Natalia didn’t quite know what it meant to suffer but she heard this term a million times. Her mother talked about it constantly, all attachment is suffering, all life is suffering almost everything is suffering. She wondered about all of the ladies that came over in loose airy clothing with jangly jewelry and bright colored pashmina shawls. They all smelled like the vitamin section at the health food store. She wondered if it was because they all used the same crystal rock deodorant and essential oil blend her mom used. They all lived here in this beautiful place. They all drove shiny new german engineered hybrid cars. They all went on vacations with their families to exotic, yet ‘spiritually enriching’ places like Tulum and Bali. They all smiled and when they saw each other they all looked into each other’s eyes and sighed long sighs and smiled some more and stroked each other’s backs – it seemed like they were happy…?
Natalia wondered if they looked so happy and Mooney eyed and they were suffering, was she was suffering too? She didn’t want to suffer. This worried her. She always felt the presence of a shadow but instead of following her, it hovered over her. She felt flawed and imperfect and that if anyone knew how really “bad” she was, no one could ever like her, so she clung to her mother like a soft new marsupial still more comfortable inside of it’s warm fleshy maternal pouch. In her eyes, her mother knew so much about gods and goddesses and prayers and chants she had all the answers and Natalia was sure her mother could assuage her fears about her possible, very badness.
“Tali, Tali come into the kitchen lover! I just took a batch of apple rings out of the dehydrator come try them I shaved some cinnamon bark on them I think they’re so yummy! Here try one!” Her mother cooed.
“I’m starting a 10 day fast tomorrow” She continued. “So you and daddy will have to get creative. Let’s see… I just made a batch of sprouted hummus and some bone broth, plenty of spring mix, maybe daddy can take you to the health food store in town tomorrow after school? I just want you to feel nourished and provided for, and I don’t want to make you feel like I’m abandoning you nutritionally, because that’s not my intention, OK?” She asked/stated. Marianne glowing as she continued (more to herself then to Natalia).
“I’m just really feeling called to nourish my spirit by giving my digestive system a rest and just focus on a deep meditation practice – do you know what I mean?” She spoke to her daughter like a comrade in her quest rather than an impressionable child who was watching her starve herself for the sake of spiritual fulfillment. She went on, “And also the Rinpoche is coming in two weeks and I want to get really really clear before I sit with him. ”
Natalia nodded, of course she understood or at least wanted to make sure her mother thought she understood. She wondered then, if maybe she needed to get clear too? Maybe she would try a fast with her mother and they could both be really, really clear and then she might not feel that badness?
Natalia’s gaze shifted longingly to the entertainment room that was covered in dozens of Indian style floor pillows adorned with bangles and shiny little mirrored beads, their family television was covered in a linen cloth and she really badly wanted to watch one of the few DVD’s they owned, but that kind of ‘mindful distraction’ was reserved for Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon in small quantities. The only kind of content allowed was consciousness-expanding, neutral, or culturally and artistically enriching. That left various low budget documentaries on world religion or The Sound of Music. Natalia wanted to get lost in the swiss alps and listen to songs about noodles and strudel and mittens and kittens, but she got lost in her fingernails.
She chewed on a dehydrated apple ring, but it was tough and rubbery and didn’t give her that comfort and that giddy feeling that an afterschool treat should do. She walked outside in the late afternoon sun to her father’s workshop. She loved the way the light sifted through the old rafters, the way it always smelled like sawdust and motor oil. There was classic rock on the old Casio radio and her dad was singing along with The Eagles. She stuffed her hand in the pocket of her corduroys and pulled out a handful of apple rings. “Mom just made them.” He took a toothy bite and made an offended face and they laughed together, in a secretive way, like school children do when the teacher makes a mistake.
Bruce was a good man. Benevolent, kind, quiet. He was elemental, in that he seemed to grow out of Carmel Valley like a cypress tree. He had deep roots in that region and for generations his family lived and thrived there in many capacities. They were sea people, fishing for the cannery, operating the old lighthouse. They had worked in the agricultural land owned shops and inns. Very little of their legacy survived now, and they had one little inn in town and some ranch land over in the Salinas Valley and they split the profits between the remaining family members.
The consequence was
that they lived happily in their historic hacienda that was built by Bruce’s great grandfather in the 1920’s, but they had a moderate income in which to continue their lifestyle. Marianne’s spirituality was the biggest expenditure their family had, and he was worried about their financial security, but he didn’t like to say so. They had dipped into savings over and over again to finance retreats and the cost of bringing in various teachers to their home and most recently for Marianne to go on a pilgrimage to Reshi Kesh in India last year. Marianne believed deeply in the law of attraction and held steadfast to the principle that if you believe you are abundant, abundance will surely come back to you tenfold, and Bruce believed deeply in Marianne.
Natalia was an exceedingly bright girl for such a young person. She was barely eleven years old and already pouring over Greek and Norse mythology, world religion, and just starting to explore classic literature. On her mother’s recommendation, she had started reading Kafka’s The Metamorphosis but she put it down forcefully when the protagonist turned into a grotesque insect with a taste for only rotten food. Her fingers tingled, and she had a hot flush of anxiety rise up in her chest when the question arose in her mind like a pestilence, could that happen to me? She worried that she too might wake up one morning and find herself transformed into a hard-bodied creature with wings for arms and an appetite only for decaying food scraps. She ran into the kitchen and yanked the lid off of the compost container near the sink and stuck her nose inside and was pleased to find herself still disgusted by the pungent fumes of decomposing fruit and vegetable matter. By all accounts, she was not at this time, an insect.
She exhaled a sigh of relief. And she didn’t pick up Kafka again for some time. Preferring the safety and propriety of English literature to the frightening cerebral landscape that German authors so diligently traversed. She found comfort in the neat hedges and tidy warm cottages puffing smoke into the soft grey sky that cosseted the countryside like goose down. She loved the familiarity of the characters often reincarnated in different guises but filling the same roles, the maternal, rounded, rosy-cheeked maid as warm as a cup of cocoa, the icy governess with a stiff upper lip, the privileged aristocratic handsome gentleman with a compassionate heart that falls for the brilliant and beautiful country girl of lesser wealth and connection, the poor unfortunate family that inherits a fortune from a distant relative and fights to belong to their new station. These characters were as constant as the stars and she cherished their dependability and comfort. And she needed comfort in her often-isolated little world.