Sunday, July 25, 2010

Chapter 23 – Portals & the Past

Owen was frustrated. He KNEW with absolute certainty that Papa Eric had spoken to him. Yet try as he might with candles and offerings of JD, his grandfather had not spoken to him again. He had even gone out searched until he found a box of the cigars his grandfather had smoked occasionally on the cabin porch and cut it up for incense and burned pieces in the fireplace and on the mantle. Nothing. Nola was due any minute and he was hoping that she had a way to open up that blasted portal.

Bellaria giggled. Meana shook her head. Settrano and Papa Eric had been so busy getting to know each other and plotting and scheming and having fun that they didn’t even realize they were ignoring Owen. Owen was so busy drating and fuming that Nola managed to get all the way into the driveway, have the gate close behind her and was beginning to wonder if Owen was home. It was Valentine’s Day, maybe he was out on a date. She shrugged and said to herself, Well I’m here I may as well ring the bell on the door.

When Owen heard the bell he looked at the clock and realized that it had to be Nola. He hurried to the door and when he opened it she looked at his frustrated face and said, “I’m sorry, am I interrupting something? I can go if this is not a good time.”
“What!? Get in here woman. What a silly thing to say.” And he started marching back to the kitchen assuming she would follow. So she sighed, shook her head and followed him. As she passed the mantle she noticed the JD glasses and the candle remnants and she smelled cigar. It looked like the Lare Shrine had been busy this week. She smiled, touching the picture frame and ran her fingers gently down the edge said, “Hello Papa Eric.” And Papa Eric and Settrano each thought they heard something.

Owen was on automatic pilot in the kitchen banging the door of the wine fridge closed, slamming the drawer as he took out the cork screw, rattling the glasses from the glass rack. What the hell was wrong with him? This was so unlike the man she had known for the past, wow, 2 months.

He slid a glass of Ruffino at her, one of Ruffinos they hadn’t yet tried. She didn’t even pick up the glass. She knew her way around enough to get another glass. She walked to the freezer and grabbed some ice cubes. She opened the refrigerator knowing that he had some San Pellegrino water in there somewhere, ah there it was. She brought the bottle to the counter and opened it and poured the lovely bubbles over the ice cubes. Owen was still sitting there with his brow all furrowed. She sat on the bar stool across the corner of the counter from him. “Ok, big man. Want to tell me what the hell is going on? It’s Valentine’s Day, did your girlfriend break up with you or something, because you forgot to get her flowers or because you’ve been smoking stinky cigars?”
He looked up at her and said, “What? What girlfriend? What are you talking about woman? Valentines Day? Is today Valentine’s Day?”
“February 14th, all day.”
He actually humpf’ed. And he was in such a snarly mood he said, “What no romantic dinner with your husband?”
“Nope, Feburary 13th is the day James always makes a special dinner. That’s the day he proposed.”
“What he couldn’t wait until February 14th?”
“Exactly, the ring was burning a hole in his pocket.”
And he humfp’ed again. And said, “Right.”

And she leaned across the corner of the counter and turned his chin to her so she could look him straight in the eyes and said, “Owen tell me exactly what is bothering you.”
He got up out of the chair and waved the wine glass in the air toward the living room, “Damn cigars aren’t working, JD isn’t working. I’ve burned more candles than a lighthouse keeper. Nothing is working. The damn portal is slammed shut.”
And he was so ridiculously animated she laughed right out loud.
“What are you laughing at woman?”
“You.” And she was still laughing.
“Me!? Can’t you see how frustrated I am?!”
“Oh yes,” still laughing, “I see. You are like a big growly bear who just woke up from his winter nap and can’t find anything to eat. I definitely see.” Then she got up taking her glass of water with her, took his arm and walked them both toward the living room. “It seems that you think you have a problem with your Lare Shrine.” And she chuckled again. “Let’s go take a look.”
He marched but this time more slowly back into the living room and plopped in the chair.

