Early morning of my wedding day. This is day of romance and joy. The most important day of my life, right? I should be waking up comfy in my childhood bed heaped with pillows and a few beloved stuffed animals from innocent days gone by. My happy parents should be standing by taking care of last minute details, ready to take me to the beauty parlor and pick up the towering white cake with the teeny bride and groom on the top. The designer wedding dress should be standing at attention just awaiting my sleek form. My family and friends should be coming from Boston and New York and New Jersey and points west. Sigh. This glittery picture shimmers before me…. and..
I wake up on the floor of a large room in Pomona California, packed with scruffy, sleeping bodies. Lee, my on again off again boyfriend, rolls his sleeping bag towards me and whispers tonelessly in my ear, “ I don’t want to marry you. … I am not sure I even like you.” There is a moment of panic, oh no, he doesn’t want me, then I remember that I don’t really care – marriage was his idea. “ What about all the people who stayed up most of the night preparing a wedding feast?” Typical me – instead of concern about being chained to the wrong man for the next 50 years, I am worried about what people will think.
Lee and I met in college, early in my freshman year. We went on one unmemorable date and then did not speak or interact again for the next 18 months. But that is another story for another day. After Lee graduated and I dropped out of school, we bounced around together and apart. We had agonized break-ups (he cried and I turned to stone) and passionate reuniting, You know… you’ve been there or heard about it or saw it in a sappy movie. Finally that last spring we called it quits. Done. Over. Good bye and good riddance. He drove off hurt and angry in our powder blue Opal cadet. I was headed to Vermont with some vague notion of a commune in Utopia. Lee and I were DONE and I was a free woman. Now my life was really going to begin.
New York City:
The Commune idea went up in a cloud of hashish smoke, I found a ride that was advertised in the Village Voice. His name was Ray and he was going to take me to California to meet my friend, Angela. She was always doing interesting things and I was fresh out of ideas. Ray and I had spoken a few times by phone and I asked him questions, “Are any other riders coming?’ There were supposed to be others to share the driving and the expenses but even more I did not want to be alone in the car with this unknown man. He reassured me, there are 2 or 3 others.
We met in front of Alexander’s on Queens Blvd. My heart sank when I saw him slouched against a beat up Chevy in a black fishnet shirt with copious chest hairs poking through. I looked around for the other riders. O no, they dropped out at the last minute, he told me. Even then , I knew he was lying. My friend, Debbie, urged me to cancel out of it.. take a bus, wait, don’t go. I got in the car. We drove and drove and drove. Every time he wanted to stop I insisted we keep going. When he was tired, I offered to drive. When we were both beat I suggested we pull over and nap, or pick up a hitchhiker.
Finally we got to North Platte. That’s Nebraska, by the way. Geography was not my strong suit and I got it confused with Nevada so I was thrilled that we were already in the west… couldn’t be far now! Turned out I was only 1900 miles off. Darkness spread like a blindfold and the lovely autumn rain turned into a blinding downpour. Ray, who was already grumpy, became dangerously angry. After a few miles, he screeched a sharp turn into a neon lit motel, stormed into the office and checked us in. I quietly followed him in to room 301. What was I thinking? A few hours later I was alone in a hotel room, my things strewn in the dark parking lot and all the money in my wallet gone.
I was lucky. Really. He left me with a paid hotel room. And I was OK. After sobbing loud and long I checked all my pockets and came up with a folded twenty dollar bill, a few singles and some change. I called the bus station to see if I could get to Berkeley on that. No such luck. So I went to sleep. What else could I do? When I awoke the sun was shining and my hopefulness had re-hatched like a golden Easter chick.. I would have to hitchhike. So I slung my pack on my back and hiked back to the highway.
I stood there with my thumb out and watched one dusty pickup truck after another slow and then pass me by. Each of them had a rifle in the overhead rack. Guess I’m not in New York anymore. Then I see it coming out of the highway haze… a green VW bug! A VW bug in Nebraska. Either I am hallucinating or my luck is returning. An older man.. maybe all of 30, pulls over and asks if I need a ride. He is going to San Francisco!!!! This apple green apparition is in Nebraska and going to California. Wow. California here I come!!
