It was the morning of December 24th, 2012 in Salt Lake City, Utah and I was 24 days into my 5 month sabbatical from my day to day job and my exploration of saying yes to love. I was boarding a plane to Chicago to meet the family of Adam the healer, a man who I’d known for a little over 2 weeks, but felt I’d known many lifetimes before. The dynamic between us felt empowering, comforting, natural and completely in flow, but if I stopped and thought logically about what I was doing, it made no sense. Was our meeting each other’s families part of us dating? Or did we just skip the dating part entirely and we were just figuring out how to create a life together. I had a very established life, business and dog in Utah and Adam had his life and dogs (3) in Costa Rica, so by law of dogs, if we were going to choose to be together, I’d have to leave my life and come to Costa Rica with Zona. Part of me wanted to figure it all out now, but I knew I needed to let go of trying to know and stay in the enjoyment of the moment.
The December cold of Chicago was different than the December cold of Utah, in that it was a bitter and biting cold that neither adam or I were aptly prepared for with clothing. But Adam’s family welcomed us at the Chicago airport with a bin of extra warm clothes solving the dilemma. I’d already met Adam’s older brother Alex in Costa Rica two weeks prior, so now it was time to meet Adam’s parents and 9 year old sister April, and immediately I was taken in as one of the family. I’d initially had some anxiety about being older than Adam and that we were just getting to know each other, but the ease I felt with his family helped dissolve any fears I had. What mattered was what was happening now, and all they wanted to do was enjoy family time together. So we drove together back to their house in the suburbs of Chicago, where Adam and I settled into the guest room across from his parents room, and I got to experience what a healthy & connected family Christmas was like. There was a kitchen full of freshly cooked & prepared food, a tall, large & decorated Christmas tree in the living room, stockings hung on the fireplace, presents all around the base of the tree and a shelf that held a copy of almost any Disney movie I could ever imagine. This Lanka family was adorable and I loved them already. We sat snuggly with 4 people to the couch in the living room, and just when I couldn’t imagine this family scene getting any more adorable, Adam’s little sister April came over to me motioning me to lean towards her, and she whispered in my ear, asking if I wanted to do a fashion show with her.
At that point in my life I didn't have any experience with children of any age, but when a 9 year old asks you to participate in a fashion show, you say yes, so that’s what I did. And a few minutes later April and I were in her room coordinating our outfits and how we wanted to do our presentation. It was going to be a self care fashion show with 3 stops. We’d do head massages and hair styling at one station with one outfit, toe nails would get painted at another station with another outfit, and we’d be giving shoulder massages at the last station with our last outfit. It was silly, childlike and light hearted, which was exactly what I needed in my life at that moment.
And I noticed that while Adam and I were on this trip, I let myself dream bigger than I’d let myself in years. I didn’t just talk about wanting to offer yoga retreats someday, we began to actually make plans. We decided the first retreat would be over my birthday in the beginning of August in Costa Rica, and we’d call our new yoga retreat company Gateway Explorations. We talked about and planned every aspect of this event, and it felt like the most exciting thing in the world. We envisioned every aspect of the experience for our guests; the invitations, the guests' arrival, the contents of the gift bags they’d receive, the opening ceremony, the dance party that would be part of the opening ceremony, the scavenger hunt we’d send them on, and how the theme would be about opening yourself to the possibility of love. We discussed how we wanted guests to feel during our retreat and what emotions we wanted them to leave with, and I saw that we were designing the kind of retreat that I’d want to attend.
But what it meant to me was that there was something between Adam and I worth making future plans around. We were fearlessly discussing a future several months out that involved both of us, and the talk was so light hearted and easy that it felt like we were talking about someone else’s life and love. It was interesting to reflect that in the past, when there would be talk about the future with men I was dating, the discussions often felt strained, unreliable or like I couldn’t bring it up. So to feel like I was on the same page with Adam two weeks into our relationship was a welcomed shift.
On Christmas morning we woke up to Christmas music, the smell of food cooking and the Lanka’s opening presents, and I looked around observing that I was in the presence of calm & peaceful love, and that felt wonderful. And since I was already part of the fluidity of this family unit, I learned that Christmas Day we were road tripping to Wisconsin to see both of Adam’s sets of grandparents and I was going to be along for the ride. So Adam, his parents, his sister and I all climbed aboard the family suburban for the 3 hour drive, and I loved talking more with his mother about life, Adam and what was possible.
