Photo by Ellie Bozmarova
It’s 10 am on a Tuesday and I’m officially on retreat. I pick up the Getaround rental car from the parking lot in Emeryville, California, where there’s a Trader Joe’s and a Starbucks. I park my motorbike two spots over, then text the rental guy. Where do you want me to park it when I return it? His post had said to park in “I” parking, but I also have to return the car within half a mile from where I am now, in a shopping center near a freeway. I don’t get it. Plus, if I park it somewhere else, I’ll have to walk to my motorbike and that sort of freaks me out. The Bay Area is nice, but not safe. No response. I go into Starbucks, get a venti iced coffee, light ice, unsweetened with soy, and extra caramel drizzle. I leave my phone in the bathroom but double back from the parking lot to retrieve it before I leave, luckily.
I hit the road, taking the 580 to the 80 to the 101 to a strip mall in San Rafael where I’ve purchased a Groupon to get my hair cut. The salon is at 4600 redwood highway #12. Arlyn, the stylist, had set up a voicemail message, to which I recited my desired appointment time. On the voicemail, she had an Irish accent. When I arrive, Arlyn was a sweet 4’8” Vietnamese woman.
I sit in the chair and explain I’d like two inches off. She gets me to agree to layers, which I always regret. I saysure. Then Arlyn leads me to the hair wash station. I lean my head back over the black basin as she pours warm water onto my scalp. The vertebrae on my neck are screaming—I am not sitting properly, but I try to compensate in case my neck is too short for Arlyn. When she lifts my head it feels like it’s 500 pounds. As I sit up, Arlyn wraps a white tissue-y collar around my neck but water drips under my shirt and down my back anyway. I see her business card, Arlyn Q, and believe her, that it is her and not some chipper Irishwoman, though I believe it’s a fake name. Arlyn and I get along great.
We talk about hiking. I ask if she hikes around here alone or with someone. I go on these retreats about twice a year. I always go alone, to reflect and plan for the rest of the year/my life. I’m twenty seven, in a relationship, with no kids. Arlyn says she hikes with her boyfriend, who is very tall. I tell her my boyfriend was not so tall, which I like, because I am short, so the kissing distance is more reasonable, but she says she still prefers tall men.
I leave with sections of my hair significantly shorter than I remember two inches being, but I don’t really care. I am on retreat. I head back onto the highway and drive for Olema, a tiny town near Point Reyes, to the Vedanta Retreat Center. It’s a gorgeous day. The blue sky is almost too bright. I lower my window and let my hair dry in the wind.
I exit for Lucas Valley Road and head west. It’s miles of rolling green hills. Then I turn right on Nicasio Road. As I turn right, a white pickup truck originally turning left onto the road I am leaving, makes a U-turn. The truck is now behind me. The truck has some sort of city or contractor decal on it. The road ahead curves to the left, but I continue straight instead, bumping onto a lighter gravel road. I stop a hundred feet away in front of the Old St. Mary’s Church, a white clapboard chapel with a black roof. It looks like maybe five people could fit inside. It was built in 1867, the sign says. It’s adorable. I like churches. I also yank my phone out of the cup holder and pretend to call my boyfriend. I don’t want to actually call him yet in case this is not a really serious threat, but I want to pretend because my gut says I am now in danger.
I tell my phone that I am in front of the Old St. Mary’s Church and imply that I’ll wait here for them. I tell my phone that some fucking weird guy is driving around and I might call the police. I say this as the white truck reappears. It had followed the curve in the road toward the left. But then the man had turned right, then turned right again on to this lighter road. He drove toward me. I looked at the guy, completely forgetting to look at the license plate or the decal on the side, but I noticed his baseball cap and his mustache. He did not look at me. He turned right—our original route before I parked in front of the church—slowly. He stopped at the stop sign for longer than normal before turning right. I stayed, pretending, on the phone. Then he sped up into the turn and disappeared. I sat there for a little longer, my mood after my haircut and the pretty drive now ruined. Not just ruined, replaced with a visceral fear. I get out of the car and take a photo of the church. I post it on Instagram so my friends know where I am in case I go missing. I tell my boyfriend none of this. Then I drive forward and turn left onto the main road. I feel like a rabbit. I twitch. I watch for white pickups. I turn on the radio to feel less tense.
I get to the Vedanta retreat center a few minutes later, turn onto the bumpy road, and head straight on the path flanked by massive eucalyptus trees.
Usually when I come here I meditate, undisturbed, then write in the little library in the back of the house. As I pull into the compound, I see clusters of people raising large canopies and tents. Every year, the Vedanta Society of Northern California hosts a Memorial Day retreat. For the past two years, I’ve accidentally come as they’re setting up.
I park at the end of the rather full lot, eat some leftover salad and nuts, grab my backpack, and get out of the car. People are milling around everywhere. The meditation room is available, but is right next to the now-noisy kitchen. Everyone ignores me.
(Part 2 forthcoming)