I think there are two ways to tell your own story. One way is to explain yourself, the choices you’ve made, especially the really selfish ones. You can apologize for them. Or, you can tell your story like the adventure it has been (which hopefully it has been). Sometimes it’s hard to see it this way. Sometimes my life feels less like an adventure and more like a trial that I am failing at. But I’m realizing more and more that people don’t even like to hear your excuses. They want a good story. The first time I realized I liked my story, I was telling it at a pot luck party, in the summer. I’d just come back from India. But it wasn’t just that. It was that I passed my bar exams and then I ran away to India because I started meditating and I didn’t want to be a lawyer and I had lots of adventures there and I learned yoga and now I was back in Canada but I was going to Austria because I fell in love with a woman and everything had changed and life was sweet and hopeful and I wanted everybody to see it that way.
Sometimes I think that woman is somehow incompetent at life, irresponsible, doomed. But then I realized that the woman she was before, the woman that was afraid to jump, afraid to try, afraid to feel who she really was, was the incompetent one. This crazy one, the one who went to India, isn’t perfect, not by a long shot, but she’s happy, most of the time, and she’s free, most of the time, she’s loved, most of the time, and she is really, truly, alive. And probably there’s not much more she could ask for.
It’s funny to picture it now. I can hardly believe it has only been four weeks since we walked out of the airport together, nervous, holding hands. She was so real, so alive again. Her eyes, wow they were so big. It was only the second time this year I thought I might be completely insane. I thought, I am madly in love with this girl and I don’t even remember how it was to kiss her. We were going home together. Well, we were going to her flat, her bedroom, her bed, which somehow would be mine now too.
We met in India nine months ago. I was in love with her almost immediately. Lucky for me, we had time. We met in Varkala, Kerala, in the deep south of India, and we met again in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh and traveled together, to Delhi, Agra, Varanasi, and Khajuraho, until her flight back to Austria seven weeks later. It was, as she said, “so unbelievable romantical” (most of the time her English is really stellar, and the rest of the time it’s really sweet).
Now, I am in Vienna with her. When I meet locals they ask me, “Woher kommst du?” I say, “Canada.” They reply in Deutsch, and they usually lose me there. I tell them, “Mein Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut…”
We switch to English, and they ask me what I’m doing in Vienna. Awkward question. “It’s a long story,” I might say. I could say, “Well, I met this girl in India and we fell in love and she’s from Austria and…”
Then there’s the other question: “What do you do?” I.e., what’s your profession, do you study, etc. “Also a long story,” I might say. “I was a lawyer, in Canada,” I could say. “I left,” maybe. “I don’t know,” alternatively.
I left my job in British Columbia, Canada, to travel in India. I’d just passed the bar exams but the one thing scarier than leaving was the thought of having to stay where I was, in a life that no longer fit who I was, or who I was becoming. The hard part wasn’t leaving, the hard part was getting there and confronting myself with the question, what am I doing here?
It’s the same question again. I mean, I came here for love, but I also have to do something. In India I let myself off the hook. I more or less put off the question and gave myself the space, and time, and permission to do whatever I felt until it was time to go home again. But I don’t want to be a tourist forever.
If I thought I was madly in love in India, well I think I really had no idea how much I could feel. So I know I’m where I’m supposed to be. I feel that I’m supposed to stay and search out the opportunities that are waiting for me here. I suppose I’ll know when I’ve found them.
I read this book and it’s not real it’s not real I keep telling myself but it is real it is real in the people who are doing the things in this book and saying the things and not feeling never feeling that is the last thing you want to do unless the feeling is comfortable then it is okay and what do I do with this with this book that made me feel so much but mostly that feeling is helpless what do you do with that
and you make it so beautifully easy for me to come to you and feel what I feel no matter what I am feeling even if it’s about you because you love me too and it is just as inexplicable when you do it and I wonder why this does not terrify me even though it does in a way but only in a small way in the way of a thousand little voices of people who do not really care who would not understand who could not possibly and yet somehow they still have something to say about it but I do not listen to them anyway because I know even if I don’t know and I love because I love because I love you and as long as you do too then it is okay
He said you are not who you think you are. You know who you are:
You are love.
