From Light on the Path:
“Know, O disciple, that those who have passed through the silence,
and felt its peace and retained its strength,
they long that you shall pass through it also.”
Magic in the Desert.
San Diego has been called the best climate in the world, forever blossoming into spring. Homes were hedged with lavender and roses. Eucalyptus, cypress, olive, and frangipani trees accented their yards. Fields bloomed in acres of flowers for florists to ship all over the world. Life was a fragrant, sensuous celebration of joy, beauty, and unbridled delight.
In class we learned one body part at a time. They’d teach us a session for the front of the arms, one for neck and shoulders, and so on until we had enough to integrate into whole body sessions. Every hour or so, in that big open room, there’d be fifteen students taking all of their clothes off and climbing onto tables as their partners were getting dressed right beside them.
One teacher sometimes brought in a psychologist buddy, and had the whole class strip naked and line up around the walls where we’d talk about how it felt to be completely naked in front of strangers. That buddy was later arrested for some kind of perversion with his clients.
Graduation parties from the first level of training were held nude in private rooms at public hot tubs, but by that time, we didn’t much care. We were exhausted. Those of us continuing on just wanted to rest up for the advanced classes.
As we moved on, work got harder and friendships more intimate. Our anatomy and physiology teacher, Tony, was a breasty, brassy, ballsy nurse who twisted things into bawdy jokes and sexual innuendoes. I’d never met a woman so openly raunchy. She singled out a few male students and leaned in over our notes to drive her dirty jokes home.
But I loved the brilliance and clarity of her mind, how clearly she communicated tough concepts. We learned so much in so little time. I stayed late after her second class to thank her and she asked me to rub her shoulders. Early on in massage school, you rub everyone around you, but her groans sounded different than most…
… Back at my place, Tony had taped a note to my door. She was out of her car and heading toward me as I read it. We walked the beach, chatting about our lives. She touched me with her wisdom and compassion. So much mouth, mind, and heart in one woman. At Mt. Soledad we sat quietly together, gazing out over the ocean, the city, and Mexico at night.
But she got a headache and drove me to her place where I could do some Therapeutic Touch on her. As I rubbed knots out of her shoulders, she started groaning and writhing. That woman was achingly sensuous, but that’s where we cut it off; that’s how we left it.
A couple weeks later, we were just sitting around her apartment, chatting, when she disappeared. She was gone a while, but then stepped back down the hall and just stood there at the edge of the room, hanging her head. She didn’t have any clothes on.
I caught my breath and fought to look her in the eyes. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Would you rather I didn’t stare at you? I’m getting really good at sneaking peeks these days.”
“I’ll bet you are,” she said.
“Right now, though, Tony, I have got to admit, I’d really like to gawk.”
She told me, “I just want to get this over with. Let you see I don’t have a great figure.”
“You don’t?” I said. “Well, then, whose is that, and when do you have to give it back?”
She flew across the room, all booming laughter and soft, bouncing breasts, and threw herself all over me. We stayed that way the rest of the night, most of it knotted together in her rumpled, cracker crumb-strewn bed, but parts of it on the rug. I think there were crackers there, too.
We were lovers, but more than that, dear friends for months. And then one night, well after we’d moved on, she pounded on my door in the wee morning hours clutching a grocery bag full of Gatorade. She’d been carousing in Mexico and given herself diarrhea so bad she was on the edge of hallucinating. Tony gave me detailed instructions so I’d know when to call an ambulance. I settled her into my bed, then stood over her, studying her in the dark as I worried and prayed. I watched over her until the next afternoon without rest, trying to coax her back to sleep every few minutes after each bathroom stampede.
I cleaned the toilet after she’d left. We had stopped being lovers long before, but if we hadn’t, that one night might have driven some of the magic out of it.
I have pictures of a birthday party Theresa threw for me, in which of the other five guests, three of the women, including Tony, had been my lovers. We were all over each other for the camera. But I was also finding out that there are deeper levels of intimacy than sex.