San Rafael, CA:
I join Angela in a crumbling Victorian mansion that was channeling better days like an old British dowager late for tea. It was now an ashram. After my cross country experience I was ready for a convent, but an ashram just might suffice. I threw myself into this new celibate lifestyle. Mediation began at 5AM, yoga three times a day, and then karma yoga… chop wood, carry water, clean the kitchen. I was sore and achy and content. It felt as if I was doing something that mattered. For three weeks I only left the house to walk in the neighborhood or do an errand with other ashram members. I was becoming a recluse. Yet one day I decided I needed to go into San Francisco to get new contact lenses.
After my lens acquisition I drop in on the only person I knew in San Francisco – Peter. He was not overjoyed to see me and seemed nervous. Barely half an hour after I arrived, Lee walked in the door. What?? I had no idea where he was and he thought I was harvesting potatoes in Vermont. Come with me, he romantically implores. I tell him about my path of yoga and meditation. I am just getting into it and do not want to let it go. Turns out, he has been practicing the same teachings of Yogi Bhajan with folks in the redwoods. A cosmic zinger… you can’t write fiction this far out. Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world… we found the same path with the same teacher. This is too powerful to ignore. ..even if you don’t believe in Karma or destiny or voodoo.
A week later I was tucked into the blue Opal on the tail of a logging truck winding my way north. Where are we going to live I finally ask. You’ll see, he sweetly replies, I fixed it up for you. Upon arrival Lee proudly shows me to my new home. I was not expecting fancy. Honest. I can make do. But a hollowed out redwood stump?? Well it was actually two stumps facing each other with a blue tarp stretched across for the roof. There was a shelf for our things and padding for our sleeping bags. It was not going to make it into architectural Digest or pass any inspection but I wish I could show you the view down the ridge line.
Who’s that Hippie in the window?
We did yoga and meditation every morning in a geodesic dome with the two other couples, one couple lived in the dome, one in a teepee and well, you know where we lived. We cooked meals in a little half trailer. I am not kidding! During the day we worked on the land and once a week, at dusk, we drove along the winding road with Deer leaping out of our path, to Elk for a hot public shower. One afternoon I was placed up on Daisy, the passive horse. Clumping along (trot, gallop, cantor… I had no idea, the horse was in charge) across the canyons with magnificent queenly trees and wild long-horned sheep, and sky racing the Douglas firs to the end of the world, that’s when I knew I was the Marlboro man. It couldn’t get more perfect than this.
Out out bright spot! Amid the beauty, guess what? Two things. 1] It started to rain. Picture our redwood stumps as the rain peels down the hillside to pool in a cold mess in our sleeping bags. And 2] Lee and I started fighting again. One beautiful California day, we were out digging ditches – yup — like the chain gang without the chains and not singing or even speaking – when Lee threw down his axe and yelled, I’ve had it! Well this is it, I am thinking. At last I have got him so angry he is leaving … or more likely, kicking me out. He explained that we had tried everything and the only thing left was:
Let’s get married!
That’s your solution to I’ve had it? He seemed to think it was so we agreed to go to LA where Yogi Bhajan would be teaching a 10 day tantric yoga retreat (no, not the kind with actual sex). We would ask him to marry us. I wasn’t worried. I knew he would say no when he saw what a mess we were. We had heard of this happening. But I really wanted to study with him so in two weeks we were on our way down the pacific coast.
Back to Pomona:
And that is how I ended slumped on the floor the morning of my wedding. Two days before, we had called and invited our parents to the wedding. My parents thought that Lee was a terrible influence on me and Lee’s parents knew that I had dragged him into a cult. So, neither of them came and I don’t think either of them believed it was a REAL wedding. By the time I was dressed in the Salvation Army tablecloth that I had made into a wedding dress I had a terrible stomach ache. I was so nervous that Yogi Bhajan was going to interrupt the ceremony. He had been known to tell couples that they were not ready for the commitment. And yet somehow, we were soon married and eating homemade ice cream. People said it was the most mellow wedding that Yogi Bhajan had ever performed, I don’t know… I can barely tell you what we did or said but he must have seen something that we could not yet see. After all, it is 40 years later and we are still married. We haven’t slept on any floors lately, but let me tell you about our latest adventure… it involves bicycles and boats.