Burden of Bliss

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It was my birthday and also the last day before Mykonos would be leaving the country to see his teacher. Mykonos suggested that we go to a favorite bar of his near the beach. Paco, Lemuel, Mykonos, and I met at the front door of the bar—dark, grimy, and reeking of stale beer and cigarettes—and we entered, sitting at a small table. Before meeting Mykonos, I couldn’t have imagined being in such a place.

“Now there’s a fine whoor,” Mykonos said, looking toward a young woman behind the bar. Her skin was dark, her hair black and long. She was probably from India, or possibly Iran. She was beautiful.

“Well, my friends, this is it,” Mykonos said, pouring beer from the pitcher we had ordered. “Have we done it?”

Paco raised his glass of beer. “Mykonos, I want to thank you for everything you’ve given us. This has been the most incredible time of my life. I wish you didn’t have to go.”

“To the Great One,” Mykonos toasted.

“To the Great One,” we all replied, drinking.

“Paco, are you going to be able to keep your friends happy?” Mykonos asked.

“I think so,” Paco answered, smiling, getting Mykonos’s joke.

“You’re a good man, Paco. You have a great heart. Maybe one day you will learn how to use it,” Mykonos laughed, putting his hand on Paco’s shoulder. “Just kidding, my friend.”

The dark-skinned woman from behind the bar appeared at our table.

“Can I get you anything else?” she asked.

“How about a few more pitchers?” Lemuel suggested.

“Sure, I’ll bring them right away,” she answered, and walked back behind the bar.

“Gentlemen, look around you,” Mykonos suggested.

Most of the people in the bar were in their 50’s or 60’s. Some of the men had gray beards and large bellies. The women were older, too, with heavy make-up around their eyes. Almost everybody was smoking. At the table closest to us sat a man and a woman in their 50’s, both quite heavy, wearing jeans, boots, and black leather jackets over T-shirts, probably bikers. At one table were two young men, almost certainly surfers. Except for the surfers, most people were sitting quietly, shifting their positions now and then, smoking and drinking, occasionally talking in quiet tones. The surfers were speaking loudly and laughing with each other.

“This human realm is not about happiness,” Mykonos said, “unless you locate happiness, feeling the openness, the living play of the Great One—breathing love, giving love, living as love—in every moment. Otherwise, you are no different than these fuckers sitting around us, trying their best to get through the day, through their lives, not quite happy, resigned to the little comforts they’ve managed to hold onto.”

I was not comfortable in that bar. I would rather have been outside on the beach in the late-afternoon sun, or swimming in the cool ocean water. I wore shorts and sandals just in case. But as Mykonos spoke, I practiced what I had learned from him, feeling the openness that was the place of every moment, breathing love as the substance of the moment, opening as the deep space of consciousness in which this room appeared.

Still, I didn’t like the smoke and filth—every time my hand rested on the sticky table surface or my toes touched the grimy floor I would cringe—but, as I practiced, my deep heart relaxed. Relaxing open, breathing open, feeling open, my sensations—including discomfort—as well as my thoughts and the whole barroom were obviously alive as the Great One. An exquisite bliss permeated everything.

“Where are the ladies?” Mykonos asked.

“I told Michelle and Layla to come by after they got off work,” Lemuel said. Gia was out of town visiting her parents. Rebecca had returned to her home and job to take a pause and decide what she really wanted to do with her life, while Gia and I continued opening as well as we could through the painful unfurling and voluntary dissolution of our relationship’s assumed form, practicing to offer our deepest hearts—to each other and the world—without depending on phantom resolution.

“Erin is spending tonight with her daughter,” said Paco, “and I think Zelda is out on a date.”

“And Dimitri?” Mykonos asked.

“He couldn’t decide whether to go to a movie or meet us here. I guess he went to a movie,” Lemuel answered.

The woman from behind the bar came with another pitcher of beer.

“Thank you very much, my dear,” Mykonos said to her. “And how are you doing this evening?”

“Fine,” she answered.

“Do you know Shiva?” Mykonos asked.

The waitress was startled. I was startled. Mykonos’s question about the Hindu god Shiva seemed rather out of place.

“Yes,” the barmaid answered.

“Mm-hmm. I thought you might. I can feel Shiva in your heart.”

The barmaid’s face grew distraught. She walked away with quick steps, disappearing through a door near the bar.