Our first stop in Wisconsin was to a nursing home where Adam's grandfather was living and his name was Ronald. Ronald had been showing steady signs of Alzheimer’s a few months prior and he’d fallen while living with Adam's grandmother Carol, so the decision was made to put him into a nursing home where he could get safer care. The room was quiet when we entered and Adam’s grandfather gave the expression of familiarity when the Lanka’s surrounded him with love, but when his eyes came to me, he paused for a moment; studying me with an expressionless gaze that seemed to pass right through me. Adam's mom told his grandfather I was Adam's friend Harriet, and for a moment, it felt inappropriate I was there to be sharing this intimate family moment, so I stepped backwards from the family unit in order to keep only the familiar in his grandfathers line of sight. When I backed up towards the door to the room I looked to my left and saw a dresser with his personal items like glasses, a magazine and a coffee mug, and there were pictures pinned up on the wall beside the dresser. I recognized one of the photos from a travel mug at Adam's house in Costa Rica that had several pictures of his grandfather. But I also felt that the man in the photos wasn’t the same man in the bed in front of me; sure it was a part of him, but it felt like pieces of his grandfather's essence that I saw in the pictures, had already departed this earth. I watched Adam sit with his grandfather and tell him updates about his life, as did his mom, father and sister. And I watched his grandfather's expression change ever so slightly with different stories, as though his grandfather was present, but at a distance. After about 25 minutes the Lanka’s gave grandpa Lanka hugs and kisses, he got a heart felt wave from me, and we all loaded back into the suburban for a short visit to grandma Lanka’s, who lived close by. She lived alone in a new condo development she’d moved into after Ronald’s Alzheimer’s progressed and he moved into the care facility. Grandma Lanka’s apartment was sparsely decorated without a lot of furniture or personal items, and it was mostly beige, but I did notice a large cage in the middle of the living room sitting on a dining room table. The cage held a large parrot that yelled a few loud shrieking words at us, but then seemed to accept our presence in the room with grandma Lanka there, and generally kept quiet. I could tell grandma Lanka and Adam's parents were in regular contact by what they talked about, so this visit felt more like a quick check in than an important holiday greeting. We went to a nearby restaurant and enjoyed a fast lunch together and were back in the suburban making our way along the hour drive to stop #3, the Bunker's House, who were his grandparents from his mother's side.
As I sat in the suburban with this family who I’d only known for a day, but who still took me generously along with them as they nurtured their family holiday traditions, I felt different in my body. I felt soft, receptive, grateful and physically lighter. I noticed how this experience of saying yes to whatever this was with Adam was affecting me deeply, and it was interesting to notice this change in my body from what I knew and was used to.
When our caravan arrived at the Bunker's house I noticed a lot of cars in the driveway and along the road and I wondered if I’d underestimated the size of this visit, but no one had said much about anything. We opened the door to a quiet living room and kitchen and I felt relieved that there weren’t a lot of people and we were going to have an intimate & quiet Christmas with the Bunkers. That is until I heard Adam’s mom say, “oh I think everyone is downstairs.” And I thought, There’s a downstairs? And I saw Adam’s sister open a door revealing a stairway down to the basement, which apparently had a second big living space as well as his grandmother's art studio. So one by one we filed down the staircase, and upon opening the doorway into the downstairs, we entered immediately into a sea of faces staring right at us and I felt my stomach get uneasy. No one told me we’d be walking into several families worth of people; it was all Anne’s sisters and their families, and she had 4 sisters. I didn’t count, but there had to have been at least 20 people there all waiting to meet, greet & hug us. Word had gotten around that Adam was bringing a girl, so I could feel myself being lovingly scoped out by aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. And although it still felt a little bit odd that this meet the family experience was happening so fast, I smiled, leaned in, and made the rounds. I got a lot of the standard questions, “where are you from?”, “what do you do?”, and of course, “how long have you and Adam been together” a question that was innocent, but still gave me a knot in my stomach answering because at that point, it had been 17 days since our first healing session in Costa Rica. But I noticed this family didn’t blink an eye to that, which I appreciated.
