In Search of the Happy Ending
By Arlo Hennings
|Arlo Hennings and daughter|
After a year and half of unanswered emails/entreaties/pleas to my 22-year-old daughter, Danika, I received the long-awaited reply. She had been working 10 hours per day in an $8-per-hour, no-benefits fast-food job to finagle time with co-workers so she could visit me. She had never traveled overseas by herself, so I booked a route with the fewest connections and layovers as possible. I cashed out my last bit of savings from a 401k savings plan to pay for the trip. Soon, my precious daughter and I would be reunited.
Before she left America we spoke by phone.
“I hope you still recognize me,” she said in a trembling voice. I answered, wrought by guilt, that it didn’t matter what she looked like. Her remark puzzled me until I saw her at the airport.
I had met foreigners on Bali who wanted to be as far apart from their family as possible, but I did not share the sentiment. I had always wanted to remain close to my daughter. Once again, I had that chance to clear the air between us and reconnect.
I divorced when Danika was 17 years old; about the same age I was when my parents divorced. Like my own parents, my wife and I were torn apart long before legal separation.
I knew that misunderstandings and unresolved issues stood between Danika and me. I had left her to fend for herself when her mother’s drinking drove me to pack my bags. Along with my deep desire to heal our wounds from the past, I also wanted us to build new memories together.
It was hard for me to accept that clearing the air and re-bonding with family was something I had done my whole life.
“I didn’t know when I’d get another chance,” was what I had said about my parents, too. The important thing was, to be honest with her about my feelings. It might not be easy and I might hear things I didn’t want to hear, but I remembered that anything that comes out of it can’t be as difficult as the ongoing uncertainty I was experiencing. And also, I tried to remember how differently I viewed the world, and my parents, when I was 22. I hoped that we could at least gain some ground in understanding each other. I thought of activities that would give her a chance to meet the local people and experience how they lived. That would be a wonderful experience for her.
I would look for cues from her and find out what she hoped to get from her time on Bali. Relax, I thought to myself. Enjoy your daughter and don’t take yourself too seriously.
Tuti, my Indonesian wife and I set about preparing her room. I drew up some tentative sightseeing plans and we’d play it by ear. That night before she arrived I looked at her two framed photos next to my bed. One frame she had made out of painted noodles in third grade. In the other photo, which I downloaded off her Facebook page, she looked so grown up. The cruelty of time pulled at my heart, and I stared at the ceiling, seeking solace in memories of her childhood.
I considered myself fortunate that I was able to experience Danika’s life during her key developmental years. Those years helped me to more clearly define my manhood and to grow from the responsibility that can only come from caring for a child. My heart goes out to those brave solo moms and dads who have raised children by themselves.
As Tuti lay next to me in bed and worked on Sodoku my thoughts filled with images of parenthood.
I spent my rainy days remembering when I first saw her enter this world. I organized, into chronological order, every photo I had of her. My snapshots of her life spanned 21 years, but I lingered over her newborn photos. I chose the name Danika because it means “Morning Star” in old-world Slavic. Our family isn’t Slavic, but I liked the meaning of the name and how it rolls off the tongue. When I looked into the dawn sky, the first star would always be Danika. In her first photo, Danika’s face looks like a little squashed bean bag, skin turned fuzzy pink, cheeks appearing softer than bunny fur, and her eyes are closed tightly in the sanctity of the newborn dream. She is cozied up in a blanket, stocking cap, and a pair of socks adorned with Tinker Bell.
The little girl I raised had matured into a complex young adult. Now, on the eve of her arrival, I didn’t know what her vision was — or whether she had one. What were the young woman’s dreams? I wanted to know.
I hoped that our father-daughter love/connection/bond would encourage and guide us to be open, honest, and patient with each other. I was willing to listen, even if the truth, or her views, might hurt me. I wanted Danika to understand many things about me, too. I wanted her to know how I looked at my own, self-made life. I felt that she was old enough to relate and grasp the meaning of it all. Our relationship, more than ever, was about balance. So I thought it would help if I told her how I perceived balance, and I hoped the time and place for such talk would come.