One friend had her house broken into and her purse stolen. Then someone broke in and raped her. She started coming by my place for cookies; what a lot of folks did when they needed to talk something out. She wanted to scream out to the world that she’d been raped, but never quite managed to. She’d just eat her cookies, share her feelings, and try to keep going back to get naked in massage classes. If the sun had set before she left my apartment, I’d walk her to her car. The world had become a scary place.
She wanted to move in with me, but I had a roommate named Dorothy, and Dorothy had a boyfriend who sometimes stayed over. It wouldn’t have been fair to them. I found two lady friends to take her in, but on evenings when the sun set while she was in class I’d walk to school and meet her there so she’d have a friend to chat playfully with on the way to her car.
She graduated, moved home to Alabama, and we wrote each other for years.
The business director offered me a job as a massage teacher before I’d finished all the courses. I hadn’t even asked for one. Life was definitely changing around.
I met a young lady named Gayla at a party one night. Not the Gayla I’d eventually marry, but my world’s always been such a maze of intertwining “coincidences” that I had long before stopped believing in that whole concept. Now I worry maybe something’s gone wrong with my life if nothing truly bizarre has plowed through me in a while; if my days and nights have been listing toward normalcy. So it doesn’t seem odd to me that I’ve loved two women named Gayla, even spelled the same way, and that each took me camping in the desert for our first date.
With the second Gayla, we drove deep into the sands of Mexico until we ran out of roads, and then paths, and then gullies. Then we grabbed up what we could and started hiking. We packed in without a tent, but she did bring along an Australian named Digby.
That first Gayla took me into the Anza Borrego; just the two of us, no Australians, but at least we had a little tent. Among my fondest memories is her full-throated laughter as she cartwheeled nude over sand dunes. To this day I dream I’m cartwheeling, though I’ve never actually tried it.
With the second Gayla, the one whose childhood I’ve been telling you about, I remember rolling together down a grassy hill in a park, landing dizzy by the VW she lived in with Digby. Then she invited me to join them in the desert, where, on a romantic, moon-kissed night, she asked his permission to move from his sleeping bag to mine (he refused.) She would basically do the same thing to me later on. Only she wouldn’t ask my permission.
But there are two basic rules to story writing. Rule number one: Show; don’t tell.
Rule number two: Stick to one Gayla at a time.
I met that first Gayla at a party, and enticed her back to my apartment for a massage. I must’ve been a bit of a lust bucket back then, finally escaping so many years of repression. I didn’t respect myself for it, but I sure had fun. Gayla’s massage, though, was just a massage; no wandering hands, erotic interruptions, or primal afterbursts. Then she drove home in her pickup.
She called the next day, and the day after that. We started phoning each other two or three times a week. She kept writing and mailing letters from her job at the bank, telling me, “ Your wisdom, guidance, and deep spirituality are helping me straighten out my life.” So then she invited me out on a little road trip, where she put a new kink into mine.
Letting someone haul you out into the desert is like placing all your chips on forever. First, it seems to take that long to get there. Then, it seems like forever since you left that cozy apartment where you keep all your “stuff;” that stuff that keeps you anchored into who you are. Or at least who you thought you were. Forever since you saw that last place to buy gas, or stop for a snack or a nice iced tea. Forever since you’d consigned yourself to your fate and stopped wondering, why am I trusting this strange woman with my life? Forever since she’d first suggested it’d be a fun thing to do and you had thought, “Wow! What a great idea!”
Gayla was tiny, high energy, and socially unfettered. I called her Hummingburp. She serenaded me in belches as she drove. We were crunching across the sands for a while before she finally just set the brake and shut off the engine. Why here, for God’s sake? Climbing out of the pickup and stretching, I scanned across vast reaches of nothing but bleak and barren. Stones scattered like the surface of the moon, hills like nubs of teeth, ground down by unfriendly eons. It’s like I could just search all the way through eternity in any direction; just peer completely across the world, around to the other side, and see myself standing there from behind, but all I’d find anywhere would be whispering sands, gnarled mesquite and cactus, and other dead things.
Dead, but stirring.