“That whoor is suffering. She doesn’t want to be here,” Mykonos said quietly. She had seemed a little sad—but everyone in the bar, except the surfers, seemed glum. The bar itself was rundown. The barmaid’s sadness didn’t seem so out of place.

“Always bring happiness to a woman’s heart, gentlemen,” Mykonos said, looking suddenly heartbroken himself.

I remembered a story Mykonos once told me about his first few days in Vietnam. His platoon was on patrol when they came to a Viet Cong village. The sergeant rounded up all the women and children—there were no men—and forced them into a bunker. The platoon sergeant—Mykonos called him Sergeant Rhodes—wouldn’t allow the women to leave their babies outside.

As Mykonos told me this story, he seemed more vulnerable than I had ever felt him. His expression turned fragile, and he seemed to be in another place as the words came from his lips. I’ll never forget Mykonos’s description of that horrible event.

“Rhodes took a drag off his cigarette,” Mykonos said, his eyes gazing into a scene from thirty years earlier as if it were before him now.  “Then, he pulled a hand grenade from his ammunition belt, yanked the ring, and tossed it into the bunker. And then another grenade. 

“I heard two muffled explosions. White smoke poured out of the bunker.” Mykonos said that he went numb, and then he wanted to kill Sergeant Rhodes. Mykonos had his finger on the trigger of his rifle, when a fellow soldier stopped him, telling him it was too late.

The sergeant went on to slaughter other innocent people during Mykonos’s time in his platoon. The only regret I ever heard in Mykonos’s voice was when he told me about not killing Rhodes.

“If it weren’t for women, what kind of place would this be?” Mykonos asked. Paco raised his beer and toasted, “To women!” Mykonos raised his beer, but did not smile.

Over the next hour or so, I walked up to the bar a few times to order more pitchers, since the barmaid didn’t return to our table. We were getting fairly drunk.

Two girls had joined the surfers at their table.

“Happy birthday, my friend,” Mykonos said to me. “Do you know what you have to do?”

Mykonos’s question touched me at so many levels that for a moment I froze in confusion. But feeling penetrated by the deep black of his eyes, all possibilities resolved into a singular depth of knowing. I was certain of what I had to do—in that moment, and for the rest of my life.

“Yes,” I answered.

“Good,” Mykonos replied. “Do we have any cigarettes?”

I had brought a pack of cigarettes and a lighter, anticipating Mykonos might want to smoke. I gave him a cigarette. He put it in between his lips, and I lit it. Again he looked into my eyes, briefly, while he took the first puff. I already missed Mykonos.

“Ma!” Mykonos shouted, as the barmaid walked near our table. “Ma, come over here.”

The barmaid reluctantly walked to our table, but stood a little farther away than before.

“It’s our friend’s birthday here. Would you join us and sing Happy Birthday to him?” Mykonos asked.

“No thanks,” the barmaid answered, looking down at the beer-stained floor. “That’s fine,” Mykonos said. “Do you miss Mother India?”

The barmaid’s head jerked up. She looked at Mykonos. She nodded yes.

“But you can feel Shiva in your heart, can’t you ma?” Mykonos asked. “Hmmm?”

Tears filled the barmaid’s eyes as she continued looking at Mykonos. Everything else in the bar seemed to disappear. She and he held their gaze as the rest of the world faded into white. The scene was out of time, ancient. The two could have been anywhere, in a desert, a temple, a cave. The barmaid stood before Mykonos, his eyes on fire with pain, with love, speaking the woman’s deepest heart aloud.

“It’s OK, ma,” Mykonos continued. “Shiva is here, too. It’s OK to love him.”

The barmaid stood transfixed, unblinking, her lips aquiver, her fingers rigid. Slowly, through the tears, she smiled, and relaxed. She was so radiant, so defenseless, so exposed.

And softly, tenderly, Mykonos: “How about another pitcher of beer, ma?”

The barmaid smiled and nodded. Before walking from the table she bowed her head to Mykonos just slightly, almost unnoticeably.

“A very fine whoor,” Mykonos said, looking as if he had just said goodbye to his beloved.

“Hi guys!” Layla said as she bounced from the door over to our table. She and Michelle were all dressed up, wearing high heels and black skirts. Layla was wearing a colorful blouse and Michelle was wearing a black bra under a see-through top.

“Wow!” Mykonos exclaimed, smiling, appreciatively looking Layla and Michelle up and down. “I’m glad you two could make it.”

Paco poured them beers, and we all talked and drank. The barmaid never returned to our table.

