptop which was overpriced but owner financed.  I planned to take it with me to the Springtime International Seminar in Anaheim, for those studying—or interested in—The Path.

            I wrote every day at home and away, thanks to the new computer, ignoring the office                    Our new underwriter, Maggie, was hired on one hundred percent commission like Bob and I.  She offered her perspective soon after we told her she would also be Vice President.  “Vice-President of Nothing” she confided to the one person not on commission, our “Comptroller”, Chang, from mainland China who was a finished thesis away from an MBA in business from the University of Hawaii.

            Chang was a wonderful guy we all liked.  He had an engineering degree from a society that discourages competency and personal initiative.  Clearly lost at sea in a small business where everyone must do everything with a minimum of guidance, he plunged into his job with a penchant for working madly on a project without bothering to ask for directions, unaware he did not know what he was doing in crucial areas. 

            I was Senior VP of Nothing and did not care.  Wrapped up in writing and living off my recent efforts I showed up most days and took out the trash as needed.  Carefully I created the illusion I was working when I was thinking about my book instead—or Ari.

            She called often.  She invited me out for an evening occasionally.  She sent me a birthday card in April when she was off island, inside a single ticket to a Mozart concert with a note saying she was sorry that she could not go with me, thanking me “For always being there.”                                                   I was touched deeply and wondered what I had done to always be there for her.

            Carefully—so very carefully—our friendship unfold.  A brief hug and a kiss on the cheek when parting; limited discussion about her marriage, no Scorpion’s Tail stings and no subtle desires pushed to the surface.  Our friendship richened.  The deep bond was there.  She was never far from my attention, but always just below the surface.  I listened to Spirit hungrily, hoping to know what to do next to clear The Path for her.

            She acted married by not joining us for lunch after Sunday Service.  She acted married by often ending a phone conversation with an abrupt reference to “him,” “He’s coming,”  “He wants me to watch a movie with him,” or “He’s calling to me from the top of the stairs.”  Her unspoken message was that she had to please him.  I wondered what kind of marriage she had, calling her husband he and him without affection, without revealing a desire of being together with him.  She acted married, but she did not feel married, not in the true sense.

            I said nothing.  We talked about spiritual principles, about the steps she was taking along The Path.  Two years of study are needed before someone can elect to walk The Path.  Stepping off is always possible, but easier if done in the first two years.

            Some people race ahead, overdosing on Spirit and burning off too much karma in too short a time, temporarily wrecking their lives.  Some people are steady in their approach.  Ari was feeling her way by the inch.  Coming from a culture that taught her to subvert her feelings and desires to serve her family made spiritual liberation a risky step into the unknown for her.

            Yet she took her steps.  She was drawn by the Light and the Sound—the inner Light and Sound of God—which is everywhere for everyone, and more so as they open to Spirit.

SEXUAL CHAOS

            While I was keeping my desires from pushing to the surface in my friendship with Ari and controlling my Scorpion’s Tail in all matters pertaining to The Path, the rest of my life was sexual chaos. 

            Spiritual awareness had changed my world.  I knew Spiritual unfoldment involved all life, not just my time spent at the Center or in a spiritual activity.  I tried to keep my chaos hidden, pushed back and down from my friends, from other people on The Path and especially from Ari—but I was running amok.

            Leaving after a Hu Song one evening which Ari had not attended, I went straight to the Stop Light, a run-down dance bar on Kapiolani.  Inside I found a slim local girl dancing to the driving pulse of loud music wearing a G-string and come-hither smile.  Ordering a “club soda, no ice,” I sat down at the stage and began slipping dollar bills into her garter as she danced. 

            “Hi there, Honey.  Like a private dance?” she asked when the music paused and after I had donated about twenty dollars to her.  A scavenged traffic stop light flashed over her head, rhythmically pulsing, red-yellow-green, red-yellow-green.  I should have paid attention to the red light and left.

            I checked my wallet.  “Sure, Cutie.”  After her set, she led me to a booth with a curtain in back and proceeded to dance naked on my lap at twenty bucks a song until I was broke.  “How about your phone number,” I asked, delirious with desire.

            Her lips close to my ear, she whispered, “Anytime big boy.  Just go get some more money and we can have some real fun.”  Then she slipped on a bikini and was gone, leaving me feeling stupid.  She had been doing her job, enticing a balding forty year old out of his money.                                                    I drove home, depressed and wary of just how the negative energy I created would manifest in my life.  I knew continuing my double life would come back on me hard.

DANCING WITH A TREASURE

            Our local Center gave a dance at the bandstand in Kapiolani Park, inviting anyone interested to come, “Dance in the Light and Sound”.  I was not part of the organizing committee, but showed up early to help out, then ended up sitting off to one side with Joe, a good friend.  Fifties and sixties music, a couple of Virginia Reels and The Hokey Pokey passed us by.                                                                           

            “How’s life at Sizzler,” I asked Joe..

            “Long, hard, and consumed with keeping food costs down,” he said smiling, relaxed in the folding chair, wearing grey slacks and a white button down shirt.”

            “You just come from work?”

            “Yeah, another fourteen hour day.  But I’m not complaining.  How’s your writing doing?”

            “Exhausting, but good,” I said, thinking to myself that my occasional forays into the dance clubs was what was really exhausting me, as well as my checkbook.  “Laureen told me earlier today to get some rest.”

            “I’ve been thinking about going to her.  Would like to learn more about Jin Shin.” 

            “It’s pretty cool.  She says it was given to man in Japan who was sent to the mountains to die about a hundred years ago. Whatever he had they could not cure in those days.  Instead, he was given this healing art on the inner, healed himself and then brought the teaching back to share with the world.  I think Laureen went to Arizona to study with a woman who learned from this man.  I think.”

            “Sounds more interesting than learning massage.  Would like to get out of the restaurant business.”  Joe sighed.  I knew he was burnt out from the hours and pressure at Sizzler.

            “Well, hey, there’s Laureen and Ernie.  Why don’t you go talk to them?  Laureen will talk about Jin Shin forever.” 

            “Think I’ll do that, Zak.  Thanks.  Catch you later.”  And Joe was off, loping around the edge of the open air dance floor with his distinctly walk.  Normally I would have gone with him to say hello to Laureen, but I felt like being by myself.  I was left alone with my thoughts…until I saw Ari and her daughters walk into the pool of light surrounding the bandstand and dance floor.

            In a moment I was by her side, laughing and playing with the girls, even though this was only the second time I had been with them.  “Great to see you,” I said to Ari.

            “Wonderful to see you, too,” she said, our eyes holding each others’ for a compelling moment.   Then Sally swiped one of my shoes right off my foot.  Whooping I chased her.  She fled squealing.  Then Sarah had my other shoe.  I ran and ran, ruining my socks, catching one girl, then both, then letting them go.  Giving up the chase, I stopped to talk with Ari.  Her girls gave my shoes back under her strong admonition from her and playfully pushed us on to the dance floor as a couple.

            Ari and I danced slowly, a little unsure.  I held her like a priceless treasure that I was not sure was mine to hold.  Then we all did the Hokey Pokey.  The girls, Ari and me bumping into each other as comfortable as puppies.  I noticed Laureen and Joe talking near the edge of the light.  Moving closer to Laureen, I yelled, “Just following doctor’s orders.”

            Laureen smiled, lighting up the dance floor even more.  “I can see.  I can see.”  Joe grinned at me, being the good friend he was, happy for me.

            Then it was over.  The music was done.  People milled around.  Sally brought us cups of punch.  The girls ran out into the park benches in the dark, playing some game among the seats used for watching performances.  They discovered a homeless person sleeping in the back row and came shrieking back to us as Ari and I stood talking quietly about my writing and her work in their office with their salons.

            Moments later, their father was at the edge of the light.  The girls ran to him, telling him all about the dance.  He had with him the teenage daughter of a friend whom Ari had told me earlier they were taking to the airport for a midnight flight home.  I hung back from Ari as she joined her family until she motioned me forward.

            As I stepped into the group, I saw her husband’s face for the first time.  “Zak this is Robert and our friend’s daughter Kelly,” Ari said, the perfect picture of composure.  “She’s on her way back to Taiwan.”

            Robert and I shook hands.  I was stunned.  He was older than Ari, much older with a heavily lined face and a slight, almost weak physical presence—not someone I would picture her with.  Later I wondered if it had been the light, or lack of light, which had cast him in such an unappealing shadow.

            After they left I began walking home, bouncing at first, my heart light from our touching as we had danced.  As I weaved my way through the hotels and little side streets of Waikiki a growing emptiness overcame me.  Vivid images from my time at the Stop Light haunted me, bringing me down further.  The feeling of my time with Ari and my futility with the local girl at the dance bar sat next to each other inside of me, ripping through my heart.  Breathing deeply as I continued walking, I gradually calmed down.  I brought my role in Ari’s life back into focus and urged myself to make better choices in the future.

MOMENT TO MOMENT

            Spring bled into summer.  I wrestled with my hormones, winning for two months solid.  Ari stopped by the office when she had time for lunch.  One unusually quiet late afternoon at Ala Moana Shopping Center we sat at the small counter back in the corner of the large food court.  Tsuruya Noodle Shop was a favorite of mine.  I loved their curry soba and she was okay with their shrimp and veggie tempura.  Ari normally ate at better restaurants than I could afford.

            “I can’t believe how I feel singing Hu,” she said, in between bites.

            “Oh?”

            “Well at first, it was soothing when I came to a Hu Song at the Center, but not much happened at home when I was alone, you know?”

            “Yes…”

            “Then two nights ago, after Robert and the girls were in bed, I sat down by myself in the living room and began to chant.”  She chewed a piece of tempura thoughtfully.

            “Are you teasing me?”

            She grinned back at me.  “No, just thinking about it.  As I was sitting I felt very peaceful, then a really, really bright blue star suddenly appeared in my inner vision.  I opened my eyes and it was still there, but started to fade.  So I closed them again really fast. And it—the star—became bright again.”

            She fell silent, smiling.  I let her be with her thoughts.  So often I just run off at the mouth.  Today I was much more in control of myself and kept my focus on her.  I glanced at her sitting beside me at the counter, much preferring to be close to her than separated by a table.

            Finally, I had to say something. “And…?”

            “Oh that was pretty much it.  Just this big blue star.  Then it faded and Zand was standing in front of me.  His body shimmered and had a lot of little twinkly lights in it.  Almost like a Christmas tree.”  She giggled.

            “Cool.  That is really cool,” I said ignoring my curry soba as I looked at her in profile.

            “Then he started talking.  Or at least I started hearing him.  Not sure he was really talking.  You know what I mean?” she asked, turning to me.

            Bursting with questions, I just said, “Yes, I know…”

            She looked back at her food and then said, “He talked about walking The Path, about the sincerity needed to take our steps, about how there is no hurry.  He told me to take my steps one by one and care for my family and myself.”  Then Ari looked back at me and said, “I have never felt so loved in all my life as in that moment.  It was wonderful.”

            “So how do you feel now?”

            “Fine.  Great.  I think I really want to walk The Path.  In fact, I think I want to go to Anaheim next month.  To the Springtime.”

            Stunned, I asked, “Robert will let you go?”

            Smiling she said, “I think so.  I have a cousin in LA I haven’t seen for a while.  And I could do some shopping.”  With a gleam in her eye, she added, “We’ll see.”

            I soared.  I had already made plans to go to the Springtime Seminar.  There were just two major seminars held each year on the mainland.  Each one was a big deal, a great opportunity to serve Spirit and take another step.

            I could barely afford to go.  But with the help of my company AMEX card and some creative accounting I had figured out a way to write off the trip as a writing seminar expense and pay some of the cost with pretax dollars from Hawaii Federal.  I would be on a tight budget, but I would there.  Would Ari really make it?  The thought of sharing a seminar with her astounded me.   I also knew it would be a test for me and the best way to approach it was living moment to moment—in the moment, but not for the moment.

ANAHEIM

            I went early to the Writer’s Conference.  One of the inner masters put his hands on my shoulders as I was sitting in a workshop and said, forcefully in my ear, “I will teach you to write!”  He is a remarkable fellow who led The Path for five hundred years, during a period when the teachings could not be brought out into the open without persecution by authorities.  A life-like drawing of him and several other inner masters is on my wall at home.  He manifests a physical body whenever needed, but mostly works on the inner.  This experience alone sent me into the ethers of spiritual exuberance.  Unfortunately I did not see it for the test it was.

            The phone rang in my hotel room as I was resting after the conference.  Ari was in the hotel lobby.  A few moments later she knocked on my door and I let her in, smiling a smile that not stop.  We were together alone as we had been in Honolulu many times before.  This time, though, she did not have to rush off to her family or their business—at least not until the end of the weekend—or so I thought.

            We chatted, she lying across my bed gracefully, I sitting in the one chair in the room with my feet upon the side of the bed near her, but not touching her.  We had hugged warmly when she came in.  As excited and charged as I felt from the conference, from the seminar energy and from being with her, I maintained enough awareness to keep my Scorpion’s Tail at bay.  Quiet.

            We had dinner in the hotel restaurant, chatting comfortably about what we might experience that weekend.  We looked over the program of workshops coming up on Friday and Saturday.  Then she said, “My cousin is coming to pick-me up tonight.  I will stay with her and come back to the hotel tomorrow afternoon.  My reservation is for tomorrow and Saturday nights.”

            “Uh.  Okay.  Sure.  Why?”  My spirits plunged and I struggled to not let my disappointment show.

            “Appearance, mostly.  She is expecting me.  And Robert will want to talk later.”

            What could I do?  Nothing.  I tried my best to stay upbeat for her, and for myself.  My little boy, though, was sulking, kicking rocks into a stream.  Ari did not step down into my low mood and pick me up.  She kept breezing along happy and upbeat.   I knew she felt my energy though.  When we parted in the lobby after dinner she gave me an extra warm hug and said, “Don’t worry, I will be back tomorrow.”  Then with a kiss on my cheek she was out the door and into her cousin’s waiting car.  She had asked me not to walk her out, saying, “She won’t understand me being here with you.” 

            I walked the many hallways and meeting rooms of the hotel that evening, bumping into a few people I knew, but not really wanting to talk to anyone.  I was churning inside.  Finally I locked myself in room and made myself sit down at the table with my laptop.  Putting my fingers on the keys was as far as I got.  I could not write and fell asleep sometime in the middle of the night.

            The seminar officially began at eleven the next morning at the Anaheim Convention Center across from the hotel.  I registered, bumped into Joe then looked around for Ari.  Joe and I had lunch in the Mezzanine Restaurant overlooking the main entrance to the huge complex.  He talked about which workshops he wanted to go to that weekend as I kept my eye on the crowd.  Joe signed up for a Prophecy workshop and I went to the one on Inner Knowing.  Still no Ari.

            As I came out of the meeting room two hours later, there she stood, radiant and smiling.  My tension flowed away.  She told me she had been late for the Newcomers Workshop, but had enjoyed the part she attended.                                   “I feel like I am coming home,” she confided in me.  She took me by the arm as we walked the short distance to the hotel restaurant, where we had dined the night before.  We saw Joe as we entered the hotel and Ari invited him to join us.  I was not overly happy at the threesome, but knew my feelings were completely out of line.

            Before we got to the hostess station, Henri and Diane with her young baby had joined us and we had a party.  Seminar energy lifted all of us and I forgot my funk.  Ari cooed over Diane’s little girl.  Joe made up a quick song about the blue vein on the top of her head and sang it as a love song to the tune of “Amazing Grace”:

            “Amazing vein on top my head

              That’s blue and bulging out

               Someday my hair will grow so long

               No one will find out.”

            We ate, laughed and all hurried across the courtyard to the main auditorium for Sri Thomas’ evening talk.  Anyone’s first major Seminar is an event, even if they sail through it oblivious to their inner changes.  Singing Hu with five thousand people, then listening to Sri Thomas, the spiritual leader of The Path, is a wonderfully uplifting time.  I kept looking at Ari, enchanted with the glow on her face.  Sri Thomas’ stories are special, weaving their meanings on many different levels, full of humor and love.  He told stories of everyday events looked at with an eye toward uncovering Spirit’s hand in all our lives.

            Not bound by full-time physical bodies and already having spent their time suffering and growing in the physical, other masters remain available in the inner worlds to all who are open to them, manifesting in the physical when needed—like my writing ‘instructor’—but less able to bridge the inner and outer worlds as effectively as Sri Thomas, who runs a full time physical body.

            The talk ended and the large crowd flowed out of the auditorium.  Our smaller group split up and I walked Ari to her room.  She was both charged with energy and tired, she told me, adding, “I really think I should sleep.”  She never looked as beautiful to me as when I hugged her good night in front of her room. 

            The next morning, very early, she was at my hotel room door, knocking.  I had been up writing and was already dressed.  She came in, radiant, hugged me deeply and sat down on the bed.  I looked at her and thought, My Beauty, whom I dare not call so.

            Saturday ran past me in a blur of high spiritual energy.  As enamored as I was feeling with Ari I was also feeling very frustrated.  She was being wonderfully neutral, giving everyone a great deal of happy attention.  My feelings about her doubled back on me.  I grew disappointed with my lack of neutrality.

            One morning meeting was for Walkers of The Path, those who had been in two years or more and made a commitment to their spiritual growth.  This meant Ari went one direction to another Newcomers Workshop while Joe and I went into the main hall for the talk by Sri Thomas.  I regretted leaving her, but did not want to miss Sri Thomas’ morning talk.  The situation gave me a good opportunity for a self-awareness check.  Had I stayed with Ari I would have created the message that I was willing to hold back my steps on The Path to sync with hers.  No matter how off balance I can get sometimes—and this day was shaping up to be a furious tug of war between the positive and negative forces within me—I knew that to hold myself back would have deadening consequences, spiritually.

