Though he had turned me down up in Maine, within a few weeks of my return to the city Bill and Laura had broken up as I'd been so confident they would, and Bill and I picked up where we'd left off in San Francisco though now it carried more charge. Bill was a much more exciting person with his scrappy apartment and late nights of mad-man painting plus we both were falling upon our growing knowledge of health food as if we'd unearthed a new language, sharing new scraps of information back and forth.
Becoming a carpenter hadn't worked out, copyediting was proving not very interesting, and Scott had forbidden my idea of rehabilitating and reselling furniture I found in the street, saying he didn’t want his living room to look like a junk yard, so I started babysitting for a sweet Chinese American baby with the unlikely name of Christopher while his single stylish young mother went to work in the cosmetics industry. Their small apartment with a good address held almost no furniture as if Christopher's mother had just been caught unawares by motherhood and I felt called upon to inject as much life into my hours with Christopher as I could, pushing his carriage through the Rambles so that we both could pretend we were in the woods and talking to him as he sat in his high chair, accepting the spoonfuls of banana and baby food I offered. He rewarded my attentions by screaming with delight every time I showed up, bewildering his mother who was always in a rush to leave.
And I went to Natvar's Monday night chant, something I'd been avoiding for nine months. I hadn't wanted to chant. I had only wanted Natvar's school for its yoga classes, a place that would keep me young and beautiful and thin. I was afraid these things would fade and then what would I have? Geoffrey had once wondered out loud whether if I were in a disfiguring accident if he would still love me. He wasn't sure. It seemed like honest inquiry at the time, not less than I could expect. Looking good was the only currency I was sure of, something I traced back to my father because he knew how to look good too – in double-breasted suits and cravats and laced leather shoes. Looking good was the only thing about me that he liked. He didn't say it out loud, but the only time I saw his eyes light up was when in high school I dressed up to go with him to the city on a Saturday night to the Metropolitan Opera where he had subscription tickets. We were perfectly paired as the two in the family who knew how to glide through any crowd as if we belonged there, and yet within minutes of leaving the house in the car, I felt a speechless fury descend on me, fury that was not allowed to speak, was not allowed to hurt anyone else.
But Natvar's place had begun to feel like home, and I wanted to explore this unknown corner of this new home, chanting night.
On a Monday in late September I slipped into the meditation hall where normally we did our classes. This evening the lights were up higher than usual. The room was long and narrow with an aisle marked on the flat dark grey carpet with perfectly straight strips of what I now saw was simply masking tape. I sat cross-legged on the women's side of the aisle, just room for a couple of us to sit in each row, with the same amount of space for the men on the other side. There were about five of us there, sitting near the front, the long hall stretching empty behind us.
Natvar strode in from the sliding door, down the aisle and sat, facing forward, on the women's side on a thick colored carpet that lay in front of the wide elaborate purple velvet chair with the picture of the old Indian man propped up in its seat. That was Baba, the man Natvar and some of the others went to see in the Catskills on weekends. I had heard them talking about these visits with insider jokes and had stayed away from those conversations. I didn't like the word “guru.” It made me squirm. It was an embarrassing word, one that did not have a place in the Manhattan picture I wanted to be part of.
I wanted to get a scrappy apartment like Bill's in the East Village to write in, like my friend Meg with her darkroom had, but I couldn't think of a way to do that. It felt like all the buildings I walked by were locked with no way to penetrate. Other people had done it, but I knew I didn’t have the magic formula that would get me off the sidewalk and into an apartment of my own. But I cut my long hippy hair punk-short so it stood up in brazen tufts.
My father was in the hospital when I cut my hair. Not for any illness, more for a sort of resting cure. He'd come up with a reason to be in the fancy Manhattan hospital for a few days, and he seemed happy when I went to visit him. He could lie in bed. There were people to wait on him. And for a few days he didn't have to think about how he didn't have any money and really no home anymore. Although polite, I could tell he didn't like the short hair, but again I did not care. I was tired of my father's criteria for beautiful women. I felt strong in my short hair, my long loose lavender pants and spaghetti strap camisole, strong in a way that my father had never helped me find.
I didn’t figure out a way to make much money, but I thought of a way to spend less. I came up with the idea of moving into the tiny loft room off the kitchen in the apartment I shared with Scott. I'd give up my spacious corner room for the sake of a lower rent. Scott hadn't like the idea much. He'd rather have my higher rent – something I hadn't thought of – but I persuaded him easily and we put up a notice for a third roommate to take over my old room.
Scott and I, after six months of apartment sharing, were pretty easy buddies though his monochromatic life was almost as frustrating to me as my own. I hated how he moped about the girl who had left him a year before and complained about his mundane 9-5 job without quitting it. With his balding head and glasses, his long skinny body, 10-speed bike and dusty meditation shelf he looked to me like someone who would never accomplish the things I wanted to accomplish. One evening we were arguing in the living room, the kind of argument where I was trying to convince him of something, trying to get him to be different. He stubbornly refused to burst into flame or into blossom, just sat there flat and ordinary and in exasperation I picked up a cup and threw it at the wall behind him. “Wow,” he said, ducking. “No one’s ever thrown anything at me before.” He liked the excitement.