FIRST VISIT

I had never heard anyone talk like this before.

I read the Village Voice carefully, turning its thick square pages at the long wooden unpolished dining room table by the window that overlooked Washington Square park and straight downtown to the two World Trade Center towers.

When I lived here with Geoffrey we didn’t use this cut-out part of the living room, but it had my favorite furniture in it – the gray wood table and the big set of shelves and cupboards, both of which looked like they came out of an Italian farmhouse. I cleared the table of the junk mail and scrap that had been tossed on it over the years and sat there in the mornings before work with organic grapefruit and wholegrain toast, foods I never ate when I was with Geoffrey, foods that he would never eat and a meal that he was never up for.

This kind of food went along with the other new things I was exploring, the things Geoffrey didn’t want to go near – the yoga, the astrology, the meditation – all of which were well represented in the Village Voice – ads and classes and talks. The Village Voice would lead me into the city, I thought, provide me a path into the maze.

I went to a meditation class at East West Books, a place that appeared permanently established in secret knowledge, and came home determined to practice as the teacher had advised. I sat in the living room on one of Geoffrey’s stepmother’s chairs, the only object that resembled a straight-backed chair – a shiny chrome frame with spongy blue fabric, artificially soft. I sat in the evening after work, eyes closed for as long as I could stand nothing happening.

I saw an ad for a free introductory yoga class at a school I had not yet visited. I walked over on Sunday afternoon, arriving a few minutes late to the Eighth Avenue address. I opened the door from the street and climbed the straight flight of stairs to the door at the top. A sign read The New York Institute of Classical Yoga. There was a window in the door covered by a curtain on the inside of yellow cotton. I pressed the buzzer. Someone pushed aside the cloth, glanced out and opened the door.

He was lovely – tall and handsome with a big smile, dressed in white yoga clothes and bare feet. “Hi,” he said. “I’m Kevin, come on in!” He pointed to a small cluster of shoes on the black and white linoleum floor and said, “You can leave your shoes here.”

“Very strange,” I thought, pulling off my sneakers. I had never been asked to take off my shoes before. It seemed as random and odd as being asked to hop.

I followed Kevin from the narrow front hall a few steps into a small but bright open room with olive-green wall-to-wall carpeting. There were a few colorful pictures on the walls and some shelves displaying yoga books. “You can change in there,” Kevin pointed me towards a door that led into a changing room that was tiny but tidy and cared for.

Kevin was waiting for me back out in the main room. “We’ll be starting in a few minutes,” he smiled. “Come on, I’ll show you into the hall.” Again I followed him back towards the front door, into the narrow hall with its black and white tiles where Kevin slid open a door I hadn’t noticed before. “Just go on in,” he whispered, “and sit on the left side.”

The room was almost completely dark with just enough light to make out the shapes of six or seven people sitting and facing the front of the room. I picked my way carefully over to the left side, noticing a narrow aisle had been marked out that cut through the center of the long room. I spread my towel and sat cross-legged like everyone else. The women were on this side of the aisle and the men were on the other side. How strange. There was some kind of music playing and the people in the room had their eyes closed and were murmuring along in a practiced way, uttering words I did not understand, as if they were a secret code. This didn’t feel like any place I could ever be a part of. The party had gotten started too long ago.

I heard the door slide open at the back and someone stride up the aisle to the front of the room where there was a little more light. It was a man. He stooped for a moment over something in the corner, bringing down the sound of the music and then sat down back in the center of the room, facing us as the lights in the whole room came up slowly and gently.

The man was smiling. His hair was brown though bald on top. His face was young though he was older than me. In his thirties, I thought. Behind him was a strange oversize chair with a framed photograph of an Indian man placed upon it. There was a little table to the side with a rose in a vase. I just wanted a good exercise class.

The man began to talk to us. He said his name was Natvar, a name that seemed to match the unusual accent he had – it wasn’t French or German or Spanish, none of the ones I was familiar with. His English though came easily. He didn’t give us a lecture on yoga. Instead, he spoke of things he had noticed on his ride over on the subway – an old woman, a young boy with a skateboard. He made them seem important. I liked the way he described the subway, the walk up Eighth Avenue. He had vigor and energy and seemed really happy to be talking to us and about to teach a yoga class.

I listened to every word. I had never heard anyone talk like this before. Not like a teacher. Not like a friend. I felt I knew this man from the inside, like he knew me. That we were relatives in some way, that our inner worlds were similar. It was like finding a book by an author who speaks for you. This man was putting into words pieces of myself I didn’t know could be voiced.

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