            Joe, Ari and I ate a happy lunch together.  My inner pulls had quieted upon seeing her after the morning meeting, as usual.  Several friends from the Center in Honolulu stopped by our table, each congratulating Ari for making her first seminar.  Sandy and Colleen, buddies of mine from several Path outreach programs, gave me winks of encouragement, which I felt uncomfortable receiving.  I was not ready to admit my feelings for Ari to anyone.

            Sri Thomas’ talk that evening was inspiring.  Joe, Ari and I sat near the front of the large auditorium together soaking up his good humor and nourishing spiritual love.  Afterwards we went to the informal dance and social hour, starting a little after ten.  We three stood around, chatting and munching on chips and dip for a while as happy people swirled around us.

            Then suddenly Ari said she needed to call it a night.  I was stunned, again, as the night was just getting started.  Sleep was far from my mind.  “I need to call Robert and talk to the girls before they go to bed,” she said.

            Disappointed as I was, I did understand.  California was three hours ahead of Hawaii and her girls needed to hear from mommy.  “I’ll walk you to your room,” I said.

            “That would be very nice.  See you in the morning, Joe,” Ari said.  I told Joe I would be back soon and we set off at a slow pace in the warm evening.

            “What a wonderful and inspiring day.  I wish Robert could be here.”

            “Do you think he would enjoy this?” I asked, but felt like Robert was not who I wanted to talk about.

            “Probably not.  He would find something, many things to criticize.  But I can wish,” she said looking at me wistfully.  We hugged goodnight at her door and I walked back to the elevator and rode it down to the lobby in my own cocoon of silence.

            Lost in my thoughts I almost bowled over a woman as the elevator door opened.  “Hey.  Oh.  Sorry!  You okay?” I stammered as I grabbed at her to keep her from falling down.

            “Yes, no problem.”

            “Let me buy you a drink or something,” I said not at all sure what I was saying.

            She laughed a rich, seductive laugh.  “Well that would be all right, but I don’t drink.”

            Embarrassed, I said, “Me neither.  At least not alcohol.”

            “And I am here with the seminar.  Are you?”  She looked me in the eye as she spoke.  Directly in the eye. 

            Feeling a charge of sexual energy run straight to my loins, I replied, “Yes I am,“ and wondered just what was happening.

            “My name’s Jory.  What’s yours?” I had let go of her by now—she clearly was not going to fall—and she held out her hand.  I took her hand in mine and held it for a long moment.

            “Uh, Zak.  Nice to meet you.”

            “Very nice to meet you.”  She squeezed my hand warmly, one finger slipping into my palm and tickling it slightly.  We stood there looking at each other for a very long moment.  I felt wooden.  She looked like liquid sex.  Tall, brunette, short skirt, hot.  Lovely and hot.  I decided I need to get the hell away from her or I would quickly be in a lot of trouble.

            “Well…I guess I should go.  Very nice not knocking you over,” I said grinning.  “Hope you have a good seminar.”

            “Nice bumping into you.  Maybe we will do it again,” she smiled and we walked off in different directions.  I looked back, staring at her very nicely shaped hips, then tore myself away.  Damn.  Damn.  Damn.  Joe where are you?

            I found Joe a short time later munching at the snack bar watching a lot of people dance, talk and happily mill around.

            “Hey, bra, how you doin?” he said slipping into a little Pidgin.

            “Blown.  Just blown.  My mind is truly blown.”

            “Ari?”

            “Yes.  And more.”

            “What’s up with you and her.  She’s married but you guys are here…together?”

            “No.  Just friends.”

            “Come on.  This is your old buddy, Joe.  I’m not buying stock in any bridge and it’s not like you to be selling.  What’s really going on?”

            Joe and I had been attracted to the same woman twice before.  Casual attractions.  We had also shared numerous attempts to meet women, mostly unsuccessful.  I had said very little to Joe about Ari, intentionally.  But I needed to unload on someone at the moment.  “Hard to know, Joe.  I keep pushing down my attraction to her.  Don’t want to mess with her or mess her up, you know.  But, damn.  The energy between us is just so strong.”  I watched the crowd for a minute as it began to thin out.  “Then after I said goodnight to her I run into—literally run into—this woman who is so hot…”  I paused, trying to digest what was happening.  “She is just so damn hot and she came on to me.  Jeez-Louise.”

            “Well go for it man.  Or turn her on to me.”  Joe was grinning and I knew he was only half serious.  We both were single and available, but usually cautious about karmic entanglements.  Joe a bit more so than I.    

            “Nah, could not.  If I see her, I will introduce her.”

            “Ari stopping you?”

            “Yeah. In my tracks.”

            “But she is married, man.  Don’t get caught up in that road.  Will only lead to heartache.”

            “Don’t I know.  Don’t I know,”  I said feeling sad and lonely like the song, yet in the midst of a high wave of spiritual energy.  People around us were having a great time. 

            Joe popped me on the arm affectionately.  “Take care, man.  I am hitting the sack.  Tomorrow morning starts early.  The HU Song is at eight and I want breakfast before that.”

            “Yeah.  See you then.”  I watched Joe saunter off through the crowd and stayed where I was, near the now closed snack bar for a long time, ruminating.  I tried to put Ari out of my mind, but she kept coming up and my gut tightened each time I thought of her in her room talking to her husband.  I felt my two year old self about to throw a tantrum because neither of us was getting what we wanted.

            Wired and fried, I decided to go back to my room and watch a movie until I could fall asleep.  Just as I turned to go, though, I saw Therese, whom I had gotten close to at the Path Seminar in Florida.  She looked great and felt safe to me.  We had spent some fun time together and had not slept together, mostly because I had back peddled after coming on to her. 

            “Hi stranger.  How are you?”  She gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

            “Fine.  Well not really.  How about you?”  Therese is from India.  A slim, sensual woman about thirty who lives in San Francisco.  “How are things with your father?” I said remembering she was having a difficult time with his acceptance of her as an independent and single woman.

            “Better.  Some better.  But what is troubling you?  I can see it all across your face.”

            Not sure how much to tell her, but wanting to talk, I said, “I was heading back to my room.  Want to come with me.  We can talk better there.”  I had no hidden agenda, having pretty much decided in Florida that we should just be friends…though I was not at all sure she was in agreement.

            “Sure.  Staying in the hotel?”

            “Yes, Room 743.”

            “Okay, how about I meet you there in a few minutes.  I should go to my room first.”

            “Fine.  I’ll walk you back.”  As we crossed the large room, I saw Joe across the way talking to some people and waved to him, not surprised he was still up and about.  He waved back and gave me the thumbs up.  At her elevators I gave a Therese a quick peck on the cheek and crossed the lobby to the other tower. 

            Lying on my bed with my shoes kicked off, I keyed in the remote to turn on the television.  Scanning through the channels, I found nothing interesting so I turned it off just as I heard a knock at the door.  Three strides across the floor and I opened it expecting to see Therese, which I did.

            “Come on…” was as much as could say as I saw Jory standing next to her in the hall.

            “Hi there Handsome,” Jory said, “Mind if we come in?”

            “Uh, no, yeah, whatever,” I said mouth hanging open in surprise.  “How do you know…”

            “Hope we are not putting you out,” Therese said.  “Jory was at loose ends and I thought you would not mind.”  Therese smiled as I back away from the doorway and they both came in.

            Therese sat in the one chair in the room on the far side of the bed and Jory reclined on the bed near me.  My head was swimming.  “How do you know each other?” I finally got out.  Jory’s skirt was so short and she was laying back in such a provocative manner I could see a lot of her white panties, which matched her skirt.  I looked at Therese, eyes wide.  Therese looked back at me and smiled her sweet smile. 

            “I heard something about movies,” Jory said looking at me.  “Let’s watch something sexy,” leaving no doubt about what was on her mind.  

            Thoroughly befuddled and getting an erection, I walked around to the far side of the bed, away from Jory’s long legs and sat down on the edge, near Therese.  “Here’s the remote,” I said, turning to hand it to Jory.

            “So….so how do you two know each other?”  I said to Therese again, who turned on the television and began channel surfing.

            “She’s a newcomer from the Bay Area.  Has been coming to our Center for the past couple months.  I needed a roommate for the Seminar and she seemed like she needs a big sister.”  Leaning closer to me and whispering, she added, “She throw her sexual energy around a bit.”

            With the television on I did not think Jory heard us.  “A bit, you say…?”

            “Just go with it Zak, if you can.  She could use a friend.”

            Use for what, I thought to myself.

            The three of us ended up lying on the bed watching a 007 film fest, Goldfinger, Dr. No and finally Pussy Galore.  Fitting titles I thought for the situation.  We talked some during the frequent commercials, but mostly just laid there.  Therese snuggled against me on one side, Jory squirmed on the other.

            My mind kept going back to Ari.  Wondering what she would think if she walked in on us.  Probably just laugh and leave, I thought.  I liked Therese a lot, but was not attracted to her.  I was very turned on by Jory, but found her energy too coarse.  However, a question never far from my mind since high school, as with most males, kept surfacing, When will I get laid again?

            Thoughts about having sex had been coming less frequently since I had met Ari.  It just seemed that when they did rear their head, it was a more powerful surge of desire.  I wondered if it was like waves held back by the reef, or the clouds by the Koolaus, when they finally built up enough strength to come, they really came, sweeping aside my good sense in the process.

            I struggled to hang on to my good sense lying between these two very attractive women.  The building seminar energy, my thoughts of Ari, my guilt at being here with these two women and my never quiet hormones kept me from getting into the movies.  I really wondered what I was doing.

            Half-way through Pussy Galore, about four in the morning, I noticed that both women had fallen asleep.  I decided to take a shower and get downstairs sooner rather than later.  Quietly, I made my way to the bathroom and closed the door discreetly.  Halfway through my shower, though, the shower curtain slid back and Jory stepped in with me, naked and wrapped her arms around me, pressing her very warm self against my wet back.

            “Imagine meeting someone like you in place like this, she cooed in my ear.  Her hands moved up and down my chest.  “Like some help washing your front?”  She laughed in my ear as her hands discovered how quickly I had become aroused.

            Thoroughly discombobulated, and trying to gulp air without gulping water, I began to turn around.  Then I heard the bathroom door open and the shower curtain was pulled back for the second time.

            “So that’s where you two are.  Well three’s company in my book, so I will see you both later.”  With that declaration, Therese slammed the bathroom door on her way out.

            “Therese, wait!” I yelled and hopped out of the tub.  Running out into the room, water streaming off me, my prong waving in the air, I heard the hotel room door slam shut and Jory’s raucous laughter echo from inside the bathroom.

            “Jeez-Louise,” I said and sat down on the bed, my erection fading as quickly as it had come.   A minute later Jory came out of the bathroom holding a towel around herself.

            “Anything the matter?” she asked, feigning innocence.

            “Uh, yeah, I would say so.  Don’t think this is working.  You are really cute and all, but…”

            “…but I’m not your type, right.”

            I shook my head and looked down at my nakedness.  “Yeah, never thought I would turn down affection from someone as pretty as you.  But, yeah, you, or at least now, here, it’s not working for me.

            Jory looked she was going to cry.  “That’s okay.  Sometimes I come on too strong.  I know it.  Sorry.”

            My heart went out to her.   I stood up and hugged her.  Soon her towel was on the carpet and we were hugging naked, body to body.  As I felt myself begin to stir, I backed off and said, “I should probably try to get some sleep.  You’re rooming with Therese?”

            “Well, yes.  Not sure it would be a good thing to go back here now, though.  Think maybe she is mad at me.  Could I maybe sleep here.  A little?”

            What was I to do?  Hoping that Ari would not come knocking on my door for breakfast, I said, “Sure.  As long as we sleep.  And you put on some clothes.”

            Three hours later, after dressing and slipping quietly out of my room, I stumbled out of the elevator, sober of course, but unstable from lack of sleep.  I had left Jory under the covers, sleeping soundly.  I made my way to the auditorium across the courtyard from the hotel for the Sunday morning Hu Song, sensing that I had lost something.

            I got to the back of the hall later than usual.  It was almost full.  I slowly walked up the center aisle looking for Ari, hoping she had saved me a seat.  I finally spotted her—sitting next to Joe, with no empty seat.  What did I expect?

            I was desolated knowing I had created my isolation.  A seat in front of Ari opened up just before the Hu began.  I thanked Spirit for the gift, for sparing me from being sent to the back of the auditorium, away from her.

            Much later in our friendship I learned that she really did not mind whom I spent my time with, as long as the situation and person were good for me.  That morning I learned how much I did not like leaving Ari, that I needed to be by her side—listening to her, listening to Spirit, surrendering my needs and surrendering my passions.  Whatever was building between us, whatever the form our friendship was to take, I knew she was to be my focus.  I felt buoyant and exhilarated setting aside my personal needs for someone else.  It was a decision I made without hesitation, not knowing that living it fully moment to moment would be the test.  My test.

MY LOCAL EDITOR

            After past seminars I usually arrived home flying high.  This time I walked into my apartment feeling like a wounded duck.  Ari had been all smiles after Sri Thomas’ talk and Joe kidded me about the company I kept the night before, but I could tell I had disappointed them both, especially Ari.  Her first seminar and I had stumbled into what was normally the high point—and the send off—of the seminar, the Sunday morning Hu Song and talk.  Stumbled in like a hung over, no longer recovering drunk.  No matter how noble my dedication to Ari had become in my mind, I still had to live with the consequences of my actions.

            Soon it was July and Ari was gone for the whole month to Europe for the family’s summer visit, to the homeland of her husband’s father.  “A quick smile, sharp tongue and closed heart,” she described her father-in-law in an unusual moment of candor.  I missed her, but did not dwell on it.  She was gone.  She was married.  She was my friend.

            While not ignoring the office too badly, I finished the second rewrite of my book and sent it to an agent in Pittsburgh who responded promptly with a request for $1,800 for editing.  Thanks but no thanks, I said to no one as I read his letter.

            I looked around Honolulu for a local editor, checking bookstore bulletin boards and the one on-line BBS I knew about with no success.  Then in the health food store, directly in my path as I headed for the door, stood Gwen.  A woman on a motorcycle I had met in April, letting her spend one night on my floor on my folding futon pad because she was tired and

did not to want to ride back to the North Shore on her Honda 150 only to return in the morning

to give three piano lessons.  It had been a strange evening.  Gwen’s soft core was securely hidden under her hard surface, studded with rigid opinions as she sought power powerlessly.  To me it seemed she was shutting herself off from Spirit, making her path so much more difficult than seemed necessary.  But who can really tell where another is with Spirit?  The more I learn about myself the more I see I am doing exactly what I need to be doing in that moment.  Even if it is not my best, I can still learn and am unfolding.  I had adopted the attitude that it must be that way with everyone, whether I could see it or not.

            What I did know about Gwen, unequivocally, was that she was in my way as we stood in the health food store doorway.  We exchanged one sentence summaries of our lives.  She was between official homes, living with friends, living out of a storage locker and both frantic and kinetic in appealing in a way.  My experience with the Pittsburgh agent came tumbling out.  Gwen reminded me she was a “crack” editor with East Coast training.  I did not question her self-appraisal.  She agreed to meet the next evening, again at the newly renovated health food store deli, to discuss working together.  I had feelings in many directions, but let them go willing to watch this adventure unfold.

            Only twenty minutes late, Gwen sat across from me as I tried to describe what I was writing, “Whimsical out-of-body adventures with nearly hidden spiritual principles wrapped into a madcap tour though a zany world.”  She grew more interested in my manuscript as I described it, reminding me books are books only upon publication.  Until then they are manuscripts, the same way writers become authors once published.  Her East Coast training felt too picky for my broad strokes, but I needed input.  Sorting it out would be a job for later. 

            We went to my office to draft a short contract amid a mutual hunger.  I needed feedback, she wanted money and recognition.  Our small negotiations became sticky.  We barely agreed on her earnings should the work get published with her changes intact, both fantasizing.  We agreed that she would first do a line-by-line review, then an overview.  I gave her the first payment against the nudge of my inner voice.

            At our next meeting a week later, at the office again after hours, the two hundred pages she promised were half done.  Her line-by-line comments were crisp.  Through disagreement, clarification of what we each were saying, and lots of her opinions coupled with our divergent attitudes, I learned some good writing principles. 

            “Your sentence structures are all right, but they need to be tighter.  Too many unnecessary words,” she said showing me where she had lined out several words and phrases.  “A bit too much telling, not enough showing.  Some of your terminology is hard to grasp.  Use an active tense, more and passive tense less.”

            I accepted some of what she said and defended other points.  Begrudgingly she grew to like my viewpoint.

            I reworked the first hundred pages with a passion at home.  At our next meeting she had little done further editing.  I gave her my rewrite.  We talked too much.  I left determined to practice the law of silence in the future.  I was not drawn to Gwen’s brick-hard stack of opinions, but I liked her editing.  So we agreed to continue working together and stretch out our meeting timetable.

             Two weeks later we had both made progress.  I made another payment to her and the manuscript was reforming.  She liked my rewrite.   “Much better balance of exposition and dialogue,” she said.  “And the dialogue is more real.”

            Two days later she called needing the balance of her fee ahead of schedule to move in that night with a woman she said would be a perfect roommate for her.  The nest she had been longing for, in town, near many of her piano students, was hers if she could only get her hands on the money.  My money.  I gave in.  She was at her appealing best, promising me that all her agreed upon work would be done promptly.  Mistake, another inner nudge told me.

            Her new roommate was ideal for less than a day.  By the weekend Gwen was house sitting for a friend who was off-island and about whom Gwen had little good to say.  Life was too stressful, she said, to do any editing.  More promises, followed by silence.