“Michelle, you look like you’re out to get laid tonight,” Mykonos said.

“Well, it’s been a while,” she said.

“What’s the longest you’ve gone without cock?” Mykonos asked Michelle.

“What do you mean? Lately?”

“As an adult. Since you’ve been sexual.”

“I don’t now, it varies. I guess I’ve gone several months without sex, but I started having sex when I was twelve years old,” Michelle said.

“How about you, Layla, when did you first get laid?” Mykonos asked.

“I was seventeen. Just before I went to college.”

“Mm-hmm. Look around this room, ladies. Is this how you want to end up?”

Layla and Michelle looked around the bar. It was truly a downtrodden place. Michelle looked at the biker couple sitting near us. The woman’s hair was gray, her lipstick was bright red, and her face was lined and weathered. The skin around her lips was pleated, probably from years of smoking. Her man was drinking his beer and looking around the bar. She was stoking the back of his hand, when he wasn’t lifting it to drink beer.

“I hope I don’t end up sitting in a place like this when I’m that age,” Michelle said.

“You are sitting here right now,” Mykonos pointed out.

“Yeah, but we’re here for a reason,” said Michelle.

“So are they,” said Mykonos.

“What are you trying to say, Mykonos?” asked Layla.

“I’m trying to say there is more to life than getting laid.”

“Look who’s talking,” Layla said.

“Do you want to end up planting your fat ass on a barstool for the rest of your life, clinging to some dipshit guy who buys your beer?” Mykonos asked.

“Mykonos, that will never happen to me,” Layla said.

“Layla, my dear, you might end up married to a handsome aristocrat, living in a mansion, shitting on white doilies, but deep inside, your heart is going to feel just like that woman’s over there, unless you learn to love larger than the room you grew up in. What about you, Michelle?” Mykonos asked.

“What about me?”

“Is all you care about circumscribed by that little pussy of yours?”

“What do you mean?”

“Let me ask you a question. If there was a line of 1008 men outside, standing naked, all with erections, and the man in the middle was playing a big drum, which one would you fuck?”

“I’d fuck them all! Why fuck just one?”

“Yes,” Mykonos said laughing. “I think you would. How about a line of silverback gorillas? Have you ever seen the look in a silverback’s eyes? They are so peaceful, so humble, yet majestic and noble. They are dying—we are killing them, killing them all—and they know it. Would you rather fuck a silverback, or, say, one of those guys at that table?” Mykonos asked, nodding his head toward the surfers.

“Oh, I’d fuck a silverback for sure,” Michelle answered.

“Exactly,” Mykonos said.

“I still don’t know what you’re talking about,” Layla complained.

“We are all dying. Everybody is dying,” Mykonos said forcefully, “and yet this is the vision of God. This, right here. Ladies, will you consent to open your hearts?”

“I’m going to the bathroom,” Layla said, and walked off.

“I’ll be right back,” Michelle said, following Layla.

“Don’t you love women?” Mykonos asked us.

Paco was looking at the blonde woman sitting with the surfers and didn’t answer.

Lemuel said, “Yup.”

Then Mykonos turned and looked right into my eyes. He was crying. I had never seen Mykonos cry before.

He grabbed my ears in his two hands and pulled me close to his face.

“You have been given a burden of bliss,” Mykonos said quietly, but with absolute intention. “You know what you have to do.”

I nodded.

“Happy birthday,” Mykonos said, and kissed me on the lips. “This burden is my gift to you.”

Mykonos sat back and looked out over all the people in the barroom. His open eyes glistened. I knew I would not be seeing him again for a long time—maybe I wouldn’t be seeing him again at all.

Layla and Michelle returned and we continued drinking and talking for about an hour, but I felt lodged in a place not quite coincident with the room. Mykonos never looked into my eyes again. When rain began to fall outside, the night felt over.

“Well, have we done it?” Mykonos asked.

“Yes,” we all answered.

Layla and Michelle hugged us, said their goodbyes to Mykonos, and left in Layla’s car.

Lemuel, Paco, Mykonos, and I walked out into the parking lot. The day had been hot, and now the rain felt warm.

Paco started weeping. “I’m going to miss you, Mykonos.”

Paco put one of his arms around Mykonos’s shoulder and the other around Lemuel. I joined in the huddle, arms around my friends. We were standing in the rain, embracing in a circle, spending one last moment together.

Then, I realized that Mykonos was pissing on my foot, in the warm rain.

Wild Nights by David Deida

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