Nola stood in front of the Lare Shrine and chuckled. And Papa Eric and Settrano looked at each other as if to say: Did you hear something? And Bellaria giggled again. Tonight was going to be a very interesting learning process. Meana and Tago just watched. Noticing that the mantle could use some tidying up Nola walked back to the kitchen for something to wipe it off with and returned to the shrine. “Well the mantle looks like it could use a cleaning, which is strange considering that Latasha keeps this place spotless.”
And from the chair Owen acknowledged, “Yes she does. But I told her not to touch the mantle.” Then thinking about it said, “Actually I told her not to touch the DAMN mantle and you should have seen the ‘what the hell is wrong with you face’ she gave me, then Latasha said I was acting like a crazy white man and that I didn’t have to worry about her ever touching the mantle again it could rot and fall in the fireplace for all she cared. And that I would never get to be as old and happy as the man in the photo acting like I was.”
Nola giggled again imagining just how Latasha would say that. And Settrano and Papa Eric looked at each other as if to say: I heard that. Owen and Nola, ooo goody let’s go see.
“Well she’s right. Shame on you for yelling at her.”
“I know.” He said glumly, “I owe her an apology.”
Nola had wiped down the mantle tossing the debris into the fireplace. She picked up the photo and wiped it down and set it on the clean surface. She took the shot glasses back to the kitchen and then fished a votive out of her box. Owen said, “That candle won’t do any good.” Nola dropped it into the votive holder, but she didn’t light it. She looked over the mantle and decided she was done and then went to the ottoman and sat in front of Owen.

“Ok, so you think the portal is slammed shut. Want to tell me why?”
“He won’t talk to me.”
“But you said he did talk to you. You were very pleased with yourself and your grandfather when I left here last week.”
“Yes, I was pleased. Yes, he did speak to me. A week ago! And he hasn’t said a damn thing since.”
“Oh… Well, we are talking about the other side. Who knows what time passage is like on the other side.”
And Owen looked up as if he had not thought of that before and Nola said, “Well that looks a bit more like the person I left here last week. Have you been growling around all week?”
“No, well… not all week. Well, I don’t know.”
“Well if your energy level and quality was anything like what I saw at the front door then I think I can guess why Papa Eric wouldn’t show up when you called him.”
Owen looked up and said, “I knew it. I knew you would know what to do.”
“Owen, I really have no idea how to specifically call to your grandfather.” And she looked around the room for the manual spotting it on the end table by the sofa. She flipped to the back of the book and then handed it to him saying, “Here. I think it would help if you read Aradia’s Words on the Gods”
He took it saying sharply, “Papa Eric is not a god.”
And she thought ok I have had just about enough of this and prepared to let him have it with both barrels. “Owen…. so help me if….”

And Settrano giggled and Meana looked sharply at Settrano and Nola thought better of it and decided on a different tack. She moved the ottoman as close as she could get it to the chair and leaning into him and holding his face in her hands kissed him slowly and softly on the lips once, slowly again twice, and ever so slowly a third time. Then she kissed him on the left temple and then the right temple. She felt him relax just a tiny bit. Then she sat back fully on the ottoman and said softly but firmly, “I know very well that your grandfather is not a god. Now will you please read out loud for us Aradia’s Words on the Gods.
He looked up at her and then realized that he was holding the book in his hands began to read.

"Know that the Gods need our worship even as we need food and drink. Do not think that they serve us, for we are their servants. Therefore do not bargain or demand through prayer or ritual. The gods shall provide that which is needed.

Do not blame the sorrows of life upon the gods. For it is humankind which creates the despair on Earth.

Do not doubt the reality of the gods, for they do exist and are many. They have been since long before people walked upon the Earth. Yet as we are capable of understanding them, they are no older than we. For they are not the personifications, nor the images we establish. But the gods do respond to us through these things. We are linked to them by virtue of our yearning toward a higher nature.

The gods are attracted to our rituals because of the sacred signs that we use, and because of our worship which is vitality. They are attracted by the ritual fires and incense and by the purity of our naked bodies. They give and take the vital essences that we both need, through the power that we raise.

Each god is like us for our ways are but reflections of theirs. Each god has likes and dislikes and must be approached in accordance. Each god is linked to the culture of the people who give worship to it and must be called by appropriate ties.

Yet beyond all this are the God and the Goddess who together are the One; herein does the true worship belong.”

“So let me ask you this, have you been bargaining or demanding?”
“No..., well maybe a little.”
“Did your grandfather ever respond to bargaining or demanding?”
“Well no, if we ever pulled a temper tantrum he just ignored us.”
“Really?..” she said raising her eyebrows.
And Owen looked just a little chagrined.
“When was your grandfather the most attentive or aware or engaged with you?”
“When we were on walks in the woods or discussing a book that one of us had read or talking about something new we had learned or done.”
“So did you try taking a walk in the park and maybe bring back a leaf or rock or flower from that walk to the shrine?”
“Well no.”
“Ok, well I suggest that you try that or…” looking at the photo on the mantle .. “perhaps… you could envision walking along that ridgeline with him. Didn’t you say that was one if his favorite places?”
“Yes.”
“Ok,” and she leaned in and took the book from him and put it on the table. “Close your eyes.” And she ran her hand across his forehead and down his temples and said, “Breathe, Owen slowly in and slowly out” And he did and she felt him relax and she put her hands on his arm and said, “Again, slowly in and slowly out.” And he did and she felt him relax again. She sat fully back on the ottoman and said “keep breathing”. Then looking at the photo on the mantle said, “Imagine standing at the trail head…. You put your backpack on…. and start walking up the trail…. It is cool and crisp about 2 hours before sunset on an absolutely glorious day… You move easily along the trail, breathing in the clean air..." Owen breathed deeply in and out again" "...and listen to the gentle sounds of the woods…". Papa Eric looked at Settrano and then at Bellaria and said, “She’s pretty good.”
“You make it to the crest of the ridgeline.... and in front of you is the beginning of an soft orange yellow sunset… you breathe deeply” and Owen did just that “and you slip your back pack off …. and find a flat rock just off the trail where you can sit peacefully…. and watch and listen…”
“Beautiful, isn’t it son.”

