Have you ever heard of a wellness bungalow
When I think of Miami, I think good cocaine, fancy clothes and people who pose for Instagram pictures alongside rented Lamborghinis.
I hate all these things, along with the people who like them.
I like downers, thrift store clothes, and I drive a Hyundai with a duct-taped front bumper.
I’ve been living in Miami for a few months, and don’t have many friends.
In search of people I’d get along with, I took myself to a “wellness bungalow” that offered a meditation class which was supposed to start at 5 pm.
I pushed open the front door.
A woman with a nose piercing sat on the floor next to a white dude with gray hair. Neither of them was wearing shoes.
“And then!” he said, readying to tell her the punch line of a story.
The woman noticed me, and because of this, the man, who was mid-storytelling, saw her break from his gaze. He followed her eyes, turning his attention towards me, and then waited for me to speak. So I did.
“Hi, I’m Alex,” I said.
“Ishan,” said the man, who was, in spite of the name he had probably chosen for himself, still very white.
“Sorry to bother,” I said. “Um. Are you guys here for the meditation event?”
They were both drinking red wine.
“Oh,” he said, and then he stood up to shake my hand, revealing his tank top that had the words Tranquillo AF written on the front. A tank top, that I later found out, was reserved for ‘paying members of the wellness bungalow’.
“There’s no meditation event tonight,” he said.
“Well…online…,” I said, beginning to correct him, “it said people come here to meditate at 5 pm every Wednesday, and today is Wednesday, and it’s 5 pm,” I finished, sounding like someone who needed to learn how to meditate.
“Well…Alex…” he said, slowing his voice, “I’m the head of this center,” he let that hang for a moment, “and I’m letting you know, that there is no meditation event tonight.”
Ishan stared at me for a beat. Both of us waited for the other to speak.
Realizing that it was unlikely that I’d be able to force him to hold a group meditation on such short notice, I apologized.
“Sorry. I um…I didn’t mean to…,” I broke eye contact, letting him know that I now agreed that he was in charge. “I just moved here and...yeah,” I paused to seem more submissive, “I just figured it’d be a good place to make friends but, yeah...sorry, I...”
And in that single moment, the conversation shifted. I looked like a complete loser who needed help being less alone in the world, and an hour later, I found myself at Ishan’s invite-only wellness potluck, which had, without having been updated online, replaced the weekly meditation.
The evening was exactly what you’d imagine. One full of aura readers, movement coaches, and people who believed that they could taste whether or not something was vegan. One of these taste-testers was the woman who, earlier, had been drinking wine on the floor. A bit into the night she was standing next to me on the patio, telling me about her experiences using drugs to help people open up. I assumed she was one of those self-anointed shamans you see on Netflix documentaries, but,
“Not a shaman,” she said. “I’m a medicine woman.”
Here we go, I thought.
“What type of medicine?” I asked.
“My favorite is bufo,” she said. “It comes from the venom of a toad. It’s the chemical 5-MeO-DMT, if you’ve ever heard of that.”
“Is it like ayahuasca?” I asked.
A tiny blonde woman from across the patio overheard me. She looked up. “You say ayahuasca?” she said, in a thick Russian accent. She had never tried ayahuasca but had thought about it and wanted to tell us why. “I’ve always had stomach problems and my American friends said these problems come from me not talking about my feelings, so I’m trying to learn how to do that.”
The medicine woman and I listened to the plight of the Russian.
“So I went to this ketamine therapy clinic,” she continued. “And during the first session, the therapist asked me about my dad. I told her he was the best man in the world, that I had nothing bad to say about him and that he had no flaws.”
“Lucky you,” I said.
“But then,” the Russian continued, “three weeks into ketamine, I had a whole list of reasons for why he was the most terrible person in the world. Now I’m never speaking to him again.”
The medicine woman stood there, smiling, but silent — as if all of her medicine woman thoughts about repressed memories and inner-child-work and all the other fairy-dust beliefs she probably held about our existence, were somehow being validated by this Russian’s story.
