Monday, August 16, 2010
KRISTAL FOREST, The Dalai Lama, and Me
The Disappearing of Kristal Forest
Kristal Lorraine Forest - to whom I was married for four years in the 1960's - formerly of Ithaca and Boulder, sometimes residing in India, and originally from Long Beach, California ..... was living with her two Calcutta street-dogs in Campo Verde, Arizona, when she decided that if she moved to Mexico she could get by on her Social Security payments alone.
Kristal had picked up and moved plenty of times all alone before, but this time she hired a local homeless man to help.
After everything had been cleaned out on the final day, the landlord inspected the place, and handed Kristal a wad of bills for the deposit refund,. Then she drove off with her helper and the dogs.....in the Red Nissan SUV and pulling a UHaul trailer. They were headed for Austin, Texas, where Kristal had arranged a temporary job. She never got there.
When Kristal's family in California hadn't heard from her for three months, they reported her as a missing person and soon began prodding the police toward a murder investigation.
Arizona police found no record that Kristal or her vehicle had crossed the border, but they found her moving helper still in Arizona, and driving Kristal's red Pathfinder. He had some dubious paperwork indicating that he had bought the car. Whether or not he had bought the car, the papers established that he was a certain Robert Reed.....who had burnt down his own townhouse for the insurance, and had disappeared while he was out on bail but had been tried in absentia and convicted of arson.
Reed is in jail serving a ten-year sentence , which is very little considering that there had been half a dozen human beings asleep in the building when he torched it. He is refusing to talk about Kristal Forest.
A year and a half later now, whether as a result of family prodding or because of some new information of their own, the police have opened a full-scale murder investigation with a public campaign to determine what happened to Kristal.
According to Phil Jordan (the Ithaca-area psychic with an impressive forensic record who is not being consulted by Arizona State Police) Kristal's death involved her neck and a cabin in the woods within an hour of where they were when the death occurred. In fact, the family tsaya that there was a cabin in the woods which Reed was known to use. I don't know much more, because I am not conducting my own murder investigation.
But of course you don't need a psychic to think you know who did it. A lot of people get murdered for no good reason other than that they were carrying money and trusted the wrong person. The police need to find Kristal Forest and move justice along. Surprises would be welcome, but there is no big mystery in her death. The real mystery was Kristal herself, even if you happen to have been married to her for a few years.
Water Pig Fever
In the Fall of 1963..... a semester before Kristal Forest arrived..... Eric Ross, John Irvng and I were Juniors abroad at the Institute of European Studies in Vienna. We read Witgenstein, Sartre, A.J. Ayer, St. Thomas, etc. with the young Eddie Mowatt, who had not yet finished his Oxford thesis but had a beautiful way of making all ideologies clear and concise. As an encouraged intellectual protest to something or other, John, Eric, and I conspired to all submit the same quoteation from a Robert Frost Poem in an exam paper we wrote for him. The poem was all about those who stand on the shore facing outwards, but looking neither out far, nor in deep.
In response, Mowatt invited us to his flat, where we drank something and discussed the issues. He told us he had chosen Catholicism as a stay against confusion, particularly for the purpose of bringing up children ..... though we were as close to children as he would have for a while. It didn't seem like a ridiculous idea at the time.
We three drank in the second basement below the Deutches Wein Haus, ate Friday night steak and egg dinners upstairs at the same place, and rode go-carts in the Prater. We took coffee in a modern little place just off Kartner Strasse, where the street walkers kept comic books to read on breaks. John taught us the first stanzas of A Child's Christmas in Wales, and led us in walking recitations of "When I was a windy boy in the bit, in the black spit of the chapel fold..." boldly in the face of the wind and of whatever disapproving old Weiner happened to be coming in the other direction. Eric and John grew mustaches, which I couldn't manage to do, so I stopped getting hair-cuts.
While I was struggling to read analytic philosophy at Cornell, and Eric did impulsive Acting at Marlboro College, John had contended with Hemingway and Fitzgerald, read and maybe met Frost ......and it could be he told us that Dylan Thomas toured and read at his prep school.... and that after the reading maybe they even got drunk together and wrestled. He never did say that, but you know the sort of yarns I mean. Yarns from personal experience involving prep school, hunting, ardvarks, and bears. Most importantly though, John knew what novelists themselves were all about and what they did other than write novels.
And the main thing.....it still seems to me......is that writers can actually be IN their stories. Anyway, in that frame of mind, we three structured a Grand Spin for the next summer, involving bull running, trout fishing, and motorcycles, with girl companions hanging on behind. Should be good.
Bernard from Haiti and his literary partner Chuck must have seen by our outfits that we three were writers:. They asked us each to contribute to the Spring issue of the I.E.S. literary magazine, and so we became promising writers.
In February, we boarded the Orient Express bound for Istanbul.......planning to go from there by boat to some unspecified Greek Island, much warmer and brighter than Vienna, and that would be the place where we would be writers, and write.
I remember that train ride as one long night without real sleep or actual meals, interrupted by a stop or a dream in the middle of snowstorm with no depot visible......peasants climbing aboard , some with feet wrapped in rags, others carrying skis .....a woman with a baby trying to get into our compartment, the door held shut by the two Turks riding with us at the time.....
Somehow we zipped right by Greece without my noticing. It was one damn long train trip, though, and from the beginning we had been eating nothing much but hard rolls and cheeses we brought with us.
But when we were almost to the end of the line, we went for our one real meal in the dining car.
I don't remember the meal...but I will never forget it.
When we had finished and had been still at the table five minutes after the train pulled into the Istanbul station but the waiter had not yet come with the bill......we got up and walked out. The waiter caught up with us and made us pay. We paid. And we would pay again .
As soon as the running waiter got his money, a little "Student Hotel" kid hustled us to a taxi where we were led to a sort of efficiency bathroom with tile floor, bunk beds close to a kind of toilet/ bidet with an underbutt water jet and no toilet paper....... a small bath tub so close opposite we could puke in it without getting up, just perfect for us that night. Such was the onset of what we took to calling Water-pig fever, but which would affect us each differently.
The first night was the worst; after that we dragged through the underground bazaar where we bought meershaum pipes and roughly-used leather vests . Eric says now that he and I went into an opium den in the lowest level of the bazaar, and got so shnockered there.....said that John had to come and pull us out, but I don't believe their memories.