You are love.
You are love.
I said it to myself, again and again:
I know who I am.
I am love.
I am love.
And then, I feel it: I am.
All the way to my fingertips and shooting out of me like sparks.
Traversing the distance, until there is none.
Until you are me and I you.
Until I forget who I am.
So I say it again:
I am love…
cuddled with the earth today
spread my roots down
palms pressed to her soil
cheek to cheek
and a tangle of green shot up from my back
catching the morning sun on its way
growing my love a little higher
Yesterday morning a little book found me in the lounge of my hotel. It’s called This Morning I Met A Whale. It’s the story of a boy who goes for a walk in the early morning and meets a whale that has swum up the Thames. The whale has risked his life to deliver a message to the boy, in the hope that the boy will pass along the message to the other humans. The whale tells of the killing and destruction that humans are responsible for. How if it doesn’t stop both they and the whales will be doomed. The boy returns to his classroom and begins to share the story of the whale with his class, when he and the others find out that the whale is caught in the Thames. They all go out to see the whale and the boy rushes to the beach to help save the whale. He even tries to swim back up the Thames with the whale, but the whale is too tired and disoriented. He cannot swim back and so the boy stays with the whale until he dies.
Somehow it was hopeful, this little story. The boy promises he will carry the whale’s message and you come away from it knowing that he will do everything he can. I could barely see through my tears, though, as I finished the book.
I thought I would walk down to the tea plantation in the valley. I had a bad feeling about the kittens and I didn’t want to hear that they had all died. It was nicer to think maybe 1 or 2, or even the 3 of them, could be doing well and getting bigger and stronger every day. But as I trotted down the mountain there were road markers counting the kilometres to Lebong. I hadn’t realized I was going in the same direction as the animal shelter. When I reached the tea plantation it was only 3 kilometres to Lebong.
I thought maybe it was a sign I should go. Or maybe that I shouldn’t be afraid to go. It was only 3 kilometres more. I could walk it.
I found the shelter. It was off of the main road, deep in the valley, and housed in a couple of tidy white buildings behind a tall gate. There was a lot of activity at the clinic. People with their dogs, hoping to see the veterinarian, who was operating on numerous dogs from the shelter that day. I waited patiently, hoping to get a chance to see the veterinarian. An hour and a half passed and he didn’t come out of the operating room. I wondered where the kittens could be. Were they being kept in one of the offices in the houses? The dogs were kept in little gated cells behind the white buildings. There were cats hanging around but they didn’t look as if they were patients anymore.
It seemed like as nice a place as any for the kittens to go. I started to wonder if I would be getting bad news from the doctor. I kept poking my head in the window, trying to get the veterinarian’s attention, but he didn’t seem to see me there.
At first I felt calm, and even brave, for facing my fears and seeking out the shelter. But as the time passed I started to get the feeling that I wouldn’t get to see any kittens. I started feeling a little light-headed. Started watching the flies settling on the dogs waiting outside, the stains on the concrete under my feet. The dogs in cages were making terrible, sad sounds above us. Finally I made my way over to the office and pushed open the door. There was a lady in there. I asked if she spoke English, and I told her who I was.
I knew right away by the big in-breath she took, the sigh and the shrug, that the kittens had died. She didn’t tell me much. She said they were just too little, too young. They tried their best to save them. She didn’t seem to want to say more, and I didn’t ask. I was busy taking deep breaths and trying not to cry. It made it hard to focus on what she was saying.
I got about a block away before the tears started, and I cried for about 2 kilometres. At about the 5 kilometre mark I remembered the book. Somehow it made it better, thinking of this little book and this little boy who did his very best to save the whale. The little boy couldn’t save the whale either.
The whale was a part of something bigger though. He had a message for the boy, that the boy would carry for the rest of his life.
