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Friday, December 21, 2012

The End of Desire

Well, the darkest day of the year is upon us and I am feeling it literally and figuratively. Noel and I have been struggling since we arrived in Vermont. There's a definitive difference between being a visitor here and making a year-round home here. Those of us who have been enchanted by the gentle, rocky folds and furrows of the Green Mountains are easily beckoned here, but living here in the winter isn't for the faint of heart. You have to be prepared- you need a job that's close to if not in your own home, you need a small, super heat efficient home, you need a ton of wood, solar panels help, and a car with good snows and all wheel drive. Oh, and did I mention that legally being able to work in the country would be a good way to prepare? Yeah.

We have some of those things, but definitely not all. I have to say that in the middle of the summer, laying on a warm rock next to a spring-fed pond, staring up at the stars, belly full of organic veggies, raw milk and honey, Vermont seemed like the perfect place to be- and it was. On the other side of the Winter Solstice, we're learning a huge lesson: be prepared- over prepared. Be self sufficient. Own your own land and home. Live close to it. Save like that proverbial squirrel. Take out pet insurance. Don't trust strangers- even innocuous elderly strangers who seem like they couldn't hurt a fly.

There's an undertone to that first paragraph- of regret, of lessons learned too late, of idealization-turned-realization. Let's just say we were schooled here in Vermont and tonight, the shift from the growing weight of the dark to the glowing light of the growing sun, we are moving onto our next phase. Yes, we're moving- again. To safe, dry, warm and welcoming pastures- complete with free healthcare and jobs for all: Ontario. We're heading back home. We're calling this time here a "recon mission" so that we don't feel like absolute failures. I know, I know. We're not failures. Things happen, life happens. We feel chewed up and spit out, but humbly wiser.

One of the reasons that we decided to move on was because we lost one of our housemates- a 67 year old woman who shall remain nameless (because I can't be sure that the name she gave was even her real one, although I think it is based on a Google search.) Let's call her "Debra Jones". We made friends with Debra while wwoofing at the retreat center we were slated to take over caretaking in northern VT. She had been aggressively emailing our friends, the current caretakers, in response to a help wanted ad for an assistant to the master gardener. I remember our friend Denise talking about this woman who wanted the job, an academe from New Hampshire who was "on sabbatical" from her disability law job at a New England college and wanted a simpler life. Apparently she was so aggressive about interviewing for the position that one day, she just showed up, with the remainder of her life in the back of her Honda CRV.

Debra got the job- due to no small effort on her part- and quickly unpacked her belongings into a tiny 300 square foot cottage. She and Noel quickly made friends and I followed soon after, once we had established that we were both sick of our highly political university jobs. She came across as an oenophile, world traveler, educated and quick witted woman at the end of her career looking for simplicity and quiet. We bonded over bottles of good Oregonian wine (where she supposedly has a house, vineyard and llama farm), stories of our travels throughout the world, philosophy, and eventually the weird drama that usually ensues at a retreat center where all sorts of folks stop through on their way to their next free ride.

Noel and I left for Ontario after a lovely 2 week stay feeling we had gained a friend. We kept in touch over the summer and shared our plans to move to Vermont. As the day grew closer for us to move, we spoke with Debra about her next steps after the gardening gig was over in the autumn. She said that she was most likely going to move on, but would like to stay near her mother, a Jewish woman born in France (exactly like our friend Denise's mother, conveniently) who was currently living in Montreal. We mentioned how it would be nice to share a living space with her since she and we had become close, and she concurred.

Do you see what I'm getting at here? "Supposedly", "Conveniently", "Apparently"- these are all  adverbs that foreshadow impending untruth. I won't bore you with the whole story, but let's just say that there was a woman living in our home that we realized we knew nothing about.

Ok, I'll bore you- just a little, for posterity.

I felt red flags pop up from time to time during wine-soaked conversations in which she would slip up and tell a story two, sometimes three different ways. First her mother lived in California and played a round of golf every day, then she lived in Montreal and wintered in Hawaii. She had three PhD's and later it was five. She was a Francophone but that quickly developed into speaking five languages fluently, including Cantonese. At the beginning of our friendship she had a "partner" and was a graduate of Berkley, then she was married to a Senegalese Thoracic surgeon who she met while attending Yale. Then her story shifted and she didn't meet her husband until much later in life while living in Oregon.

She moved in to our apartment and left the very next day to visit a friend in an ashram, saying she'd be back three days later with the rent money she still owed us. Seven days later we wondered where she was and became worried. Finally she sent a cryptic email that simply said "Sorry for not being in touch sooner- death in the family. Be back soon." Apparently, her Senegalese Thoracic Surgeon of a husband was working in the Sudan for Medecins Sans Frontieres and was killed while transporting a patient. Something didn't sit right in me with this. How could we ask a grieving woman for rent money? It was too convenient.

She told us so many stories that it was hard to remember them all, and we chalked our hesitancy to believe her on our own bad memories, or maybe we hadn't listened to her closely enough, or maybe it was the wine...