Anyway, we were not tourists or hedonists, we were journeymen, and had to get on with it..
About as soon as it could be arranged, we sailed over the heaving sea to the port of Athens, where we disembarked as snow fell into gray Greek water.
We were advised at the ticket office that the nearby island of Hydra would be as warm as far off Crete; so we went to Hydra......... which we never had heard of, but is the traditional home of Greek sea captains, and some very odd characters I will tell you about in private sometime. The movie Phaedra had been filmed there the year before, and the young Leonard Cohen had probably just left. There were writers too, including a very famous Australian novelist whose name I forget and whom we never actually met because he was surrounded. We met the ex G.I. who had never gone home again..... Fred....who at the time was trying to make poems on paper which he could bake and eat.
We were on Hydra to write actual stories, and plenty happened there that one could write about, but such things are distractions when you want to work. Hydra houses where mostly heated only by cooking (and our one meal a day was cooked over a Bunsen burner for us by a woman downstairs) si in our quarters it was was just too cold to write; especially when feeling like shit, and when one is never written anything that wasn't homework .
John was actually traveling with his little portable type-writer, and he brought it down to the harbor where we took coffee every morning after breakfast in order to sit out in the sun. He didn't write much though, except maybe a letter home to his girl Shyla........because one day he woke up sicker than ever, and the next day he hardly woke up at all, barely conscious, puking and drooling into a waste basket.
So we went asking for a doctor .....only to find that the one doctor ( who was also the mayor) traveled a circuit of the islands every week.... so we had to wait for his two days on Hydra.
I don't know how long we waited, and I am sure we weren't sitting by John and the waste basket all that time, but after the doctor finally arrived and had administered his cure, he said John would have died if the wait had been much longer. That may or may not have been an exaggeration, but the odd and undeniable thing is that after having the typhod, or typhus...or the ideopathological Water-pig Fever, John was hardly bothered by the Orient Express Syndrome...... at least not like Eric and me.
Maybe the one disease cured him of the other! That could have been his story for the institute magazine, but, to this day, he hasn't come through with one. Eric handed in a story about running over a dog, and I handed over one about a disconnected expatriate artist standing on the sea wall of the Hydra Harbor and staring down into a floating mass of fish entrails or seaweed or something, while a butterfly flutters unseen overhead. The butterfly was phony and the artist looked like Fred, but seems to be me.
Back in Vienna, I hauled my sorry entrails to Dr. Rudolph Faulkner, a Russian doctor of internal medicine, who told me I had a rare form of dysentery, which I would eventually be able to discourage some, but never completely vanquish. He suggested I give up coffee for six months and hard liquor for a few years, and he gave me some big pills.
But beyond that, he assured me that my essential problem was a deeply active philosophical disposition which assured that I would always be aware of the darkness at the heart of things . I don't remember how he actually put it in words, but it felt intellectually validating..... Dr. Faulkner recommended that I read Fragments of an Unknown Teaching by the Russian Mystic Gurdjief, but I haven't finished it yet. I try to look without staring too much.
CRAFTING THE NARRATIVE
Peter the waiter from Graz walked into the international students dining hall in Vienna as we were having our regular evening meal.... and he announced that President Kennedy had been shot.
A bunch of us, Peter included, decided we should go right then to the American embassy....I'm not sure what we intended to do there, or if there was anything more than a consulate so soon after the war and partition.....and we never did find it.
At the end of the day, I went for a drink with Peter at his place.
Peter always wore blue jeans...... is probably wearing them somewhere in the USA right now........and back then was more shocked by the assassination then I was. Opened up by the event, and .probably inspired by some confession of my own......he told me quite solemnly that his own father had died in the trenches during world War II, as a result of a backfire from lighting a fart.
You never get over much of anything entirely and forever, but as Spring warmed, my digestion improved some. Spring was lush with a influx of American students, half of them from California, and epitomized for me by Kristal Forest and Cheryl Nickel, who had met when they both worked at Disneyland ; one on the moon rocket, and one on the Monorail. Cheryl....open and friendly.... with the sparkling, laughing, and overflowing eyes; Kristal, taller by a neck, with very large eyes which drifted off when the boys of the institute tried to get her attention. Kristal with hair and skin like olive oil, bleached and tanned, appearing to be maybe a f North Italian, Egyptian, a Stepp-Gypsy, an Indian of either sort, or a green-eyed Sphinx from another planet.
None of the Institute boys had been able to get anywhere with Kristal.
One night in March or April ....Eric and John, with me and some others were sitting around the stove in Marco Walshocks apartment, drinking tea with rum, and discussing the Kristal Forest problem. John himself was expecting his girlfriend from home to arrive soon enough that he could be disinterested, but after listening a while, he said that there was only one fucking guy who stood a chance with this Kristal, and that was fucking David.
I really had no idea what chance he was talking about. I had not been in the competition.
Well then (John let us know) the reason I was the only one with a chance at her, was because I was the only one who had showed no interest in her. This must have intrigued her, he said. So all that was needed now, was a back story for me, which would build on that curiosity, and fire up her interest. I could get interested easily. I had just not considered the possibility..
The story, according to John, should be that I had recently lost the love of my life, and had almost lost my will to live....unless...and so on.
This argument had the force of logic: it got reluctant acknowledgement from the contenders, and as long as it didn't require that I do much of anything, the plot was alright with me. Besides which ( as I told no one) it was not a a big lie either: I had never really recovered from the summer of my sophomore year when I adventured off to Alsaka and my high school sweetheart Carmy Mignano took up with the steady guy she has been married to for forty some years now.
Eric had already taken up with Kristal's room mate Cheryl, with whom he shared an impulsive nature, so my story was passed on casually.... and within days Kristal and I found ourselves sitting beside one another at the Marine House bar.
Conversation didn't exactly flow. One thing we did have in common then was an inability to make small talk. At some point, I mumbled something and handed her a small sea- shell I had found on the beach in France, and had been carrying in my pocket since, She said something, or she didn't say anything, but she looked away, closed her hand around the shell, then opened her hand again and looked down into it at the crushed shell as it had mysteriously appeared in her hand. She dribbled it into the ash tray. We ignored the incident. She would not remember it.
A back story is only a back story, and a present plot was called for to overcome the dysfunction of these two .
