The first time I came to a workshop I wore a white button-down shirt and white jeans. These were my most worldly clothes and I wore them on purpose, wanting to be very much of this world – nitty and gritty – and not so much of the ashram world where decorum and modesty were de rigeur. No ripped jeans there.
I drove up here on a Saturday in August. You could borrow a car from the transportation department and pay 10 cents a mile. You filled up the tank at the pump at Beaver Dam – Beaver Dam it was called, the place where all the blue collar stuff at the ashram went down – the garage where the shuttle buses were serviced, the place where the earth-moving machinery was kept, the architectural offices, the plumbing, the key-making, the HVAC. I didn’t hang out much at Beaver Dam. There were a few women there, but not many.
It’s all empty and deserted now. Scary even. Maybe you can drive in now. More likely someone will stop you and ask what you’re doing there. Nobody is supposed to be there.
My mother lives just down the road from Beaver Dam now and all the other ashram buildings. When you drive down the road to her house, down the road I used to travel long before she was there, day after day for years on the shuttle bus, wondering when this time in my life – these endless shuttle rides, every 20 minutes a new shuttle setting out on the circuit – wondering when these rides would ever end. Not that I disliked them. It just felt like I’d be there forever, rattling by the golf course on what was once a school bus but we had painted them a dark royal blue when we found out that it’s illegal to drive yellow school buses. You have to repaint them.
When you drive down that road now the golfers are still golfing. They’re still there as if nothing has happened, and you look across and there’s the bubble-gum-pink dome of the Mandap, still there, as out of place against the Catskill landscape as ever.
The Mandap too is empty, deserted for years, a vast glass pavilion – high clear glass walls, a marble floor, once so filled with people, music, color, drama. Gone. The building still standing there. I bet there are people who wish they could just erase it. I’d be embarrassed by it if it were mine – empty, deserted. It’s all like that. Almost a small town, a robust vibrant culture, that kept 1,000’s of people occupied mentally and physically – a place where babies were born, crushes were had. A place where people worked hard hard hard – staying up late until every pot was cleaned, every penny counted because this was the guru’s house and this was the guru’s money – and then getting up early in the dark the next day and doing it all again – as people thronged in the bookstores, in the small restaurants where delicacies were served to those who could afford them, where the thick carpets were vacuumed every day, where there were systems for everything, and places where all day long there was utter silence when you entered, places that felt holy and separate, where you didn’t doubt that the sacred was present because it was so easy to feel it and see it in the beauty of the silk, the fresh flowers, the sparkling bronze, in the way the woman minding the oil lamps sits just like you do when it’s your turn – demure, legs folded under a wide loose skirt, stocking feet, hoping you have an easy shift with no weirdo, no man who’s never been here before and wants to sit on the women’s side and doesn’t get why he can’t.
This place where everything made sense – the people are gone. There’s a few in there, but you can’t see them. They live in secret. No one is allowed in. I try to look through the fences as I drive by, but I can’t see.
I drive the same roads that were as familiar as the lines on my hand, trying to re-enter them, but I can’t re-enter. I drive by the tall berms that were created – they used to have oceans of wild flowers all over them and me and my friend – I don’t remember her name – a small blond woman who could sing well, a woman I was friends with even as I knew our friendship lived in an artificially small box – she and I often walked along those berms, before dinner, talking.
She sang me a line once from a song she had written. She sang it once, tentatively. It was a song about the guru, and she’d only gotten as far as that first line. And that’s all she would ever write of it. And even that was daring.