The next evening, I waited for her arrival at the airport with the same anxiety as the night she was born. An endless line of passengers walked by and, still, where was she? I checked the arrival screen 10 times and her stork wasn’t there. Perhaps, I missed it. My heart fell off a cliff as I pondered what to do.
Suddenly, there she was — rushing for me in slow motion, suitcase dropped, arms wide open, happily in shock. Her face, a female, cloned version of my own, was full of travel stress. We embraced, rubbing our cheeks together. Danika gave me the first of my long-overdue daddy hugs. Tears from her beautiful, round, green eyes soaked my shirt collar as we stood there speechless. I inhaled her perfume and felt her soft skin again. The little mermaid (my nickname) and I were finally reunited.
My daughter arrived late in the evening after a spine-bending, 27-hour flight. I broke the ice and whispered into her ear, “Welcome to Bali, Danika!”
I stepped back and introduced her to Tuti. Danika gave her a big smile and a hug, and Tuti blushed. Not knowing English, Tuti acted a little awkward and stumbled into the conversation with uncertainty. Finally, I introduced my taxi driver, Made, a young, handsome Balinese man with a gift for manners. He picked up Danika’s luggage. Together, Tuti and Made repeated my words, “Welcome.”
As I walked with her arm in arm like a proud dad to our taxi, I noticed why she was so nervous over the phone about her looks. In the past year and a half, she had become weight-challenged. I knew this wasn’t normal for her and I thought carefully about how I might respond if she invited me to talk about it. If she wanted to lose the weight, I knew she could if she set her mind to it. However, it was not my agenda. If she was comfortable then there was no fix needed, but I wanted to help her conquer that mountain if it was an issue. We might begin by trying some of the Indonesian vegetable diets, walking through rice fields, and swimming.
All that mattered to me was that she be happy. More than anything, I wanted to hear about her dreams. She mentioned midwifery earlier; Robin Lim’s famous birthing clinic is in Ubud. I could take her there. I didn’t know what else might interest her, but I would show her as much as I could.
Made tossed Danika’s backpack into the trunk and we were off. She watched with awe as we passed by the deities and shops that lined the same road that first bore witness to my arrival. Danika wasted no time asking what everything meant.
The rest of the ride back to my guesthouse was filled with catch-up gossip from everything about her annoying job, car repairs, and a revealing laundry list of complaints about her mother — a subject I mostly succeeded in transcending. For the sake of my daughter, I let her vent and unload while I nodded attentively in a caring way.
Tuti, however, remained silent, and Danika did not address her. We would need more time to sort it all out together and to talk about new beginnings.
The next morning, the island personally welcomed her. The sun rose with the vibration of an ancient gong. Butterflies danced in a mad ballet above the bright red flowers. Morning dew dropped from the jungle flora like the notes of a plucked harp. White-winged egrets flew overhead with the soft flutter of a fanned violin.
Because it was an important ceremonial day, Danika awoke to the sound of chanting from the nearby Balinese temple. While she drank her first cup of the unfiltered, raw grounds of the Balinese coffee, she watched a long line of old women carry construction rocks on their heads. A breeze kicked up and a group of colorful dragon kites took to the wind and defied gravity in spontaneous aerial acrobatics. The loud cough of a broken motorbike muffler sent a herd of ducks quacking across the road. Bali was in full swing.
“What do you want to do on your first day?” I jumped up and down on her bed like I did when she was little.
“Let’s go for a motorbike ride,” she said, excited.
I took her on a “jungle tour” of the many ancient, moss-encrusted temples, neon-green rice fields, plantations, and dwellings to meet the local people. I could hear her camera click away as she held onto me on the back of the motorbike. I loved the feel of her arms around my waist, holding her daddy like she did when sledding down a steep hill.