It got to be May when the nearby Grinzing vineyards on the slopes at the end of the street-car line, would be bringing out the new wine. I don't know whose idea it was......nor do I know that Kristal wasn't just as aware of it as I was....but Eric and Cheryl invited Kristal and me individually to come drink the new wine in the wein stube of one of the vineyards, then take a picnic up into the hills bordering the vineyards. Eric and Cherly would have their sleeping bags to camp out over night, and Kristal and I could travel back on the street car before dark.
Of course we all, stayed the night n, two to a bag. Bag rolling races down a grassy knob, ambiguous giggles and whispers........ when Eric and Cheryl had lapsed into silence, we two buzzing like two black holes trying not to disappear into one another. Too strange for sex.
But the central story had all its bones and some detail now: With our girls clamped on behind, we we would ride the length of Austria, up over Switzerland, zipping then to the North coast of France for an ocean dip at Biaritz, and then south across France to Spain, and up over the Pyrenes to Pamplona for the annual running of the bulls.....although I hadn't yet read Hemingway much beyond Big Two-Hearted River . I didn't know motor cycles either, and hadn't even ridden a bicycle since Junior High School,
Running off the Boars
Eric had already bought a used Horex of around 450 c.c.s and John a Jawa. 350....but Kristal and f didn't want to worry our parents about our exact means of travel that coming summer, so we saved our pocket money until, for seventy five bucks each, we bought a Deutche Triumph with three previous owners, and barely two hundred CCs - minus the CCs taken up by the carbon deposits. The more obvious problem to me, was that it had no luggage rack; so I arranged to have something welded on, and picked it up in time to practice driving around Vienna for a few weeks, before the day we all roared off to criss-cross Europe.
"Saddle the Chickens" we usually said, as we mounted and rode out. I don't know where we got that expression, but an hour or two after we saddled the chickens and rode out onto the Autobahn, the little old Deutche engine began to cough, spit, and loose power.
When we had been out of sight of the others for half an hour, Eric dropped back to say that they all wouldn't all slow down for us, but from then on, they would try each night to camp somewhere visible from the road.
Before long, our machine would still run but wouldn't move unless we got off and walked beside it.
The sun was already below the mountains and we were near nowhere; so I walked the cycle down the embankment and a little ways off into a little short-grass clearing only a few yards across. Very convenient. We put rolled our bags out and zipped them together. Actually, I don't remember any ground cloth. Could it be we didn't know enough to bring one? And could it be that we had no question but that mother nature had specially made us such a fine bed?
Before it got completely dark, a tall boar hog stepped into the clearing within three or four yards of us. I suppose he was dropping in for a nap, a wallow, or a snack. A tusker....... he stood half in the clearing, and stomped a foot several times; gave a snort. I think he was probably threatening the motorcycle rather than the long lump of us on the ground. Then I stood myself up at the head of the bags, and Kristal grabbed me around the ankles.
Maybe she saved me from making a cowardly run. As it was I yelled and clapped my cupped hands several times hard, which was about the most I could do. The boar turned back into the brush.
Then it did get really dark........and we spent the night right there. I have no idea how.
The next morning we pushed up onto the road embankment, where I cranked up the engine. Starting with it cool, we were able to ride along on the shoulder to the first exit. But from there it was up slope ....and we could manage only if we walked beside and I pushed. Engine running and choking, we pushed a mile or so up and into the little village that was going to save our butts.
It was Sunday, so the inn was open but the garage was closed. There was one of each thing in that village and we were the one thing happening right then, so within fifteen minutes we were famous in the Inn, and out on in front, where the sorry Deutche Triumph stood.
A small crowd began to assemble around the machine.
Several men squatting by the motorcycle partially disassembled it. They lay the parts in the gutter, poured on gasoline , and burnt the carbon out of its insides...then put it together and sent us on our way, with implicit thanks for our assistance with World War II.
We were extremely lucky, whether we appreciated it or not ......and now we had half again as much power as when we had bought the machine, but even that was still not much to carry two people and their baggage over a couple of mountain ranges. We were lucky when we made it to the top of our first Swiss mountain pass just at sunset, at five miles an hour in a snow flurry...lucky that there was an Inn with foot thick down comforters there. And we were lucky again days later, not far from Geneva, when, we saw our friends camped close the road.
But a few days after that John and Shyla decided to change their plan, turn back, and go to Hydra.....where they would get married.
Eric, Cheryl, Kristal, and I continued on tot Biaritz,, then to Pamplona, as per the plan.
After arriving in Pamplona and drinking several bars with hundreds of people wearing and sharing red bandannas, the four of us rode to the outskirts of a village a few miles out of town and camped beside the cart lane in a well kept orchard with no houses near.
After the first night in the orchard, Cheryl and Eric decided to pack up and splurge on a hotel room, but Kristal and I didn't want to spend the money, so we left our baggage back when we all went in to town.
Late that afternoon , Kristal and I arrived back at the orchard just as four or five men in white field clothes were carrying off our sleeping bags and clothing.
We stood off the cycle, and Kristal pressed up behind me as if she were still riding. She told me to do something. A couple of the looters were carrying sickles.
I clapped my hands and yelled. They laughed, and continued on.
They didn't leave much. Mostly they didn't leave our sleeping bags.
As we were gathering up the remains a few minutes later, I saw the head of someone watching us from the little ridge behind us, and so I went up there...but he was gone. Lucky.
It now seems obvious enough .......seeing as were camped beside the cart lane in somebody's nice neat orchard.......that these guys were on the job site, very near home, and that we should have looked for the nearest house and done some apologetic begging, especially since this was Franco's Spain. Instead, we went to the police in Pamplona.
But don't you worry, the police didn't want any trouble with us.
They sent us to the mayor of the little town we had ignored.
The mayor was a wide, friendly man on a Vespa scooter. First thing, he took us to try the free tapas treats at the town bar, and than had us follow him as he drove around looking for suspects. He stopped a gypsy wagon, made everybody get out..... asked us if those were the ones, He took is into a reform school dining hall and asked us if we saw the robbers there, and so on, but no luck along those lines.
Kristal and I had the clothes on our backs, no sleeping bags, and very little money until we could get to American Express in Nice where there was to be money for me. We bought a nylon blanket and Kristal sewed the sides together. That was our bag for the rest of the trip. Of course, we never did see the running of the bulls. And a year or so later the mayor would send me a post card in Spanish, saying our stuff hadn't show up, but he would let me know if they located any of it..
