By: Tobie Helene Shapiro
The Buddhist would not kiss me. He courted me; that is true. And during our courtship he regaled me with Buddhist stories, Buddhist parables, Buddhist lessons and teachings. And I know that he felt very wise. I decided not to test his hypothesis. It didn’t seem right, or fair, or even kind.
He expounded about the awful and soul-disfiguring injuries of his childhood. His father, the son of a famous and revered early twentieth-century artist, was evil incarnate. His mother watched soundlessly, sweetly failing to protect him. His older sisters—crazy, jealous, deranged, angry—all hated him, plotted against him, wanted him silenced in all matters of inheritance from the trust established by the famous-artist grandparent. His younger brother was the only salvageable human being in the lot of them, because his younger brother understood him. His brother, alone, was not a member of the family cabal, the terrorist cell pitted against him.
He spoke of himself in the third person. Jonah did this. Jonah did that. When Jonah was very, very little and stupid, Jonah’s father gave him a bucket of paint, a brush, and instructed him to go paint the barn door. Carefully, meticulously, hanging his head over the open well of lead-based paint, Jonah painted the door, inch by inch, blotting out all other sensations. There was only the brush, the bucket of lead-based paint, the barn door, and little Jonah. Until Jonah could not move his legs and fainted dead away.
The poison ruined Jonah’s life. Jonah’s evil father ruined Jonah’s life. Jonah’s kind, acquiescing mother ruined Jonah’s life. Jonah’s unutterably fearsome coven of scheming and twisted sisters ruined Jonah’s life. By plan or by fluke, this cast of characters was the cause of Jonah’s stutter; Jonah’s brain damage; Jonah’s Parkinson’s-like trembling, learning disabilities, imbalance, memory issues. When Jonah looked into the mirror, he told me, he would try to find the perfect Jonah that he was meant to be. But nothing was left intact. He was someone. But not the someone he was originally meant to be. Jonah could never be Jonah. Not in this life.
His sisters loathed Jonah for the attention lavished upon him as he lay prone, nearly dead, in bed: the family calamity. Tiptoe. Don’t wake up Jonah. We can’t do this because of Jonah. Don’t do that! Remember Jonah. And so he grew up unrecognizable to his natural self, having been murdered at the tender age of four. What an incalculable shame. Jonah wept openly as he made these confessions to me, shuddering with fury, which he called “compassion.” Fury is evidently illegal in Jonah’s Buddhist devotions. He is a Buddhist because it has found him and he has found it. Some thing and some way to worship.
It was acceptable to him that I was Jewish.
I tried to squeeze in pathetic stories of my own abusive childhood, and in sympathy Jonah rubbed my back; he told me that I loved him because he listened without judgment.
He testified for the miracle skills he had developed in his studies with the great Buddhist masters. Jonah could now touch the ineffable black nothing. He could now roll the ineffable black ball of nothing up and down his spine. He took a vow to teach, before he died, five other human beings how to touch the black nothingness and roll that dark ball up and down their disbelieving healed spines, for they would all achieve the state of no attachments that he had achieved—the very opposite of Judaism, where everything is a blessed attachment.
He hung around talking to me, telling me how much I loved him and why, and he told me he would love me forever. He held my hand and his eyes shone black something.
The Buddhist had two border collies he had rescued. They were mirror images of each other, a harlequin of half-white, half-black faces. He had waited two years to find the second rescue border collie with the proper markings. His name and requirements were up on the rescue center’s bulletin boards, and as soon as that half-white-, half-black-faced border collie with the white and the black fur positioned to his specifications was rescued from somewhere, they were to call Jonah immediately. They did. He had a pair now and was the proudest father of them all.
I wondered about this cosmetic love and the attachments which he was wholeheartedly dedicated to eliminating from his life. I found the portrait disturbing. I thought that Jonah allowed no emotions to alight upon him because they were dangerous to him. This is what I figured. A toxicity to someone so tender, who could not survive his own fury and needed inner mutations to live on in good conscience.
“You’re angry,” I told him matter-of-factly. And he recoiled in defense. “No, no! Jonah. It’s all right. We all have anger. It doesn’t feel good, but it doesn’t kill you or anyone else. It passes when recognized, examined, expressed, processed.”
This was a shocking revelation to Jonah, and I could see that healing black ball of nothing hurling itself up and down his spine. His sacred kiss from Buddha, which protected him from everything without and a good deal of what was within.
One night, he asked permission of my mother to court her daughter. It was sweet, old-fashioned, charming. The next morning he told me that he was moving to Eureka in two weeks, about three hundred miles of a tortuous corkscrew road north.
“So much for, ‘I’ll love you forever,’” I said wryly.
“Um,” he said thoughtfully.
“What about you want to be holding your ailing mother’s hand when she passes from this incarnation to the next?”
“Ain’t gonna happen,” he said.
And the Buddhist never kissed me. He couldn’t risk the likeness to an attachment perhaps.
He’d confessed to me in his first introductory offering that he hadn’t slept with a woman for twenty years; that he’d promised himself he would refuse to sleep with a woman until he felt, Buddhistly speaking, that he was ready; that he wouldn’t hurt anyone ever again. And now that he’d met me, well, he’d decided that the twenty long years of celibacy could end. But he wanted me to know about his history, that it had been twenty years.
“Well. I was married for twenty years,” I said, “so roughly: same here.”
I tried once to kiss him, pressed my tipsy lips upon his. There was no return.
“Didn’t give you anything back, did I?” He smiled.