Owen opened his eyes with a start that surprised Nola and she looked at him as if to say, Oh my! Now what?
Owen looked around the room, then leaned across grabbed Nola and kissed her firmly on the mouth as he pulled her from the ottoman and then hugged her to his chest. “You did it.”
Nola just had to go with being smothered in the hug until he decided to let her go again. He sat back in the chair and she sat back on the ottoman and said, “Glad to help. Now tell me what just happened.”
“Papa Eric said very clearly, 'Beautiful isn’t it son'.”
Nola just nodded in acknowledgement.
“That’s the first thing I’ve heard since last week.”
“Well it’s probably because it’s the first time since last week you were in the right state of mind to hear him.”
And Settrano and Papa Eric looked at each other and shook their heads as if to say, Nah we were just busy. And well he wasn’t doing or thinking anything that was interesting to us.
Nola said, “This is the second time that you’ve heard your grandfather speak to you and popped up like some jack in the box. I think it might make for better conversation between the 2 of you if you could learn to stay calm and let him continue to speak.”
“She’s right about that son.”

Owen smiled and looked up thinking he almost heard something.
And she said, “Now that looks a lot more like my Owen.”
He smiled again and took her hand and picked up his empty glass as he got up. They walked peacefully back to the kitchen. He poured himself some more wine and Nola added some ice cubes to her glass and poured more San Pellegrino water and said “Whew, the energy level change in here is like coming down a rollercoaster.”
“Sorry.”
“You have no idea how lucky you were. I was seconds away from biting your head off because you were being so surly.”
“Really, I didn’t notice that.” He said sincerely. “Although I do remember being kissed and having my temples stroked.”
“Well it was either pop you one or kiss you, I went with the second. It seems to work best with the Taurian pleasure centers in your brain.” Then shaking her head, “I do seem to have a special talent for exasperating men.”
‘Really you do? I’m not exasperated with you.” And she looked at him in such a way to make him say “Oh I’m the one who’s exasperating.”
“Well not as often as some, but occasionally you are particularly talented at it.”
“Really? Tell me about some of these exasperating men you’ve known.”
She smiled and said, “All men are exasperating to some degree. My current husband tops the list though.”
“Your current husband? You’ve been married before?”
“Yes.” Meana smiled and nodded to Bellaria, "This will be very good for both of them". And Papa Eric agreed.
“So….” And she looked at him like ‘what?’ And he said, “tell me about your first husband.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Son, I think this will be very interesting.”
Owen smiled and headed back to the living room, indicating that Nola should go first. “Why not? You’re interesting. I bet there’s an interesting story there. Besides Papa Eric wants to hear the story.
As she sat on the ottoman, she looked at him dubiously. He sat in the chair and looked at her expectantly so she decided, what the hell, and tried to figure out how to tell the story.
“I met him right after I graduated from high school. I was 17. I got a job that summer at the local shipyard where my mom was working. He was 7 years older than me and a marine draftsman.”
“What’s that?”
“Someone who draws, and at that time, it was by hand not on computers, the plans for ships, barges, oil platforms and rigs and the like.”
“7 years older. You were 17. He was 24.”
“Yep, he was older.”
“So you like older guys?”
“No, older guys liked me. When I was in high school the guys my age were rarely attracted to me. I think I scared them or intimidated them. I went to the prom as a freshman with a senior and dated a senior for a little while. Then after that nothing until I was a senior myself and I finally decided to let this one guy who had really liked me since grade school be my boyfriend. I was ready not to be a virgin anymore. He was very good to me and we had a lot of fun. He was serious. He thought we’d get married after high school. His big Italian family thought so too. But after high school I was determined to go to and finish college. I had no interest in being married. It was only fair to break up with him.”