We four rode across dry central Spain and past several big wildfires where there was very little to burn. As we were entering Barcelona, we lost Eric and Cheryl in a traffic circle. Or they lost us, and If they weren't trying to lose us, they were just lucky they did. We may have already borrowed money from them, or were thinking about it. We wouldn't see them them again on that continent.
Staying in a not awfully expensive hotel convenient to American Express, we wired the Nice office to have our money order forwarded, and then wandered around for a few days. We discovered the street where they sold nothing much but guitars, and gave up a little more money for a quarter- sized guitar without a case. After a week or so of waiting for money to be forwarded, we learned that there had been a postal strike in France all along.
We paid off our hotel bill camped on to the beach, sketched and plunked the guitar.
It was good we didn't have much luggage now, because the rack I had paid to get welded onto the cycle had cracked under the original load.
So as soon as some money came from home, we bought a novelty jack-knife from the window of a souvenir shop. It was about sixteen inches long when closed, but thin steel and more of a joke than a knife, but we rode out into the hills and I hacked down a sapling to repair the luggage rack.
In the saddle again, and half way up the Costa Brava to France, we argued about something unmemorable, and it ended with Kristal walking up ahead to hitch-hike. I don't know if I intended to chase after her, or pass on by, but she got a ride before I even got back on the motorcycle, We found each other the next day fifty miles further on, and Kristal got back on.
We rode on up to Niece, where we quickly learned they do not let you camp on the beach, and anyway we needed to get back across Europe the long way to Holland for Kristal's ship and my Plane.
The engine was still performing well but that machine had a chain drive, and we had finally worn down the teeth of the drive cog so far that when we tried to ride up the hill away from the harbor and out of Niece, the chain slipped so much we had to give up the attempt..
The cog it would have to be replaced. And being a foreign machine, It would have to be ordered, and a high import tax paid. We signed the machine away to a passer by on the street.
The Last Marriage Ever
After we gave our motorcycle away, getting rides was probably easy for us: the long legged blond with the little guitar and the boyish companion....... but I don't remember a single ride until we were already through Vienna again and on the Autobahn in Germany. We had been picked up by a World War II Luftwaffe pilot returning from Checkoslovokia where he'd gone in order to fly military airplanes...a privilidge not allowed him in Germany any more...... and the next ride, still on the Autobahn: a younger German, who took us at aircraft speed, swerving to avoid a pileup in the right lane...... and told us as, we fishtailed on past the sliding wreck, that we were lucky he had used to be a professional race driver. He gave us schnapps in sample bottles from the glove compartment.
Copenhagen seemed to be full of students at the beginning of something. Kristal and I lunched on the free condiments at an American style hamburger bar, and slept on the floor of a Turkish bath which turned us out early in the mornings so they could turn on the steam.
I left Kristal at the ship in Amsterdam and a day later, I took the plane from Rotterdam.
I enjoyed my Salsbury Steak flight meal, the first food in some time for which I didn't need my silly jack- knife.
I was still wearing the army field jacket with the ball point portrait of Kristal and me riding on the back of it, the folding, cheese and sapling-hacking, sport-utility knife in one pocket, passport in the other.
Customs would noticed that my passport had been stamped in Turkey...... and t I must have looked like someone had recently pulled me out of an opium den.
As soon as I made it through customs....or thought I had...a couple of plain- clothes men took me by the elbows and steered me to a room upstairs, where they made me empty everything from my bag and pockets onto a table. They were uninterested in any of my grungy stuff, and they laughed outright when I pulled the jokey jack-knife out of my pocket and put it on the table. They told me that while in New York City, where there were laws about the maximum length of pocket knives, I had better carry it in my bag, rather than in my pocket.
By the time I got to Grand Central Station I had just enough money left for a bus ticket which would get me to within fifteen miles of Ithaca.
I don't know how I made the last fifteen miles, but I know I got there, and I slept for two days, with some time off for t.v.and refrigerator. The family was all up at lake Bonaparte,
After the rest, I was interested only in going up north to do some trout fishing.
About as soon as I got back from Lake Bonaparte a Kristal called to tell me she was pregnant.
She flew to Ithaca, determined not to go through with the birth. The issue was her independence....and anyway..... willing as I might have been to stand up and take responsibility..... to depend on ME might not have been a good plan. I visited a doctor or two. But looking for an abortion back then was like throwing yourself down the stairs, and not as effective for the purpose.
Kristal flew back to California, and a friend of ours drove her to Mexico, where the operation was done in room behind a drug store, without complications.
After the abortion Kristal decided to transfer to college in Boston , but applied by mistake and was accepted to little Catholic Boston College, mistaking it for Boston University. She discovered the difference after she arrived, but somehow managed to jump over to Boston U.
I visited her in Cambridge more than once.... and very soon she was pregnant again.
What can you do? We agreed to go ahead with it....and to get married. I told my parents. They were quietly, gravely disappointed.
Kristal didn't tell her own parents about the pregnant part of the wedding plans, but arranged to finish her B.U requirements with courses at Cornell, and she started planning a pretty good wedding. She designed our two embossed wedding bands for a Boston goldsmith to produce, and set the ceremony in the back yard at Edgewood place, with the Cornell Library chimes cued to play, as we we marched up to be joined buy the next door neighbor, Rev. John Lee Smith. She found some traditional Vietnamese rail-dancers who performed on a saw horse at the reception there.
Eric and Cheyrl had arrived in a Volkswagon Beetle with a brass bed frame on top. John and Shyla were already tied down in New Hampshire with their own baby. Kristal's Parents were flying in on the day of the wedding, but their flight was delayed so we had to postpone the ceremony for half an hour and maybe the plan had been to get us married before they could find out she was pregnant (and they did) but according to plan, Kristal and I hopped into the the family car and drove from the wedding/reception still in progress to the save remove of Lake Bonaparte which we had pretty much too ourselves and the plane spraying DDT, as it was prime black fly and mosquito season
I managed to row us over to Round Island and catch a couple of bass out of season, and we broiled them over the outdoor fireplace. Another day I drove us across the Adirondacks to the Ausable River I left Kristal in the car by a favorite stretch below Wilmington and went upstream with my fly rod ...........and was gone so long she drove back to Wilmington and bought a water melon which she had time to eat all she wanted of before I drifted back down stream with the reversing air currents of evening. She was angry, but not as angry as she should have been. The easy ability I had back then to escape time, now takes a lot of hard work.
