Just last week in one of my English classes, the highschooligans and I were discussing a central character in Toni Morrison’s novel Song of Solomon. When this fictional woman was born, her father chose her name blindly out of the Bible, and she ended up with the unfortunate moniker of the judge at Jesus’ trial, you know, the big guy who authorized that whole crucifixion deal.
“Why is she called Pilates?” my student asked, referring not to the man who washed his hands of the hot mess as the bewhiskered messiah was carted off to Calvary; the Santa Fe born-and-bred teen was referring to a prop-based exercise regimen developed in the 20th century by a German who has yet to be confirmed for sainthood by throngs in Zumba pants. My student pronounced the character’s name Puh-lot-ees, instead of Pie-let, the way I was taught by Sister St. Ignatius in her first grade classroom.
“Does anyone know who Pontius Pilate is?” I asked, a nub of chalk pinched between my fingers.
One hand shot up.
“How many of you know what Pilates is?”
A forest of arms grew suddenly before my eyes.
“I wonder if they have this problem in Detroit,” I said out loud. No one laughed.
In the novel, Pilate makes a conscious choice to live isolated outside of town and her granddaughter, needing connection, community and a decent place to get her hair done, suffers greatly from this relocation decision. As I stood there, my back against a board teachers started using 200 years before I was born, I thought of my decision over 20 years ago to flee the East and relocate to a town where the clouds are shaped like yoga mats and the tap water smells faintly of kombucha tea.
This “how did I get here?” idea of an unimagined future turning into an actual life followed me like a hungry ghost all week. At the Zia Diner, I asked two friends if they would have ever guessed that one day they’d actually have children and take them to a place called Santa Fe Soul Health and Healing Center when the flu ran through their house. Or that, when their kids had nightmares, instead of telling them to “go back to sleep, goddammit” like my own father did, they’d drive them across town to an office with a tinkling koi pond so a beautiful lesbian could stick needles in their tiny arms? They laughed, said “no,” and then we all took bites of our green chile cheeseburgers and let the juice run down our chins.
I couldn’t let go of trying to connect that terrified boy in a school uniform at Sacred Heart Elementary, struggling to memorize the stations of the cross, with the 40-something Santa Fean who has working knowledge of mystics, Feldenkrais practitioners (JFGI) and healers who mention nothing in their pastel-colored brochures about the holy hippie in robes who helped give Samarian lepers a salt glow.
I was grading papers in the newly opened Betterday Coffee shop across from my friend K, also grading, who teaches in Texas. K and I were bemoaning our choice to plow through pages and pages of student prose on Saturday when we could have been enjoying the juicy landscape and rejuvenating sunshine of the 505. Two young women asked to share our longish table and soon they were deep into their own conversation about astrology, tinctures and some sort of spray that whisks away excess estrogen. I know one of the women, and my wife really enjoyed the few times they’ve chatted at art festivals and the like. I like her, too, but that didn’t keep me from eavesdropping. I kicked K under the table to get her to tune in, but the Betterday is long and cavernous, and the baristatti have a nasty habit of cranking up the music when they’re feelin’ it. I leaned in, and it was as if I had entered the heart of New Agey Santa Fe, even more so than talking to my friend who was taught by dolphins to cure menopause.
These women to my right swallowed concoctions and spoke quickly, exposing an intense and intimate friendship. I looked over to K, who was steadfastly marking essays like a cloistered nun. Then I heard one of the women say, “You know so and so! She’s my sister!” What she really meant was soul sister since they had been discussing past life regression. Then the woman I know had an epiphany that could have been spotted with the naked eye. “Soul sister! I’m her aborted child!” she said. “We figured it out.” They reached across the table to clasp hands. They were so happy.