            Weeks later she showed up unannounced in my driveway, raging at the traffic.  Raging as though she had been forced to marry a Republican businessman, which for her would have been something to truly rage about.  I tried to soothe her.  She escalated.  Quickly I reached my limit and told her to come back when she was sane.  I closed the door in her face just to keep her outside, away from me.  She left with the last hundred pages of the rewrite.

            Phone calls to her last house were not returned.  Then her friend came back from her trip with nothing good to say about Gwen, saying she was living with her sometimes boy friend and gave me his number.  I called.  He was pleasant, but I got no response from Gwen.  After complaining to anyone who would listen, I finally let it all go and finished the rewrite myself.  Her input was valuable and worth the full fee even though less than half our contract was fulfilled.  The experiences with my local editor were mine to digest.  I had a book to sell.

WANTING DESPERATELY

            By early September Ari had returned from her summer abroad and I had calmed down my craziness.  We had settled into an easy rhythm of friendship, but our limited time together left both of us wanting more, especially me.  I had been working hard to send out a stack of query packages and needed a break.  I asked Ari out for a movie.

            She asked Robert about the movie and he surprised us both by saying, “Yes,” without any complaints.  We kidded and laughed about our “date”.  We called it a night-out to celebrate Ari’s plans to go to the Fall Seminar.  This second major seminar of the year would be very special.  It was to be the first held in St. Louis since the completion of the International Center.  Of course I would be going, too. 

            We had a wonderful evening which ended on the beach under a blossoming moon, walking hand-in-hand in silence, treasuring our friendship.  Our time together that evening was a calming oasis for me, a time-out from the rush of work, from the push to complete the mailing, and from my periodic struggles with hormonal overload.  My Scorpion’s Tail remained in firm check with Ari.  When I let myself become unfocused for very long, however, my sexually energy threatened to break loose.  The urge to ride into evenings of havoc would grow strong.  The more time I spent with Ari, the calmer my beast became. Occasionally, Ari would suggest that maybe I should find a girlfriend. 

            I worked desperately to stay away from the dance clubs.  Whenever I threw away money on lust, cash flow dried up at work.  The Law of Economy is exacting when abused.

            One Saturday, in the midst of this blurred autumn, I picked-up a copy of the Buy and Sell island newspaper filled with cars, computers and junk for sale.  Under Personals were several ads for dating services.  I was sure they were less than legitimate, but decided to call anyway just to see. 

            Later that afternoon I began making phone calls.  Maybe I could find a girlfriend, though I did not see how it could work with Ari in my life.  Then I thought that maybe I could find a “professional” girlfriend who would make no emotional demands upon me.  Either way I needed to get laid.  

            I dialed.  A few calls into my search I was bored.  Two women I spoke to were obviously for referral services where a date began with “How much?”.  Another woman could hardly speak English.  A fourth woman’s voice dripped with sexual overtones, which was fun for thirty seconds, but was too strong to pursue.  The last ad read, “Hawaii’s Finest”.  A pleasant woman answered, asking discreetly what sort of girl might interest me.

            I grew interested.  Maybe this was a real dating service where sex was routinely expected, if not included in the first date.  A few minutes later, the phone rang, “Is this Zachary?”

            “Yes, hello.  Who’s this?”

            “Jasmine,” she said it in a very cute way, drawing out the first syllable and then accenting the last, “JaaaasMEN.”  She sounded very sweet.

            “Hi Jasmine.”  Are you with the dating thing?”

            “Yes, are you looking for a date?”

            “Well actually I am looking for someone to spend some time with.  Maybe a series of dates.  Sort of a girlfriend, you know?”

            “Yes, I do know.  This is something we could talk about.”

            “Oh good.”  I was beginning to get drawn in.  I really liked her voice.

            “Is there…um…any particular type of girl…um you know, that you are looking for.”

            Of course there was.  “Yeah, I like slim girls.  And sexy.  Dark hair is nice.  Fun and likes to laugh.  Know anyone like that?” I said smiling and flirting.  I was pacing in my small apartment, stretching my phone cord to its limit.                        

            “Well as a matter of fact you have just described me.”  She spoke well, showing an education without being artificial or haughty.

            “Cool.  So maybe we could have a date…or six?”

            She laughed.  “I think so.”

            “Want to start with dinner?”

            “Dinner would be nice.  Though I am a bit of a direct kind of girl and am, you know, a little short of funds right now.”

            Oh boy.  My apartment was heating up.  “So, maybe you would like to…not have dinner first…maybe instead…”

            “What would you like to me wear for you?”

            Damn. I was sweating.  “Uh, short skirts are nice.  And maybe a halter top.  What do you like to wear?” 

            “I do like short skirts, how did you know?”

            Trying to think with my brain, I forced myself to imagine what could be wrong with Jasmine.  “Would you mind if I ask you how tall you are, you know, and how much you weigh?”

            “Sure, we can do that.  I am 5’3”, weigh 105, a local Asian girl with long dark hair and very nicely groomed.  If you know what I mean.”

            Oh, boy!  I had a vivid vision of what she meant.  “You said something about being low on funds.  Can I help you out in some way?”

            “That would be very nice.”  She was quiet then.

            Into the breech I stepped, “Would a hundred dollars be helpful?  Enough?”

            “Yes, that would be just fine.  I am a girl with simple tastes.”  

            On fire, I risk it all by saying, “And I bet you taste good, too.”

            “Um, well, I do hope so.”

            “When might you have some time?”

            “I would very much like to see you this weekend, but I need to go back home to the Big Island.  My Mom is in the hospital.”

            “Oh.  So sorry to hear that.”

            “How about Tuesday evening?” she asked with an almost flat tone.

            A little surprised by her shift in tone and availability, I nevertheless adjusted and said, “Sure.  Tuesday would be fine.”

            “Very good then. How about I call you early Tuesday evening?” she asked slipping back into a warmer tone, softly purring into my ear.

            “Okay!”

            “Be ready, all right?”

            “You bet.  No problem,” I said and she was gone.  Primed for instant gratification, I now had to live with the decision until Tuesday.  Wanting the experience desperately, I pushed aside my inner warnings.

            The weekend and Monday flew by.  I worked little Tuesday afternoon and did not eat. I bought a three pack of condoms and a new bottle of massage oil.  At a little before seven that evening she called.

            “Good evening Zachary.  This is Jasmine.”

            “I know.  Hello!”  I practically jumped through the telephone receiver.

            “Would nine o’clock this evening be good for you?”

            “Of course.  Where do I come find you?”

            “I am in Waikiki.  Would that be all right?”

            “Sure, I live in Waikiki.  Do you have a condo?”

            “No, I’m staying in a hotel right now.  Until I find the right place.”

            “Oh.  Okay.  I had not pictured meeting her in a hotel, but I could adjust.  “Which one?”

            “The Waikiki Banyan on Ohua.  Think you could find it?”

            “Easy.  I live just a couple blocks away.”

            “Very good, then.  I will be…I mean I am in Room 616.  See you soon, all right?”

            “All right!” I said and then she was gone again.  I was jacked, completely ignoring the fact that her hotel was probably not practical for someone charging such a reasonable fee.  I was not thinking about the fee at all.  Just about her.

            I bounced around my apartment on the sharp needle point of expectation.  Showered and shaved with an hour to spare, I waited, killing time, fantasizing, then got my gear together and set off around the corner and up Ohua Avenue carrying a small bag of condoms, massage oil and my desires.  On the short walk to the hotel Spirit nagged at me softly, testing to see how much I wanted this experience.  I wanted it badly.

            I walked by a Honolulu Police Department three-wheeler sitting near the open lobby of the hotel.  Cops are everywhere in Waikiki.  I walked by the herd of families waiting for the buses to come shuttle them to a luau or the late show at the Polynesian Cultural Center, anticipating their Hawaii experience.

            The elevator opened on the sixth floor.  The hallway smelled slightly damp and mildewy, unlike the breezy lobby.  Her room was five doors away.  I knocked.  The door was opened by a beautiful local hapa woman, half Asian, half not.  She invited me in.  I noticed she was not wearing the short skirt and halter top we had talked about.  About to mention it, I decided to not start off on the wrong foot with her.  She was dressed casually in jeans, a white blouse and a vest.  I wondered about the vest.  Her eyes soothed my questions.

            “Hi, Zachary.  So nice to meet you.”  She took my hand.

            “And you, Jasmine.” I could barely talk.  Adrenalin and testosterone ravaged my senses.  She led me to a small couch next to the only light on in the room.  I see only part of a bed in the adjoining room, for it was mostly dark.  She asked me what I what I wanted to do.  By this time my thoughts of dinner and a getting to know you leading to intimacy kind of experience were long gone.  “I think I would like to undress you and maybe give you a massage,”  I struggled to say because my tongue was so thick.

            “And maybe some more?  Maybe you would like to have sex with me tonight?”

     “Uh sure.  Okay.”

     “Do you have the money?”

     “Yes.”  I gave her the thin stack of twenties from my shirt pocket.  She said she would be just be a moment and went into the bedroom—to change and tuck-away the money I assumed.  No.  Suddenly two football players jumped into the room.  One from behind the curtain near me and the other from the bedroom, brushing by Jasmine.  She disappeared into the dark reaches of the bedroom.  I was under arrest for prostitution.

FUDGE SUNDAE PARTY

            The handcuffs closed around my wrists cold and tight.  I kept replaying the scene, wondering where I could have stepped aside to avoiding what I now faced.  Jasmine stayed out of sight in the bedroom.  The football players were humorless, searching my pockets, somehow overlooking my business cards.  “Occupation?” one asked.

            “Writer,” I answered, not wanting to drag our company into the papers and very thankful there was nothing on me connecting me to The Path.  I would have to resign as Local Director, then wondered if I would be banished.  No, I decided, there are no witch hunts on The Path.  Each step along The Path made possible by our experience and validated by our experiences.  I might be asked to step down from my leadership position.  But then maybe not, as informal as the organizational structure is.  Maybe not.  I would ask Ethel our Hawaii Director and offer to resign.

            More questions from the goons met with basic answers for me, hoping they would just let me go.  “I was just horny,” I said whining

            “We all get horny,” one of them replied still busy with his paper work, “But you broke the law.”  His comment prompted thoughts about if what I done was wrong, wondering that if laws are unfair do I have to follow them.  I was squirming big time in the physical and my inner bodies, feeling like an animal about to be sacrificed, wanting to avoid the experience facing me in any way possible.

            I sang HHHuuuuuu silently and felt the calm of Spirit settle over me, showing me right and wrong were not the issues.  I had chosen this action.  I got to live the outcome.  I chose to live in Hawaii and am free to live somewhere else if I did not like the rules of this state.  I had read about the crackdown on prostitution which led to tougher laws enacted in the summer.  I had ignored Spirit’s nudges.  Now I was about to live the experience I had asked for so loudly.  It just was not what I expected or wanted

            My denial surged when I was taken down to the lobby, one of the goons carrying my little bag of massage oil and condoms.  My desires lay shattered on the carpet where Jasmine had stood.  I was forced to wait in the open lobby, sitting on my handcuffed hands.  The herds of families who had been there when I came in were thankfully gone.

            A white squad car pulled in next to the lobby.  The back seat was barren and grey with little legroom.  The handcuffs cut into my wrists.  I felt so helpless, so angry with myself.  The ride to HPD was brief, located just a few miles away on Young Street.  I parked near there whenever I saw Laureen for a treatment.

            Thoughts of what would happen ended when the car door opened, wiped away by the events themselves.  I was walked into a basement room, handcuffs removed, logged in, and then locked into a cell to wait.  A few minutes later I was fingerprinted and photographed front and side.  These cops were nearly human, joking with each other like jocks, slightly friendly, slightly tolerant of me.

            I was told I could get out with five hundred dollars for bail.  I had sixty bucks and could not use the evidence, my slim stack of twenties given to vanishing Jasmine.  Then she appeared, sliding into the station looking uneasy.  “Tracie’s bust,” someone said.  They cheered.  I was her trophy.

            Told I could make a phone call, I was uncertain whom to call.  I thought of Ari immediately.  Spirit yelled, “No!”  I did not want her husband to know someone on The Path had been busted, her treasured friend in jail.  My inner said this would come back to her.  Robert would use it at some point, making her way harder.  Joe probably did not have enough money.  Laureen.  I reached for my wallet with my card of friends’ numbers in it only to realize the police had it.  I asked someone to get it for me which created a small hassle.  Then the wallet was in my hands.  I dialed Laureen’s number.  Busy.  My heart slipped.  I took several deep breaths, feeling pressure from the cop standing next to me so he could go back to whatever he had to do.
            I called again.  Laureen’s son answered.  “See if I can call him back,” I heard her say in the background.  I said it was important.  A moment later she was on the phone.  “What’s the matter Zak?”  I told her where I was and how I had gotten there—and what I needed to get out.  “We’ll be right down,” she said.  “How much?”

            I was locked into a worse than barren cell, a holding tank I think it was called.  No seats, the lower part of the wall jutting forward forming a low concrete bench so people—prisoners—would not have to sit on the floor.  The cell was painted with coats of depression.  A stark urinal was located by the door, shielded only partially from the room of cops.

            My heart beat a thousand times as each moment passed.  Then someone arrived out of my line of vision.  My name was called.  Laureen and Ernie were there.  More minutes that felt like hours passed as court papers were stuffed into my hands.  Then I was in both their arms.  So grateful.  So humiliated.  So angry with myself.

            They welcomed me with love and laughter.  They were laughing!  Laughing at all the experiences Soul must go through.  Laughing because they love me without judgment, love me as Soul.  I felt like I was coming home to a Fudge Sundae Party after breaking the neighbor’s window, expecting the stern reprimands of an old consciousness but finding instead the fluid acceptance of divine love.  They ask if I wanted to go somewhere and talk.  “Yes. No.  I don’t know.”  Then I knew I must go home.

            The clock said eleven before eleven when I stepped into my apartment, home less than three hours since my “date” with Jasmine.  I laid down, my heart throbbing in fear, so keenly aware of what I had chosen over staying home writing.  I was sixty pages into a new manuscript and the words were—had been—flowing well.  I knew my work rhythm was blown now and hoped I could pick it up again.

            I sang Hu softly, felt Spirit keenly and knew I had been given the experience I needed as smoothly and painlessly as possible.  Grateful, I reached for the phone to share my experience with Ari, not thinking how she might receive it.

FIRST LIGHT ?

            Ari was more supportive than I thought she would be when we talked.  She would have come willingly that night she had said.  I was so glad I had not called her, so glad I had not spilled my garbage at her feet. 

            Two evenings later, when she had found time for a brief visit, she told me she wished she could help me with this problem.  I was stunned, when she said it.  Did she mean she wanted to make love with me?  Or was she just saying she wished she could “help” in some undefined way?   It was so unlike her to hint at any physical relationship, no matter how remote.  This was the first time she let any light pass under the door of sexuality between us.  I did not push her for clarification, just held her, so grateful for her caring.  I let her statement stand, cherishing her friendship with my stinger in solitary.

A LINK

            The weekend of the Fall Seminar arrived.  My trouble of two weeks earlier was fading into the distance, but still numbed my consciousness.  The new International Center was gorgeous, a golden temple of harmony and spiritual openness here on Earth, built on the outskirts of St. Louis in the heart of the “Show Me” state.  The new Center was built by many people of different spiritual paths, all seeing it as a special building created to provide a tangible link between the inner worlds of pure Spirit and the outer worlds of the physical where Spirit struggles to manifest—built for those who are able to make use of such a link.

            Ari and I rode from the hotel downtown near the Arch, out I-70 to the IC as it was being called, in a bus full of happy people, many from Hawaii.  This Wednesday afternoon was showcasing the beautiful fall colors of the Midwest, with a light breeze softening what was for St. Louis moderate humidity.  Sitting together on the bus, we were feeling like a couple but acting like friends. 

            She had come to my room earlier, sitting on my bed tentatively at first, which is her way to transition from Robert to me.  Soon she was fully in my arms and overflowing with questions.

            “Why do you have to go through what you go through?  How does Karma work?  Do we get to choose when we reincarnate?  And where?  Will I know it is you when I see you again in another life?  What will I have to go through in this one?”

            “Do you I think I know all the answers to your questions,” I said blowing in her ear playfully.

            “No, but I have to ask someone,” she said and poked me in the ribs.  “And why does growing hurt?”

            “It doesn’t always,” I said grinning.  Then we were out of the room, our hearts lingering and forbidden words unspoken.  Lunch and our visit to the new IC were calling to us.

THE CENTER                                

            As the bus rounded a bend and crested a small rise, forty minutes from the downtown area, a flash of gold struck me.  Then we all saw the golden pyramid roof of the new Center, “…built to symbolize Soul’s movement from the lower worlds of human conscious to the higher worlds of pure Spirit,” the seminar brochure had said.

            Cool fall air in a clean country-side setting greeted everyone, those from Hawaii bundled more than most.  The IC stood low and graceful on the many acres surrounding it.  Golden-hued stone, concrete columns and walls locked together to form a rising sanctuary, vestibule and administration area.  Barely in the physical, The International Center stood majestically, ready to be the intended vibrant link between our outer world and the many spiritual regions of the inner worlds undetected by our five senses.

            Ari and I walked hand-in-hand from the bus up the stone pathway until she became self-conscious and let go of my hand.  I did not mind.  Once inside we marveled at the large luminescent blue star hanging over the sanctuary, symbolizing the outer manifestation of so many people’s inner experiences.  The Blue Star, a symbol for the Inner Guide serving as the guiding consciousness of The Path, passed from spiritual leader to spiritual leader, working with both the Light and Sound of God, by many names, throughout time.

FARTHER THAN I COULD SEE

            The weekend seminar passed by in a blur of talks, workshops, friends and meals—all with Ari.  We were together day and evening, parting reluctantly late each night, she firm in her conviction that her marriage gave her all she needed in a relationship.  I knew that her words, if not hollow, were less than full.  But I did not probe.