How do you name a child who hasn't been born yet? Like most other parents, we thought we needed to do that. I can't remember the name for the boy who never was, but for a girls name, we settled without argument, on "Mnetha": the name I got from the Dylan Thomas poem "Before I knocked and Flesh Let Enter", about the experience of being a child in the womb, Now it seems lto me your true and final name is the one your Grandchildren use, even though they call me Granny.
Kristal, Mnetha, and I started out on the third floor of the family home at Edgewood Place, sharing the downstairs with both of my parents , sometimes my younger sister Valerie, and with my grandmother Donna, who was already around ninety years old, but still standing in the kitchen. This arrangement lasted until three women vying to out wait on each other became two women too many for everybody .
We moved into the Pleasant Grove married student housing complex and I worked short order at Noyes Lodge nearby when I was not in school. didn't stay most places very long It seems like where ever we were, Kristal would shift the furniture around every few days, until the inherent unsuitability of the place became clear, and we would move on.
More than once, it was a matter of dust. Her allergies were furious and undeniable. All of a sudden, as if struck by a cosmic spoor shower, she would flush with a full body rash and have to restrain herself from clawing at the tangled webs of coagulated mucus which formed on her eyes. I had to roll up the weby stuff on swab sticks..
At the Doctor's direction to build her immunity, I gave Kristal regular injections containing regular household dust.......then cortizone shots when her condition got worse anyway ..... and Adrenlin when it was worse than even that.
I don't now if it was mostly a matter of time, or or the treatments, but she battled through, doing hatha yoga , taking dance classes at Cornell, and becoming religiously vegetarian. She gradually became less allergic, and she was eventually able even to keep a cat, as long as he didn't come further in than the basement. .
In the Summer of 1968 Kristal left where ever we were, and went off to house-sit for her dancing teacher, while I was finishing a novel called Norman Is An Island, in which Norman fakes his own drowning and leaves his wife, I was also making a short film which opens on Kristal in her wedding gown, In a dream of floating dead on her back down a slow stretch of Fall Creek,... gown and hair streaming; a scene from which she wakes with a dissolve into an extremely ambiguous world where fish swim by windows... make of it what you will. I was finishing up my M.F.A. in creative writing.
Emerson Brown a Cornell Phd who had been teaching down at The University of Puerto Rico had come back up to Cornell because U.P.R had been closed down for the entire year, after the police in Rio Piedras shot and killed two U.P.R. students who were trying to flee over a wall on which they had been hanging protest posters. U.P.R. planned to reopen in 1969....but minus Emerson Brown and a few others; so he put me in contact with the English Department there, and I soon had a contract to teach English literature and English as a foreign language. Not that either of us had ever contemplated going down there, but Kristal decided to give me another one- more-chance, and packed us up for the move to Puerto Rico.
In Rio Piedras we soon encountered Hally Wood and Sing Stevenson as she helped him in and out between his wheel chair into the low board London Taxi they had shipped to P. R. so she could shuttle him back and forth to classes . He was a seventy-five year old working professor of English and Folklore , and Hally, his thirty year younger wife and former student. Their affair some years before had got them kicked out of the University of Texas; and beyond that, they were told to leave the state of Texas itself.
Sing had been born Robert C. Stephenson, on a Ranch in California and was a star football player in college.... until he had the game accident that put him in a wheel chair.
He had once been the North American Chess champion and he played weekly with a frightened Russian who expected to be found and murdered by the Kremlin. Sing was was still learning a new language each summer, so that he could read this or that. He envied me because I could still look forward to reading the brothers Karamazoff for the first time. He called me Wild Bill Hiccock.
In her student days, Hally had traveled with the folklorist Alan Lomax, helping with toting the wire recorder and making written transcriptions. Hally played the banjo and the guitar and sang the songs she had colle cted. She was a believer in correct authentic versions. Hally on Banjo, me on harmonica, and Kristal on guitar, we practiced and performed once or twice for the English Department m and at a party or two. Sing Stevenson. could sit up drinking with a crowd until they disolved away....... and the next day Hally would drive him over to campus to spread enthusiasm, bright and rosy cheeked as always.
These were also some good whole days for Mnetha, Kristal, and I, walking the wild beaches, peering into tide pools and picking up shells.
And Kristal got permission to teach modern Dance on campus.
But after a few weeks of her classes, the relevant administrators found out it was MODERN dance, and they shut her down.
At the same time Kristal made trouble by shielding the Vietnamese wife of a faculty member who was habitually beating her - which he insisted was his right.
I don't remember the substance of any of our own conflicts, but I remember her being irritated that I was able to just go off into the other room and write, when there were unresolved issues.
After Christmas Kristal and Mnetha flew back to Ithaca.
They moved back to the third floor over my grandmother and parents At Edgewood Place. She enrolled Mnetha in East Hill School which I had myself attended and was only a few blocks away. But the city of Ithaca had been making moves toward closing the school to save money. Kristal joined with a group of East Hill parents who demanded that the school be turned over to them, saying they would do the janitor work and the principal work and everything, plus build a green house on the school roof and maybe raise chickens up there too. They were ahead of our time.
Kristal also joined a group of mostly Cornell people, with overlapping interests in Pscycho Drama, Astrology, and Mysticism who gathered weekly at The American Brahmin Bookstore down on lower State Street. Lennie Silver: poet, musician, and mystic , then teaching at Cornell , moved his math class down the hill to the bookstore, and magically transformed it into an astrology course, and himself into the greatest drop-out I know of.
But the American Brahmin Bookstore was primarily the business and domain of Tony Damiani, a retired. N.Y.C. longshoreman and devote of Paul Brunton: an English Journalist who had experienced a grand realization during a night spent in one of the Egyptian Pyramids,
The group study at Wisdom's Golden rod in those days wasn't about psycho drama or sitting in Pyramids, but was in the Hindu academic tradition of debate about critical texts relating to sacred writings,....way too dry for me, but Kristal sat with it.
I would have been a very sad puppy, without and Sing downstairs in my building .