The kittens didn’t talk to me or anything. I’m not sure if they carried some special message for me. But they opened me up. They made me love and care about something. They made me feel just how precious life is.
How cold must have been the heart that left them there in the marketplace. I understand, in a way, how you could feel you don’t have a choice. Still I am glad that I was the one that took them in and tried to give them a chance.
There’s this little girl, the girl I used to be, who wouldn’t have hesitated for a moment. Like the little boy in the story. She would have picked up the kittens, cuddled them, taken them home and made sure they were okay. Thank goodness I found those kittens and took them back to my room. It lets me know that she’s still with me.
I found kittens in the market here. They were wrapped up in a dirty blanket, left on the edge of a boarded-up stall on a rainy day. The market is a line of these stalls. There are butchers, tea stalls, fruit stands, stray dogs. They were tiny, had tiny meows. They bumbled about in the blanket, falling over each other. Four of them. One big stripey one, like a tiger. One scrawny and black. Two had some stripes, some black. No mama cat. They couldn’t have been more than a day old. Eyes still closed.
I stopped to look at them. Stood there, hands in my pockets. Thought no one is coming to claim them. Thought they’ll probably die out here. It’s too cold. There are dogs everywhere. But I didn’t want to take them. What would I do? I had a damp and dirty little room and seven days left in India. But they’ll die, I thought. I still walked away. Thought maybe I’d come back later, though this wasn’t true at the time.
Really the problem was I wanted my hakuna matata days to continue. My no worries days. For five months I’d felt I had no good reason to worry. About anything. I didn’t let myself. I put myself in the hands of fate and for the most part, it was really, really good to me. And the last thing I wanted was something to worry about in my last hakuna matata days. Maybe I knew very well that I would worry myself sick about these little guys.
But something had already changed in me. Before I came to India, I could have walked away, and that would have been the end of the matter. Somewhere deep in my chest I would have felt sad and guilty about it but I would have stuffed that feeling down before it rose up in my throat. The problem with hakuna matata is you get used to letting things come as they will. And sometimes it’s a sad feeling that comes. What you do then is just let it be there awhile. If that’s what it wants to do. No worries.
Now, in my hakuna matata state, the sad, guilty feeling came racing up my windpipe and there was nothing I could do. I felt the feeling. It was a big lump in my throat. And it continued as I walked up the hill.
There’s this amazing girl I met in India who loves animals about as much as you could imagine anybody loving them. I was thinking about her, too, as I headed towards my hotel. I knew what she would do. Still, I kept winding my way up the hill.
I called her. I asked her what she would do, knowing full well what she would say (and this is exactly what she said): she would gather them up, keep them in her room, nurse them until she had to leave, and find someone else to care for them when she was gone.
I needed a little push. I knew something had changed in me and I felt for the first time that maybe it could be me, maybe I could do something like that. Not just walk away. I knew when I asked her that I would feel even more terrible if I didn’t go back and try to save them.
So after we talked I went back to check if they were still there. They were under the blanket now, out of sight, but they were still alive, moving about. I bought a big reusable shopping bag, scooped up them up in the dirty blanket and sneaked them into my hotel room.
And now I had four kittens and no idea what to do with them.
What followed was a lot of scrambling about on my part, worrying, and fretting over the racket they made when I tried to stuff baby formula into their little mouths. Also crying. Them and me. And praying (just me). My friend helped me with research on how best to care for the kittens, and tried to find out whether there were any animal shelters nearby.
It wasn’t ideal. I had no heat, no stove, no laundry, and little water. And obviously no mother’s milk. No kitten formula either. I wrapped them up in blankets, filled plastic bottles with hot water from my room, and set them against the blankets so they had something warm to snuggle up to. I found baby formula for them. I had to push their mouths open with the eye dropper before I plopped the formula in. I cuddled them a little. Gave them names. Bastyen, Blackie, Hob and Nob. I fed them every three or four (sometimes it was five) hours.
