The Virgin and the Gypsy

I think it’s time to post this. I wrote it one morning in Berlin this past summer, for Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, on the occasion of his birthday.

This morning, bedroom

We were getting high, my friend Janet and I, behind the church by the grocery store. Back then, if you got caught, you’d be taken into the station, put before a judge—who knows what else: Raped? Ruined? We were fourteen, fifteen tops. We were the smart girls in our class, and still some of the junkies in town knew us and called us the Virgin and the Gypsy. Back then, when I got high, the earth would sometimes tip and I would start falling. It was not a pleasant feeling, but it was better than the other one, the one that I still feel sometimes–the overwhelming knowing that I am actually, like a new bird fallen from its nest, too alone.

Anyway, we were behind the church, sitting on the summer grass, and we were high, when suddenly we heard the sound of footsteps. Now, the church and the grocery store were separated only by a chain-link fence and an embankment (on the grocery-store side) crowded with trees and garbage. We were about six feet from the fence, almost close enough to reach over and touch it with our outstretched fingers. We could see the trees on the other side, but we could not see the person approaching us. We could only hear their heavy footsteps in the dry leaves. I said we were stoned—did I say we were falling?
Let me take a quick break to say that for my tenth birthday, my mother gave me twenty dollars, and sent me with our housekeeper to Chinatown. She couldn’t come with me on this birthday journey, because my father was very sick. I didn’t know that my father was dying, right then, at the time—I just knew that I was spending my tenth birthday alone. O.K. What I wanted for my twenty dollars was to find something that would make my father feel better. I scoured Chinatown looking for that remedy. I paced the winding streets, endured the dancing chicken and the fish smothering in their tanks. I bought him a pair of pajamas from some men with comb-overs, but that wasn’t it. It, it turns out, was perfect: Though my father was a Jew, what I found for him was a plaster Buddha, about a foot and a half high, spray-painted gold.
You mentioned the dog eating its own shit and not looking back. I’m happy (and afraid) to report that I eat my own shit less and less, but when I do eat it, I always look back. I always look back. I trust nothing and no one. I am trying my best to trust you.
My father died three days later.
The footsteps were heavy and slow, and were definitely heading up the embankment in our direction, as we fell towards them, stoned out of our minds. I stabbed out my joint in the grass. (Grass to grass, ashes to dirt.) I could hear that Janet had stopped breathing. I stopped breathing, too. Continue reading “The Virgin and the Gypsy”



She was on the floor by the table, Dolly, when the men rose up from the floors below, riding the electric scaffolding, and stopped outside Julia’s livingroom windows. This was yesterday, when Dolly was still alive. I was at the diningroom table, sitting in front of my computer, and Dolly was just lying there in front of the windows, her eyes open, having already thrown up bile a few times, getting close.

The bamboo blinds were down, but I’m guessing they could see me. Dolly was so small, though, and so low, that I’m sure they had no idea that she was there—the best little girl, pure bodhicitta, a princess in the land of lungta. It was her day. They were wearing yellow hard hats, and one guy unclamped himself and climbed over the railing of Julia’s balcony. Another guy pulled out a camera, and handed it to the guy now just outside the window.

I don’t know what they were photographing. Though I’d like to tell you that it was something inside the apartment, I think it was probably their handiwork, since they, or their colleagues, had been working on the building all summer. Dolly continued to lie there, her head tilted to one side. I thought about how odd life was: that a tiny little dog, so precious, could be a few hours away from her death, and the men on the scaffolding outside the window take a photograph, though not of her, unaware. We are so far apart.

In the middle of the night, after Dolly was gone, Julia and I watched “Law and Order.” In the morning, I checked my email on my phone from bed and discovered an angry letter from a friend. I went outside to walk Scout at six, the sun just having risen, and was surprised by the sound of acorns hitting the pavement from above. On the stationary scaffolding overhead, they sounded like rain.

Good journey, Dolly. If we see you again, we will be the lucky ones.