Almost a month had gone by, no rent to speak of and Noel and I feeling the fear of impropriety of asking a grieving woman for rent money wane. She became a recluse, a shadow of her former self, haunting our home like a spectre, rarely coming down from her room aside from getting the occasional item from the fridge. Her money was "tied up in Paris" where she and her husband shared an apartment. She said that until she could get to France to collect his remains and unfreeze their bank accounts she wouldn't have any cash. That was the last straw. The Google search ensued. I found nothing with a PhD after her name but did confirm that she worked for a college in New Hampshire, not as the high-level Director she said she was, but as the last wrung on the org structure of her department (no shame in that, but also not the truth.) No husband, no one by his name working for Medecins Sans Frontieres, no llama farm. Nothing. I found very little else about her, and still couldn't be totally sure that her name was "Debra Jones" until I added the word "Oregon" to the Google search. That's when the final nail in her coffin was hammered home for me. An obituary. Her mother- complete with a photo of a woman who looked exactly like her but 30 years older. She was neither alive nor in Montreal, nor was she Jewish. Not only had she not been born in France, her obituary proudly stated that she had never even stepped foot out of Oregon.

There were a period of days where Noel and I were dumbfounded and to be honest, a little afraid. There was a person living in our home, rent free, who we realized that not only did we know nothing about, but who had been actively and very creatively lying to us. What could she be capable of? Was she going to steal from us? Hurt us or our animals? Kill us in our sleep? When the mystery of someone's intentions becomes a blank slate, anything is possible. We finally confronted her- in the early morning. I think she must have known, I feel like she listened in on a phone conversation I had with our common friend Denise, because that morning she got up at 4am and chanted for about 2 hours. Very loudly. She lied through the whole thing. It was like peeling off layers of lies. She would come clean about certain things but play dumb on others. She absolutely denied that her mother lived in Oregon, that she had just visited her in Montreal that weekend, but when it came down to it, she relinquished her false grip on reality and admitted that she had dug herself deep into a hole of lies with many people and was simply a 67 year old woman who "still can't get her shit together."

She left about a month ago. We continued to struggle- with the stress of a job that is completely not right for me, with the sadness and stress of Penelope's health crisis, with the loss our our sweet DaphneCat and the additional loss of a great deal of money due to a technical glitch. All roads were pointing home to Ontario, but we tried like hell to figure it out. I found another job, but it was far away from where we lived and couldn't find housing. I lost my job here in Waitsfield. Time is ticking away for Noel as a Canadian visitor and the funds we saved to apply for his green card were long gone, spent on vet bills. I've never been so broke in my life.

A friend, an old colleague really, from my previous position at McMaster, called the other night and offered me a job managing a new traditional healing center she's opening on the Rez up on Six Nations. Not only did she offer me a job, she offered me a pet-friendly home with all utilities and rent paid for. It may not be Vermont, but we'll take it! So, we're heading back to Ontario, to our community, to regroup and save. Noel is going back to school there and I'll probably join him in the fall. If there's one thing I've learned about being Native- we take care of each other. My mother and grandparents always made room at our dinner table, or in our basement, for someone in need. No questions asked, no stories told. I felt horrible about Debra, knowing that she needed a safe place to stay warm. She ultimately made the choice to leave, not us. The weight of her lies was too heavy - it thickened the air to the point where no one in our house could breathe. I'm not blaming her for our departure- I feel that was already written in the stars for us- but I do take a huge lesson from this experience. Unfortunately, it's one of trust and not meting it out without care and consideration.

I think I needed to get through this dark part of our story to feel the light that's coming today. The Debra thing is and will always be a mystery to us and I kind of like it that way. We can make up our own story about her. If you've read this far, I thank you for listening and not judging. If I know you, I appreciate your compassion and support. If I don't know you I thank you just the same. This experience, this time here in the Green Mountains, it's been magical and beautiful and a lesson that everything is a little weirder in Vermont. People can be themselves here more than other places- which is why so many crazies as well as real, authentic folks like us feel called here. We're taking that home with us- that authenticity. We'll find raw milk and organic veggies and sustainable building techniques in Ontario- it might not be as easy to find as here, but it's there if we want it. It's everywhere- we just need to create it. What I've learned is that if we want our world to feel more whole, more green, more conscious, then we need to become more whole, more green and more conscious. Like the wisdom that I've shared so many other times from the Charge of the Goddess: "... you who seek to know Me, know that the seeking and yearning will avail you not, unless you know the Mystery: for if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without. For behold, I have been with you from the beginning, and I am That which is attained at the end of desire."

1 comment:

  1. Hi Steph & Noel - I was excited to see the new winter pics, made me smile. Sorry to read of all the ups and downs recently, when you were already having a stressful and emotional time losing your kitty, Penelopes surgery, vets bills and frantic housing searches. I'm so pleased what seems like an ideal opportunity for a move back to Ontario, complete with housing and employment - with colleagues you already know, has come at what seems like crunch time for decisions on next steps. It must be hard for you not to feel down about your Vermont experience - but I look at it this way, how many people do anything more than talk about leaving a job and moving countries. You had the guts to do it, even if you're not staying, the experiences and lessons will stay with you. My Grandma, who passed away a year ago had a wonderful saying 'all part of lifes rich tapestry'. Good luck with the next step, hope to see you in Wales, NY sometime. Hannah