Maybe I'm not getting across how fun all this is. Truly, it's so much odd and satisfying fun, trying to figure all this out. Or maybe I'm just enjoying this surreal moment in my life so much because I happen to be falling in love, and that always makes the world seem delightful, no matter how insane your reality.
I always liked Felipe. But there's something about the way he takes on The Saga of Wayan's House that brings us together during the month of August like a real couple. It's none of his concern, of course, what happens to this trippy Balinese medicine woman. He's a businessman. He's managed to live in Bali for five years without getting too entwined in the personal lives and complex rituals of the Balinese, but suddenly here he is wading with me through muddy rice paddies and trying to find a priest who will give
Wayan an auspicious date . . .
"I was perfectly happy in my boring life before you came along," he always says.
He was bored in Bali before. He was languid and killing time, a character from a Graham Greene novel. That indolence stopped the moment we were introduced. Now that we're together, I get to hear Felipe's version of how we met, a delicious story I never tire of hearing--about how he saw me at the party that night, standing with my back to him, and how I did not even need to turn my head and show him my face before he had realized somewhere deep in his gut, "That is my woman. I will do anything to have that woman." "And it was easy to get you," he says. "All I had to do was beg and plead for weeks."
"You didn't beg and plead."
"You didn't notice me begging and pleading?"
He talks about how we went dancing that first night we met, and how he watched me get all attracted to that cute Welsh guy, and how his heart sank as he saw the scene unfolding, thinking, "I'm putting all this work into seducing this woman, and now that handsome young guy's just going to take her from me and bring so much complication into her life--if only she knew how much love I could offer her."
Which he can. He's a caregiver by nature, and I can feel him going into a kind of orbit around me, making me the key directional setting for his compass, growing into the role of being my attendant knight. Felipe is the kind of man who desperately needs a woman in his life--but not so that he can be taken care of; only so that he can have someone to care for, someone to consecrate himself to. Having lived without such a relationship ever since his marriage ended, he's been adrift in life recently, but now he is organizing himself around me. It's lovely to be treated this way. But it also scares me. I hear him downstairs sometimes making me dinner as I am lounging upstairs reading, and he's whistling some happy Brazilian samba, calling up, "Darling--would you like another glass of wine?" and I wonder if I am capable of being somebody's sun, somebody's everything. Am I centered enough now to be the center of somebody else's life? But when I finally brought up the topic with him one night, he said, "Have I asked you to be that person, darling? Have I asked you to be the center of my life?"
I was immediately ashamed of myself for my vanity, for having assumed that he wanted me to stay with him forever so that he could indulge my whims till the end of time.
"I'm sorry," I said. "That was a little arrogant, wasn't it?"
"A little," he acknowledged, then kissed my ear. "But not so much, really. Darling, of course it's something we have to discuss because here's the truth--I'm wildly in love with you." I blanched in reflex, and he made a quick joke, trying to be reassuring: "I mean that in a completely hypothetical way, of course." But then he said in all seriousness, "Look, I'm fifty-two years old. Believe me, I already know how the world works. I recognize that you don't love me yet the way I love you, but the truth is that I don't really care. For some reason, I feel the same way about you that I felt about my kids when they were small-- that it wasn't their job to love me, it was my job to love them. You can decide to feel however you want to, but I love you and I will always love you. Even if we never see each other again, you already brought me back to life, and that's a lot. And of course, I'd like to share my life with you. The only problem is, I'm not sure how much of a life I can offer you in Bali."
This is a concern I've had, too. I've been watching the expatriate society in Ubud, and I know for a stone-cold fact this is not the life for me. Everywhere in this town you see the same kind of character--Westerners who have been so ill-treated and badly worn by life that they've dropped the whole struggle and decided to camp out here in Bali indefinitely, where they can live in a gorgeous house for $200 a month, perhaps taking a young Balinese man or woman as a companion, where they can drink before noon without getting any static about it, where they can make a bit of money exporting a bit of furniture for somebody. But generally, all they are doing here is seeing to it that nothing serious will ever be asked of them again. These are not bums, mind you. This is a very high grade of people, multinational, talented and clever. But it seems to me that everyone I meet here used to be something once (generally "married" or "employed"); now they are all united by the absence of the one thing they seem to have surrendered completely and forever: ambition. Needless to say, there's a lot of drinking.