            She welcomed my touch as an affectionate friend.  She purred when I massaged her on my bed in my room fully clothed.  She agreed when I said we were platonic lovers when walking down a flight of stairs one evening.  Suddenly, though, she turned and said, “No,” truth and reality struggling to coexist.

            “Watch it, Buster,” she said late one evening in the elevator going to her room when I made a playful proposition to be effective when she left her husband.  For a moment I wondered if I had offended her, then she was bright with smiles again.

            We, like the thousands of people around us, glowed throughout the weekend feeling the incredible flow of spiritual love present at all major seminars of The Path.  Ari was more open now than in Anaheim, washed by the Light, resonating with the Sound.

            Walking back from her hotel Sunday evening after a stroll along the riverfront, and through the middle of the St. Louis Cardinals World Series celebration, I walked through the heart of my love for Ari, seeing it undeniable and whole for the first time.  I had said to Joe the day before without thinking, the words rolling out like someone whispered them into my ear,

“Yes, she is married, but I can’t imagine her being married to the same man five years from now.”  Walking through the honking horns and the happy wildness I saw the months behind us shining with a special light and the time ahead of us stretching out farther than I could see, even with my inner vision.

MY OWN SEWER

            After St. Louis Ari and I were able to spend more time together.  Friday evenings twice a month after Laureen’s class we walked on the beach talking, being quiet and close.  After Sunday Service we took trips to the park, buying lunch at our favorite little health food store in Manoa Valley.  Occasionally we got to spend an evening in each other’s company.

            I skirted the edge of a nasty flu.  Lungs heavy, I tried to prepare myself for court.  I learned about pleading a deferred acceptance of guilt, which could be erased at some point in the future, cleansing my record if I stayed out of further trouble.  I felt better with this knowledge, but far from clear of the karmic load I had created.  I heard the fine could be a thousand dollars, which was scary with my cash flow running low as good loans dragged on, not closing as I had expected—though I knew why.

            I day-dreamed of changing any one of a dozen decisions which had led up to being busted, any of which would have saved me so much pain and humility, saved me from myself.  I knew the experience was a loud alarm from Spirit, a shout to discipline this part of myself.  Spirit’s voice was trying to over-ride my obsessions.  It was giving me an opportunity to neutralize some of the karma created by my choices made in spite of ignored inner warnings.           My unwanted Tuesday morning hearing downtown in District Court came with too much air conditioning and the unwelcomed sight of one of the football player goons in a suit slipping through the side door of the courtroom, ready to testify.  The judge was a no-nonsense woman with a crisp sense of fairness who explained all the options to those awaiting their fates.  She went into great detail about how a deferred acceptance of guilt works.  I felt lighter, hearing her words.

            I looked around for TV cameras or reporters and saw none, thankfully.  I watched people file before the bench, answering the charges against them and trying to explain their actions.   Some dealt with their problems in a straight forward way, some avoided responsibility the best they could, and some got their hearings postponed.

            Street girls from the night before, men who drank too much, men who fought with each other and themselves, women who did not speak English, perhaps only for the day—all paraded before of the judge.  Several people had been caught driving without auto insurance, a serious affair in Hawaii.

            Then I was the only one left and called before the judge.  I felt very naked and eternally grateful no one was scribbling down for tomorrow’s paper the charges which were read against me. 

            “How do you plead?” the judge asked me.

            “Uh, Your Honor, I would like to ask for a deferred acceptance of guilt,” I said, thinking I was being polite by asking what I thought was simply a choice I could make.

            The judge mumbled something incomplete, looked through a book in front of her, then told me she could not grant deferred acceptance because the law had been changed that past July.

            “Full sentencing is mandatory,” she said.  The prosecutor—also a woman—agreed.

            Standing under a hidden spot light, two women holding power over me, I pleaded guilty and accepted a permanent record.  Reeling from the sudden turn of events, I was grateful to hear the fine was only my five hundred dollar bail, but too stunned to have it fully register.  I left the courthouse to a sunny Tuesday morning sinking into depression and anger.

            I talked to a woman at the street corner who spoke in unfinished sentences, then walked two blocks with her toward Chinatown, before realizing she had also just been in court, busted the night before for being on the streets, lingering on one corner too long, talking to too many men.

            Separating from her and still in a fog, my footsteps pounded as I walked around downtown, my anger and libido mixing.  Blindly I sought release from the pressure.  I saw a woman in tight jeans and cowboy jacket cross the street in front of me.  I complimented her jacket awkwardly, insincerely.  She was barely civil, though appeared to be meandering like a working girl.  I thought about propositioning her but feared both rejection and acceptance and especially my own self-destructive energy.

            I broke away from her, drove home, then went to work.  After not working much, I walked up and down Ala Moana Shopping Center’s half mile long multi-level mall, looking at women’s crotches, my frustration and rage hammering.

            I went to a nearby dance bar and looked at more women’s crotches without needing imagination.  Sliding helplessly into my pit of despair, I asked a dancer out for dinner.  She took my card and some of my money.  I went home again feeling even more hopeless, caught in my own sewer and lay on my bed for hours, wanting to cry, wanting to see Ari.  Feeling low, worthless and far away from my writing, which had stopped with my arrest, I wondered if I would ever get passed my own hormones, ever learn to manage my creative energy.

TIME TO LEAVE

            Ari told me casually one day that Sally’s birthday was coming up.  “Isn’t that when Robert will be in Europe?” I said.

            “Yes.”

            “Has he done something special to make up for missing his daughter’s birthday?” I asked.

            “No,” she said.  “He has been gone for her birthday several times before.  I don’t think he has gotten her anything in the past.  Maybe this time when he returns.”

            I was appalled.  A girl turns nine and her daddy has to be away, but treats it like just another day.  I shut down my judgment, knowing it would only come back to me.

            Two days later when Ari and I were looking for a toy cash register for my nephew I saw a box of face-paints.  The next day I went back and bought them and sent them home with Ari after our next class for Sally’s birthday.  I had only met the girls a few times, at restaurants mostly, yet felt I knew them well through Ari’s love for them.  When my nieces were eleven and nine, as were Sarah and Sally, I spent wonderful times with them playing and fighting, showing them around Bloomington and letting them be little adults for a week a few times a year.  Unfortunately our lives had flowed differently the past seven years, seeing them little.  My heart’s place for Sarah and Sally was already there, made ready with longing.

            I was invited to dinner the day after Sally’s birthday.  The paints had been a hit.  “Fun,” Ari said they said.  I showed-up early and eager, then found the energy did not flow as easily with them as it did in my mind.  I had overlooked getting to know two young people.  In a short time, though, we were romping and squealing together.  With puppy dogs and kids, the floor is always the best playground.

            After dinner we played nine-year-old word games, then the paints came out.  Soon the four of us had masks of swirls and dots.  Ari made splendid designs on her halves of both girls faces. Everyone agreed my strokes were colorful, but clumsy.

            We took all combinations of pictures: tongues out, carnations behind our ears, on the love seat in the living room between Ari and Sarah with my arms around them both with Sally directing us into absurd poses.  The wonderful family energy overwhelmed me, seduced me.  But it was not my family.

            Later in the evening after goodnight hugs from the girls Ari and I laid on pillows on the floor listening to Mozart’s Requiem.  Our bodies seemed drawn together, each move made by one was echoed by the other like lovers in bed.  It was time for me to leave.

LEAVING FOR BALI

            “I need you,” came running out of my mouth before I could think about what I was saying or how she might feel hearing this from me.  We sat in her car after Sunday Service at the Center about to part for the last time before her flight to Bali the next morning.  Now we sat in silence, our only conversation my cough from the flu I had outrun until I could run no further.

            I could sense Ari’s distress but was not able to address it, locked into my cycle of need for someone to make me feel better.  As our friendship had deepened, my life-long ache had gradually awakened, arching and stretching from its season of slumber.  Yawning, still hazy and mostly numb from its time asleep, this force within me was quickly strong enough to threaten my mind’s ability to reason.

            We’re friends, I thought, wonderful friends.  My Scorpion’s Tail is under control.  I am dedicated to clearing her path, to never set her on a course where she might have to choose between her husband and The Path.

            To have pushed my supposedly reasonable mind into blurting the lover’s lament, “I need you,” when we were not lovers and had no plans to be lovers, I worried myself.

            Sitting in her car the long moments passed in single file marching somewhere out of sight.  Finally she squeezed my hand, still silent, then said, “You only think you do.”

            How could I answer?  My ache—with no permission to exist—was deepening.  Friends do not “need” each other in this way.  She said she had better go.  I wished her a good trip.  We hugged good-bye and I kissed her cheek.  Then she was gone.

            I was left alone with my friendship for her and my heart in pieces at my feet.  My work with myself for her over the past year stood in jeopardy.  I drove home and walked on the beach, barely thankful for the warm winter day.  Later that evening while I read something meaningless, she called.  “I would prefer not leave the way we left things today,” she said.  “I am just not comfortable with you needing me…like this.”  The she went on talk about our friendship as though it were a relationship.

            I could barely speak and kept saying, “I don’t want to talk like this over the phone.     What about Robert?” fearing he would overhear and be threatened by the tone of our friendship

I refused to pour out my heart, to tell her how I did not want to endanger her marriage but needed more time with her, wanted more time with her.

            Too late to see each other that evening before her early flight the next day, we hung-up, both miserable.  I felt like she was pulling back from me, like we were breaking-up a relationship which had not yet formed.  I was not sure what she felt, but her suffering was clear in her voice.

ANGER AND AGONY        

            The week passed in a wash of misery.  By the weekend I was more numb than anxious.  Monday came.  She was to be back that day, but did not call.  Disappointed I held off from calling her, wondering how would she be,  Indifferent?  Apologetic?  Distant?

                                                                                                                                                Tuesday brought more silence.  I was pulled between anger and agony.  Wednesday evening I called, not able to wait longer.  Sarah answered, “No!  Mommy is not home!”  Her tone of voice shouting that “Mommy should be here with us!”

            She and Sally and Robert were having dinner.  I felt uncomfortable with my discomfort, with my need, and did not want Sarah to understand my feelings.  “I won’t interrupt your dinner,” I said, getting off the phone without even wishing her Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow or telling her to say hello for me to the others.

            The next afternoon, Thanksgiving, Ari called, bright, laughing, fully there as my friend.  She had missed her flight out of Bali, gotten the time mixed-up, then was caught on Guam in the typhoon.  Two days of no electricity, no water, and staying with friends of distant friends— she found it all fun and exciting.  I smiled, just hearing her voice. 

            She stopped by the next afternoon, bringing me place mats from Bali, which I had requested and a rich golden brown silk shirt made of hand-dyed batik I was sure I would never wear. 

            We lay on my bed in the afternoon the way we had in St. Louis in my hotel room, fully clothed holding each other, bodies an inch apart.  “I missed you terribly and thought of you continually,” she said.  “There was a darkness with me the whole trip from the way we parted.”  She poked me in the ribs.  “Please don’t do that again,” she said with a serious expression, but then smiled.  “Then Guam and the typhoon blew away all my darkness.  And here I am with you again.”  She laughed her rich wonderful laugh.

            She was in my arms, my friend, with unspoken love flowing between us.   Whatever I had gone through was history, forgotten the moment I saw her, forgotten the moment I touched her.

UNSPOKEN LOVE

            Soon after Ari returned, Robert left for a nine-day business trip.  Our occasional before-bed phone calls became nightly.  A week after Thanksgiving, with the girls at friend’s house and Robert gone, Ari invited me over for dinner.  Nervous, I knocked on her door holding seven white roses.  She was enchanted.

            The dinner, made with love, was not quite simple enough for my picky digestive system.  A feast of beauty and taste for anyone else, I knew it would not pass through me well.  I gave nothing but praise, though, to her and to dinner, delighted to be there, to be with her.

            She showed me the house, which they were renting as they rebuilt their home a couple miles away.  We watched the sunset from the lanai until I got too cold.  We lay on cushions listening to Mozart again and Vivaldi until I shivered, my flu still lingering.  Finally I asked for a blanket.

            Ari knew of my health problems.  She knew I had been cold in St. Louis, but she did not realize how easily I became chilled.  With the lingering flu, I especially needed to stay toasty warm.

            Our delightful evening ended with a long, warm good-bye hug.  She walked to the end of the drive, watching as I drove off, we both smiling smiles of our unspoken love under the moonlight.

AFRAID OF LOVE

             The next night after Laureen’s class, Ari came to my house to cuddle with me.  So full of hunger for real love and longing for real affection she came closer to sharing her feelings, her real self.  I felt my heart opening wider.

             She told me of her childhood summers in the mountains, playing in the forest alone.  She had kept to herself even when around people.  Classical music and literature became loves of hers and I understood how.  She told me about her passion for opera, which I could not share.   Opera for me was wincing on my grandmother’s living room floor as she warbled to the radio on Saturday afternoons, while I killed toy soldiers.  I listened intently to Ari, happy to feel her opening up. 

                                                                                     There had been no television in Ari’s childhood, no rock ‘n roll and no fun it seemed to me.  Nurturing of spontaneity was a foreign concept in her culture, which was dedicated to continuing tradition at the expense of the individual and freedom.

                                                 She left late.  The last hour I spent rubbing her back, we both talking in the low tones of lovers.  I walked beside her car as she drove slowly out to the street from parking behind my apartment.  Stopping just before the sidewalk, she looked up at me, light from the bright moon glistening in her eyes.

             “Goodnight” she said.

             I almost said “Goodnight,” but instead I leaned into her car, closed my eyes and kissed her on the lips.  Her dry lips were pressed together.  “I love you,” I said, pulling back out of the car before she slapped me.  Shocked at what I had done, I also rejoiced at finally telling her.

             She looked straight ahead at the traffic flowing by on the Ala Wai and said, “I have been so afraid to hear that.”  Then she looked into my eyes again, the unpinning of her carefully guarded heart reflected in her eyes, both reaching out to me and closing off to me.  The struggle between her family and heart was so visible in her rich brown eyes.

LOVERS WHO ONLY KISS

             Invited out again to her house two evenings later, I arrived in time to hug her girls goodnight, after tickling and laughing and then smiling admonitions from Ari.  We talked late into the night, the topic of love carried in her warmth as her gentle heart soothed my fears without words.

                                      As our conversation died out and the music ended, we lay along side one another, the night softened by the hour as though the last log on an imaginary fireplace was breaking into embers.  I kissed her, lips together.  Then again.  Then not again.  Leaving soon after without comment or discussion, I wondered again just what I had risked.

               Less than a week later we lay on my bed in my apartment after a Dream Workshop sharing our hearts.  As she sought solutions to her spiritual confusion, I listened, offering nothing but neutrality, just trying to get out of the way so Spirit could give her whatever it chose.  Our talk died out as before as I massaged her shoulders.  We reached for each other, touching and holding back in the same breath.  I leaned toward her watching her eyes blur as I neared, wondering what she was thinking.  My lips met hers.  I could feel her hold back with tenderness, then felt her response slowly grow.

                        We pulled back at the same time to look softly into the other’s eyes, feeling our hearts’ loud cry.  Then we kissed again, a kiss that grew into a full kiss, melting into each other’s arms.  Our lips led a deeper opening of our hearts, energy flowing even and smoothly as lover’s arms held us both.  Lovers who only kiss.

            “He never kisses me,” she said, burying her head into my chest.  I was shocked.  She felt it.  “He just doesn’t like to kiss.”  A long pause later, our pulses in harmony, she looked softly into my eyes from so close I had to pull back to focus.  “You can have my kisses,” she whispered.

SILLY LESSONS

             Robert returned from his trip.  Our late night phone calls ended.  Christmas came.  Friends of hers visited and I saw less of Ari through the holidays, though she was still in contact when she could.

              One sparkling Saturday evening I took Sarah and Sally out, just the three of us.  We ate

Mexican food, went to a movie and then to Carnival Carnival.  Racing from game to game the girls were delighted.

                          “No one ever brings us here!”

             “Yeah!”

             Rolls of quarters and a couple hours later, we made it back to their house to wait-up for Ari and Robert, returning from their opera group.  The girls went up to their rooms with happy hugs, leaving me feeling warm.  I dozed off in the living room. 

            Robert and Ari’s homecoming brought me back to the present with a jolt.  Awkwardly greeting them, I wondered what he thought of my presence.  Did he think I was the new baby-sitter? 

                                                Outside with Robert not in sight, Ari said goodnight tenderly.

            During the lonely days and evenings leading up to the holidays, I shopped for presents for the girls, for Ari, for other friends and family.  I was grateful my mother had suggested we just send cards.

             I carefully assembled a gift box full of hair bands, play money, little purses, socks, little pens and a few inexpensive gemstones for the girls in their favorite colors.  For Ari I bought earrings and a Far Side calendar.

                         I wrote little cards on each present.  To Sarah I wrote, Princess with a golden heart.

To Sally I wrote, Bubbling fountain of love and mischief.  To Ari on the calendar box I wrote, Silly lessons.  On the earrings I wrote, Love always.

             The girls read their cards out loud in front of Ari, Robert and their holiday visitors.  Ari later told me I was a hit.  At my apartment on Christmas night Ari opened the “Silly Lessons” present and laughed, kissing the shiny purple card twice and leaving imprints of her lips on it.  Then she kissed me until we almost forgot about other presents.

            She gave me a suitcase in a huge box which had sat in my small apartment for three days until she came over that evening.  She liked the earrings.  I felt relieved.  Jewelry had always been a mystery to me.

            We shared more kisses and talked of not making love.  I told her that I felt sex outside of marriage weakens the bonds between husband and wife—as I tried my best to both seduce her and not.