I had been warned. It’s things you don’t see that can get you. Anything you might step on in the night, anything you may disturb up out of the sands or dead wood could kill you. Snakes. Scorpions. We left our sleeping bags rolled and tied tightly in the back of the truck to make it harder for anything to crawl in before we did. After that, of course, all bets would be off.
I could see one of us writhing or paralyzed in pain for days (I prayed it wouldn’t be her), and then one morning just waking up dead. Some think dead is forever, though in my life the dead don’t always stay that way. But painful isn’t how I want to get there. I want to die on a cool, starry night, lying on my back in moist clover, floating through a chorus of crickets and katydids, gazing up into the Milky Way as it draws my soul home.
Scorpions would not be my first choice.
So I just shut myself off from thinking about all that. It was easy. Whether it’s in the desert; on a craggy, thundering shoreline; or gazing out from a steep mountain precipice; peering out into the heart of God entrances me deep into mindless wonder. I just hang there, suspended in bliss. And so that one night I stood, motionless, rapt, beside Gayla’s truck, giving myself over to that vast, inspiring emptiness. Darkness oozed out of gnarled shrubs, clumps, and rocks. It sang in brilliant scarlets and crimsons. Liquid vermilions and indigos bled slowly across the heavens, and pooled among shadows on the sands.
I turned to see if she was sharing in this magic, in this time beyond all time. If she and I were lost together in some ineffable essence that, like the name of God, could never be spoken.
She had yanked off her pants and was squatted beside me, peeing onto dirt.
I’d never seen a woman do that. I jerked my head away to study nothing for a while, but I studied it very intensely.
I did watch, though, as she tossed her clothes across the hood, and just wandered off over the sands, wearing only flip flops and a head scarf. The woman was fascinating.
She found a flat spot, kicked off her shoes, and dived over onto her hands, raising up into a perfect handstand. She then held there, as though offering some yogic salutation to the setting sun; but on her own terms. Like those carved red rock spires in Utah, where you feel you’ve just landed on some bizarre alien planet, her beauty in that wasteland looked unnatural, even miraculous. Gayla arched to perfection. Each white curve of flesh set itself off against a deepening sky.
She offered her bare toes up to heaven.
Slowly, then, she lowered her legs to the sides, and offered it her pubic hair.
She did have a lot of that. Sometimes I couldn’t tell my beard from hers.
Her scarf dropped away, leaving her nude in the desert.
I think maybe God had reached down and flicked it off Himself. His way of telling her, “With you, kiddo, it’s always all or nothing.” That’s how she ran through her life. Sending each moment up to all deities, in all realms, on the wings of her full-hearted laughter.
She held there for the longest time, then lowered her legs back to the sand. She stood up. Smirked at me. Started to slink slowly closer, vamping it up until I, too, had to laugh. When she reached me, she peeled off my clothes, too, and we didn’t put them back on for a couple of days.
She reached down and caught hold of me, but I won’t say where. Like she had a pet on a leash, she pulled me over by a cactus, pushed me down onto the sands, spread my limbs in all directions, and crawled all over me for a while.
By the time we settled out from ecstasy, stars had spread themselves everywhere.
We searched out a flat stretch on which to set up her tiny blue tent and circle some stones for a fire. She’d brought one of those big five gallon bottles of water from a cooler. We put up the tent, but never went inside.
Instead, we sat quietly under the stars, and made love from time to time. But mostly we sat quietly under the stars. I don’t see how there could possibly be as many sparkling orbs in the universe as we gaped up at all that night. Maybe there aren’t. God probably ordered up a few thousand extra just for that one performance.
Sometimes you feel all of your soul is on the outside. That mystical night crawled up out of the desert floor. It reached through heavens more vast than the outer walls of imagination. So I gave in. All I’d ever known dissolved away until there was nothing left but pure magic. I felt lost and found at the same time. Saw time as just some dumb concept we’d made up when we had been old and foolish.
Temperature drops suddenly when night hits the wastelands. Small winds howl in greeting. I could feel shuffling and voices I couldn’t quite hear. Desert sands and spirits settled and stirred, whispered furtive secrets and sidled away. Why does sadness flow in with such sweetness; like recognition of some primordial loss?