And our old friend Cheryl had recently divorced someone I had never met , or was in hot water about someone, so she flew down to stay with me for a while, and we had a good time With Sing and Hally....whom Cheryl resembled in enthusiasm and energy level.
But I was pretty dragged out lonesome anyway. Air passage back and forth from Puerrto Rico was subsidized back then, kept down to seventy five bucks, so flew up to visit Kristal and Mnetha in Ithaca around during Spring vacation.
Kristal was living in Shelter valley up Cayuga Inlet. I caught a few fresh run rainbow trout in Shelter Valley Creek, and discovered morel mushrooms, which were everywhere that season. Without those few days, there would have been no Spring for me that year. No new Spring in our marriage though.
When I got back the Puerto Rico Cheryl had a new boyfriend living in the apartment. She figured I wouldn't mind, and I didn't. I gave them the bedroom so I could have all the privacy I needed. Our new friend Henry had been camping on the beach. I liked him. His father was a college president, and Henry himself probably is a college president now.
We cookied for each other, and boozed with the neighbors. Plus I could always go into the other room and write.
But when they both left, I was miserable again.
I had been invited to remain at U.P.R. the next year, and I agreed to stay for double pay through the wicked hot summer session ... but I wanted to go home again, and I could, so I did.
While in Peurto Rico, I missed the part where Cornell black students took over the student union and were photographed marching out out with some hunting rifles. It didn't seem to me to be on the scale of the U.P.R. real violence but maybe it was close to eruption....and I had also missed Woodstock....... suddenly there was all this weird clothing, social experiments and well intentioned communities out onthe seven hills of Ithaca.......and the American Brahmin Book Store.
Kristal introduced me to the psycho-drama which was still meeting down there. The group agreed implicitly to forgo some of the normal social restraints and considerations of privacy ....to get down to what is really wrong .
It was clear very quickly from the reactions to me, that Kristal had been complaining about me before the group, and that the others didn't recognize the devil she had been describing . I think they were so pleasantly surprised that I got better treatment than I would have otherwise, and that irritated Kristal.
I came across as unnaturally quiet, and silently critical....and my new friends encouraged me to access anger.
And so I accessed anger, but I learned on my own that getting angry with Kristal was fighting fire with gasoline.
Surprisingly, the school district allowed the East Hill parents to keep the school open. At Kristal's suggestion I volunteered there and the parent group soon offered me the chance to stay on as a paid teacher...... but then I got an offer to take on a couple of Alan Pike's over-subscribed writing courses at Cornell.
I had been practically raised on that campus, and although I had never liked school from the very beginnings at East Hill, and had more than enough it it already, I had by the end of my schooling figured out how to make an easy enough job of it....especially teaching writing, so I took the job I did it for a couple of years, making more money than I would ever make again,
The last place Kristal and I lived together was a cottage house set back from East Shore Drive, across the road from the lake. In front there was a large garden entirely of Irises, a third of which I dug out and replaced with vegetable plants.
In memory, it seems like the two of us weren't both in the house at the same time, and then communicated through Mnetha....but I remember Kristal and I alone, standing in the kitchen at the rear of the house, arguing about something, when I glanced out the window and saw and saw four or five deer standing right there.... not even feeding, but just looking in at us. I stopped and pointed to the deer, but to no effect.
Alan and Linda Pike , with David McAleavey, had rented half a farm house out on Perry City Road , next to the old Quaker cemetery. They invited me to come live there. Lenny Silver and wife Jenny lived in the other half of the house. McAleavey was in California at the time, and I would be on the couch for a while, but then the Pikes would be going to Italy for a year.
We called it the Old Same Place. David McAleavey, returned from a summer at Berkley with wild wild hair, wild girlfriend, and music of the Dead.
There were wandering visitors, visiting wanderers, and a mystic named Ram who was a pretty good intuitive astrologer. He said there was to be some special significance for me in Pinot Noir wine. Peyote, LSD, and Pot were around. I drank Pinot Noir and cooked elaborate dishes form the Escoffier cook book, Hally had given me. I dug a vegetable garden between the house and the cemetery and grew one pretty good too tall clump of seedy pot plants. I often had Mnetha on weekends and took over care the little Norwich Terrier Kasha, which Kristal had bought for Mnetha, but which aggravated her allergies.
Kristal was also agrivated at a distance by my life and style. One afternoon when I had been asked to deliver Mnetha all ready and packed for an overnight camp , her bag packed , including some food items for a dinner meal, . so, along with whatever else, I tossed in a can of pork and beans This so outraged Kristal's food principles, that she shouted me down the stairs and threw the can of beans at me when I was at the bottom.
She had a point, and she missed with the beans.. but Mnetha would be witness to many more flying objects, and worse than actually hiting me with a can of beans, she refused, because of my bad food chocie, to leave Mnetha in my care any more.
So I figured - coolly enough, it seemed to me -that I didn't need to pay HER to do the job she was preventing me from doing, so I refused to come up with any more child support.
So she sued for divorce.
Our Judge Friedlander disclosed that she had been one of my father's students in law school, which we knew and was alright with us....and advised us in loco parerntis that whatever else went down, we would have to cooperate about the child.
Kristal did get custody, which seemed natural and obligatory back then, and I was directed to see a probation officer for a while, probably to make sure I was paying child support. I don't remember what were the technical grounds for a divorce, but I remember standing with Kristal in front of some judge or legal clerk during the process, and Kristal saying at me...."David, you think everything's funny don't you? "
She did have a point there too. Our history together was definitely not a romantic comedy. And I wouldn't say it was tragic marriage either...because I don't exactly regret it. But it was traumatic enough that neither of us ever tried marriage again.
My writing got weirder, partly because life was, but also because I wanted it to be far out and in deep. But the fiction I was working on then never got too far out of one Charlie Peckerstone, who lived all alone trying to write a philosophy thesis......when he was trying. His name was the invention of my friend David Rollow, and I don't remember the context, but I thought it was funny.
Peckerstone himself was more concerned with collecting retro diner artifacts than he was in writing his Phd thesis. Purchase by purchase, he had gradually turned his apartment into a diner, right down to napkins and an institutional food supply. The bread had to be Millbrook or Wonder in the long loaves, and The tuna had to be Star Kist in the gallon-sized institutional can, with the standard mermaid and the starry sea label,
Of course there were no people but himself in his dinner.... so he never managed to eat more than a third of a can before the remainder began to smell bad, even in the fridge,
But then he always enjoyed buying and opening a new can.