I was surprised by how Danika began to record the details. Nothing escaped her attention: spiders on the wall, geckos clinging to the ceiling, (she named the critters) exotic flora or a bowl of rainbow-colored dragon fruit, soursop, mangosteens, passion fruit, snake fruit, and mango. She was also intrigued by the traditional Balinese artists in the village: works by the master painter Ketut; handmade wood carvings of masks and animals; woven baskets, and pottery. She saw local men pushing street cart grills; signs in Sanskrit; plows pulled by cows; roosters and chickens everywhere; women balancing giant bowls of fruit on their heads. And she heard the music.
“What are they playing, Dad?” she asked as we drove past a temple.
“That is called gamelan,” I answered. “It’s a rhythmically complex, traditional musical ensemble. They use a variety of handmade musical instruments: metallophones, xylophones, kendang (drums), gongs, bamboo flutes, bowed and plucked strings. Sometimes there is a vocalist, too. I will arrange for you to try it if you like. To be an artist in Balinese Hinduism is a way to be close to Saraswati, the goddess of literature, music, and the arts. So, almost everyone is some kind of artist.”
Everything was meticulously recorded into her camera and diary.
“Why are the gamelan players all male?” she probed.
“There are a few women gamelan ensembles too, but most are men. Why I am not sure. Mark that question down.” Her map of Bali got a red mark on it indicating where we had been. It was hard for me at first to really believe she was here. It felt like a broken puzzle that was magically reassembling itself.
I reflected that there was no good reason for the lack of communication from her during the past year and a half, and I didn’t care to pursue it. I gathered she was bummed out when her seven-year boyfriend dropped her in favor of another woman? However, she had skipped over Father’s Day, my birthday, Christmas, and any acknowledgment of the birthday gift I had sent her. Also, she never responded to the wedding photos I had posted online. Honestly, I felt a bit hurt.
The more time I spent with Danika the more Tuti’s behavior progressively changed in an unexplainable way. I had a premonition that there might be a storm brewing between the two, but wasn’t sure from which direction it would come. Tuti was my third wife. Danika was downright inhospitable towards my second wife.
“People shouldn’t get married so fast after meeting on the Internet,” she scolded. No matter how hard I tried to bring them together my second ex locked herself behind the bedroom door. I prayed that Danika would accept Tuti and be grown-up about it.
“I can’t believe how well you’ve adjusted to the time-zone change,” I said to Danika. “It’s like you’ve suffered no jet lag whatsoever.”
“I got to sleep right away when we got back from the airport. With the trip, and working 10 hours per day for months to come here, I needed a lot of rest.”
“Is the room okay?” I asked as I helped her to unpack her things.
“It’s perfect. And I love your little guest house. I think it’s cute. I can’t believe you only pay $450 per month for it. That’s so insane, Dad. My friends would be so jealous.”
“I wish you could live here with me, hon. There’s so much we could do together.”
“I’d like that,” she said without hesitation. “Bali is so mesmerizing. My friends will flip out when they see my photos.”
“Besides what you told me about Mom and other things, how are Boo Boo and Aunt Laurie?” I asked, wondering about my cat and my ex-sister-in-law, who was fighting cancer.
“Until I can find a permanent home, Boo Boo sleeps at the end of my bed. He’s one happy kitty cat, Dad. Aunt Laurie isn’t doing well. The treatments aren’t working.” Danika paused and changed the subject. She asked me for some fatherly-type advice about this new guy she met and that bowled me over emotionally. The question was, he had a girlfriend and what should she do. It hurt not being involved in her life, but I knew it was time for her to face the uncertainty of life, too. She showed me his photo.
“He’s a good-looking guy,” I said. “What’s his name and where did you meet him?”
“His name is Brian and he delivers sandwiches at the shop where I work,” she explained.
“How long has he been with his girlfriend?” I said.
“I’m not exactly sure, or even if she is really his girlfriend,” Danika said.
“I suggest you stay friends and see what he does.”
“I thought the same thing,” she nodded, approvingly.
“How do you like Tuti?” I said, wanting to get at what was really on my mind. “Did you like my wedding photos?” A giant photo of Tuti and me hung on the living room wall. Danika walked by it many times but never commented. Talking about the photo helped her process my new relationship. I explained the wedding attire and told her the amusing tale of the (first) ceremony. I acknowledged her feelings and invited her to join me on this journey.