“Sprite would have been three now,” she told me softly in the darkness.
“I didn’t know you had a daughter.”
“I didn’t. I lost her.”
I reached beside me under starlight to rest my hand on hers.
“Sometimes I come out here to hear her little voice.”
I turned and listened; I wanted to hear her child, too; I wanted to share that with Gayla. I heard so many things that could have been a child. So many souls that may once have had a body, and a life. So many others that never had.
She crawled up onto my lap, wrapped her arms and her legs around my middle. She snuggled her smile, along with a few tears, in against my chest.
“I was a gymnast.”
“Really? I can see that.”
“Yep. Loved it.” She turned back around to face forward, out into all that eerie, shifting mystery. I opened my legs so she could nestle down between them, then raised them up and crossed my ankles to wall her in. I wrapped a warm caring hug all around her. “Mmmm,” I murmured, loving her; and she drank it all in. I paused to admire the moonlight threading her hair before resting my chin on the top of her head.
“Wanted to go all the way,” she said, after a time. “We traveled, exhibitions for kids in special homes, some competitions. Managed to get myself knocked up by a gymnast from another school. Now that was something to watch.” Her laughter rang off the rocks for a while.
She pulled my arms more firmly into her breasts, and laid her head sideways and back against my left shoulder. I snuggled a kiss softly into her hair, and rocked her for a while. We lost ourselves deep inside what felt like a long night of rocking, holding, and being held. But I sensed there was more she wanted to share.
“What happened? May I ask? Is it okay?”
She laughed, but it didn’t echo this time. “He was cute is what happened. You should have seen his iron cross. And don’t get me started on those shoulders.”
“No, I meant, with your daughter, with Sprite. Is it okay for me to ask?”
“Sure. She’s up there somewhere. Named a star after her. Can’t find it tonight in all that.”
She had snuggled one of her hands back between her butt and my lower belly and was absent-mindedly toying with some hair she found there. She’d dropped her other hand forward to rest it gently, caringly, mid-thigh on my inner leg. I reached down and lifted that one up. I held it, brushed the back of it, probed and explored each finger, each knuckle, each tendon. It was a strong hand, and yet so tiny in mine. Squarish and unmanicured. She turned her face up to watch me studying her, smiled up at me. “God, I love you!” she told me. Then, she reached to settle her other hand over mine. “I can’t see ever not having you in my life.”
Four hands intertwined; oozing in and out of moon glow and shadows.
She let her words drift upwards after a while, as though sharing some rare and precious secret. “I feel you sending me some kind of energy sometimes. – Like you’re surrounding me with love when my boss is getting on me and I’m about ready to shove her stupid clay duck ashtray up her ass and storm outa there. But then I feel you hugging me and it’s like, ‘Mmmm.’ – Y’now? Like you just said to my hair?
“That was you, wasn’t it?” she asked.
“Don’t give me too much credit; I’m no psychic or something. I’ve just been thinking about you fondly, sending you a little love. I like to think about you. You’re really fun.” Privately, I didn’t know whether or not to believe I’d sent her anything she could actually have picked up on; but if it was doing her some good to think I was capable of that, then I wasn’t about to take that away from her.
“Still the same, I feel you,” she told me, her words snuggling in with her bare flesh.
She looked out across crawling shadows, and up among the hills, as we both turned outward to listen for her little girl’s voice.
“Actually, she was never born,” she entrusted to me. “City bus sideswiped my pickup in my second trimester. They say I probably lost her instantly. Everyone was so sure I wasn’t going to live. Then they thought I’d never walk again. But guess what?”
She climbed out and flipped more cartwheels at the stars. Any scorpions or copperheads lying in wait were just going to have to watch out for her! I sat on a rock, watching her dart, and roll, throwing her arms and legs wide and free, no hairs trimmed or waxed, the full moon rising up between her legs as her laughter rolled and frolicked across the sands. I sat there and wished I could join her, just wished I could ever feel that free.
In that one interminable moment she was ravishing.
I called out to her, “You sure know how to throw one heck of a first date!”
“It won’t be our last,” she called back through her crotch as she barreled into me.