“Nola, you heartbreaker.” He smiled then said, “Go on this is interesting.”
She smiled and decided how to tell her story, “Working at a shipyard I was surrounded by older guys. I thought the man who would become my husband was cute and light hearted and fun. I flirted and I could tell he liked me but he didn’t ask me out. I do love a challenge. After I worked there a while one of the fellows who was only 5 years older than I was and who visited the office on a regular basis as a supplier asked me out. I went. He liked me, he really liked me. But for me there was no spark, nice but kind of boring.
Another one of the guys who worked taking the drafted ship plans and creating life size heavy paper templates or patterns of what the ship parts would look like also decided he liked me. He was 13 years older than I was and he had a sailboat…”
“Whoa, your parents let you go out with a 30 year old when you were 17?!”
“Well, yes and no. My dad died when I was 14, remember. It was only my mom. She was living her own life and happily dating the German. She was out of town at his house on many weekends. My mom's approach to handling me from the time I was 14 was to say, 'I trust you. Don't let me down'. Which, on me, generally worked. She knew the 30 year old and wished I was hanging out with someone younger but really couldn't think of a reason to forbid me, which wasn't her style anyway. She assumed I was in it for the sailboat.”
“Wait, the sailboat?”
“Yes”, she repeated, “the 30 year old had a sailboat and he raced it and occasionally other people’s sailboats. I was crew. We raced all over the Gulf Coast. It was fun. But the sex… oh my god, the sex was absolutely the best.”
“Really…” he said intrigued, what woman talked like this? And remembered her earlier comment about deciding not to be a virgin. Papa Eric looked at Settrano who knew Nola had it in her and said, “He’s got a live one!”
“Yes really. Don’t tell me you were never in it for the sex?”
“Well….”
“Right I know better. ‘Don’t confuse love with sex or sex with love.’ The 30 year old taught me how to have fun having sex. He gently taught me how to please a man and he did a fine job pleasing me as well. It was one of the best educational opportunities I ever had. He lived on a houseboat, worked at a shipyard and raced sailboats. He was a Vietnam Vet. He had a friend they called the one armed bandit, lost it in Vietnam, who lived on an even bigger house and who was even cuter, but he was convinced I was too young, damn it. The experience in Vietnam made my 30 old a little unstable. He was fun and I liked him but we eventually stopped seeing each other.”