Some conversations with Adam’s family members would be fast and light hearted, while others took a deeper turn rather quickly. For instance, when meeting his uncle, who was a marathon runner, Adam’s first words were, “Van, I’d like you to meet Harriet, my future wife” and they both looked at me and smiled. So there we were, in front of his uncle, and Adam uttered the word wife for the first time and the idea of marriage. Upon hearing this I smiled shyly, and my head began to race again. Did he mean that? Was he kidding? How am I supposed to respond to that statement? Inside I was freaking out, but on the outside, I just nestled myself a little closer to Adam realizing the magnitude of what was happening. He’d just called me his future wife. That meant Adam was really thinking of an us past this visit and past the yoga retreat we were planning in August. But that would be past my 5 month sabbatical from the spa; so what does that mean? Would he move to Utah with his 3 dogs? Would he quit the crystal shop? Would I move to Costa Rica? Again, I was busy overthinking everything.
All scenarios of Adam and I being together seemed a little impractical at this point, and I knew I needed to be in the moment enjoying all this love, so I chose to file his comment away in the back of my heart, and use it as fuel to just trust what was happening.
As the evening went on I made my way back into his grandmother's art studio and looked around bewildered by her work. There were dozens of water color paintings of both nature and fantasy, and all were so detailed and gorgeous. One picture in particular caught my eye; it was a beautiful Lotus flower, and when I picked it up I saw on the back it had a price tag of $80, and I knew I wanted it. The whole picture was about 6 inches by 8 inches, so very easy to take on the airplane, so I asked his grandmother if I could buy this painting and send her money later since I didn’t bring my wallet on this family adventure. She smiled and nodded and told me to talk with Earl, so I took the picture upstairs and put it by the front door so that I wouldn’t forget on the way out.
As the party was winding down and we’d said our goodbyes to the family in the basement, we made our way back upstairs to say our goodbyes to his grandparents. Earl, Adams grandfather, handled all the financials for the family, so I was told I needed to talk to him about buying the small painting. We were all in the entryway of the house for several minutes and I watched Earl staring at the painting and then looking at me, obviously trying to make a decision about something. The price was $80, but maybe he was thinking of giving me a deal. And as he came towards me to give me his hug goodbye, he gave me the painting and said, “Merry Christmas, we’re glad you’re here; this is a gift.” My eyes teared up in gratitude and I gave Earl an extra big hug and held my painting to my chest and walked out the door and loaded back into the suburban with the Lanka’s. Day 17, that’s what this was, and I was pretty much just welcomed with open arms into Adam’s extended family as well. So we left for our 2 hour drive home in the dark of night, and I fell asleep against the pillows we brought thinking what a perfect Christmas I was having.
I woke up the next morning to have one final full day with the Lanka’s before we returned to Utah, and I didn’t think this trip could get any better. We relaxed, ate food, and the Lanka’s played games. But the highlight came when the entire Lanka family was snuggling on the couches in the living room and we were all watching “Beauty and the Beast” together because it was Adam’s favorite Disney movie. Things were so good with Adam I could feel my body didn’t want to trust it, but instead of giving in to my head, I continued to lean in with gratitude and go with it. I said my final goodbyes to this family the next day when they took us to the airport, not knowing when I’d see them again and under what circumstances, because I didn’t even have a next time officially booked with Adam yet. We talked about them coming to the retreat we were planning in August, but that seemed so far away it was hard to count on.
On our flight back to Utah, I was in a whirlwind of thought. Adam had just called me his future wife, but as of right now we didn’t have any official future plans together; nothing past his departure back to Costa Rica the following day. So do I ask him about this? Do I invite him back? Do I invite myself back to Costa Rica?
I was officially at a loss for words as to how to handle my next move and I was beginning to worry I’d say or do the wrong thing and mess everything up. He was leaving Utah the next day, and all I could manage to say was, “I’m sure going to miss you,” to which he responded, “then I’ll come back.” And so with him sitting next to me looking at my computer we booked his next 2 week trip out to Utah at the end of January, almost 4 weeks away. And without hesitation, I paid, because I knew I was making investments in my future. But could I wait a whole month to see him?
I’d quickly find out no, because we couldn’t be apart for an entire month, so it looked like I’d be returning to Costa Rica sooner than I’d imagined.
More on that trip coming soon.