Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Woman I Love: An Accidental Muse

Across the table, over a glass of red, she said, "Let's go back to the room."
We changed quickly, throwing off our jeans and slipping into Something More Comfortable.
We pulled out our laptops and began to write.

The first time I heard her name, I was hiking with my husband. Dave, my high school best friend, was in town for a computer people conference and asked if he could bring his old university friend along to dinner. I turned her name around on my tongue: Radha. I gave her jet black hair parted down the middle, a saucer-sized bindi, and of course, an accent.*

As she rounded the corner of the Santa Clara Hilton, the first thing I saw were her boots. Stocky, chunky motorcycle boots. Directly above them, a knee length skirt which looked like the gold leaf pallu of a Benarasi sari. Her forehead was disappointingly bare. We ate at an Afghani Restaurant where among the tech talk (I was severely outnumbered in the company of a Googler, an IBMer, and an Oracler), I asked her questions, tried to get to know her. I emailed her that very night, asked her to dinner.

We had a lot in common: we were both immigrants several times over, we shared a love for SRK, and then she dropped the bomb and the reason I had been so attracted to her that first night became clear: she was a writer too.

Years later, she asked if I wanted to go on a writing retreat with her. I pictured wine soaked nights sharing our deepest thoughts, most personal secrets, and maybe some writing on the side. We arrived at a wind swept hostel perched on a cliff in Half Moon Bay. She took the top bunk, opened her laptop and began typing. I went to the bathroom, got some tea, put on wooly socks. From above I heard nothing but thunderous typing. Sighing, I began to write.

Over a divine dinner, I got my wine, some deep thoughts, some secrets. She paid for dinner with a wad of cash she had received at Google for showing up to the Christmas party. (Note: I, as a teacher, had received for Christmas, ants in my classroom from all the candy the kids had eaten behind my back.)

It did not register the first time she said that after dinner there would be more writing.

"Write on a Friday night?"
"It's a writing retreat."
"I hate you."

It was not the last time I said that to her that weekend. After breakfast  the next day, we wrote. After lunch, we wrote. After dinner we wrote. I had snuck along a book and like a petulant child, I took reading breaks, Radha be damned. But every time I did, her typing rattled my conscience from the bunk above. I cursed her, put down my book, pulled out my laptop.

We did it again a few months later. Same hostel, same rules. But this time, it was a tiny bit easier to follow her oppressive schedule.

Our third retreat happened exactly two years ago: MLK Day long weekend. We holed up at the Fort Mason Hostel. More windswept scenery, but this time, we were surrounded by city folk and tourists having fun on their long weekend. She did not notice them. She did not hear the group of 30+ middle schooler stomping down the hall outside our room. She wrote and wrote. I copied her. We wondered why we were getting special treatment at the cozy candle lit restaurant where we dined. We realized it was Valentine's Day weekend. She allowed us a quick chuckle before marching us back to our room.

What happened next was a double edged sword: it was these writing retreats that she engineered that made me realize I could write all day everyday, not when the mood struck or the stars alligned just so. She inadvertently aided my decision to quit my job and write full time. Which in turn ended our writing retreats because I no longer wrote on the weekends. I think often to our waterfront hostels, the marathon writing sessions, a giggle here, a laugh there, well-deserved meals wolfed down between talk of writing, of life.

Last Friday, she accidentally pushed me again, brought the journey she had initiated full circle. I had asked her to read my almost complete manuscript. She texted that she would do it on the weekend. I had been having the hardest time finishing the last chapter, it had dragged on for weeks. Knowing someone was about to read it provided the kick in the pants I needed. I jumped off the comfy couch where I had been wallowing in self pity all morning, bought a fresh pot of black tea, and pounded the last two scenes in five hours straight.

The Bay Area, like any metropolitan city, brings people in and out of my life. Radha stomped into my life in her chunky black boots and threw my world wide open. She did it without fanfare, without expectations, just by being her fabulous self.

*The only time I heard an accent was when she was on the phone with family on one of our retreats. It was the thickest, most wildly exaggerated Indian accent I could have asked for, one I myself use when speaking to family. She hung up and blinked at me, unaware of the switch she had made. It made me love her that much more.