             She told me of her conversation with Robert in October before the trip to the Fall Seminar when she asked him if he had ever had an affair.  His response she said was to turn red and hang his head while sitting on their bed, saying without looking at her, “I need to keep this area of my life private.  I will explain it to you someday.”

            I was appalled yet said nothing, not wanting to be the one to shout, “Can’t you see what that means!” 

            I asked her what she thought and she said, “Either he has or he hasn’t.  I don’t know.”

            Amazed I struggled to keep quiet, then melted away as she kissed me, her soft touch reaching my heart.  “I’m so glad we’re kissing.  I’ve missed this for so long,” she whispered in my ear as she brushed her lips from mine up my cheek, returning moments later for another kiss.

WRINKLE FREE

            She came in the morning.  I stayed home from work.  She came after dropping Robert at the airport for a trip to their Kauai saloon.  That winter Tuesday shone bright with a slight coolness in the island air which was cold to me.  The rest of the world was busy. 

            She pulled into the driveway, smiling her smile of beauty.  Light with joy, she was happy to be away from everything, happy to be with me.  Laughing at nothing and with no other place to relax in my small apartment, we rolled on the bed tickling each other.  My spots were easy to find, hers were a challenge

            “I’d better not wrinkle this,” she said, tugging at her pressed white blouse.  “Do you have   something I could put on?”  I searched through my closet, finding the brown silk shirt she brought me from Bali.  Perfect for her.  She went into the bathroom and returned in a minute wearing the shirt.  Laying her folded top and pants on my desk as she came back to my bed, she stretched into my arms, her lips meeting mine before the rest of her body touched me or the blanket.  “Your kisses melt me,” she said.

            I rubbed her shoulders, finding knots of tension running up into her neck.  “Too much computer?”

            “That and too much complaining.  He’s getting so bad.  I told him last night that if he didn’t change I would leave him in five years.”

            “Five years!” I said then shut up.  Such a long time seemed to make her threat meaningless, but I did not want to add my opinion to her distress.  “Has it always been like this?”

            “He’s not as negative as his father.  But yes, always.”  She thought for a moment.  The two furrows between her eyebrows pinched hard together.  “I was very confident when I met him but over the first two years of our marriage he criticized every little thing I did.  I thought often then that I would leave him someday.”

            “And your self-confidence?”

            “You already know about that.  The waver you hear in my voice you’ve mentioned, that you’ve said sounded like a deep uncertainty, you’re right.”

            I stroked the back of her neck in silence, then said “Why do you stay with him?” wondering if she was ready to open up.

            She looked at me, a gentle tear forming in the corner of her eye.  “I don’t know.  The children I suppose.  My commitment to our partnership for life, too.”

            I kissed her softly, her lips trembling as we touched.  Then she responded with a fire I had not felt in her before.  My hand slipped under the hem of her shirt as easily as brushing back my hair in the wind.  I felt her smooth skin stretched tight over her ribs.  She shivered.  I shivered.  Then I ran my hand around to her back as she leaned on top of me, stroking her spine.  I let my hand drift down over her cotton panties, following the swell of her hips.  Our kiss continued soft and wet, learning more about each other.  I rolled her over onto her back. 

Sunlight danced across her as she turned, gleaming from her cheek and highlighting her hard nipples under the silk shirt.

            “I love you.”

            “I love you, too,” she said.  We both knew this was the first time she had responded in kind.  I struggled with my desire for her, with my commitment to clear her path, not cluttered it. 

We talked about her marriage.  She told me she had never been happy with her husband as a lover.  “He just satisfies himself,” she said.

            My amazement flared.  How she could be with him?  I wished in a primal way to have met her before she married this insensitive man.  Then all thought subsided in the nearness of her.  I touched her face and smoothed the silk shirt over her breasts, feeling her nipples, feeling her arch into my hand.  Soon the shirt was on the desk, too.

            She lay on her back.  I lay on my side next to her marveling at the luster of her breasts, her belly, of the roundness tucked away between her legs pushing up under white cotton.  She began to take off my shirt.  I helped her.  She held me to her, my chest feeling her breasts beneath the warm smoothness of her against me. 

            I kissed her from her nose to the swell below her belly, stroking the insides of her thighs.

“Take them off,” she said.  I moved down between her legs as she lifted her hips and her white cotton slid away.  So softly I touched her and felt her respond as I licked her, barely touching skin.  Then she motioned me up.

            “Take off your pants and lie next to me,” she said her voice husky with passion.

            “Are you sure?” I asked

            “Just lie next to me and pull the blanket over us.”

            I did so, my hardness pressed into her hip.  We lay together, nothing separating our bodies.  As we kissed our hearts joined even more fully.  I moved on top of her feeling her heat beneath me.  My commitment to anything else other than being with her, fully with her in this moment, was gone.

            Just before I entered her, tenderly and slowly, she said, “No regrets.”

OF OUR OWN MAKING

            Two nights later, with reverberations of Tuesday morning still unsettling me, she called after her class, laughing.  Inviting her over in a heartbeat, I went back to my car and moved it to the street so she could have the discretion of parking away from the many eyes of the people she and Robert knew who traveled along Ala Wai Blvd.

            As I walked down the narrow black-top drive I thought of Ari’s words Tuesday morning when we walked the same way after our intimacy.  “This may never happen again,” she had said.

            I nodded, “Of course,” I said not knowing how I felt, but knowing I loved her beyond what we shared but may not share again.  I knew we had stepped-up our karmic pace, but did not know what new rock slide of effect now lay in our paths.  Had we loosened a mountain side, now ready to be overcome by it?  Time would tell.

            Then she was in my arms on my bed again, her warm kisses saying she truly held No regrets. When our passion mounted, when we were a step away from knowing more of each other again, she said, “I can’t while Robert’s in town.”

            I shifted my energy taking a long moment to adjust, to ride our momentum down to a soft tenderness, to the love we shared as lovers who had made love but once.  Lovers who would not make love often.

NEEDING ONLY TO BE KISSED

            The first and third Friday nights of each month, when Ari was able to get out of the house, became oases for me in our lengthening days apart.  We arrived at the same time from different directions and different homes with different experiences for Laureen’s Friday evening class about prophecy.  The class goal was to learn—perhaps—to read the inner records of Soul, if and when it was in the best interest of the reader and the whole.  The ability when developed needed to be revered as a spiritual gift and used only with inner guidance, not as a circus act.  Laureen made clear to us that misuse would quickly result in problems for the misuser.

            The class was laying a broad foundation for spiritual growth, for the class members to develop an awareness of a gift mastered only by the patient and pure of heart.  Sometimes tedious and sometimes esoteric, Laureen’s class was always full of joy and inner unfolding.

            This Friday evening I sat fidgeting as I watched Ari across the room not watching me.  She sat apart from me to avoid rumors.  After class we walked to our cars.  “Would you like to go eat?” I asked.  She said nothing until we stood next to her car, then looked into my eyes, saying more than words can say.  “Or come over?” I added.

            “Come over,” she whispered.

            We left my car in the parking lot under the big tree, driving slowly in near silence as she held my hand in her lap as I drove.  I learned to steer with my leg as I reached over to shift with my left hand.  At home in my apartment she shed her hesitation about the condition of Robert being in town.  After loving slowly, oblivious to the clock and consumed by the waves of love building between us, she said with regret in her voice, “I’d better go.”

            Awhile later we both knew it was truly late, knowing she would still need to take me back to my car.  She hurried, brushing her hair, touching lipstick to cover the warmest lips I have ever known, lips that needed nothing but to be kissed.

UNFATHOMABLE

            On Sunday she was shaky and slightly distant.  I tried to draw her out, then eased off feeling her strung so tightly.  I too was unsteady.  Our rush into intimacy coupled with my failed commitment and fear that I was risking her steps along The Path—all caved in on me—keeping me so busy I did not notice my old sensitivity rise about fumbling vulnerability.  She left in a hurry after Service for a family outing.

            Monday evening I called her, Robert answered, and said, “Here she is,” when he learned I was on the phone.  I asked her if we could meet soon, to talk.  She sounded better and suggested tea. We met outside a restaurant, but sat in her car talking, never getting out.

            Her feelings were a jumble, she said, though her love for me was unquestioned.  “Why does it have to be this way?” she asked with a tear in her voice.

            I had no answers.  I had my own emotional turmoil to unravel and try to sit with.  Staying with pain was not a strength of mine.

            Our conversation ran through the hard parts of our situation, softening for caressing moments, then dashing off and crashing into the limits of our different experiences.  As an hour passed we found our harmony again, harmony with each other and with our newly created situation.

            This time together did not feel new, though, it felt like an extension of many times together in past lives.  Both of us had gotten glimpses of our previous relationships in dreams and spiritual exercises.  I had killed her once.  My girlfriend chased her off once.  She spurned me when I was a man, then she left me pregnant when I was a woman.  We were partners in adventures ending badly, neither of us glimpsing a time when our love worked out.  In the past we had always been reaching out through pain and desperation, unable to find love.

            “Maybe we will get it right this time,” I said.

            “Yes,” she said nodding, then clouded over as she struggled with what that might mean.  The core of her consciousness was beginning to shed.  She looked at me with eyes as sad as Old Vicky’s, the Cocker Spaniel my granddaddy had to lock in the basement each night because she vomited every morning.

            Ari’s old consciousness bound her to pleasing others at her own expense.  Binding her so tightly to the biological father of her children, she now gasped for breath.  I held her, feeling her struggle so, feeling what she was going through.  She did not have words yet.  I did not know her well enough to understand what was unfathomable to me.

            We parted on a clear note.  The moon shining white on palm trees as we had walked along the beach.  We had given up on thoughts of the restaurant, our talk too intimate for public places.  We parted with so much love I felt dizzy driving home.  Her touch remained fresh on my cheek, my lips still feeling hers brushing mine gently.

TO BLEAT OR NOT TO BLEAT

            “Our relationship has lost its pureness,” she said as we walked quickly through the Family Expo at Blaisdell Exhibition Hall.  “It seems tarnished.”  Families and kids swirled around us.  We stepped around a large woman carrying armfuls of balloons. “We both are at risk now,” she continued, struggling to find her words.  “Before we became intimate, we weren’t vulnerable to what others thought.”
            We walked quickly through the exhibition hall, the annual Family Expo at Blaisdell teeming around us.  The barely subdued carnival atmosphere acutely contrasted with our intimate conversation.

            “I would not change anything for a moment, but the sense of loss disturbs me.”

            “What have you lost?” I asked, wondering to myself how often I paid any attention to what others thought.

            “I’m not sure.  The way we are now is wonderful.  But there is a perfectness which is missing.”

            I smiled, happy to hear her opening up as we hurried through the people and out the entrance doors.  We dodged traffic in the parking garage, found her car and drove off on our way to do some errands and bring back lunch for Robert as he stayed behind manning their booth.

            Amazed and shaken whenever I met him, this time had felt no different.  I was amazed he did not pick-up the tone of Ari and my relationship.  I was amazed he was so charming.  I was amazed that I could look him in the eye and act naturally.  At the same time I was shaken I could look him the eye; shaken by his other energy, the scalpel-sharp critical side of himself which ambushed anyone without warning; shaken at what might happen when he found out that I was more than a family friend, more than the girls’ silly buddy.  I wanted to be family.  I wanted his family.

            Fielding Ari’s questions and watching her struggle to understand her experiences, we got into her car.  We drove three blocks then pulled over to the curb to kiss, to say hello as lovers.

            “Spirit gives a taste of its sweetness,” I said, wanting to give her some overview.  “Then often withdraws to see if Soul will notice its absence.  Soul then has to choose between standing still, bleating at what is lost or to work to find the bliss itself. “

            She looked at me as we sat on King Street, Saturday afternoon traffic passing by. Brushing my cheek with the back of her hand, she said, “Sometimes when you talk I want to tell you to shut-up, to tell you that you talk too much.  But after I leave you, your words echo through my head again and again.  I learn from them and I feel your presence even more closely.”

            We kissed again, longer and deeper, then separated slowly.  She asked me to drive.  As I got back into the car from the driver’s side, she squeezed my hand, not letting go until we reached our first stop.

AVOIDING DISHARMONY

            “Would anyone like some tea?” I asked and immediately wondered what the hell I was doing.  The long Saturday was over.  The Expo had not been a success for Robert and Ari’s booth.  An event not suited for his line of beauty products and her imported jewelry, it turned out.  I was tired and chilled in the February night air as we stood around our cars.  Ari and I had been together away from the show on and off throughout the day and evening.  I wanted to be with her alone again before she went home, hoping Robert would say he was too tired and for us to have tea without him.  Hoping he would go on home.  A wild hope coupled with a desperate reach for her.

            “Sure,” he said, “Why don’t we all go to TGI Fridays for a drink?” 

            Not what I had in mind, but I was caught in my trap.

            At the restaurant I sat across from Robert after he motioned Ari to sit next to me.  I wondered if this was his way to be polite.  We talked business, a little spirituality and some nonsense.  Being with Robert felt like work.  Sitting next to Ari felt wonderful though tenuous. 

He described a business venture in which he had invested six-figures plus with no contract and no patents.  His partner was an eccentric inventor with an uneven behavior.  I pointed out that the partner could walk away any time and Robert would have no recourse.  Robert agreed, saying the project was stuck and cash was about to run out.  I asked him about their marketing approach and business plan.  “We have neither,” he said.  “I trust it will work out.”

            The situation seemed ripe for a major loss.  I wondered if Robert avoided bringing up the subject of a contract to his partner because he was more comfortable writing checks in a blind hope the project would work out, rather than facing disharmony.  I wondered what he was trusting in.

            I outlined some business principals I had learned the hard way.  He said that I made sense.  I offered to share past business plans with him, but really wanted less, not more contact with him.  We said goodnight with unsettled feelings all around.                                                                                         

            Watching Ari and Robert drive away in separate cars to the same home pulled me in different directions.  I did not want to break up a marriage that could grow.  But could I?

Can anyone be responsible for another’s choices?

            I knew I craved Ari heart to heart closeness.  Being with her with her husband was a jarring experience.  She has an edge around him I did not feel when with her alone.  Her warmth receded.  Fun was missing.  I drove home sad and disquieted.

LOVING BEAUTY

            I heard her car and opened my door as she stopped in the drive six feet from where I stood, smiling her smile of beauty.  “Shall I park in back?” she asked.

            “Of course.”  I followed behind, watching her drive to the newly empty stall beside my parking place.  She closed her car door, slung her purse over her shoulder and walked up to me.

Standing inches from my face, eyes looking far into mine I could barely resist the pull between us.  I wanted to run across tree tops to her, pick her up in my arms and carry her off forever.

            Instead we hovered close, smiles growing on our lips.  We leaned toward each other gently, lips touching.  We stood kissing, with no other part of our bodies touching.  Yet we were as much one as when we make love.  A moment later we burst into laughter, grabbed each other and wrestled standing up until we almost fell over.  Then we hurried up the little driveway to my apartment.

            It was Thursday night.  Her new spiritual study class had ended early.  She had called to see if I wanted company.  A formality of hers since she knew she was hoped for and expected.

            I made tea as she changed into the brown silk shirt.  We curled up together on my bed, sipping, touching.  She began to talk about her frustration with the slow sales of her jewelry at the Expo, that she had not been able to make any headway in marketing them.  “I don’t think Debbie is going to work out,” she said referring to her underperforming partner.  

            Ari snuggled against me rubbing her head against my chest.  I wanted to help her find the sense of self I knew she had buried under years of criticism, help her ignite her fire.  “Maybe you need a new partner,” I said.

            “Maybe,” she replied.  “Find me one.”

            “Okay, maybe I’ll be your partner.”

            “I would love that,” she said drawing closer.

            As she kissed me images flared in my imagination, flashes of she and I married, the kids ours; she and I traveling the world buying merchandise for her business as I wrote my next book.  Her hands brought me back to the moment, fantasies shimmering away.  The moments with here were more riveting than any fantasy I could dream.

            We said good-night after midnight.  Walking lightly back to her car, the ground giving with our steps, feeling soft as clouds underfoot.  “Tomorrow night?” I asked.

            “Yes,” her lips shining with fresh lipstick.  “I’ll call when I am on the way.”

            “You don’t need to call.  I’ll be here waiting for you,” I said knowing she would be planning to pick me up on her way to our Friday class.  I bent into her car and kissed her gently.  Then watched as she drove slowly out of the drive.  Part of me went with her.  Part of her stayed with me.  She waved as she turned onto the Ala Wai, her taillights disappearing quickly.

            I closed the door to my apartment.  Happy.  Sad.  Full of her.  Lonely for her.  I sat on the bed where we had just made love, my tears falling on the tile floor, feeling so vulnerable and so in love with Beauty.

SOBBING IN SILENCE

            “I called some reps today,” I said.  She brightened for a moment, then sagged again leaning against my chest more down than I had ever seen her.  Our Friday class with Laureen had been fascinating, but too long for two people squirming to be together.  Two people with a too-early curfew.  Ari was lying on my bed still dressed, not able to stay long, sliding into depression.

            “What did they say?”

            “Some were encouraging, a couple not so.  I’ll make more calls Monday.  Then maybe you should talk to them.”

            “Why don’t you just set-up appointments.”

            “Do you want me to go with you?”

            “Please.”

            We lay together in silence for several eternities.  Finally I said “I’ve never seen you so down.  What are you thinking about Beauty?”

            “I don’t know that I’m thinking,” she said.  “I’m just numb.”

            “Was Robert upset this morning?”

            “He was cold and distant.  It feels awful when the family is not in harmony.”

            “When is it in harmony?” I asked.

            She thought for a moment, then said “When I do what he wants me to do.”

            “How often is that?”

            “Lately not very often.”

