Doors Unlocked and Open


“Somewhere down, down, down in the ocean of sound, sound, we’ll live in slow motion and be free with doors unlocked and open.” ~Death Cab for Cutie

The hard-knock life has also been filled with, quite literally, knocks.

Sometimes we open the door to exactly what we’ve been desiring. It comes to us so effortlessly that I take the liberty of categorizing it as magic realism since we live in a city where prominent literary circles apparently helped develop the genre. Like our last night in our first apartment …

During the two months we lived there, we were dying to know what the invariably locked door at the top of the steps guarded. I’d imagined it led to the roof, where I would’ve enjoyed sunbathing. We were disappointed then to learn that it was an extra room for the owner’s use when her son-in-law and granddaughter came to stay during our final week there. But that didn’t satisfy our curiosity.

Then came a knock on our bedroom door while we were packing to move out. It was the son-in-law, asking if we minded returning the keys to The Secret Garden to the girl who managed the apartment because they were late for the airport. Mind? Jess and I exchanged mischievous glances.

Unlocking the door to The Secret Garden

We scampered up the steps and unlocked the mysterious door within seconds of buzzing them out of the building. It turned out to be an anticlimactic studio, but I took it as a sign that we were free to move on having conquered this final goal. I also perceived it as an important lesson in the law of attraction: If we desired something strongly enough, we were capable of drawing it toward us. The universe was willing to aid us if we were conscious enough to channel its help – if we kept the lights on and were home to answer the door.

On the other end of the spectrum, though, is the knock that’s more of a banging. Instead of a wish granted by the universe at the perfect moment, it’s an unwelcome intruder that barges in at the most inopportune time. Like the pounding on our current bedroom door that wrested us from our rest at 7 a.m. one morning …

We’d been making progress in our repair demands after unionizing with the other housemates and initiating a rent strike until someone besides Maria came to fix the washing machine, stop the gas leak and evict the cockroaches. So I wasn’t pleased when I answered the door to greet our new housemate from Colombia, whose name I never did quite master, in the final set of a screaming match with Maria.

The union quickly disbanded as Cha-something turned her wrath on us – still half-asleep – for not having her back against Maria. Eager to go back to bed, I debated which response would shut her up faster:

  1. My Spanish comprehension didn’t commence until 11 a.m., so I had no idea what she and Maria were shrieking about to be able to chime in.
  2. The union had never agreed to screeching as a tactic, which never accomplishes anything.
  3. It’s disrespectful to yell at your elders, no matter how senile they are – or how many fingers they’re missing.
  4. Maybe we didn’t have her back, but I missed the encore of the Tegan and Sara concert I’d been attending in my dream thanks to her inappropriately early assault on our door.

Living with Charice was like advancing to the next level of my optimism video game, and my newfound sunniness rose brighter with every encounter. I suppose if I were a 38-year-old divorcée sharing a run-down house with five people younger than me, I’d be miserable too. But the frequency with which she solicited our attention to complain or confront us about something insignificant was astounding.

One time, Cruella slunk out of her lair solely to ask me whether I knew who had used the kitchen towel to extract a pan from the oven, leaving a 1-inch char mark on it. I asked her if she knew that her immaculately conceived towel was the same rag that hung from the front door of the cockroach cabinet. Another matter she found so pressing to discuss, even as I sprinted past her shouting that I was in a hurry, was that someone had used the rest of the ice without refilling the tray. I told her I didn’t even know we had an ice tray.

Carissa’s complaints concerning communal commodities soon escalated to accusations of using her personal belongings. It started with her pink bar of soap, which Nancy Drew had found a piece of on someone’s toenail scrubber in the shower. Asking her how to say “Ew” in Spanish was the only response I could muster.

Later that day, faint memories of a shower I’d taken at 6 a.m. after dancing the night away at a sweaty boliche did wash over me. Being too tired and tipsy to lug my own supplies to the bathroom, I remembered borrowing someone else’s bottle of body wash. But I would never use another person’s bar of soap, let alone their toe brush.