“Still no husband?”
“No but the fact that others found me attractive was beginning to make him realize he needed to get busy. I worked at the shipyard for 2 years fulltime in the summer, part time during the rest of the year I had a job that allowed me to work independently and at my own pace. My future husband finally asked me out. I was a freshman in college at the time. We dated pretty seriously for almost 5 years. He asked me to marry him on more than one occasion but I turned him down, repeatedly, because it would have meant loosing my dad’s Social Security death benefits that were helping pay for my college.
I had stayed with him because he was a lot of fun and because I thought that none of the guys my age were interested in me. When I got the letter in the mail saying that my Social Security would end, and it was my last semester before I graduated, I called him at work and said, “Ok, let’s get married.”
“Just like that?”
“Yep, just like that.”
“Bells ringing, you’re graduating from college and getting married. Your mom is thrilled.”
“Well yes she really liked my first husband and no.”
“Yes AND no?”
“It’s complicated. My first husband was from a Cane River family.”
And he looked at her indicating he had no idea what she was talking about.
“The Cane River people are mixed race families that can trace their heritage back to the late 1700s. His family was “the first family” of the Cane River people. The Cane River people have their own culture they don’t consider themselves black or white because they aren’t. They are mixed and remixed, black, white, Native American, and have been for 200 plus of years. His mom and dad had passed in New Orleans.
“Passed, you mean they died?”
“Oh no Owen, passed for white. They came to New Orleans as black people and while never giving up their Cane River heritage, passed as being white people.”
“Oh…”
“I know. For a very long time you northerners literally thought in black and white terms. The associated assumption was always that you either were or weren't racist. Another assumption being that Southerners we're more racist than Northerners. But there is racism in the North just like there is racism in the South. There is even racism in Black America, lighter is typically thought of a better than darker. But New Orleans and Louisiana is so different from the rest of American we’ve lived with complicated shades of racism for a long time. My first husband’s birth certificate said Black as his race. His older sister’s also said Black. His older and younger brother’s birth certificate both said White. Ever hear of the paper bag test?
“No.”
“No, I didn’t guess you would. The paper bag test is a brown paper bag test. If you are darker than a brown paper bag you probably can’t pass for white. If you are lighter, you probably can.”
“But that’s crazy.”
“Yes, absolutely. Given the way the world works today or should work it’s beyond crazy. Who cares what shade anyone is? What does it matter? 25 years ago people cared a lot more than they do today. I didn’t, but many people did.”
“Your mom is a racist.”
“No, not my mom. But my grandparents were absolutely racist. They used the word nigger all too frequently. One day I brought a light skinned black friend home to visit and right in front of my friend they asked my mom, why she was letting me bring that High Yellow into the house. That was the first time I confronted them. I told them I couldn't change what they thought, but they would be respectful of me and my friends."
“High Yellow? Wha???”
“High Yellow is a term used for a very light skinned black person. Shades of racism, Owen. Very complicated. My grandparents knew and loved my first husband. But it would have killed them to have to admit that their granddaughter had married a black man. But it wasn’t just my family. My first husband’s family had been hiding in plain site for a long time. They had passed. Their older children had intermarried with white people who, just like me, knew their story and didn’t care. But they felt that their lives worked best in stealth mode. They had ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell’ hundreds of years before the military thought up the term. They didn’t want a wedding with my side of the family on one side and his on the other. They didn’t think the exposure was good for their family. And they were worried what it might do the positive relationships that existed between our families.”
“Wow, I had no idea it could be this complicated.”
“It is and has been for a long time. I believe only if we talk about it will racism eventually go away.”
“But you did get married.”
“Yes, we eloped and flew to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, as a US Territory allows US citizens to get married there. We were married in the Court House by a judge. I should have known that it was a mistake when I came home from the ceremony and locked myself in the bathroom crying.”
“You cried after you got married? Why?”
“From the release of actually doing it probably and the disappointment of not being able to have a ‘real wedding’ and knowing it would hurt my mom’s feelings that she wasn’t included but also because deep down I knew that while I loved my first husband, I was never fully and completely in love with him. I married him because he was cute and fun and I didn’t think that anyone else would want me.”
“That’s ridiculous.”
“Not based on the empirical data I thought I had.”
“But you dated him for a long time right? Most men don’t usually go after other men’s women.”
“I know that now.”
“How long were you married?
“Depends on how you count.”
“Is everything complicated with you and relationships?”
“Sometimes it seems that way. I was married a total of 8 years total but I was really married, fully committed and having a good time and living with my husband for 5 years. Then after years of struggling with repeated layoffs followed by periods of work, he went through a period where there were literally no jobs available in his field. The unemployment benefits were running out and, while I was working, it can be hard on a man when the woman brings home the bacon. The only work he could find was in Connecticut. He left. I stayed. Over time I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t in love. But I wanted to be in love. I wanted to be in love very badly. I told the universe that I realized that I had played it safe with my heart and that I knew that in order to find love I had to be willing to risk being hurt. If that was what it took then I was willing.”
“You really believe that?”
And Meana said, “It’s true Owen. It’s true.”
“Yes Owen. Even before I heard Aradia’s Words I knew 'that love can lift up your heart and it can likewise drag it down'.”
Meana said, “You can think about it later Owen.”
“He stayed away for 3 years before you got divorced?
“No, he stayed away a little over a year. I played with my Taurus friend. I played with others. I eventually met and totally fell for James. My husband came home not long after I met James. When he did I had to be truthful. I left house and everything in it, taking only my dog and my clothes in my truck and started again in my own place. We stayed married because I was the one who was providing health insurance and divorce would have caused him to loose it. And a year later I knew without a doubt that I was in love because James broke my heart for the first time.”
“Well, that’s quite a story.”
“It has a happy ending. My mom introduced my first husband to his next wife and stood in their wedding.”
“No way.”
“Yes, my mom loves my first husband. He is a very lovable man.”
“Doesn’t she love your current husband?”
“Yes she does. But she has always believed that James was responsible for the breakup of my first marriage. She thought that we would eventually reconcile if not for James.”
“Oh. Not true though, right?”
“Right, I wanted to be IN Love. But you know Owen the older I get the more I just don’t know. Love. In Love. I’m beginning to believe that Robert Heinlein had it right all along. You can love more than one person at a time. But it’s much harder to be in love with more than one person at a time.”
Meana and Bellaria smiled at the wisdom in that statement and Tago nodded. Papa Eric told Settrano that Owen needed some time with that concept.

They just sat thinking about that for a while, before Nola said. “Owen, this has absolutely been the strangest evening of teaching I’ve ever done. I am exhausted. Ruminate. Remember to be still and listen. I’ll see you next week Wednesday for the Full Moon, OK?”
He smiled and gave her a hug and said, “Absolutely. I will be still and listen and I am looking forward very much to the Full Moon.” He linked arms with her and walked her out to her truck and gave her one of his all encompassing hugs.
“Night Nola.”
“Night Owen.”

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