Thursday, April 08, 2010

Something Begins

Alyssa was a few years older than me. Not many. Just enough to put her over the edge into the next category. She had short dark hair and a serious face. She didn’t laugh or talk much. There was something serious and self-contained about her, almost sometimes disapproving so that being with her was sometimes a little bit of hard work.

She moved into the white cottage across the walkway from us and I pursued a friendship. She interested me. She seemed to know things I didn’t and I wanted to push past the usual boundaries that exist when people don’t know each other so that maybe she would share with me that secret knowledge.

I went over to visit her in her cottage, stepping across the few feet of concrete from my shady stoop to her identical one. She did not come over to my cottage because Geoffrey was there and it was as obvious as weather that we could not have our conversations there. In fact, Alyssa – visiting Alyssa – talking to Alyssa was a way of creating or trying to create a small island to which I could go, an independent place.

Alyssa talked of things I had never heard of – reincarnation, tarot, and astrology as if it were a science not just something dumb in the newspaper. And she was so poised and adult that I listened to her.

Alyssa took me to a bookstore called The Bodhi Tree, shelves upon shelves of books all covering these subjects I hadn’t known existed. I had spent so many years in bookstores, and yet here was one that I had never entered or known about. It was like stepping into an alternate universe. “Where do I begin?” I asked Alyssa, and she suggested a thick red paperback.

It was slow going, but I did not stop, chopping my way through its humorless prose about ancient Egypt, hunting for clues.

Alyssa and I came up with a plan to drive up to Eureka together for a weekend. I had heard about the beauty of this northernmost tip of California and Alyssa said she had a friend up there we could stay with. I wanted to get out of the smog and concrete of summertime L.A. and Eureka promised to be almost virgin land and forest.

We drove all day, arriving in the evening at a small house on a river bank, set amidst dense forest. Her friend was a man, living alone, handsome and friendly. They were old friends, it seemed, who had not seen each other for awhile, and I left them to be alone and catch up for awhile. I sat out on a rock overlooking the water. There was no sound of traffic or people or industry. This is where I had so wanted to be, but still I felt on edge, not sure how long I should leave them.

I waited for a half hour and then joined them inside where we sat together and ate. Eventually they drifted into the bedroom. I slept in the living room.

Not much was said in the morning. The handsome rugged man drove us around a bit, showing us the small town, and I filled up any empty moments with Remembrance of Things Past which I had brought along, drinking in every succulent word from its thick pages.

Back in L.A., it was Alyssa who told me about yoga, which sounded as mysterious and remote as ancient Egypt. I looked up schools in the yellow pages and went to one in a part of town I didn’t know well, an area of large mansions and wide lawns. My first class was in a stately but slightly gone-to-seed white building, in a large hall with a high ceiling. We stood in rows in front of a teacher who looked about my age but who I assumed was older because she was already doing something she really wanted to do.

This was a place Geoffrey would never come to, and so it felt more authentic, more like a place where I would go. It wasn’t a place just for TV and pot and food and movies and shopping and chats with friends on the phone – none of that had ever found its way comfortably or permanently into my life. Those were the things Geoffrey was content to do for the rest of his life, things that seemed empty to me, like the scripts he wrote about handsome men falling in love with witty beautiful women.

The yoga class wasn’t like that. I liked the way the other teachers looked – the men handsome and the women confident, and all of them at ease with one another. They talked about who was going to India and who was coming back, and it felt like a community inside the white mansion, people having a good time.

I did not miss a class, driving to the white mansion two or three times a week. And after every class I felt good in a way I had never felt good before. I had never found anything that so reliably made me feel better – in body, in mind.

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