She landed straddling my head, shoving me onto my back, with her knees by my ears.
“Oh, skunk farts,” she said, hands on hips, looking down at me in mock perturbation, “Look why I done!” Her thighs were so short I only had to raise my face a few inches to kiss her.
We spent the rest of those hours until morning wrapped around each other in one way or another, most of them lying down in a still pile of wonder. She may have slept; I’m sure I didn’t. Spirits moved about, rustled and stirred. Gliding, pausing, shuffling all around us in a dance they had danced since before man, and time.
Spooky, yes. Absolutely. But by taking me into the desert, Gayla had set something free inside me. She’d probably been born that way, but I had to learn it.
We continued to write almost every day. She wrote things like, “Hello, you beautiful man, you! I can’t stop thinking about all that we said and felt. I am beginning to connect with myself. The thought that maybe the time could ever come that I could not be part of your life is very unsettling and I am praying we will always be together. God I Love you! I Want You!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! With you, I can become whole. I can finally learn to love.”
I maybe should have found it a bit unnerving that she’d call me after each visit, before I could even reach home, to tell me she was already missing me, but all I could think was, God, she’s exciting!
Then she wrote, “Well, Mr. Hug Master, you gorgeous, lovely young man, I WILL be part of your life from now on.”
She was nothing if not intense. And self-assured.
“Words can’t come close to expressing the total fullness or intensity of Love I’ve never felt before. My soul has been crying out so long for you that it is hard to believe you are truly here and we have finally meet. Our paths have come together and we are partners. I now understand more of my purpose and can feel my Love for you reaching Oh, so deep into my soul. I am finally complete! Our Love … Our lives linked now as always and always.”
She got angry when classes kept me from spending weekends with her. We picnicked in the park. I told her where I hid my spare key. She typed and mailed me letters from her job.
I started finding them around my apartment. “I stopped by while you were at work and laundered your sheets and towels. I thought it could make up for last night. I thought you might think of me with all that freshness wrapped around you. Maybe you and I could start fresh? You Beautiful Man, I truely Love you. I’m sorry for all my mixed up feelings that sometimes must hurt. I keep getting all selfish wanting to be the only one in your life, above all else, but please don’t feel pressured by that. When I come to my senses I see there will always be others out there who need you like I have. I’m so very, very sorry. And so very happy to be a part of your life, even if I can’t be all of it - Yet.”
One day I came home from work to find a note on the scrap pad by my pillow. She’d apparently come over to take a nap on my side of the bed, and then had left her underwear there. “Hello, sweetheart. Just wanted to say ‘Thank you’ for all the caring and sharing you show me. The love I feel flowing from you is the sweetest, purest feeling I’ve ever known. Please know I Love you, too, although I may not always show it. I am striving for the same purity as the energy and love I feel you sending.
“God I want you!!!!!!! Maybe what I’m feeling isn’t always so pure?
Her best friend had been one of my massage students; a sweet and playful little lady. The three of us liked to picnic in the park. Right there in an open field in Kate Sessions, or Balboa Park, low-key couples lingering over lunch baskets and blankets scattered around us, Gayla would whip off her t-shirt and wave her tiny breasts in my face as she tied a red farmer’s bandanna around her chest like a sleeveless, backless, sideless blouse.
Then she’d flip out her handstands, cartwheels, and laughter for the world.
But there was one part of her free spirit I just was not prepared to handle.
Her naturopath practiced kundalini; bottling up one’s sexual energy, and channeling it into healing. I’d been taught to heal by bringing energy down through my crown and heart from the heavens. I’d always had a problem with any kundalini practices that brought it up from the sexual organs. But Gayla told me she and her doctor would lock into a sexual position, her seated on his lap, him inside her, and then go into meditation, unmoving. His wife was the receptionist in his outer office, so Gayla assured me it was all on the up and up.
But that whole kundalini thing never did settle in well with me.
Gayla had no time to wait for anyone so bound up and prudish, so one day she just up and ran off with the man I kept finding in her living room. A sailor of some kind. A friend of her cousin’s. And a much freer spirit than me.
Hell, he may even have been her cousin.