“I’m hoping you’ll accept Tuti as my life companion,” I said, “and also think about adopting her 25 family members as your relatives. They’re all a lot of fun.”
I heard a few spokes pop loose in her head.
“Dad, you look killer in your Aladdin costume and Tuti looks great as Jasmine,” she responded in a neutral, semi-flattering tone. I took it as a promising sign.
Danika added, “Tuti seems like a nice person, Dad. But you’re so out there. Did you really understand what was happening?”
She had me on that point. “No, I didn’t understand the ceremony, exactly, but they gave me good direction.” I shrugged my shoulders. “During the ceremony, I had my laptop set on the Google translator.” I paused to chuckle. “We haven’t been together that long, and the language I admit is a challenge. Please be patient with her. She is painfully shy and has never had interaction with a “white” woman before. Can you try to be open-minded?” I said looking for the understanding in her eyes.
“Chill out, Dad, you look a little tense.” She pulled her hair behind her ears.
I put my hands in my pockets to show I was not getting defensive.
“Oh, Dad . . . ” she rolled her eyes.
Her attitude wasn’t exactly supportive but it wasn’t negative either. She had changed a lot since I last saw her. She progressed from drawing a dry, hard line to lubricating it with a bit of open brio.
Tuti was in the kitchen cooking and Danika did not offer to go lend a hand. She was our guest and contributing to the event wasn’t a requirement, but I thought the kitchen was a place where women could begin a bonding thing? Nevertheless, I felt as though we were moving forward. I let it go as an adjustment period.
Later, Tuti came into our room and began rearranging the place as if to make it into two separate apartments. One was for Danika and me, and one for her. Several times Tuti had me reposition the TV set so it would be viewable only where Danika and I could see it separately. I assumed we would be together in whatever we did. That prompted the question of why the remodeling project?
Danika retreated into the upstairs guest room with my laptop and that left me trying to translate like mad from an Indonesian dictionary. Since I couldn’t form complete sentences I had to do it Pig Latin style, unsure if the meaning was backward.
“Tuti, what is wrong with you?” I said slowly in her language.
Like a Balinese Legongdancer, I got a lot of intricate eyes and hand movements. I figured the story meant something along the lines that she was jealous of my daughter and frustrated because of the communication. I explained again that I hadn’t seen my daughter in a long time and to please try to be accommodating. Try and fit in. Whatever I said or how I said it sent her crying to Wayan’s house. Thankfully, Wayan’s wife spoke Javanese and got the problem resolved. Well, for the most part. Tuti eventually came around but it was a slow warm-up process.
Danika noticed Tuti’s behavior as being a little peculiar.
“She’s just a little nervous, that’s all.” I sighed.
I wanted Danika’s 23rd birthday celebration to be the special birthday of birthdays. Wayan and his family stopped by to show their respects and my daughter was deeply moved by their gratitude and graciousness. They offered to help her dress up in a formal Balinese costume for her birthday, as well as adorn the yard with handmade Balinese birthday art.
I had invited many of the local villagers to the party. Wayan’s wife and her friends cooked for hours, stirring up traditional Indonesian food like Laksa (vegetable soup), nasi goreng (rice with egg) and many types of fruit. Afterward, while sampling the local cuisine, Danika said, “If I could only eat like this at home.”
In addition, Wayan called upon the local salon girls to give my daughter a traditional Balinese ceremonial makeover. The makeover consisted of a golden headdress and exotic makeup, including a colorful dress called payas besar. Once they finished, my daughter glowed with positive energy equal to Sri Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of love and beauty.
Putu and Komang, the salon girls in their early 20s, normally performed their art for weddings because the Balinese don’t celebrate their birthdays in the western sense. But for Danika, they turned my bedroom into a palace and Danika was the reigning princess.
As the two girls began to paint Danika’s eyes with a hue of pink and purple, Danika sat there like a wise caterpillar waiting for her transformation on the sacred leaf of life.
“How do the Balinese traditionally celebrate their birthdays?” she hummed.