I didn’t even think about finding a veterinarian in town until the second day, and I didn’t find him until the third. To find any place in India you have to get directions from at least four people. Eventually I found it in what looked like an abandoned factory. Broken windows and all. But there it was. The veterinarian basically told me to continue doing what I was doing. He showed me how to check for signs of dehydration. Most importantly he told me there was a shelter only eight kilometres from Darjeeling, and gave me their telephone number. I called twice but nobody answered.
So I kept at it. The next morning I was feeling good. The kittens were alive. Not well, I wouldn’t have said that, but alive. And two of them were getting really scrappy and difficult whenever I tried to feed them, which I took as a good sign. I went upstairs for breakfast, and came back down to feed them again. Checked their bed, still warm. Gently pulled them out with their blanket. I popped some formula into Bastyen’s mouth. Blackie was sort of draped over Hob so, gently, I nudged Blackie off of Hob’s back. Hob was really warm. I lifted her head up and she didn’t struggle. Put the eye dropper to her mouth, kind of dabbed at it, before I realized Hob wasn’t moving at all. I put her head down. Saw now that her legs looked really awkward and stiff. Oh, I thought. Oh. The tears came fast and welled up in my eyes. Oh. I had to get her out of the way so I lifted her onto a piece of plastic I’d left at my side, where I kept the eye dropper and cotton swabs. She was so stiff. I finished feeding the others, the tears starting to come down my face now. I saw that Nob didn’t look very well either. Was moving only very slowly, the way Hob was last night.
I had to call the shelter again. So I got up, and sat down again because I really needed to cry right then. I wrapped Hob up in the plastic, and then in a little paper bag I’d saved. I wasn’t sure what to do with her so I put her out with the garbage. Told myself I would light a candle and say a prayer for her later. I found a telephone and this time I got one of the shelter staff on the line. She asked if I’d like her to send the ambulance. The ambulance? I said, quite astonished. Yes, she said. Today? I said. Yes, 1 p.m. she said.
At 1 p.m. I met a young veterinarian in a new-looking jeep marked “Animal Ambulance”. He told me about the shelter, which is a project funded in large part by the French and Australian governments. It’s not just a shelter. They spay and neuter the stray dogs in the area, and give them rabies vaccinations. I was sitting in the jeep with him, tears filling my eyes again.
I was feeling a lot of things. Relief, of course.
But the part I really want to tell you about is how grateful I was, in that moment. That he was there, that there was an animal ambulance, that there was a well-funded shelter that could care for these kittens. It felt almost like they were saving me too, in that moment. I could feel the connection between me, and these kittens, and the veterinarian, and the French and Australian governments, and the people whose money had gone into the project that would give these kittens a home when there really was no other place for them.
It’s something you don’t feel when someone approaches you on the street and asks if you’ll donate a bit of money to their cause. But for once I could feel it like a chain of cause and effect that ended with that jeep being parked in town to pick up my little kittens and make them safe.
I lost my hakuna matata. It’s not the kittens’ fault, really. It’s me who lost faith. That all I can do is my best. That the rest is up to the universe. I’m proud of how I loved those kittens, even if it was just 3 days in my life. And Hob, well that part hurts. Even if I tried my best. But I will say a nice goodbye tonight and I will let her go. Let it go that I couldn’t save her. Even if I really wanted to.
The feeling I have now, with just a few days left in India, is that I’ll forever be learning to roll with it. To care about things, people, animals, and at the same time not worry so much about them. I cared really well for those kittens, but I also worried a lot about them. It’s hard to strike that balance but I guess we’re all learning. This time at least I was listening to my heart. The rest I’ll keep working on.
He’s lanky. He’s got a shock of hair over his eyebrows he’s constantly pushing out of the way. He’s got dandruff and plantar warts. He masturbates to feel better sometimes. He’s obsessive. He doesn’t stop fidgeting. He’s got long skinny fingers. He slouches and stuffs his hands in his jean pockets. He wears dirty t-shirts and socks. His apartment is bare and dirty. Dirty dishes in the sink. The t.v. is always on. He goes out for pizza.