            “You and I have different definitions of harmony,” I said.  I could feel her breathing as I talked.  “To me harmony is when each person is giving, doing what is generally in their best interest and willing to compromise with each other.  But when one person bends to another’s will, what kind of harmony can grow?”

            She remained silent.

            “What kind of harmony has grown in your home these past eleven years?” I asked.  She did not respond.  “Am I talking too much again?”  Silence.

            I rolled her onto her back and looked into her eyes, her tears hanging at the corners.  “It’s okay to cry Beauty,” I said and kissed her lightly, then held her.  A long time later I felt her sobs begin.  She cried in soft heaving sounds, shaking once for several seconds.  She rolled away from me, reached for a Kleenex, blew her nose and buried her head in her hands, face down on the bed.

            I stroked her hair wishing desperately I could take away her pain.  Then I canceled the thought, giving it to Spirit before I made life harder for her.  After her tears dried she said, “He was so awful last night, I almost told him about us.”

            “Why didn’t you?”

            “I don’t know.  Him touching me is getting unbearable.”

            A picture of Robert making love to Ari, his wife, shot through me.  I let it go knowing that holding onto the image would only burn me.

            “I feel so lost,” she said “I wish I could just crawl into a hole and die.”

            I stroked her hair some more and rubbed her back, sensing how she felt.  I know a bit about how Spirit works, how it reveals its glory then pulls away leaving Soul to flounder until we discover divine love is within each of us.  I kept my thoughts to myself, though, letting Ari have her experience and more than a little amazed at my control.

NYLONS & SCISSORS

            “Robert has to go out of town next week.”

            “Great,” I said.  She smiled.  “For how long?” I added.

            “A week maybe ten days.”

            I said nothing more not wanting to push a button.  I knew she wanted to see me as much as I her, but she had the girls to think of and had both the house and business to run.  She snuggled closer to me and played with my hair, the blanket wrinkling under her as she shifted.  We lay under crystal blue noontime skies in a park deep in Manoa Valley, early on a Sunday afternoon after Service.  We had left as quickly as grace allowed.

            No matter how high or low she feels, Ari is always grace moving with a sureness I thought was only reserved for ballerinas.  I reached for the carrot juice and knocked it over happy to discover the plastic lid was still on.  She wrapped a nylon covered leg around me and reached up for a kiss, getting to my lips before the juice.  I did not mind.

            “There is only one imperfection in our world at present,” I whispered into her ear playfully. “Can you guess what it is?”

            “Our situation?”

            “Our situation at the moment is heaven.”

            “Silly me,” she said, laughter on her lips.  “You’ll have to tell me.”

            “Your pantyhose,” I shouted to the sky.

            “Hush.  Someone will hear you!”

            “Who?  The old guy jogging around the park?  Think he cares?”

            She laughed.  “Why do you dislike them so?”

            “Because they imprison and distort.  Imagine a pudgy-faced burglar with a stocking mask on.  That’s what your Shelly looks like when you are wearing pantyhose.  Most ignoble.”

            Ari shrieked with laughter.  “You’re terrible.”

            “And most inaccessible,” I said running my hand up her skirt.  Her laughter turned to murmurs as we kissed again.  I felt her keys on the blanket and said, “In fact I’m tempted to liberate her,” holding up the small Swiss Army knife on her key chain.

            “You wouldn’t dare,” she taunted me.

            I opened the scissors from the knife, pulled up a pucker of nylon from her thigh and held the scissors blades over it.  We looked at the scene on her thigh as the drama mounted, then back at each other.  After another moment of delicious savoring, I closed the little scissors blades in a swift movement.  The steel made a crisp sound as it cut through her stocking.  A large circle opened on her leg.

            She looked down at the hole in her stocking, shook her head then howled with laughter.

I laughed with her, relieved that she saw the humor in my craziness and surprised I had done it.  I cut several more holes in her stocking legs as we rolled around tickling and laughing.  Finally we collapsed in each other’s arms.

            “We had better go,” she said after a while of lying together, loving our closeness.

            “Yeah I know.  Too bad.”

            “Sure is.”  She began to pick up the blanket and food.

            “Your legs look great,” I said admiring the pattern of holes in her nylons.  “Wonderful texture.   See how much your legs want freedom.  Too bad I didn’t get to liberate Shelly.”

            Laughing more and looking at me sideways like I was a complete rascal, she sat down with the little scissors and cut off the legs of her stockings near her crotch.  When she stood her skirt covered the tattered remains of her nylons nicely.  “You should be locked up,” she said and kissed me.

            We walked back to the car arms around waists, laughing and talking. 

ALMOST MOVING IN

            Ari and I met with a manufacture’s rep at their office near Ala Moana the following Tuesday.  We liked the people and agreed to bring them samples.  She told Robert that evening that I had found her a good professional rep and that I was going to replace Debbie in the import business, becoming her new partner.  Since I was not there I don’t know if she told him or asked him.  From seeing them together I imagine she mixed her approach.

            Robert’s response was favorable.  Perhaps he was too occupied with preparing for his trip.  Perhaps he was unconcerned or feeling powerless to derail our friendship.  Whatever he felt he left the next morning.  Ari was in my arms after dropping him at the airport, both of us ignoring work to be together.

            With Robert out of town we talked every night after the kids went to bed until late.  Sometimes Sally would be nearby during the day when I called and she would want to talk to me.  We had great silly conversations about nose-picking, belly buttons, what she did that day and the sound of cockroaches being crunched in geckos’ mouths.  We often grossed-out Ari, listening nearby.  Sarah and I did not have a rapport on the phone.  When she answered I got one syllable responses to my questions.

            I came by for dinner or after dinner, snuggling with Ari after the kids went to bed and after Gudrun went out with her neighbor boyfriend.  Ari and I kept our ears tuned for the sounds of approaching footsteps or car doors.  I was taking Robert’s place in the household and I loved it.

            When he returned after a week I suffered the loss with a mixture of grace, tears, and demands.  I was still at the house often, helping Ari organize and inventory her earring stock. 

Being around Robert was tough.  He liked to complain about things and people, making my skin crawl.  Looking him in the eye was hard knowing what I knew.

            I was forced to be as friendly and natural as I could, wanting only to protect the delicate balance which permitted Ari and me to be intimate.  I gave away my personal space without hesitation by being as unobtrusive and neutral as possible.  Watching he and Ari interact was painful.  It was difficult enough to see her as a couple with him, harder still to feel her sharp energy toward him and sometimes the kids.  I felt he treated her and the kids horribly.  He showed no affection or support and often kidded at his family’s expense.  Communication for Robert was mostly whining and complaining.  Often I left before the work was done just to get away.

            Being with Ari away from him was golden.  Our energy flowed together so naturally.  A week after he returned he left again for two weeks.  I was around the house so much I practically moved in, always wanting to be with Ari as lovers.  The kids began to protest in small ways.

            “How come Zak is around when Daddy’s gone?, Sarah asked.”

            “He’s around when your father’s here too, Sar”

            “Yes but…”

            “We are working together Sweetie.  Don’t worry about it.”

            But Sarah did worry about it.  All four of us worried about it.  One Sunday after spending the day together, tired and wanting to sleep, but sleep with Ari not alone, my patience slipped.  At the dinner table I kept looking at Ari while giving only token attention to the girls.  I barely noticed Sally always looking at me, watching me watch her mother.  After dinner I dropped several hints about the girls going to bed.  When Sal came to me in her pajamas to say goodnight I was reading the paper, hiding from reality and my frustrations.

            “I always like this comic,” she said pointing to Blondie, “Would you read it to me?”

            “Another time Sal,” I said, “You need to go to bed now.”  In that moment the unpracticed father in me lost a wonderful opportunity to give to a tender heart, to show her I really cared about her.  She kissed me goodnight dutifully and padded off to bed.  I returned a shouted good-night to Sar and waited for Ari.

            When she came to me she was reserved.  Knowing she was tired I rubbed her shoulders, asking her gentle questions.  How was the day for her?  What had she been feeling?  As always I asked more questions that I got answers.  Then she shared with me what the girls had said before going to sleep.

            “If you leave us for him I’ll hate you.”

            “I’m telling Daddy how much Zak’s here when he’s gone.”

            “If he takes you away from us I’ll hate him forever.”

            “He doesn’t like us, just you.”

            Ari told me this is a sad voice.  I was shocked.  Ari said she reassured the girls and scolded them for such thoughts.  We both felt awful, but I knew I was to blame.  I did care about the girls.  But I needed their mother.

            I remembered my pre-occupation with Ari at dinner and my unwillingness to reach out to Sally earlier.  I drove home that night feeling lost.  I had thought the kids were my ally, having fun with me being better than being crabbed-at by their father.

            How wrong I was.

APOLOGY

            The next time I saw Sarah and Sally, I waited until they both were in their room and asked if I could talk to them.  I wanted to open my heart completely, to tell them how much I loved them both, how much I loved their mommy, but did not want to freak them out.  I struggled to tell them what I felt without lying to them.

            I told them Ari and I were best friends and that I get tired and impatient sometimes.  I apologized to Sally for not reading the comics to her.  I told them I was their friend, anytime, anywhere with no strings attached.   And I told them they did not have to be my friend, that would always be their choice.

            They hugged me and said it was all right.  They were embarrassed, showing their warm tender hearts to me.  I finished the talk feeling a little awkward but relieved, until I reminded myself how hard it is for children to confront adults with their uncomfortable feelings, which are often unclear.  I reminded myself that these girls could have had little or no training in expressing their negative feelings growing up in a household where their parents repressed so much.

            I began waiting for Ari to call me and hung around their house less often.  Sometimes I came by after the kids went to bed or were at their cousins for the evening, not wanting them to be alarmed.  Ari and I planned for her next Bali trip in April and decided I needed to go as her business partner.  We wondered if Robert would let me go with her.  She said she would ask him when he got back, both of us dreaming about how wonderful it would be to be together for a week.

VISION IN WHITE

            In the heart of life with so much uncertainty a vision returned to me which I had seen once before.  I saw a new white apartment full of light, above street level but not in a high rise.  I began seeing and feeling this new space so tangibly, I often found myself surprised it was not here yet.  Yet my modest cash flow did not encourage me to look for a new home.  I wondered what my vision could mean

             Then one Saturday I packed-up unneeded things, threw-out old junk, re-arranged and cleaned my apartment…which then became lighter, whiter and new to me.  I thought I had my answer.

SEPARATE ROOMS OF COURSE

            The first night Robert was back, Ari told me Sally had said to him at dinner, “How come you let Zak spend so much time with Mommy?  She’s your wife!”  I was amazed to hear he had shrugged off his daughter’s comment. 

            Two days later Ari met me for lunch and told me Robert had agreed to our Bali trip.  Agreed grudgingly.  “Only if no one else knows about it, especially the kids,” he had said.  I danced around the table in the restaurant, embarrassing Ari and kissed her flushed cheeks.

            We began planning for our time in Bali together.  We talked about where to go, what to do, and the work we needed to get done both before and during our trip.  They had lots of airline miles, so Ari said she would propose to Robert that they would buy my ticket and I would pay for her hotel room.  We would have separate rooms of course.

            We talked about canceling the second room once we got there.  We planned to double our marketing effort to stores before the trip to get a better feel for what was selling locally.  Ari talked about opening a store herself.  I thought it would be great for her, then realized how tied down it could make her–and perhaps me—if she became mine full time.   If, if, if.  The thought was never far from my mind, my heart always wanting her.

IT MUST STOP

            The next several days were full of my work, the trip confirmed almost overnight.  I needed to leave my borrowers’ loan packages in as good as shape as possible while I was away on the trip.  We were to leave in early April and return ten days later, with an eighteen hour layover in Guam on the way back. 

            “I’m sorry I could not give you longer.  Easter weekend is messing things up, blocking out more than a week for mileage tickets,” Ari told me Robert told said to her.  Neither Ari nor I cared about the long layover.  We cared only about having ten days together—grateful that it could happen at all. 

            I stayed away from their house, seeing Ari often during the day as we showed her products to retailers outside the area our rep serviced.  The weekend before we left, Ari and I were scheduled for a skit rehearsal at the Center after Sunday Service. 

            Surprised then concerned when she did not show up as planned, I left the Center the moment Service was finished and called her from a pay phone a block away.  She answered saying she was holding on the other line having called the Center looking for me.  She sounded awful.

            “Are you all right? I have been worried you were in an accident.  Are you coming for the rehearsal?” I blurted out.

            She was silent then began crying.  “He knows.  Knows about us.”

            “How…?”

            “He dreamed last night about us being together, you know, as lovers.  He said the dreamed confirmed what he suspected but did not want to see.”  After sobbing more, she said, “Can I come over?”

            “To the Center?” I cried, suddenly unable to face anyone.

            “No, to your apartment.”

            “Of course.  I’ll go right home.”

            We hung-up.  I stopped by the Center and was told by three people she had called there for me.  I asked Ethel to please find someone else for the skit because Ari and I could not be at the rehearsal.  Muttering apologies I left quickly and raced home.  I found the street full of cars and parked illegally, so Ari could park in my space.  The extra parking space next to mine was now occupied by a new tenant.

            I waited and paced in and out of my door, my heart beating madly.  What can happen now? Will she leave him? Will she tell me it is over between us? I whispered to myself, neither thought feeling true.

            She drove up soon, stopping in the driveway by my door and looking at me with eyes wild with grief.  I reached through the car window and stroked her cheeked.  I kissed her gently then followed her car back to my parking space.  When she got out of the car I hugged her and she nearly fell, trembling with fear and pain.

            In my apartment we lay together on my bed until she could talk.  “He knows.  He has known for a long time, he said, but did not want to admit it until his dream last night.  He is so disappointed with me, so hurt.  He feels for you, which amazed me.  He said he can understand how you feel, but says it must stop.”

            I was moved by her description of his compassion, and surprised.  “What’s going to happen?” I asked.

            “I don’t know.”  We lay together and talked, our emotions running up and down.  She cried then laughed.  I held her, then curled up in a ball and cried for her to not leave me.  She said she would never stop loving me.  She still hoped to go to Bali with me.

            “How?” I asked, incredulous.

            Tears falling, she said, “We’ll see.”

            She left, her heart so heavy with pain.  My heart was dissolving.  My two year old self had awakened in a bed of sharp needles.  I cried all afternoon, walking on the beach later with tears running freely down my cheeks, almost washing out my contact lenses.  I called old friends in the evening reaching out for support, something I did daily in my twenties, when I was young and emotionally reckless.

            Late that night, unable to sleep, I wrote Robert a letter telling him of the love I felt for him which I only partially understood.  I described my pain after my father’s suicide, telling him that was the only time I remembered hurting as much as I did now.  I explained to Robert that I was committed to clearing her way along The Path for Ari when we met, determined to not get in her way and to keep our relationship a friendship only.  I told him about how we had edged toward intimacy over many months after I had seen how hollow their marriage had become.  I said that the state of their marriage was not the deciding factor, though.  Ari and I became lovers because our love grew beyond being able to hold back.  I told him I would not stand in the way of his marriage.

            I would work to be only friends once again with Ari.  I felt strong and clear writing to him, in touch with myself as Soul, seeing all of us from a higher viewpoint.  My two year old was soothed by the inner love pouring through me.

            The letter grew into many pages as I shared with him my spiritual experiences and the principles I lived by.  How growth and love were most important to me, requiring a lot of work.

I said my love for Ari was unconditional.  I encouraged him to push himself to grow with Ari, since she was being stretched by Spirit.

            I shared my experience in counseling, suggesting he and Ari try it, saying, “Everyone has problems and can benefit from some help.”  I told him of how I was learning to be more loving to myself as I have opened to Spirit and how this work is never ending.  I told him of my father, of his refusing to work with his feelings, of how gracious and charming he could be, of how much he needed his kids, of how much he hurt us all because he would not work on himself.

            I told Robert I was surprised how much he reminded me of my father and how I hoped he would act more wisely than did my dad.  I told him I did not feel guilty.  I felt love and pain, which I tried to grow through with more love.  I ended the letter by sending him a hug,

“From one Soul to another.”

ASSHOLE

            The next two days were a living nightmare.  Ari called me often.  I told her about the letter and wondered aloud if I should mail it.

            “Wait,” she said.

            Then we decided that she should read it first, neither of us wanting to make the situation worse. 

            I went up and down.  She went up and down.  Robert lost his compassion for me and for Ari.  He went down hard, swamped in his pain old and new, jerking himself and Ari around with one proclamation after another.  She held fast to the claim we would become just friends again, but she wanted the time with me in Bali to experience “true happiness”.  Then she would try to work out their marriage, telling him that was the least he owed her for twelve years of constant criticizing.  He said he would change.

            She stopped by Monday morning in tears.  I held her until she settled down.  Before she left she read my letter to Robert and told me it was a wonderful letter, but said “But things are too unsure to know when you should mail it.’

            I was gallant and supportive to her one moment, while she was in my arms, then pulling and childish with her a few hours later on the phone.  Robert heard about my more noble side from Ari as she lobbied to convince him we could be friends only.  He struggled to convince himself of my spiritual virtues.

            My worst call with Ari happened Tuesday afternoon, two days before we were supposed to leave, two days after Robert found out about us.  Not knowing if the trip was on and not sure what would happen next, Ari called me at work and I got angry when I heard about Robert’s flip remark that they should use her as collateral for a loan.  If they couldn’t pay I would get her.

I called him “Asshole” and went downhill from there.  My two year old self crumbled, pulling at her to choose me, to choose love and growth, to please not go back to sleep.

            Late in the evening Ari called.  She told me Robert wanted to talk to me.  He had taped our conversation that afternoon.  Would I come up to their house?  She sounded like death.  I could not say no to her.  She told me to bring the letter.  I wondered what kind of man would bug his own phone.