“They don’t do it with cake, candles, and formal invitations like we do,” I explained. “Instead, the family makes offerings called natab. The person whose birthday it is will pray for health, happiness, and guidance, amidst wafts of ritual smoke. At the end of the ceremony, a piece of white cotton called benang sri datu is tied around the person’s right wrist, hung over the ears, and one is placed on the head. These all fall off in time. While on the body, they are said to protect the wearer from negative influences such as demons known as buta-kala.”
Putu and Komang made a fuss over Danika adding and subtracting makeup to the cheeks, above the eyes, and along the nose. They were creating a goddess and it had to be perfect. Next, they carefully fitted Danika into the dress
“Do you remember your birthdays when you were little?” I smiled and snapped a photograph.
“I vividly recall my birthday when I turned seven. You got me a Snow White costume and a wand. You tied balloons around a tree and we played games,” she said. A tear grew in the corner of her eye. “But, this is unbelievable, Dad. I am so happy right now.”
Putu grabbed a tissue and dried Danika’s eye. She spoke a few words in Balinese. I understood it to mean, “Don’t ruin your makeup.” Finally, the headdress was placed on top of her head. The goddess was now complete.
“Holy crap, Dad, the crown is really heavy,” she laughed and touched it with her right hand. The salon girls gave her a hand mirror and Danika stared into it with a bedazzled, frozen expression; unsure by what magic whose reflection was in the glass.
“You look awesome,” I kissed her on the forehead. “Happy birthday, sweetie.”
I took Danika by the hand and walked her out to the patio where the party awaited her.
Wayan had also worked tirelessly for hours, meticulously cutting and threading paper bamboo into intricate hanging designs called paku pipit. Made brought his daughter and friend to perform a traditional Balinese Pendet “welcome” dance. As each guest greeted my daughter they bowed in her honor. No one had ever bowed to Danika before and she was drop-jawed. She sat happily speechless with colorfully wrapped presents at her feet. Tuti was the last one to kneel down before her and handed Danika a wrapped present. Danika wasted no time unwrapping it and to her surprise, she held the gift for all to see as if it were a personal endowment by the gods.
“Thank you, Tuti.” Danika hugged her.
Tuti took the golden necklace and placed it around her neck. cantik, (beautiful) she said and lit the candles on her cake.
“Make your wish, kiddo.” I urged.
Danika took a deep breath until her face turned blue.
She blew so hard that the frosting almost came off her cake. We called it an early evening and Danika asked the salon girls to remove her crown because the weight was giving her a headache.
“Goodnight,” we bowed before our departing guests.
I let Danika decide what she wanted to do on the island. She had bookmarked a few places: Uluwatu Temple along Bali’s southern coast, and a temple in the north. We visited both of them.
The tour ended with the two of us side by side on the bed, curled up to a 99-cent, pirated movie that a local merchant was peddling. It was called, Spring Break; about a bunch of college kids partying on the beach. I watched up to the point when the girls started to take off their clothes.
As she was growing up we watched all of the Disney movies 100 times over, and it was “tradition,” Danika used to call it, that we relaxed together, engrossed in a story. We read books, too, but the movies were her favorite. Chilling out before a flick together went a long way in re-establishing a lost comfort zone we both desperately needed.
I left Danika to her movie and I crawled into bed with Tuti. It was only 8 p.m. and she was already sleeping, which was not her routine. I knew it was an escape. I felt guilty that she was feeling neglected, and I would make it up to her.
The next morning I talked about one possible future.
“I have one plan that might work as a way I can afford to support myself and possibly a way that you can stay for as long as you want.” I showed Danika an architectural drawing of a villa I wanted to build. “It’s a risk because it will take all my savings to pull it off. If I fail, well, I guess that’s not an option. Would you be interested in helping me design the interior?”
Danika looked at the drawing carefully. “Where is it located and how big is it?”
“It’s just down the road from here in the next village. I got a deal on approximately two Are of land (400 meters square). It sits on a riverbank and overlooks rice fields. That way, I don’t use any important agricultural land.” I waved a ruler over the picture. “It will be a one-bedroom, kitchen, living room, upper deck, and two lower jungle terraces. The front will be all sliding-glass doors. I want there to be plenty of light. The way land prices are skyrocketing here, I think I can get good rent or sell it. What do you think?”