Maria's ongoing life-size game of chess in the kitchen

During Shakira’s final cornering, I gleaned from her Spanish that she was accusing me of playing games in the kitchen. Looking around at the Sedaris spiders and the drawer where we’d recently killed a cucaracha, I told her I personally didn’t think the kitchen was the most enticing setting for games, especially in a house inhabited by grown women.

Maria was likely her culprit. She seemed to have some sort of life-size game of chess going on in the kitchen with the appliances. One time I found her with the fridge in the middle of the room. Another time, it was the oven. Santa must’ve brought her the special anniversary edition of “Don’t Break the Ice” for Christmas because the next week she unplugged the refrigerator – without telling anyone – and spent hours chipping away at the icebergs that’d been growing inside for decades.

Cheri responded that I didn’t understand. She showed me her carton of eggs and informed me that four were missing. I wondered anew why “Rocky” had to be this country’s prime association with Philadelphia. Next she’d be accusing me of eating her cream cheese, a surprising addition to nearly every kind of sushi here.

My nightly activity, according to Sherry

She repeated that I didn’t understand and again mentioned “playing games” while holding up her eggs. I remembered my game of Clue in the kitchen with the pot. Did Mrs. Peacock want in? A few rounds ahead of her, I advised her to review her checklist because there was no way she was going to find me, in the kitchen, with her eggs in the little brown envelope. She responded with a slew of angry Spanish.

A painful 10 minutes later, I at last digested her latest theory. Apparently, Shiraz thought we were plotting against her for rapping on our door at dawn. It didn’t matter whether Jess or I had eaten her eggs. We still could’ve stolen them out of revenge as part of our grand scheme of bullying her into moving out.

This was too amusing. I was inclined to inform her that I’d hung up my bullying ribbon in the sixth grade, but that it likely wasn’t wise to tempt a reformed Mean Girl with any ideas. I also wanted to ask her how she had mastered her Meredith/Vicky impression from “The Parent Trap” without registering that there were a lot better tricks one could play than malevolently throwing away three-quarters of a menopausal woman’s carton of eggs.

But the eggs reminded me of my dozen years of being clean and sober from my middle school clique days as well as the 12 steps I had taken to get there. So instead I just responded that Jess and I were good and honest people who would neither intentionally destroy nor steal someone else’s property – unless it were a kilo of helado.

The Wicked Witch of the West stormed out of the kitchen, mumbling furiously under her breath in Spanish. I couldn’t quite interpret what she said, but I think it was along the lines of:

“I’ll get you, my pretty. And your little dog, too!” ~Wicked Witch of the West, “The Wizard of Oz”

I had yet to make any puppy sales since Halloween, but two had already been stolen. We couldn’t afford to lose another.

After a month of bitching to us and whomever the poor soul on the other end of the line during her three-hour-a-day phone rants was, Shirley finally moved out.

After reenacting this scene, I raced to check the shopping cart. The puppies were still there, sequined cowboy hats and all. But I’m pretty sure Charlene stole one of my shirts off the clothes line.

The puppies

Safe and sound

Amazingly, though, I wasn’t all that angry. I took this as another sign that I was ready to move on, this time to the next level of my optimism video game. I also extracted another lesson, this time on the principle of nonreaction. No matter what Sharia had thrown at me, I hadn’t reacted. And the resulting placidity was more empowering than if I had.

But aside from these two literal examples, the knocking in life is usually more figurative.

Sometimes the interruption is exactly what we may not have even realized we needed – or even initially rejected – at exactly the right time. A speech of my little sister’s that I initially told her I was too swamped with work to edit evokes tears of gratitude because it turns out to be about how her big sister is carrying out our high school’s goals with my job. Someone can’t make a meeting at the last minute, and the messenger they send to let me know becomes my new numerology teacher. It has especially shocked me in recent weeks how, just when I need it the most, I receive random emails, Facebook messages, Gchats or videochat requests from friends at home such as Cawa Beawr, Queen B, Precious, Peesie and Twin, who, as if divinely inspired, unknowingly say exactly what I need to hear in that moment despite their having no idea I was feeling a certain way.