Of course, the precious Balinese town of Ubud is not such a bad place to putter away
your life, ignoring the passing of the days. I suppose in that way it's similar to places like Key West, Florida, or Oaxaca, Mexico. Most expats in Ubud, when you ask them how long they've lived here, aren't really sure. For one thing, they aren't really sure how much time has passed since they moved to Bali. But for another thing, it's like they aren't really sure if they do live here. They belong to nowhere, unanchored. Some of them like to imagine that they're just hanging out for a while, just running the engine on idle at the traffic light, waiting for the signal to change. But after seventeen years of that you start to wonder . . . does anybody ever leave?
There is much to enjoy in their lazy company, in these long Sunday afternoons spent at brunch, drinking champagne and talking about nothing. Still, when I am around this scene, I feel somewhat like Dorothy in the poppy fields of Oz. Be careful! Don't fall asleep in this narcotic meadow, or you could doze away the rest of your life here!
So what will become of me and Felipe? Now that there is, it seems, a "me and Felipe"? He told me not long ago, "Sometimes I wish you were a lost little girl and I could scoop you up and say, 'Come and live with me now, let me take care of you forever.' But you aren't a lost little girl. You're a woman with a career, with ambition. You are a perfect snail: you carry your home on your back. You should hold on to that freedom for as long as possible. But all I'm saying is this--if you want this Brazilian man, you can have him. I'm yours already."
I'm not sure what I want. I do know that there's a part of me which has always wanted to hear a man say, "Let me take care of you forever," and I have never heard it spoken before. Over the last few years, I'd given up looking for that person, learned how to say this heartening sentence to myself, especially in times of fear. But to hear it from someone else now, from someone who is speaking sincerely . . .
I was thinking about all this last night after Felipe fell asleep, and I was curled up beside him, wondering what would become of us. What are the possible futures? What about the geography question between us--where would we live? Then there's the age difference to consider. Though, when I called my mother the other day to tell her I'd met a really nice man, but--brace yourself, Mom!--"he's fifty-two years old," she was completely non-flummoxed. All she said was, "Well, I've got news for you, Liz. You're thirty-five." (Excellent point, Ma. I'm lucky to get anyone at such a withered age.)
Truthfully, though, I don't really mind the age difference, either. I actually like that Felipe is so much older. I think it's sexy. Makes me feel kind of . . . French.
What will happen with us?
Why am I worrying about this, by the way?
What have I not yet learned about the futility of worry?
So after a while, I stopped thinking about all this and just held him while he slept. I am falling in love with this man. Then I fell asleep beside him and had two memorable dreams. Both were about my Guru. In the first dream, my Guru informed me that she was closing down her Ashrams and that she would no longer be speaking, teaching or publishing books. She gave her students one final speech, in which she said, "You've had more than enough teachings. You have been given everything you need to know in order to be free. It's time for you to go out in the world and live a happy life."
The second dream was even more confirming. I was eating in a terrific restaurant in New York City with Felipe. We were having a wonderful meal of lamb chops and artichokes and fine wine and we were talking and laughing happily. I looked across the room and saw Swamiji, my Guru's master, deceased since 1982. But he was alive that night, right there in a snazzy New York restaurant. He was eating dinner with a group of his friends and they also seemed to be having a merry time of it. Our eyes met across the room and Swamiji smiled at me and raised his wineglass in a toast.
And then--quite distinctly--this small Indian Guru who had spoken precious little English during his lifetime mouthed this one word to me across the distance: Enjoy.