“I would love to be your decorator, Dad,” she replied, with excitement.
“Can you also help me think of a name?” I joined her enthusiasm.
We were halfway through our coffee when the owner’s mother of my guesthouse walked through the gate carrying a basket full of incense, flowers, and rice decorations. She looked like royalty in her lacy white kebayas and sarong with colorful flowers painted on it. The traditional Balinese ceremonial clothing was complete with a jacket-like blouse that is usually made with sheer material and embroidered with a floral pattern. They are custom made and fitted to each lady, who looks elegant in them. The Ibu (middle age) woman also had her hair tied back into a bun and wore a small yellow flower behind her right ear.
I greeted her, “Selamat sore. That means good afternoon.” I told Danika.
“What is she doing, Dad?” Danika carefully watched her every move.
“At different times of the lunar cycle, and other ceremonial times, they come and bless our home to ward off evil spirits,” I explained.
Danika grabbed her camera. “That is so cool, Dad. Back home all the neighbors do is complain about mowing the grass.
I chuckled, “Here they consider their land sacred. It all goes back to that balance thing we saw at the temples.”
“I want to be in balance with you, Dad,” she sneezed. “Do you have a tissue?”
“Save that thought,” I handed her a tissue. “Are you coming down with a traveler’s cold?”
Tuti recognized what was happening and gave Danika some local medicine to help with her cold. We picked up our dishes and took them to the kitchen where Danika rinsed them off. Tuti tried to stop her.
“Relax Tuti,” Danika said, politely. “You’re not our maid. Being our cook is enough.”
Tuti had been hard at work in the kitchen cooking many types of vegetables, rice, and spices for dinner. When her meal was ready, Tuti brought us the steaming plates and joined us at the table. Enjoying food is one of those times when body language can fill any void left by words. We happily ate everything. Together.
For one final trip, Danika asked to visit the peaceful little island of Gili Air. Motorbikes and cars are banned there, and transport is via donkey cart. In the morning, we caught a fast-craft boat that had us anchored in the harbor within an hour and a half. We were greeted by brightly painted red, blue, and green wooden fishing boats that rocked gently on the water, like toy boats in a bathtub. The color of the water was the first thing that spoke to me. It reminded me of the crystal clear ocean of the Maya Riviera, Mexico. “This place reminds me of where we stayed in Xcalak, Mexico when I was a kid,” Danika reflected. “The roads are all sand, everything is sand and seashells.” Her voice jumped a notch in pitch.
“Dad, give me your camera,” Danika exclaimed. “Everything is made out of bamboo.”
We hired a driver and cart, which felt like it was hitched to a raging bull. The donkey cart rocked so bad that we almost bounced off our seat to the rutted road below. Danika tried to get in a shot when she didn’t need both hands to hold on.
“This is a blast, Dad. More fun than a ride at Valley Fair,” Danika yelled over the beating hooves of the donkey.
“I’m glad you like it, hon,” I said, as my words bounced out of my throat.
We were greeted by the eager-to-please resort manager, Dune, a Muslim and native Gili islander. He told us that due to the Ramadan holiday, we wouldn’t hear beach discos from the neighboring “party island” of Trawangan. I welcomed the extra peace and quiet. While we waited for Dune to prep our room, Danika and I grabbed a beer.
“I really like the beach here, Dad. It’s so dreamy. I want to lie out and get some rays. I am so pale and my nose is stuffy,” she complained.
I watched her observing local beach boys who were about her own age. I suspected that she needed a break from guru dad and would like to hang out with other 20-somethings.
“Let’s get settled and find a beach chair and chill out Dad,” she said, finishing her beer.
We soon discovered that our “resort” lacked the promised amenities. We had arrived on the Island of No. No electricity, no air conditioning, no toiletries, no drinking water, no Wi-Fi, and (for a short while) no beach chairs. The place had six guests, but only four chairs and they were occupied. Danika, taking it all in stride, set out to search for seashells.