Late one night, after having put out the spoiling remains of the incumbent tuna, Charlie goes to the Supermarket and buys a brace of of Wonder Bread Long Loaves, twenty five pounds of burger patties, and a gallon can of Star Kist . He gets home from the supermarket at one in the morning, and right away opens the can.
And, you guessed it.....what was in there......was not tuna.
Curled in a cloudy albumin ....... a sort of mermaid...not your tacky Disney scaly tail carp-ass thing with pale skin, plastic blond hair, and waterproof mascara...... but a creature both more human and trout like with a perfectly smooth skin all over shading from fish belly white below, through the vermilion sunsets of her flanks, to the starry night of her back.
Unfortunately, though, she was far from perfect for this element we live in. As soon as the air touched her skin, Star Kist shivered and her skin began to crackle and itch.
Charlie Peckerstone was in love or something...but Star Kist's exquisite skin was so sensitive to air that he had to keep her in the bath tub all the time , and she lived there unhappily singing lonesome songs of the sea, until the location changed without notice.
Life After Birth
Soon after our divorce, Kristal left Mnetha with me at my parent's house, parked her car at Wisdom's Golden Rod in care of her teacher Tony Damiani, and flew to India with our wedding rings.
She donated the rings to the rural ashram which had been home to the guru of Tony's guru: the monk called simply, Ram. Ram was slight, wore next to nothing, and smiles appealingly in his pictures. He was known for his understanding and sympathetic way with animals, with whom he never argued about the interpretations of critical glosses on sacred texts.
Kristal stayed at the ashram for a few months to meditate and serve. It was all fine with me.
But when she got back to Ithaca again, Kristal found that her car engine had seized while in Tony Damiani's care.
She was sure that he had driven the car without bothering to check the oil, and that such behavior was unworthy of a religious teacher. She was unforgiving.
After the break with Tony, Kristal began associating with one and another of the Ithaca Buddhist study groups.
Kristal wasn't getting more than some child support from me; but she was expert at getting jobs. She worked in the Cornell library system, and she managed Ithaca's first self-service gas station. She could hostess your event, clean out your closet, or remake every dress in your wardrobe. She got Montessori certification and taught preschoolers.
Mostly she was a teacher.
With me as a cosigner, she bought a house out toward Slaterville, though eventually she turned it over to the bank. Later, she bought a house out in Perry City, and sold that one after a while, so she could travel to Dharmsala India, home of the Dali Lama and the Tibetian refugee community.
In Dharmsala she taught at a school run by the Dalai Lama's sister. After a while she returned to Ithaca for short visit, then packed up Mnetha, age thirteen ....and traveled with her back to Dharmsala.
Mnetha soon got so sick that Kristal sent her home alone. Maybe some day Mnetha will want to remember the week long train ride across the high hot planes of India...and the rest of it.
A few months later, Kristal also left Dharmsala.
Mnetha and I picked her up at the airport in New York and Kristal slept with her head on my lap much of the way back to Ithaca.
Kristal moved to Neptune, New Jersey, to teach at a Montessori school and Mnetha went with her to finish High school at the mostly black Neptuene High School. When Mnetha moved up to SUNY Purchase for her first year of college, Kristal came back to Ithaca, once again.
She dyed and stenciled Tshirts and remade Salvation Army clothing which she sold with her "Salamader" label.
Kristal was a sales force of nature.....but Ithaca - hip or not - is not the great market plac of the New Age world.........that would be out West in the Santa Fe, Boulder, Taos triangle. So there she went.
Kristal was a generation ahead of the New Agers, had knowledge with experience, and had gained a lot of intellectual confidence.. She got her own T.V. astrology show in Boulder. Kristal was the sort of astrologer who would not hesitate to give dire warnings and concrete advice. She was a good teacher, and probably a good astrologer if she was not too close to you, because like the rest of us, and full of compassion for utter strangers and all animals.
Kristal had looked into her past lives and found something Egyptian. She didn't believe in mere coincidence or random accidents of birth......she believed that we are born and reborn into circumstances we have earned, and will keep on being reborn until we get it right. And , even if it isn't true....it's true..
She believed birth itself is such a traumatic event that it is a big barrier to remembering, connecting with, and transcending our imperfect previous lives.... she believed that if one does not revisit one's own traumatic birth experience with a qualified guide, one might never evolve spiritually..
She went through the guided experience herself, and became a certified Rebirther..
She was her own authority though. Along the way there were occasional acolytes and younger boyfriends,........but I can't imagine that she ever again depended on a man for anything.
Any man in her experience, even Tony Damiani, must have had difficulty living up to the patriachial standard set by her own father.
Daddy Guy had grown up in New Jersey as Alfred Edward Gajewski, Kaj for short in Polish, or Guy as it became on the football team in college. He was enrolled in Time Motion Studies, but joined the army to be a Seabee engineer. Right after the war, he Married the girl he had met in Long Beach...on the beach there. They got married and adopted the last name Forest....being that Gajewski means something like forest ranger, or worker, or person.
I always remembered from what Kristal told me, that Betty Jean's father, old Knapaw, had been a Gold miner, or prospector maybe, out of Cripple Creek Colorado. This appealed to me.....Gabby Hayes and his daughter Dale Evans on a dirt poor Colorado ranch, but Betty Jean had spent only from her eleventh to her thirteenth year at Cripple Creek. And Knapaw had been more of a railroad man over all than a gold miner. In fact, he had started out as a Gandi Dancer on the extra gangs, just as I did for a summer. He was drafted at age forty four, and he survived. I never met old Knapaw ..... but soon after Kristal had left me in Puerto Rico, I got a letter from him expressing his perfect sympathy.
I never answered his letter,... ....and now I AM Knapaw.
The adoleslcent Cripple Creek experience didn't seem to stunt Betty Jean, Tall and attractive, she did some modeling back in California, but about as soon as she was married, she was involved with the Tool Shop which Guy set up near the Watts section of Los Angelos.
Then Guy and Betty Jean had a baby girl, beautifully named Kristal Forest. Kristal would compete in child beauty contests and take dancing lessons. When she or her younger brother Brent got a cold, Guy would take them to the gym to work it off. Kristal stood or sat up straight....she was Homecoming queen at Long Beach State College. She could have been a Dairy Princess from any planet, and was a natural for the summer job she got as hostess on the Moon Rocket at Disneyland..