            The fifteen minute drive to their house felt as long and as bleak as my three hour drive thirteen years earlier when I lived in the Midwest from my apartment to my father’s home two states away.  My sister had called on the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  “Daddy is holding Jay-Jay at gun-point.  I’m scared, Zak, and you’re the only one with a key to the house.  Please come,” she had said.

            Thirty six hours later my father was dead.  I hoped no one would die tonight.  Not expecting to be in physical danger, I was aware that I was taking a risk by going to the home of my lover’s husband.  The local papers often recounted tales of out of control passions and related assaults.

I FORGOT MY HAT

            Robert opened the door before I knocked.  Ari was not in sight.  The children had long been in bed, I knew from her call.  He explained he had to make a call to Europe.  I asked if I should wait in the living room.  He said, “No,” sharply, then led me downstairs to their office.  He apologized but explained it was important business and pointed to a chair in the middle of the room a few feet away from his desk.  I sat in the chair for a moment, feeling uncomfortable and exposed, then pushed it aside and sat cross-legged on the carpet leaning against Ari’s desk, still holding the letter.  I wondered if I was to talk to him alone.

            Then Ari came down the stairs and asked if I wanted tea.  She looked as awful as she had sounded on the phone.  I was cold and said, “Yes.  Thanks.” She disappeared back up the stairs while Robert talked in Swedish on the phone.  I felt like a bug waiting to be squashed, my guts tight and hurting.  Ari reappeared silently with three cups of ginseng tea.  She sat on the chair I rejected after asking if I wanted to sit on it.  Then we waited for Robert to finish.

            Not knowing what had been decided between them, if anything, left me wretched.  Finally he hung up the phone and moved his chair into the open area where Ari and I sat.

Ari said I had the letter.  I gave it to him.  Then we sat noiselessly watching him read it.  The waiting was awful.  I had to bail my emotional overload constantly.  Robert clucked as he went through the pages of my letter, clicking his tongue as he made check marks in the margins.  Finally he finished, took off his glasses and said, “Well Zak I don’t know.”  His voice grated in a whiny tone.  I had a hard time feeling any compassion for him.

            “You should have written it to both of us.”

            “What?” I asked.

            “You should have written your letter to both Ari and I.”

            I could not believe my ears.  Then I remembered Ari’s comments about him picking on little things while ignoring the real issues.  He complained about me addressing my letter only to him for several more minutes.  I was amazed.  If this was my competition for Ari all I had to do was wait.  She finally told Robert enough was enough.  He harrumphed and began going through his notes on the margins.  My mind usually shuts down when I am angry.  I could see the same thing happening to him.  It was the first time I had watched it happen in another person.  I knew then without doubt he was sitting on a huge pile of old pain, buffeting him around whenever the garbage got stirred up.

            “I really thought you were a spiritual person Zak.  If I had read this letter yesterday.   But… after hearing you on the phone today—I’ve got your call on tape you know, would you like to hear?  It shows the real you Zak.  You’re just a phony after all.” 

            I sat still on the floor looking up at him, my arms folded around my knees bent up in front of me.  I wanted to look up at him.  I wanted to stay vulnerable for Ari’s sake, knowing it would be too easy for me to clash with Robert sitting on a chair trying to get the upper hand.  I let his words fly by, seeing I would not get far tonight.  His mind was made up.  What was I there for?

To absorb punishment, I decided.

            My mind drifted back to the last conversation I had with my father the evening of the day I drove to his home when he was holding my step-mother, Jay-Jay, at gun-point.  When I arrived there no one was home.  I went inside the house and found Dad’s old hunting rifle.  His only weapon.  I got out of there fast, taking the gun.

            I waited until he and Jay-Jay, returned, then drove by several times agonizing over when I should go in.  I was terrorized about confronting my father, something I had only tried three times in my life.  Each time had been a miserable failure, neither of us able to express our upsets constructively.  Both Dad and I were unbearably miserable when not close to the other.  He was miserable with his old baggage and his unwillingness to face himself.  I was miserable when close to him because he was in so much pain.  I had not learned to protect myself from his hurt.  Loving my father was like hugging a fan.  I got cut-up a lot.  Being apart from him was worse.

            When I walked through the front door of his house that November evening, he looked up surprised, and said, “Hi Zachary.  Nice to see you.  Didn’t expect you for a few more days.”

            Jay-Jay was watching TV.  She said a quick “Hi,” and darted back toward their bedroom, not acting like someone awaiting rescue. 

            “We’re just getting ready to watch Billy Graham, if you’d like to join us.” my father said to me. 

            “No thanks Dad.”  Watching Billy Graham was something I would never to do on a good day.  “I need to talk to you about something.”  His eyes narrowed.   I went on before he could object.  “I hear you’ve been holding Jay-Jay at gun-point.”  My heart tore at my chest and adrenaline pumped through me until I could barely think. 

            “Zachary I am going to have to ask you to let this alone.  It’s our business.”

            “I can’t do that Dad.”  I could barely get a breath.

            He got angry as only my father could, like a fast moving storm.  “All right then come outside and I’ll tell you.”  His lips were tight.  He waved his cigarette like a baton punctuating his words.  I followed him outside.  He stopped in the middle of the walk, his back to the two large evergreen trees guarding our yard, which I had struggled to trim all through high school.  We stopped on the very spot where the FBI had arrested me eight years and not many days earlier for refusing induction into the Army.

            Dad told me about his “miracle”.  He had been waiting for Jay-Jay to repent her adultery and was planning then to shoot her and himself so they could go to heaven together.  He said he had been shown that he did not need to kill her, though, just be willing to make the sacrifice like Abraham’s test with his son Isaac.  “So everything is all right now,” he said.

            I knew then I could do nothing more.  Jay-Jay had not asked for protection.  I had the gun in my car.  The man who when he was twenty-one had said to his proselytizing Christian mother,

“Jesus is just like Santa Claus,” was now watching Billy Graham and working miracles.

            “I forgot my hat,” I said.  Running into the house then back out again I passed by him too angry to look at his face or say good-bye. 

            Before I got to my car I heard him say, “You act like you wish I had done it.”

            I yelled back to him, “No!” which proved to be the last thing I said to my father, the last time I saw him alive in the physical body I knew so well and loved so desperately.

            As I drove away I realized how tired I was, how worn down I had been for years by his threats and pulling at me.  Beginning before high school he would say periodically, “You’re all I have son.  If anything happens to you I’ll kill myself.”  Gee, thanks Dad, I would think. 

            I did not wish him or Jay-Jay dead.  But I was tired of his threats.  Shit or get off the pot Dad, I thought that night.  Twenty-four hours later he did.

            Thinking of my father helped me put Robert in perspective.  I came back to the present to find he was trying to bargain with me for Ari.  I could not have been more disgusted or revolted.  What did she see in this man?  I looked at her.  She seemed so far away, so miserable.

            I reminded myself this would not be anyone’s finer moment.  I worked consciously to keep Robert and his accusatory, off-the-issue rambling in perspective without feeling the panic of past confrontations.   There was little I could say, though, no matter how many words I used.

            He was insisting I reconcile the person on the tape who pulled at Ari, telling her Robert was awful for her with the person who wrote the letter mixing spiritual principals with promises of non-intervention.

            I could not.

            Two days later that I saw my higher and lower self struggling, saw my human consciousness pulling at Ari and criticizing Robert.  I as Soul could see the bigger picture.  This is the struggle each of us goes through constantly in varying degrees of awareness.  I wished I had been able to tell Robert that evening, “Look I have good moments and bad moments.  I am both those people and more.”

            I could not promise Robert that Ari and I would never be lovers again, that I would truly not stand in the way of their marriage.  “I will try my best,” I said. 

            My words only exasperated him.  “You people on The Path are all alike.  You’re rubber bands!” he yelled.  Later Ari and I had a good laugh when she told me that, before I had arrived that evening, in response to his demands that she assure him we would be just friends, she had said, “I will try my best.”

            I told Robert that I saw him as a man like myself with an old cache of unresolved pain, which he expressed indirectly by criticizing the world around him, especially those close to him. 

I told him I thought he had a lot of work to do and if he really wanted Ari back fully, “You will have to work your ass off.”

            “Yeah, yeah I will change,” he said.

            I left soon after.  He actually smiled and held out his hand appearing to me to be so unable to sit with discomfort that he sought reconciliation with me, his wife’s lover.

            “Good luck to both of you,” I said and left.

            Ari told me later how much that hurt her, which was hard for me to understand.  Did she think I was saying I was leave for good, leaving them to be a couple, unfettered?  I never asked her what she thought that night.  Too much happened too fast.  I know she did not ask me to rescue her.

THE DEAL

            The relief driving home that night was deafening.  My emotions swarmed.  I felt angry

being subjected to Robert’s little point of view, sad for Ari and sad for him.  I know what it is like to carry crap inside.  I felt a little hope for the long view.  If Ari keeps growing she will out-grow him because I don’t think he will face himself, I thought.  I felt hopeless in the moment, though. How could we go to Bali now?  I could not even think of what lay ahead if we did go together. 

            Sleep was elusive.  I awoke in a sweat with an emotional hangover.  My body ached all over and my head pounded.  I was weak and shaky, making it to work late in the morning.  Ari called from a phone booth to say she had a couple hours free.

            “Can you get away for lunch?”

            “How are you?” I asked.

            “I’ll tell you when I see you.”

            I walked out of the office to meet her, wondering if it would be for the last time.  She wore dark glasses and had her head tied up in a scarf, looking like she had been up all night cleaning after attending a week of funerals.

            “You don’t look so good,” I said and kissed her cheek.

            “If I look as bad as you then I should be left out in the sun to die,” she said with a hint of a smile.

            “That’s a thought,” I said and we burst into laughter, draining away our tension.

            “Sounds pretty bad to me,” she said.

            “Sounds terminal.  Let’s get out of here.”

            She drove into Manoa Valley toward our favorite health food market.  “What happened after I left last night,” I finally asked.

            “Nothing good.  We fought for most of the night.  He wants me to never see you again.”

            “And…?”

            “That’s not what I want.”

            “Come to any decision?  Is this the last time I see you?  What about Bali?” 

            She was silent in her way for blocks.  I felt like I was sliding slowly down a long sharp edge, waiting to feel the bite of metal.  Then she said, “We can go to Bali.”

            “You’re kidding!  Why?  How?”

            “Because I insisted on it.  I told Robert I would leave him if he prevented us from going.”

            “Wow!  What then?”

            “He agreed on the condition that when we return we only see each other only on Sundays at Service for a year.”

            “A YEAR!  Do I have a say in this?”

            She looked at me with eyes which always captured my heart.  “You don’t have to come to Bali with me, but I hope you will.”

            I shut up fast as we approached the little market.  As awful as the deal sounded, I knew it was Ari and Robert’s decision how to handle their marriage.  My decision was how to be involved with Ari with what she had left over…until…if.  Feeling like I was going nuts inside I swallowed my feelings.

            We stopped and picked up our sandwiches, then drove to the nearby park.  Once we spread out the blankets we forgot about the food and held each other. 

            “I don’t know whether to prepare for a wake or a celebration,” I said.

            “Me neither.  But our flight is tomorrow evening if you want to go.”

            “Of course I want to go!  Are you crazy?  No way could I pass up a chance to be with you for ten days no matter what coming home means.”  She kissed me like we were alone forever.

Kissed me and rolled me over, unbuttoning my shirt running her hands all over me, her passion overwhelming both of us.

GO WITH LOVE

            I left work soon after Ari dropped me off to go home to pack and rest.  I was so tired from the tension.  The next morning I saw Laureen for a treatment.  She hugged me and squeezed my hand as I told her what was happening with Ari, my tears falling as I talked. 

            Then she said, “I want you two to go to Bali and not think about anything or anyone else.  Let Spirit handle Honolulu and whatever it is you are to return to.  Go to Bali.  Go with only love in your hearts.  Be sure and tell Ari this word for word.  Now get on the table.  You need a treatment and this one’s on me.”

            I made it to the airport ninety minutes ahead of our evening flight time.  International check-in was two hours before departure.  I had spoken to Ari briefly at noon and told her Laureen’s words.  She said she would be there but I wondered if she would.  Could Robert really let her go, go away with her lover for ten days?  I don’t know that I could.  Then I reminded myself once again that he and I are different people.

            I waited by the agricultural inspection station.  Hawaii restricts live products leaving the state to keep med flies out of California.  We did not have to put our bags through ag inspectios, but it was a good meeting place.  I waited and waited looking at my wrist, which had not held a watch since high school, wondering why the new airport was built without one public clock.  I tried to read watches on people’s wrists as they walked by, but the light was too dim.  Then she was there, rolling her suitcase along behind her looking like a professional traveler.

            “Where’s Robert?” I asked.

            “He wouldn’t come in.  I told him he should at least say hello to you.  But he refused.”

            “Well I ‘m glad.  Let’s get out of here.”

            We checked through easily, got to the gate, boarded in minutes and settled into our first class seats.  We were given water and orange juice by the flight attendant.  I held Ari’s hand and my breath waiting for the plane to lift off hoping nothing would pull us back at the last moment. I was not at all sure I could stand going back to my apartment alone if the flight was canceled.

            Ari seemed sad and distant.  The plane was finally pushed away from the gate, rolled out to the runway and we left Honolulu behind with a roar.  We raised the armrest between us and cuddled.  An hour later we were laughing and deep into five across tic-tac-toe played on a full page covered with lines, the noise of the airplane drowning the past, washing away our pain and fears.

BALI #1

            The Year Of Living Dangerously kept running though my mind as we stood in line in a rickety wooden building without walls.  The nighttime humidity was oppressive.  Guards stood around with rifles.  I saw Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver living through death and upheaval in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, one island away from where we stood in Denpasar, Bali.  The movie was at least ten years old.  My memory was that the movie was not fiction, or only a bit fictionalized.   I remembered reading about recent trouble in East Timor, an outer island in the Indonesian chain.  The people there were being persecuted and repressed by Sukarno or Sumakato or whoever was the supposedly benevolent ruler of Indonesia. 

            Ari and I passed through immigration without event, hand in hand sweating from the heat, from the turmoil we had left behind and from the anguish we faced upon return.  “I want you both to go with love, to live completely in the moment.  This trip is a gift of love for you,” Laureen had told Ari in an afternoon phone call, repeating the same words she said to me, trying her best to focus us on love, not pain.

            In this area of the world where violence can appear out of nowhere I sensed, especially to a Mid-western kid with gentle eyes unwise in the ways of third world countries, Spirit wrapped us in its love and whisked us through the airport and onto a shuttle to the Sheraton.  The little van shuddered with each bump blowing stale air conditioning directly onto my head until we finally convinced the driver to turn it off.

            The people at the Sheraton Lagoon at Nusa Dua Beach welcomed us graciously.  Our room was far away from the large open hotel entrance.  We followed the valet as he wheeled our bags through the halls to the door of number four-sixty-three.  The room opened up before us.  Two steps down from the entry a king size bed covered in white floated between walls and floor and ceiling of lush dark woods.  To our right the bath waited on the entry level—a shower with Jacuzzi looking out over the big bed, cantilevered like a tree house into the room.

            With our bags set in the corner we gave the valet a tip and a thank you.  After a warm hug and a warmer kiss we opened the sliding glass door to a small lanai that overlooked a tropical playground of pools and lagoons, one of which had its own beach.  Lighted paths, a waterfall, palm trees, lush greenery and the ocean filled our new vision of paradise.  The South Pacific shimmered in the moonlight, washing up to a gently curving sandy beach which echoed the shape of the moon above.  Our lovers’ paradise.

            We unpacked, too tired from the trip and the days before to do anything in a hurry.  We showered then soaked in the Jacuzzi, soaping and massaging each other, touching with delight and a tender care, always a part of Ari and my loving.  This was the first time we were able to enjoy each other unhurried.

            We slid into bed together.  The crisp white sheets wrapped around us.  We made love slowly as though we would be together all our lives losing the trauma of the past four days in Honolulu along with the tensions and tiredness of travel.  Fully in the moment we were determined to love as if there were no more tomorrows.

BALI #2

            The morning woke us gently.  Soft sunrise melted our sleep away, giving us both what we had wanted, what we had cried for, what we had loved for—waking in each other’s arms.  We stretched in unison like synchronized swimmers.  I kissed her shoulder then her neck then her lips.  She tasted sleepy and wonderful.  In a moment she was out of the bed and into the bathroom.

            “Getting up so soon?” I asked.  She was back in my arms before I wondered about her not answering, the toilet rumbling somewhere in the distance and her breath toothpaste fresh.  “Do you want me to shave?”

            “Later,” she mumbled through our lips.

            We showered and dressed agreeing to rest the whole day.  Both of us needed to recoup and my lungs were still wheezing from the airplane.  Later we left the room walking hand-in-hand down the tiled hallway, down three flights of the open air stairway, down to the ground floor and across the winding pathways that separated the lagoon from the pool and a small bar from another pool.  The restaurant nearest the beach was being cleaned before lunch.

            We walked in the surf like newlyweds from Iowa, then found our way to the larger restaurant that was serving a free brunch.  Fresh juices in glass pitchers set in ice—carrot, melon, pineapple, guava, watermelon, orange, lemon, grapefruit, apple, papaya—an orgy of fruit juices.  Then we found fruits themselves cut up and arrange in artistic platters, many of them new to me.  Next was a cereal and croissant bar with two chefs behind it in white hats making omelets, pancakes, and waffles to order.  There were large silver heated servers full of scrambled eggs, rice, sausage, potatoes and an Indonesian dish with a choice of hot peppers, shoyu or peanuts for garnish.

            All this food—as much as we wanted—was ours to eat sitting next to a lagoon fed by gurgling waters pouring over rocks.  We were waited on by a group of young people whose smiles, grace, and courtesy enchanted an already enchanting morning.