“Look at this one, Dad. It’s an arrowhead sand dollar.” Danika held it to her throat. “It would make a cool necklace.”
“What about this one?” she asked.
“It’s a sea biscuit. You’d have to drill a hole through it for a pendant.”
Purple, orange, and pink sea fans decorated the sand like the bottom of a pet shop aquarium. Danika picked one up and hooked it to her hair.
“That’s cute, mermaid,” I said.
She bent down to carefully comb through the sand.
“What are you looking for?”
“I’m looking for a seahorse,” she answered.
Finally, the guests left their beach chairs and we, with respect for nature, left our shells where we found them. Danika claimed a chair and stretched out the stomach-side down.
“Dad, will you please put sunscreen on me?” she asked. Like I did when she was a baby after a bath, I spread the lotion over her arms, back, and legs.
“What would you like to do tonight? I asked. There’s a traditional Joged dance on the beach. Would you like to go?”
“That sounds awesome, Dad,” she gave two thumbs up.
As the sun began to set we found our own private slice of paradise and waited for the show to start. Several heavily ornamented young girls appeared in costumes made of shiny gold headdresses and flowing dresses. They played recorded gamelan music and began to tell their story. Danika studied the multiple levels of articulations in their faces, eyes, hands, arms, hips, and feet, which were carefully coordinated to reflect layers of percussive sounds. The sacred stories are many and varied but usually an accompaniment to the perpetual dissolving and reforming of the world. The creative and reproductive balance is often personified by a conflict with a demon, deity, or god.
“They’re like cosmic dolls,” Danika whispered to me. “Their grace is remarkable.”
“Most of the dance stories, everything we’ve seen in the temples and ceremonies, more or less pertain to balance. How to be in balance with the universe?” I sighed. “That’s why I asked you to hold that thought back at the villa. The more time we are spending together, the more I believe that Bali is bringing us back into balance with each other.”
The dance ended and the tourists scattered. Danika and I looked up at the last rays of sunlight bouncing off the peak of Mt. Agung, and I said, “Ever since you were born and now more than ever since you arrived, I have been thinking about balance.”
“How can we be in balance, Dad?” she queried.
“How about we talk about it over dinner?” I offered.
We walked down to Captain Jack’s warung, a rustic, bamboo restaurant on the beach. Jack’s had chairs for everybody. For the first time in years, my daughter and I sat together at a seaside table. Musing over the various menu options and exotic tropical drinks like Yoga on Ice and the Red Octopus, kept us in a happy-tourist state of mind.
A gentle breeze caused the table lamp to flicker and the overhead lamp to sway. After that brief distraction, I started to dread the thought of her leaving. I sat quietly, mustering the courage not to fall apart in despair. The plan was that she’d return for the building/decorating later, was all I had to hold on to.
My little mermaid broke the silence.
“I don’t know what to think about marriage, having a child, school, my job, and things like my car,” she said in a frustrated tone. “I don’t want to end up over my head in debt to a student loan and credit cards.”
“Whatever you decide to do, Danika, I will support it any way I can.”
Danika picked up the menu. “I want to order the Strawberry Fields Forever shake,” she said. “It says here it’s full of those mushrooms?”
“Oh, you know about stuff like that?”
I grabbed the menu and read the small print: This drink contains locally grown mushrooms and the management takes no responsibility for any side effects thereof: enjoy in moderation.
She reacted to the look of disapproval on my face.
“I’m old enough to make my own decisions, Dad. Besides, you did it, too, didn’t you? Why can’t I? Besides, I’ve done it before,” she smirked.
“Okay, it’s your vacation and you are free to do what you want. However, those mushrooms can be a little hard on your stomach so maybe better you should have a salad or something small to eat first.”
“Got it, Dad…”
We moved from the table to the beach where we chilled out.
Danika finished the rest of her drink, then held the glass high. “Bon voyage, peace, Dad.” She closed her eyes, laid quietly on the sand, and didn’t move for the next few hours.