Papa Guy was a believer not just in rigorous physical culture, but in a strict health food diet, and in Naturopathic medicine. He employed members of his family, kept working, carrying a gun to work through the Watts riots, and besides the full time business, labored for many years at building the family a house in Whittier.
But it was taking so very VERY long that the neighbors complained and eventually filed suits against the project, and the situation made the Odd News segments of two T.V. networks.
Kristal was able to plan her own new room, but she never moved into it.....but I didn't sense that was a major disappointment for her. . Kristal told me that when she first went back to California with the new baby, Papa Guy was up on a step ladder as they came in the door, and he didn't come down. Maybe Guy never wanted to finish . He never did.
As a practical builder and a dreamer, I know that building and dreaming can be the better part of anything.
When well past the Princess and Beauty Queen stages, Kristal had come to seem less like a beauty queen than a sort of goddess: a fierce goddess.
Even before that... back when we were still married and she made up for Halloween, it was as Medusa, the snake-haired para- goddess She made her own wig, with a dozen or more coat hangers bent and wrapped with cloth to represent writhing snakes....maybe writhing in a box somewhere yet.
Descended - mortally devolved - from Athena, Medusa was a less balanced, more pissed-off being, But the rage of Medusa is so huge that you have to be very careful not to look into her eyes, or you will be turned to stone. Mother worshipers, feminists, and warrior women make use of the Medusa image....as well as misogynists, psychologists, and Kristal.
She was saintly as mother Teressa, and had fewer doubts. She was genuinely fierce; she knew she could be powerfully scary, and she seldom, or never, apologized for an outburst. She denied their existence. It is not that she was angry all the time...she may have been placid for months at a time. Peace, after all, was the main goal of her yoga , her studies, and her pilgrimages.
In fact, it seemed like what had erupted as allergies in her twenties, and had later morphed into anger......had eventually faded some.
I told her then that she didn't seem to be as angry as she had used to be......and she got angry at the suggestion , but not as angry as she would have used to.
Most everyone except Kristal (even those with the same condition) probably came to recognize that she wasn't just easily angered and overly concerned with the spiritual and moral state of others, but had a serious problem: a mental illness which ought to have a clinical name with an acronym, a treatment, and a support group.
And that might be Borderline Personality Disorder. B.P.D. has had a name and a description since before Kristal was born. The diagnosis is recently regaining currency, and a place in medical journals with positive findings from random studies and new treatments. In the time since the term was coined, a procession of psychologists has applied it to a changing range of behavior.....but then Kristal's behaviors went through some of the same changes during the same stretch of time. In the past it was a dismissive diagnosis, in the present it is seen as within the treatable range of behavior. It is, after all, just borderline, and you may be too.
There may be some association with brain and chemical differences, or with childhood traumas, and family patterns, but whatever the roots of it, the the basic characteristic of a borderline personality is emotional "thin skin". In terms of behavior, that involves an intolerance of ambiguity, particularly in moral and existential issues. Such personalities, lack the ability to recognize the several clashing characters inside themselves. Instead, a Borderline tendency is to project all internal battles outside and fight them there. This becomes a tendency to demonization. Here is a good introduction to the subject, with plenty of links to the sources: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1870491,00.html
It seems right on, but it is only a description, but it seems to be describing an exaggerated case of the human condition we participate in..
Kristal was one Mother of a mother....a mother of mothers, of women generally, of lost seekers, of the poor, and of animals. In recent years, Kristal had been teaching in native American schools in New Mexico and had made another trip to India.....always rescuing as many creatures as she could. She had begun signing herself on cards and gifts to her grandchildren as "Madhu " which can mean something like sweet, nectar, or honey, in Sanskrit, but as a name in Hindu mythology, was applied to one of the Asuric deities, which the Gita (16.4) via Wikipedia, says, share the qualities of pride, arrogance, conceit, anger, harshness, and ignorance. I had thought it was meant to convey the sense of Mother or Grandmother, although Kristal had become just about completely alienated from her own mother and daughter, whom she accused of ruining her life. But only her killer ruined Kristal's life.
Though her body has not been found, Kristal's family in California has already memorialized her in a ceremony at a Buddhist monastery there...... as she would have wanted. But now, a year and a half after her disappearance., the Arizona police have opened a full-scale murder investigation, Kristal needs to be located. The family needs this to be settled and the killer needs to be in jail as long as he lives.
So, where is Kristal Forest?
"The Crystal Forest" is the title of a German folk tale I read in Vienna, before Kristal herself appeared there.
I suppose it would be relevant here, but don't remember how the story went, and I couldn't find it on the internet....but I did discover "The Crystal Forest" petrified wood protected area and park, not sixty miles from where Kristal had been living.
I'm not saying she is there to be found, but Kristal could have hardly been unaware of that place while living in Mesa Verde, and would have attached some special significance to the place ......let her have that. And maybe we would let the person who looked into her eyes and murdered her, be turned to stone himself for a life time or two, before starting over again as a horned toad. There is Nothing we can do about it.
As of this writing, Kristal's brother and his wife have called off their plan to put up posters and billboards in Arazona, because (they say) I have, with this bitter internet attack on Kristal, I have destroyed all their efforts to get this crime investigated and brought to justice. But they say they are definitely not angry, and certainly not rage blind.
A Kind Note from the Dalai Lama
The Dali Lama's North American Seat is in Ithaca. I haven't seen his seat, but I have seen him, and I like to pretend he's my buddy. Years ago Mnetha and I did a stucco job on the present monastery. The monks borrowed cups of mortar from us, and used it to butter cracks in the side walk.
But a new monastery and education center, designed by a former employee of mine, is now being built up on the hill beyond the sidewalks.
While writing this, I discovered that the Dalai Lama, who has always been a geek and an early adopter, now has a Facebook page. Hi Dalai!
Here was his status report on the day I discovered him there:
"We must learn how to identify the opposing sides in our inner conflicts. Take anger: we need to see how destructive it is and at the same time, realize there are antidotes within our own thoughts and emotions that can counter it. So by understanding how negative it is and then by strengthening our positive thoughts and emotions, we can gradually reduce the force of our anger and hatred.