            “I never want to leave here,” Ari said.  I agreed, amazed.

            After brunch we walked the beach both ways.  To our left down three or four hotels we passed through a group of local people offering to sell the simplest of wares including T-shirts, plastic toys, flowers and sarongs.  They came out of the bushes like brown-teethed lizards smelling prey, smiling but hungry for money. 

            Just beyond this group the beach became rock and uninviting so we turned back and retraced our steps.  We passed our hotel and continued on, leaving the beach to walk overland across a jetty that ended in cliffs, but led to the next beach that ran in a short arch along the ocean then also ended in another set of cliffs.  We crossed another narrow strip of land and found a third beach which stretched out for miles. We named it the “ForeverBeach.”  Not far down it we found another hotel with a labyrinth of pools.  Finally we shook the ever-present local self-employed, apparently shying away from hotel property.

            We swam in the pools of this unnamed hotel and watched Japanese newlyweds play and blush.  We ran quickly across the toe-burning brick surfaces beside the water and rested on plastic cots.  I felt stronger by the moment as my lungs soaked up the heat and sunshine.  Ari began to purr with pleasure, the reality of Honolulu fading.

            We played in the ocean hugging intimately until a group of young kids from Australia interrupted our fun with their craziness.  Batting beach balls back and forth, we laughed and floated with them until we slowly drifted away from their group in each other arms.

            Feeling a little drained, we walked back across the two hidden beaches, through the unrelenting local people, one of whom offered to sell me a purple and green dinosaur, which looked like a lost toy of a vacationing two year old.

            We napped, falling asleep with our lips touching, her breath caressing my cheek as I slipped away from the physical world.  The day was still with us when we awoke.  I massaged her with oil, teasing her between her legs, then said, “After a swim,” when she wanted to massage me.

            We splashed in the pool downstairs under a late afternoon sun and played like the kids in the ocean around the point.  Then we discovered two small basketball goals in one corner of the free-form pools.  The balls were all clustered around a water intake which led up a channel feeding into another pool.  We raced up the channel.  She won.  We raced back and I won because I held her by her swimming suit.

            She had never played basketball before.  I had played a lot as a boy, learning to jump well for my size but never able to overcome my terrible shooting.  With her lack of experience and my shooting eye we were about even, except I knew how to play some defense which was a foreign concept to Ari.

            Soon I proposed a handicapping system.  The moment she touched the ball it was hers and I could do nothing to interfere with her shot.  As soon as I had the ball she could do anything to me and when she touched the ball again I had to give it to her.  Great rules, but they overlooked her training to never interfere.  After teasing her about her non-existent defense for a while, she loosened up.  Thirty minutes later she was all over me, hanging onto my shoulders when I went up for a shot, grabbing at the ball, grabbing at me.  Her best technique was to pull down my trunks when I jumped to shoot.  Once she got them off me entirely and held them over her head like a trophy laughing wildly.

            My heart melted as I watched her come alive, cheering her on as she stepped into herself throwing off her lifetime of self-repression for the sake of values learned to suit others’ desires.  She won our game to fifty which lasted well into the evening.  My heart was so happy to be with her that I helped her more than myself.

BALI #3

            The next morning Ari phoned the transit company she had used in November. The driver she asked for was out of the office, but she was assured he would pick us up at noon.  We lay in bed until we had to hurry to brunch before it ended and to be ready for our transit.  Her driver did not come with the little van.  Instead a bright faced young man introduced himself as Bagus and showed us to the just-washed bus, presenting to us proudly in broken English our driver, Erawan. 

With everyone smiling and nodding heads we set off, us in the middle seats of the van and the two young men in the front.

            Half way to somewhere Bagus ask us where we wanted to go.  Ari was trying to understand why the driver she knew and had requested was not available, but then told Bagus “Kuta” without any more thought.  A couple miles later, though she realized that she needed to stop by a bank instead of using the money changers in Kuta.

            I was fiddling with the air conditioner vents, trying to direct them away from me while acting nonchalant about Erawan’s driving until his U turn caught my attention.  To change directions and find a bank, he drove across the grass median strip separating this section of four lane highway, then blended in with three scooters, a Mercedes, and two large trucks as precisely as a diskette slips into the drive on my laptop.  At that point I realized my newly acquired International Drivers License was useless.  I could no more drive in Bali than I could speak Swahili…or Balinese.

            I knew Ari got nervous with close-tolerance driving from her reaction when I cut it too close while driving in Honolulu.  She and Bagus were absorbed in conversation.  Our four lanes narrowed to two without the protection of a median strip as we headed back the way we came.  The scooters ahead swarmed around the center line making it difficult to pass—I thought—until the Mercedes we were following lurched around them kicking up dust from the shoulder on the far side of the road.

            A mass of oncoming traffic was growing larger as it neared us.  I wondered if the Mercedes would make it back onto the road before hitting one of the roadside signs or the traffic up ahead.  Then Erawan followed.  Sure death for all of us loomed ahead.  The Mercedes served as our first line of defense against a large delivery van and another herd of scooters bearing down upon us.  My jaw slackened and my heart raced.  I tapped Ari on the shoulder frantically.  She turned to me, saw my mouth agape and followed my wide open eyes looking straight ahead. 

            “Oh my,” she said.

            The Mercedes folded back into our original lane and Erawan followed, as the oncoming scooters moved over to the far edge of their lane to avoid us.  We missed the large van behind them by a foot.  No one honked or screamed or yelled in anger.  Everyone went on their merry way.

            Ari said to me softly “Fun yeah?”  Bagus grinned, still hanging over the back seat trying to talk to Ari.  I nodded and mumbled and squeezed Ari’s shoulder.  She leaned into me and kissed me on the cheek.  Bagus grinned broader.  She whispered into my ear, “It’s wonderful to be here with you,”  Then held my hand and began talking to Bagus again, her Thaiglish and his Balinglish barely intelligible to me.

            Taking several deep breaths and tiring of dodging the jet stream from the AC, I asked if we could shut it off.  Erawan complied with a toothy smile, turning around to look at me in the back seat, nodding his head several times as we continued down the highway without the benefit of our driver’s eyes on the road.

BALI #4

            We began our scouting of Kuta by mid-afternoon after finding one bank closed and another one open.  We stopped for fresh juices too, the day’s heat and humidity quickly sucking us dry.  Kuta was a blur of little shops and dusty roads.  Here drivers honked occasionally and yesterday’s garbage lent an earthly smell to the area.  Traffic moved slowly on impossibly cramped roads made worse by sidewalk and draining ditch repair.  Often Erawan had to pull in his rear-view mirror to pass an oncoming vehicle.  Finally he parked the little van we walked and looked until, still tired from our flight and all that had gone on, we asked him to return us to the hotel.  Erawan dropped Bagus by the office on the way.  Twice we watched oncoming traffic approach in large bunches, using our lane to pass slower vehicles.  I began to get used to it as my confidence in Erawan grew.  The Balinese drive the way fish swim in a school, I thought.

            At the hotel we skipped dinner and lay in each other’s arms after a shower.  We went down to the pool for a short swim, then returned to the room.  I massaged Ari with oil and felt her slipping away from me as she lay with her face buried in her arms.  For a long time she would not respond to my gentle questions, would not roll over.  When she finally did turn on her back and look at me I saw her nearly lost in grief, anguish spilling from her eyes.

            “What’s wrong, Beauty?”

            She did not answer.

            “What are you feeling?”

            Silence.

            “What can I do for you?” I pleaded.

            She shook her head.

            “It would mean so much to me if you could tell me what you are going through.”

            After a long silence she began to talk, mostly saying “I just don’t know what to do.”  She talked of being caught in a trap, wanting to break free of it, wanting to just disappear.  “I feel so awful,” she said.

            I held her and talked about the effects of a lifetime of holding in feelings.  I shared with her what I went through when I began to clean out my old garbage and about different experiences other people had when setting out on The Path.  I talked about how Spirit cleanses us as we begin to work off our karma and how life speeds up, often leaving us feeling overwhelmed.  When this happens, I said, the only true way out is to surrender to Spirit, which is a lesson which must be won every day, a step to be re-learned on many different levels.

            I held her until she held me.  We made love with her tears dried on her cheek and my tears flowing fresh across both our faces.  My tears were of a deep joy, unknown before, and of a haunting grief from past pain and of pain to come for both of us.  I tried desperately to push aside the realities of Honolulu, to live in the moment with Ari, to love in the moment with Ari and to fully give myself and my heart to this wondrous woman.

BALI #5

            The days turned into hours that sped by.  We shopped during the afternoons, buying little while looking a lot.  We kissed under the stars, skinny dipped in the big lagoon late at night teasing and laughing.

            Try as we did, we still cried when one of us lost the moment to the reality waiting in Honolulu of seeing each other only on Sunday mornings at the Center.  The deal did not seem real to me.  Love was not something to bargain over.  Not knowing what was coming except pain, I was the one who turned to tears most often, Ari more experienced at repressing her feelings.

            One evening too close to our departure for my comfort, I lost my inner struggle with my little boy.  I lost out to his white-knuckle grip on the pain of being left behind, which had happened to him long ago, but he has yet to forgive.  I began by asking Ari if she was really going to honor the deal with Robert.  “What are you going to do?”

            She had no answer.  We had talked about this before with the same result.  I could not imagine not seeing her.  She felt the same way.  We left it at that until the evening at the hotel when I pushed it.

            “You’re going to go back home and go to sleep, aren’t you?  I risk my heart to pull you out of your shell and all you can say is ‘Thank you but I made this deal’.  You must like pain to choose it.  How can you even think about just walking away from our four hundred year love?”

            Those were the nicest of the harsh things I said.  By the time I was warmed up Ari had buried her face in her arms and her pillow, soon to be in tears badgered by my inability to say,

“I hurt more than I can stand.  I don’t know how I can function not seeing you.  Won’t you please re-consider?  Won’t you please honor our love?”

            Instead I pounded her with my anger until she had to get away for a walk.  I followed her, both of us wretched.  We waded in silence into the big lagoon, swimming back to the waterfall holding hands underwater as the sheets of water pounded our shoulders.

            We went to sleep late that night after I apologized and after we talked a little about why she can express only part of her feelings.  We hugged and caressed, finally letting our physical bodies rest.

            I awoke with an emotional hang-over.  She awoke sunny-faced with only a hint of shadow in her eyes, which she dropped by mid-day as she coaxed me back to self-respect with love and forgiveness.

BALI #6

            The last days became frantic as we searched for the right products for Ari to buy, trying also to find something for family and friends.  I was not able to buy for the girls or Gudrun, since to them I was supposedly still in Honolulu.  We reached for the idyllic mood of the first days, before the tears came, before the need to accomplish our goals set in, and before return came nearer—but we fell short with each attempt.

            Our lovemaking became frantic and dulled, steeling ourselves for the gauntlet of fire to come.  We played tennis one sunny afternoon, taking a break from Kuta and the stores before our last plunge, which would be the major buying time.  Ari suggested tennis.  I went along wondering if I could even get the ball back over the net.  Fifteen years earlier when I had last played I was in great shape, yet still unable to hit the ball well enough to enjoy the game,

preferring racquetball.

            But play we did.  With a short lesson thrown-in by the hotel assistant pro, I was able to hit the ball occasionally, surprising myself.  Ari did well, returning my wild volleys with crisp shots.

My hand became numb within the first few minutes.  The hot sun baked us until we ran for the pool and more basketball.  Ari was savage on defense, delighting me.  We discovered we had been using the wrong balls, undersized volleyballs just barely smaller than the rim.  The little basketballs meant to be used were very small and fit easily through the hoops.  By now we were used to the heavier volleyballs, though, and the change made our hilarious shooting even worse.

We were beyond caring as we splashed and molested each other.  I broke our rules by harassing Ari as she shot, finally winning a game to twenty-five.

            The next day we stormed Kuta and bought sack-loads of beaded clothing.  Ari carefully picked each piece for design and workmanship, finding a lot of crap to be sorted through mixed in with good merchandise.  One shop owner kept calling me “Boss”.  I began calling Ari “Big Boss”, then “Big Boss Honey” to make it clear to him he could not use his sexism on her.                                                                                Ari laughed, but largely ignored us as she focused on sorting through his whole inventory to find the right pieces and make clear the needed wording for the labels.

            After the buying was done we hassled with shipping companies trying to find one who would prepare the needed Visa so we could hand-carry the goods back on the plane.  One company could get it ready for us, but we would have to stay three extra days.  Ari faxed Robert explaining the situation asking if he could re-schedule the flights.  We were not hopeful about his willingness or of the availability of flights in the midst of Easter weekend.

            The next day upon return to the hotel from Kuta we found a message from him to me asking us to return as planned the following day.  I was very unsettled that he would respond to me, not Ari.  It seemed such a slap to her. 

            We finalized arrangements with another shipper, had a strange and strained dinner at an Italian restaurant above an antique store in the middle of what seemed to be rice patties outside of Kuta, brushing away mosquitoes and weighed down by our heavy hearts.  We tried to enjoy the food.

            On our last day we went into Kuta briefly and finally found the shirts in my size Ari wanted me to have.  We returned to the hotel, to the beach, to the pool and to our bed.  All our movements were done in a feeling of gray silhouette, a silent pantomime of times just past, acted out now as blackness descended.

            We packed, checked out of the hotel and said good-bye to Erawan and Bagus.  Passing through immigration as we did before in the open air wooden building, it now reminded me of stockyards.  We made across the tarmac it to our flight in time.

            Finally leaving Bali, cushioned in thanks-to-mileage first class seats, hand in hand we held on to the very last moment.  We had not fully kept our agreement to live in the moment, to enjoy our stay in Bali as though Honolulu did not exist.  We left with the consolation, though, that we had made love more than we cried.

ENROUTE

            After the gentle delicacy of Bali and its people Guam was a shock.  Knowing only an hour in its airport on the flight down and with Easter now overloading the airlines we had an eighteen hour layover in the land of 11,000 snakes per square mile…and counting.  I had booked a hotel from the airport a week earlier on our way to Bali, where we headed with relief after the long first leg of our run back to reality and heartbreak.

            Room 127 of the Hotel Mai’ Ana was our second shock in Guam.  Near the airport, looking very comfortable in brochure photos and recommended by a flight attendant, it was a seedy transplant from Highway 41 in Tennessee.  Too tired to look for another place to sleep and taken aback at paying seven dollars for a cab ride around the corner from the airport, we asked to see another room, one that did not reek of mold.  Room 303 did not smell as badly, so we tipped the fellow helping us with our bags and took it.

            Showered, we lay in each other’s arms slowly stroking the other’s cheek, wiping away tears seeping steadily of their own accord.  We fell asleep at dawn, not bothering to wonder what time it was in Bali, which was our bodies’ last point of reference.

            The hotel operator told me it was noon when I called after awakening.  Ari cuddled sleepily next to me, rubbing against my body in a soft rhythm which soon turned to passion.  We made love as lovers for the last time, not knowing what was to come, throwing the sheets to all corners of the room.  We began tickling each other while making love, created a riotous swing between laughter and passion and hitting a plateau of near-orgasm which we held while time slipped away, wanting to keep all sensations alive for as long as possible.

            Our tears of joy and grief mingled freely, both crying out “I love you forever,” as we were swept away in our ecstasy.  Finally we lay spent in a tangle of soaked sheets, grinning, our lungs heaving for air.

            “Rats,” I said and we both howled with laughter

            “Too bad,” she stammered “We’ll have to do it again.”

            “Call Robert.  Tell him we can’t leave yet.  We have to make love until we get it right.”

            “Too bad we picked such a lousy place to quarantine ourselves.”

            “Yes, but what a wonderful quarantine.”

            Ari untangled herself from my legs and the sheets and stretched out along my body, our sweat acting like a super-conductor for our love.

            “I love you Turkey,” she purred in my ear.

            “I love you Big Boss Honey.”

            “I will love you forever.”

            “I have loved you forever.”

            “I don’t know how I am going to live without you.”

            “I will always be with you,” I croaked, not holding back the tears any longer.  Grief welled up from my gut, my two year kicking and screaming, reliving his forty-year old hurt.  As my body shook with sobs I felt Ari join me, crying for ourselves, crying for each other and crying for our love lost again.  Another life-time in which we have failed, having met too late this time.

TOUCHDOWN

            The taxi driver pulled into my driveway cut-out along the Ala Wai, opened the trunk and set my bags on the sidewalk.  “Twenty-one dollars,” he told me with a look in his eye saying he too knew grief.  I gave him twenty-five, grateful for his sensitivity and his silence.  I dragged my bags into my small apartment, then stepped outside again to opened my overstuffed mailbox as a neighbor walked by.  I pulled out the creased letters and magazines and closed the mailbox, then closed my door. 

            Tossing the pile of mail on my desk without looking through it, I slumped on my bed, sweating from too many clothes as I was dressed for the plane.  I stripped, picked-up the mail again, then dropped it, letting it scatter on the floor as I doubled-up in pain as real as the hot metal ripping through my body when I left my last body during World War II.

            I dimly heard myself scream and felt my head pound as tears triggered my sinuses.  Later I became aware of moaning and holding my stomach.  Laying naked on my bed in my little room where Ari and I had become lovers, where we would never love again, I said softly over and over softly, “Ari where are you?  Ari where are you?”

            Ari was not with me in the physical, but I could feel her touch, taste her breath and feel her lips.  I could hear her laughter and I could wrap myself in her love—on the inner.  In my physical world I was alone and miserable, missing my lover and spiritual twin more than life itself.

            I wondered what Spirit could possibly have reserved for me, what had I have done in past lives to create this living hell for myself.  I wondered how I was going to be able to function, go to work, go to the Center, smile at strangers.  I wondered if I could ever love another other than Ari, who was at this moment was back with her husband.

            I wondered how I was ever going to survive.