For these reasons, I am learning how important it is to be open to these uninvited but crucial knocks on our doors – to:

“Accept whatever comes to you woven in the pattern of your destiny. For what could more aptly fit your needs?” ~Marcus Aurelius

We usually don’t recognize the value at first knock, or we would’ve invited them over ourselves. For this reason, it’s important to learn how to make sure to keep a figurative welcome mat outside our doors. This means being aware, conscious, awake, open, grateful, generous, hospitable, compassionate, warm, loving. This, however, is not always easy.

But I’m not sure what’s harder: opening ourselves to the divine interventions, magic realism, fate – whatever we term it – or learning how to close ourselves to the intruders. Sometimes this negativity knocks forcefully – like the overzealous listener of “Knock Three Times” who rang our doorbell 23 times the other afternoon. But usually they slip in unnoticed when we have the music too loud to hear them approach the door.

These guests are the trickiest to manage, knocking so subtly at first that we don’t even have a chance to decide whether to let them in. That we don’t realize the stress, the hurt, the pain they’re causing us until they are wreaking such havoc in our homes that we pass an entire night without sleeping or start sobbing just because the WiFi cuts out.

Maybe these are guests who have overstayed their welcome – an unhealthy habit, a toxic relationship, or merely something not worth our time or energy. For example, being polite doesn’t mean I can’t block a new acquaintance who quickly rose to stalker status by simultaneously Facebook chatting Angie, Jess and I at least 25 times in between our responses and once we stopped responding tried to trick us into answering by changing his name from an Argentine to a Japanese one. Or unfriend that tango partner who nicknamed me “Little Dancer” when he started sending me bizarre messages when I signed on such as:

“oooohh Look who is here…!!! jajajaja.”

But what about the things we can’t, feel like we shouldn’t or maybe don’t even necessarily want to lock out – stress from work, family feuds, a never-ending to-do list, obligations? We can still learn where and how to draw the line – or first and foremost to allow ourselves to draw a line at all.

Perhaps most challenging, though, is when it’s our own minds – our doubts, fears, worries – that we have to barricade the door against until they stop knocking. If we were Harry Potter, we could master Occlumency to prevent He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named from breaking and entering into our brains or perfect our Patronus Charm to ward off Dementors. This takes more practice, though, than shouting “Alohomora” to open or unlock a door or finding the Room of Requirement or the Sword of Gryffindor, which appear without asking when you need them most. And dealing with both these positive and negative knocks becomes inevitably trickier with the reality that, well, we’re not wizards.

Tricking burglars by leaving our room to appear as if it has already been robbed after packing for Chile

But various writings about rising levels of consciousness with the onset of 2012 assert that we’re more powerful than we realize. Yesterday on the plane home from Chile, I read an article about our expanding levels of consciousness as the world undergoes unprecedented changes this year and the need to increase our capacity to change and flow in order to participate in these exciting times for the benefit of the greater good. So perhaps we can sub the law of attraction for “Accio” and the principle of nonreaction for “Expecto Patronum.” It just takes some practice.

Taking notes from "Home Alone"

I’m currently in training. After our elderly neighbor told me that the new graffiti around our doorway is a marking that we’re going to be robbed, I’ve been practicing super positive thinking as my Muggle-modified Defense Against the Dark Arts. Instead of leaving myself vulnerable to the potential intruders, I’ve decided to treat it as my O.W.L. in Optimism. To pass, I’m rechanneling the Kevin McCallister in me from Day 1 of my Argentine adventure. First recording on my Talkboy:

“Don’t let the darkness eat you up.” ~José González 


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