I had a question for the Russian. “But…is it good that you…now…hate your dad?”
“Yes!” she said. “Now I can eat dairy.”
Strange. But, it wasn’t my place to tell her she might’ve gotten that one wrong.
But maybe she’s didn’t. I do, at times, believe that there is a strong connection between the mind and the body. I think a lot of people do. Especially these types of people. These people who I sometimes hate that I love.
The Russian headed back inside, leaving me alone with the medicine woman. I walked to the other table to eat a cookie, which tasted vegan. I took a bite, and as I chewed, I thought about how it compared to normal cookies, made of meat.
Another woman walked out onto the patio. She wore a bright flowy dress and was humming to herself. Her name was Marni.
“Whatcha singing?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s a song I’m working on,” Marni said. “Can I sing it for you?”
I imagined myself saying “No, I’m good,” but I realized I still needed friends and wanted to be perceived as approachable. Others could’ve been watching.
“Yes, of course,” I said.
And then Marni began to sing. I think it was Hawaiian. Or maybe something tribal. I’m still not sure.
I didn’t like it.
Not the song, but the singing. And not the voice, but the act. Because it’s not often that someone starts singing directly at you. Especially someone who you don’t know. And when it happens, it’s cringy and weird.
Maybe it’s the fact that as the conversation disappears, I’m not allowed to speak. Maybe it’s the fact that I view someone who feels comfortable taking up such an abnormally large percentage of the social exchange as unaware, and unstable. An unmoored, song-filled, attention-hungry jester, who’s teetering just an inch away from psychopathy. Or, maybe I just don’t like when a stranger who’s so comfortable being vulnerable demands that I’m so comfortable being intimate.
Marni sang for three minutes and thirteen seconds. And as a knot of social anxiety twisted in my stomach and I wondered how to get her to stop, I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, that the medicine woman had been there for the whole performance, standing in the corner, just smiling. Seemingly proud of Marni, for reasons I will never understand.
Marni finished, and I relaxed.
The medicine woman approached. “That was beautiful,” she said.
I forced a compliment. “You have a great voice.” And though her voice was great, I couldn’t shake the fact that I had hated the past few minutes, where I had stood there, and listened.
Marni walked back inside, and I was left alone with the medicine woman.
“You should learn to be more present, Alex,” she said, probably trying to sell me on one of her frog DMT sessions.
“Mhm,” I said.
It was getting late. I was hungry, post-vegetable potluck. My stomach wasn’t empty, it was just missing something. Something like the sweet, fulfilling taste of death. It was time to leave. I walked back inside the bungalow.
As I was saying my goodbyes to Ishan, the medicine woman walked up to me, perhaps for her final sales pitch.
“It was beautiful having you here with us tonight,” she said. “Take my number,” she said. “If ever you want to talk more, let me know.” And then she looked me right in the eyes and waited for me to respond. I didn’t know what to say to her so I nodded and looked away, turning towards Ishan. But in that turn of the head, that breaking of eye contact, she had caught me — in that split second, where I was unable to tell her “No, I’m good,” or “Yes, I’m open to your witchcraft,” she had felt me question myself as a submissive, unsure-of-himself, imposter who was stuck in his head, talking to a woman who he perceived to be crazy, which, made him feel, regardless of how true it was, that she knew or liked herself more than he ever had or could.
I felt her eyes still fixed on me. And so I turned back to meet her gaze.
“Maybe I should try that frog thing you were talking about,” I said.
She nodded and smiled, but said nothing more. Just acknowledged me, and then Ishan, and then floated away.
“Did you enjoy yourself?” he asked me.
“Very much so,” I said, through lips hungry for social acceptance and raw meat. “Thanks for inviting me.”
I grabbed my shoes and picked up the Tranquillo AF tanktop that lay alongside, knowing that I’d probably someday return, and perhaps be sitting on the floor of the bungalow, drinking red wine while licking the back of a toad.
“Oh also, Alex,” Ishan said, “you should swing by next week. Probably 5 pm. Group meditation.”
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