The Soul Child, the Poet, and the Bedford-Stuyvesant Y

He placed his hands on my hips in what our instructor, Diego, said was first position. “One, two, one, two, one two,” Diego counted from the front of the room. Falling into a trance, I could already feel my ego dissolving. There was no I. No Tray. Just the music, its noble, primitive rhythms, and the children’s Tae Kwon Do class waiting by the door for the multipurpose room to clear at 6.

Like that magic smell that hangs in the air after a rainstorm, or the mosaic tile floors in our guest bathroom, I had taken my marriage for granted, and before I realized we were in trouble, it was almost beyond fixing. Somewhere in the last decade, Tray had gone from being my partner-in-crime, my mirror, my guide to the as-yet uncovered corners of the human cosmos, to my human equivalent of a frayed, fuzzy blanket. (I adore these cozy throws from Ikea. Could they be any cuter?) I felt comfortable, but not challenged. Warm, but not hot. Hard up, but not moist.


It was my fault. I had gazed so deeply into the oceans of the universe surrounding us that I had missed what was right in front of me. Maybe it’s because I’m an INFP.


I first became acquainted with the ways of the shaman the summer after I turned twenty-four. I was still thirsty after college. I didn’t realize then that my spirit had been thrashing against the metal bars of institutional learning and American corporate propaganda like a multicolored Arabian bird trapped in a British imperialist’s gold cage. So my father flew me down on his company’s jet to South America, where I spent six months exploring the Amazon and finishing a series of oil paintings of the nipple.


I wish I could be that hungry again, but change is the only constant.


The tribespeople of the Amazon couldn’t understand my feeble attempts at Brazilian (if only we had had Google Translate and iPhones back then!), but we communicated as fellow seekers have since time immemorial: through the powerful, unsettling, vaguely arousing, deep cosmic eye contact that says, “Here I am. And I seek what you teach me.” They introduced me, not only to the living miracle that is Ayahuasca, but to Tray.


Tray had been living with the Asháninka since he wandered away from his Peace Corps village. A poet who had been working as the head barback at a Kombucha taproom in Williamsburg, Tray almost taught me more than Ayahuasca did at the very beginning. I can still remember the tingle in my spine as the blood-red sun rose over the Andes. (You can’t have too many great tops for the mountains—my go-to is and will always be the Mountain Hardware CityPass Long Sleeve Popover.) As I sipped the Asháninka’s tea, I felt overcome, bathed and consumed by an eruptive mess of galactic euphoria, tender introspection, primal armor-breaking, and universal insights. The Icaros made sense for the first time. I forgave. I breathed out. I breathed in. I understood.


I became a new woman under the tutelage of the Asháninka and Tray. I became slower, more mindful. Each moment with Tray felt like the birth of a new star. I stopped shaving under my arms. The Asháninka are a generous people. They require nothing they cannot collect from the earth under their feet. They let me stay with them for as long as I wished, and in return only asked for the food I had brought with me, and the oil paintings of my nipples.


After losing our conscious virginity to each other, Tray and I were married by the Asháninka under a grove of palm trees and a blanket of stars. And then again by Reverend Reed when we returned to New York, because Ayahuasca taught me to forgive. The universe repaid my generosity of spirit, and we found ourselves with the means to center our physical bodies in a loft/teaching space of our own. (I still think the neighborhood is a little too hip for us!) We were the cowboys, the wranglers of the id. The sky burned for us.


But after a while, our journey began to lose its excitement. The picture of our souls started to blur around the edges, like the Polaroids we have our students post by the door to our loft. Perhaps we were not as fortified against the dehumanizing mechanisms of modern society as we had thought. Tray and I tried the typical ideas to keep our partnership fresh: polyamory, base jumping, suicide club. We backpacked across Tibet, took a 6-month vow of silence, replaced our conventional mattress with a tire swing (and lost our security deposit!), learned to code, opened an alpaca ranch upstate, explored getting complementary sex changes—none of it worked. So we decided to try something really out there: Tuesday night salsa class at the Bedford-Stuyvesant Y.


My knees were shaking with anticipation as soon as I entered the class. I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I’d done that so many times before, and all I had to show for it was a sprained ankle and an Alpaca named Hans (who continues to be the light of my life). Could this time be different? The atmosphere was perfect: a driving, pulsating rhythm, sweat-slick bodies swaying and swirling all around me, and fluorescent lamps overhead providing sufficient lighting, which is also important. Tray grabbed my hips with a feverish intensity I hadn’t felt since the time he thought I was a horse. I felt alive. Our instructor, Diego, clapped his hands twice quickly. “Pick up those feet, gentleman!” His accent was exotic. Intoxicating. He pointed the electric fan toward us, and I had an idea for another oil painting. My left brain reawakened! And then, as Diego instructed the men how to signal a transition to a side-step, I lost myself completely. Wow! (For dance classes, I’m partial to a classic Lululemon athletic pant. You can find a great selection here.)


It was, in a word, indescribable. Tray and I hadn’t experienced that level of bonding and transformation since that year at Burning Man when we were hitchhiking back with a truck driver and I had a vision that I was trapped in the dreamcatcher I keep hanging over the hammock we reserve for afternoon siestas. I found Tray there, too, and I realized that, in fact, I was not trapped, but saved, swaddled in a cocoon of our collective human unconsciousness. We made love like a rooster and a hen at the dawn of summer solstice. Anyway, salsa class was like that. We went home that night, and Tray and I raised kundalini for a week straight, Tray of course refraining from ejaculating in order to effectively harness his chi.

We made plans to sign up for the master class, but then Tray’s friend Cameron got back from Sweden with some really good acid, and by the time we came down, the fall class registration had already passed. But no matter. Its magic had already been wrought. Its lessons taught (and not just how to properly twirl!). A relationship is like an orchid. It’s delicate, requires constant care and nurturing, and ideally should be stored in a damp location with intermittent sunlight. (There’s nothing like some fresh flowers as a pick-me-up, and you can’t go wrong with the beautiful selection of orchids at 1-800-Flowers. My faves.)