He’s not happy about any of this, no. But he can’t think of anything better. He’s afraid to look at a pretty girl. He thinks he’s gross. He’s ashamed of his desire. He thinks he’s not worthy. He goes for long walks at night. He walks until he’s too tired to worry anymore. He’s afraid things will change. He’s afraid they won’t.
Really he’s got a big sensitive heart. He loves women. Their mouths, their bodies, their love. He wants to do something with his life. But he’s stuck. He’s afraid it won’t do any good. That things will always be this way. The fear is a stabbing pain in his neck. He just wants it to stop.
He picks his scabs. He picks his nose and his ears. He picks his dandruff, flicking it away behind the couch. He watches t.v. for days at a time. He wishes he was more adventurous. He wishes he had some friends. He wishes someone would call him up and invite him out. Anyway they’d turn out to be phoney, or boring, or something. And they wouldn’t like him.
He feels like punching a hole in the wall, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t cry, he just stares into the space above the t.v.. He feels empty. The t.v. isn’t helping. He already ate the pizza.
He hates himself. Why does he have to be this way? How does everyone else do it? He can barely manage a day in his life. He doesn’t feel sad. He doesn’t feel anything.
He’ll go to sleep. It’ll be better when he wakes up, for a little while. Until the boredom and restlessness return, and the question: now what?
He’s hiding who he is. He’s afraid to stand out. He’s creative, intelligent. He secretly likes comic books but he won’t let himself buy them. He’s tried so hard to be invisible. A non-entity.
He’s a kid at heart. He likes to throw spaghetti.
We’re on the street now, downtown Vancouver. It’s raining and we’re drenched. He’s smoking a cigarette. When he’s finished he stamps it out in a puddle.
Everything is shit, he says, and shakes his head.
I’m at a loss for words. I remember how it feels. I take his head in my hands and kiss his forehead. Then I take all of him in my arms, there, in the rain, on the street. I hold on tight.
The years are all there. They still hurt. Still taste bitter. We walk through the streets toward the water. I see the streets as they were for me then. I also see the promise they held when things started to get better. Still the fear is there, the confusion. I feel how I’ve lost myself on these streets, left pieces of myself there.
You see? Rory says.
Now we are at English Bay. It is night and the rain is gone. The fireworks have started. There are people everywhere. I reach for Rory’s hand but he’s disappeared into the crowd. I’m terrified. I want to duck into a cafe and wait it all out. Where is Rory? I feel it again, that fear of being seen. I feel strange and somehow unacceptable.
I know where he’ll be and it’s the last place I want to go. But I can’t leave him there. People are already cramming into the entrance. They are shouting at each other to make room, stop pushing. They are drunk. There aren’t enough trains and they can’t get away fast enough. I hesitate outside. Then I push my way past them. The station is so thick with people they are swaying back and forth in unison. I squeeze between them and the station wall. Rory is not there, but she is. It’s me at 11 years old, pinned beneath the perfumed breasts of a tall blonde woman. I seek out her hand and do my best to extricate my 11 year old self from the mass of people. We push our way out of the station and sit down on a half-wall outside.
I stroke her hair, my other arm around her. She is shaking.
It’s okay, I say. You’re okay.
There’s not much else I can say. It’s going to be so hard for her. She’s so afraid of who she is and this is where she starts to bury it. Rory is beside us now, smoking another cigarette.
Part of me wishes Rory wasn’t in the scene but I see now that he is a part of me. Maybe the seed of Rory was always in me. I see how alike they are.
I wish I didn’t have to go back here, and in way what happened pales in comparison to the insanity that brings me back. But I know this is where my missing pieces are, and I can’t leave them behind. I can’t even begin to know how beautiful they are, the way they are, until I retrieve them from this darkness and hold onto them as best I can.
Now it’s just me. I’m at a crummy guesthouse in Darjeeling, writing my thoughts down as they come. I start picking at a dandruff scab. I’m considering the possibility that I’ll always be a bit nervous. The answers aren’t coming right now though, so I close up my journal. Maybe a walk will do me some good.