I sat like a hawk, fulfilling my old role as the gate guardian.
If I could help it and I knew unrealistic, it was to spare her a life of drama, dogma, ceremony, and misspent energy. She was at a crossroads, figuring out about life and where she was going with it. I was also at a crossroads, asking the same questions. I hoped she would leave Bali with a sense that beginning again was a good thing. It could be something we could do together?
Our solitude was interrupted later by the twang of an out-of-tune guitar. An attractive young man appeared and started singing to her. She opened her eyes, sat up, and smiled. In a gentle and romantic voice, he serenaded her with a traditional Indonesian cinta (love) song.
“How do you feel?” I said.
“A little thirsty and spacey, but cool, Dad.” She touched the ground with the palm of her hand.
I handed her a bottle of water and recalled how I used to sing to her, too. Guru Dad was a lot of things but born yesterday wasn’t one of them. I caught the hint and left her on the beach to follow her own path. I could stop protecting her now. I would later learn about her vision, assuming she had one to share.
She returned to the beach villa around sunrise and woke me.
“I don’t want to go home, Dad. I feel like I’m just getting started,” she sighed. As soon as her head hit the pillow she was under.
While I watched her sleep, I embraced how her trip to Bali was a new start for both of us.
“Twelve days isn’t long enough,” she complained. “I can’t bear the thought of going back to being a sandwich maker.”
“I know how you feel; minimum-wage jobs suck. And our time together was too short, but there will be another,” I promised, twice.
“When you get back, do one thing for me, okay?”
“Name it,” she snapped.
“Go easy on Mom. On this trip I’ve seen you grow into your own truth; it can put a whole different face on things. In other words, at some point, you’ll get it. I don’t know what mom’s honesty issues are, but as you’ve so wonderfully shown me — you are your own woman now, with your own dreams. I am no longer the sacred key holder of ‘the why.’ You are.”
“I swear, Dad, I will try.”
By 10 p.m. she was packed for the inevitable and awaited Made’s arrival. Along the way back to the airport, Made’s van was filled with a reflective, temple-like solemnity.
At the terminal entrance, Tuti gave Danika a warm hug. Danika returned the embrace. “You were wonderful, Tuti. Thank you for the wonderful meals and necklace, terima kasih (thank you). I think I lost 10 pounds.” She put her bags down and hugged her again. “I wish you and my dad a beautiful marriage.”
Danika then faced Made. “You were great too,” she shook his hand and bowed. “All of you, including Wayan and the whole village. You were truly unforgettable. Please don’t forget to send me a friend request on Facebook,” she waved.
I escorted my daughter past security to make sure she didn’t get lost in the confusion of the airport construction. We hugged one last time before she crossed the security barrier.
Our hearts had gone through an X-ray.
“I can’t believe you’re leaving. You just got here. I will miss you.”
“Until next time, Dad.”
Danika stepped back through security, wrapped her arms around my body, and squeezed me tight. I gave her everything I could and hoped that our story would keep changing for the better.
“Let me know what happens with your villa,” she said, then released her embrace.
I watched her pass through the point of no return, and my mermaid took wing.
I wrestled in agony on how to end this story. I was torn between letting it end leaving to think everything worked out for the better and life went on. Or should I share the truth on how it ended? Do you want a happy ending or the truth? I’m torn.
You decide –
“I’m sorry we can’t help her here. We are transporting her to a specialist ICU for liver and kidney failure.” The doctor called me long distance from the emergency room in America.
In the interim, her mother had drunk herself to death. During the depression, my daughter started drinking too. Possibly too much. Nobody is certain. She was the youngest patient in the hospital for liver disease.
I arrived as soon as I could.
Her liver team informed me she would need a liver transplant or die. My daughter was now homeless and disabled. I helped her to obtain a small disability income. There was no other family to help and I am her guru again.
What was I going to do with the life I created on Bali?
I covered my face with my hands and said, “How will this end?”
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Hennings is the author of “Guitarlo” an award-nominated memoir that includes his experiences living in Minnesota and Indonesia.
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© Arlo Hennings 2020