The first time I stumbled into Marie Hopps’s plant-filled apartment, I resembled an old tomcat, my heart black and blue, with half an eye missing. She and I had met when I was in the touring company, and she said she’d teach me how to act.
At least 40 years my senior, Marie, British, had white hair tied back in a bun. She’d make me tea and then appear to look interested while I butchered the greats. Shakespeare, Shaw, and Beckett, I destroyed them all. Eventually, the formal lessons fell away, and she listened to my endless dating problems. Today she’d be called a life coach but to me she was the woman who mothered me.
She gave me unconditional love. I would babble away about some injustice of the man of the hour. There was no shortage of stories, for Bill was gone, and I was in my musical phase: dating musicians of all stripes and varying degrees of talent who often had a huge head start on me with their addictions. A drummer from the Alice Cooper band drove me out of my mind for about three years. I should say a former drummer. I was trying to convince him to pay as much attention to me as he did to cocaine. Many nights after the show at Second City, I’d go searching for him in bars all over Toronto. Today it would be called stalking; today, there would be a restraining order. These were the days before the Internet, so you couldn’t text or put a tracking app on your phone. In my day, lovers had to get out of bed, get dressed and hail a cab to torture each other.
When I did manage to track him down at either the Sherbourne Bar, or the Jarvis House or some dive on Queen West, he’d be passed out at some table in the back. I’d poke him awake and he’d give me a look that said, “Fuck, I thought I’d lost you.” But the drummer was like me and wanted to sit in the dark and drink in peace. But he wasn’t going to get off so easily, was he? Dating Deb Kimmett, you were going to get a lecture and a drink thrown in your face and for a dramatic finish a slammed door. “I don’t care if you don’t want to get together. Just phone me. That’s all I want.” I’d say the same line to every man I dated. Just call me and let me know you are okay. What a crock. That’s not all I wanted, at all. That’s not what any stalker wants. I wanted him to change.
The day after hunting down the drummer, I’d be remorseful hoping that he had been in a black out the night before and we could put the spectacle of the night before behind us. I’d stagger back to Marie’s place, and she would listen patiently, dunking her plain digestive cookie into her cup of tea, while I worried life down to a stub. Then she’d lean in and ask, “Why don’t you take your hand off the bouncing ball?”
I had no idea what this bouncing ball was, or what it had to do with my life. Since I was twenty something I wouldn’t ask. I’d go out and fight another battle and then I’d return from the next tour of duty and get her to put me back together again
“You are a seeker, Deb. You are looking for something bigger in your life.”
How could she say this? What could she see in me? I had read Dad’s positive thinking books, took yoga in high school, and for some reason I was in the middle of reading the Bible for a second time. I guess I was still trying to understand Christianity before I put it all away. We had never studied the Bible as Catholics. We read only the Catechism and I didn’t know the two were connected. I think I was forty before I learned that the first reading in the mass was the old testament and the second reading was the new testament. Before Jesus. After Jesus. And I was going on sixty before I realized that the Torah, from the Jewish faith was actually the old testament. I was still reading the bible, taking a lot of literally, with a brain that was too full of chaos for it make much sense.
“Maybe you should meditate.”
“I have tried transcendental meditation, Marie.” Paid good money to get a mantra. Marie told me I didn’t need an expensive mantra. I could sit and watch my breath, and when I forgot to watch it, I could gently guide myself back, back to the breath.
“Even five minutes a day would help calm your busy mind.”
Five minutes a day I was an all-or-nothing person. I had been trained that way. Be Catholic. Or be a sinner? Go big or go home. So I began attending meditation classes at the Tibetan Center. Five minutes might be okay for an ordinary Buddhist. But I was in a hurry. Get me to the temple of serenity and make it snappy. Every Tuesday and Thursday, I sat for two hours.
Watching my mind was like watching a catfight. The ego was marking its territory. My heart raced, and my body jerked like it had Tourette’s. Some days, just sitting on a cushion with absolutely no movement, I broke out into a sweat.
Buddhists don’t pray to a deity; they believe the Buddha lives within all of us. Their idea is that we all have the tools inside us to become awakened.
Not only was this completely opposite to the messaging I grew up with, but the previous week I had also woken up in Mimico in the Seahorse Motel with my drummer, with no idea of how or why we got there. What if what was inside of me was crap? The security guard I picked up was right. If I had cracked open the nut it would have been rotten inside.
Even when I sat and meditated as soon as I closed my eyes. I became so afraid that the night terrors of mind would return I automatically, obsessively, started saying the rosary.
Marie assured me I could use any mantra that comforted me.
“You mean it’s okay to say Hail Marys in a Tibetan Buddhist center?”
“Just don’t make your thoughts the enemy. Just watch them then let them go.”
My thoughts were a ball of yarn after a cat took a go at it. There was a five-alarm fire inside of me. My forehead would get hot. My third eye chakra felt like it was on fire.
Stay in the moment. Come back to the breath.
By this point, I had read Be Here Now by Ram Das. Or maybe I had read only the cover. But it was a powerful concept. A good idea. Up until then, I had never considered that the present day was anything but to be endured. Life was one long to-do list to get to the hereafter.
Occasionally, my mind would stop for a second, a minute, or maybe an hour. I would lose all sense of time. The exact feeling I had on stage. Total bliss. Pure, unfettered consciousness. I’d feel so divine after my two-hour session. I’d celebrate at the curry place below and drink some spiritual Indian wine.
As I poured my demi-tasse I thought Indian wine is more spiritual than Baby Duck.
Be here now.
Watch your breath.
Inhale. Drink some more.
Watch yourself date a drummer.
Watch yourself get fired from Second City.
Watch life get worse. Watch yourself get passed over by the drummer.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Do the 20-minute workout again.
Join another comedy troupe.
Watch it all fall apart.
I’d crawl back to Marie and say, “I broke up with the drummer.”
“Good for you.”
“No, it’s gotten so bad. I am sleeping with roadies.”
She’d pour me a cup of tea and say, “You can stop this anytime All you need to do is take your hand off the bouncing ball.”