Straight Outta Marin
By April Sinclair
Listen to April read this story at the Big Ugly Review #7 release party:
On the eve of my fortieth birthday, I moved to a small town in rural western Marin County.
"I hope that you're not depending on this place for your social life,” a jovial, white, male postal worker greeted my spring arrival.
I shook my head, "Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco are all less than an hour away,” I reminded him. "I can cross a bridge when I need to.”
I could only shudder at the thought of how few romantic prospects awaited a single, middle-aged, black woman in a town of a little over two thousand. I was one of only four black people residing in Woodacre. The two African American male residents both lived with white women. It didn't take a rocket scientist to do the math. This jolly "Mr. Cholly” who delivered mail could see that I was in the wrong zip code.
The professional movers had even seemed baffled by my choice to relocate from Oakland to Woodacre. "You have our card, in case this doesn't work out,” one of the movers said, skeptically. The other added, "I'm sure that we could even work out a discount.” I was speechless, torn between expressing confidence and yet afraid to burn my bridges.
What brought me to such a place? The truth is that Andy Griffith was one of my favorite TV shows when I was growing up. Like other situation comedies of the time, The Andy Griffith Show contained no regular black characters. Yet the show's almost utopian depiction of the charm and innocence of small town life resonated with me. I was a sista from the South Side of Chicago who had lived in Oakland for fifteen years. But I yearned to find my modern-day Mayberry.
"Are you into white guys or something?” an almost thirty-year-old woman with long blonde hair blurted out, as the two of us soaked in the health club's hot tub. The Women's Fitness Center was in Fairfax, a larger small town, a little over five minutes from Woodacre. I was somewhat taken aback by such a personal question. The fact that we were both completely naked and the question had come out of nowhere didn't help either. I barely knew this Kara woman. Who did she think she was? But, a part of me could understand why someone would wonder why a black woman who didn't have one foot in the grave would move to an area where the pickings were so obviously slim.
I glanced into Kara's blue eyes and shook my head. "I'm not particularly into white guys at all.”
Kara sighed and looked at me skeptically. "Then what are you into?” she demanded.
I sighed with a touch of irritation. I thought that since I wasn't into Kara, it was really none of her business. I was trying to come up with a snappy reply, when Kara launched into a further investigation.
"Are you going to Spirit Rock and studying to become a Buddhist Nun or something?” she asked inquisitively.
Spirit Rock was a large Buddhist Meditation and Retreat Center situated between the two Woodacre exits. A huge rock on the property could be viewed from the road.
I chuckled. "I've only been to one service at Spirit Rock, and I'm not trying to be judgmental, but, I found it boring.”
"You didn't like Spirit Rock?” Kara asked with concern. I knew that for a lot of people in the area, Spirit Rock was somewhat sacred, whether they were Buddhist or not. Wasn't everyone around here at least a little bit Buddhist? It was like being into yoga or drinking soy milk.
"I grew up in a black church,” I explained. "So, I like for folks to make a joyful noise.”
"Spirit Rock has a really nice vibe, though,” Kara said.
I nodded politely. "I do like Sprit Rock, don't get me wrong. I love to drive past that huge gray rock. And, it's in a beautiful, natural setting. But when I go to church, I'm not just looking for a nice vibe. I want a spirited sermon and gospel singing. I'm looking for a nice vibe when I smoke a joint.”
"Well, Spirit Rock is an awesome place to go and get high,” Kara winked.
I smiled. "Funny you should say that. Truth be told, my housemates and I have been up there a couple of times and one time we got high there. It was truly a spiritual experience,” I reminisced. "It's so peaceful up there and quiet and relaxed. All you can hear is the sound of the rushing water from the stream nearby. And seeing the monks tiptoeing around in their robes is so sweet. The only hard part is you have to be quiet, even though you're high and you wanna bust out laughing.”
"Yeah, that's when you know it's time to leave.”
"Or else go farther into the woods,” I continued, remembering the three of us running through the trees, holding our sides in an effort to contain our laughter.
"So, what, white guys just don't do it for you?” Kara asked, suddenly.
"They're OK,” I sighed. "I just don't have a preference for them. I don't have a thing for them. But, I'll do what I gotta do. You know what I mean.”
Kara smiled. "That's good, you're not going to shrivel up, at least. I was beginning to worry about you.”
"Look, I know that my options are limited. But I'm very resourceful. I'm going to do something with somebody at some point. So don't you worry your pretty little head,” I smiled as I climbed out of the steamy tub.
I'd recently ended a relationship with a San Franciscan on a very friendly note. We even occasionally still had sex. But, I thought the fact that I was a full time writer who worked at home would make it harder to meet someone new. Luckily, I was a best-selling author. So I went on national book tours, had speaking engagements and attended literary and social events. On the road, I occasionally received romantic attention from fans, both male and female, mostly in places where I didn't want to live.
I wasn't rich by Marin County standards. That was one reason that I had roommates. The other reason was that I wanted to live in community with other artists. Wasn't I almost living a fairy tale existence? At least I was, until the relentless winter rains compounded my lack of dependable, intimate companionship. And I suddenly began to experience bouts of undiagnosed, and untreated, depression.
But what right did I have I to complain? I was lucky enough to be able to make a living as a writer. I had wonderful, although bridge-challenged, friends. My family was two thousand miles away, but close-knit and supportive. I was becoming acquainted with my communicative, artistically talented, housemates and several women from the fitness center. What more could I expect?
Not to mention that Woodacre was all so lovely and laid back. Dogs literally stretched out in the middle of the road. Deer walked around like they owned the place. And it wasn't unusual to see people riding by on horseback. In fact, there was a ranch down the road that had a stable of horses. So I counted my blessings. I'd chosen to live in an area that allowed me to create, while being surrounded by awesome natural beauty. I even had the pleasure of driving through a breathtaking stretch of redwood trees to reach my street. Our backyard was a gardener's paradise, thanks to one of my housemates who'd cultivated it. It was all so charming. But wouldn't my charmed life be even more charming if I had someone special to share it with?
I found myself sitting solo at restaurants and going to movies and to hear music alone, more often than not. Late one night, I left a Fairfax club after listening to a jazz band. I savored the memory of the music as I walked toward my car, which was parked on the town square. Three obviously inebriated people — a woman and two guys — crossed my path. When the three were a short distance from me, the woman turned around and waved a clenched fist into the air and shouted at the top of her lungs, "Black Power! Black Power! Black Power!”
I felt stiff and awkward as her voice rang out into the chilly night air. Surely, I was being mocked. But was this racism or just plain weird? The two guys shushed the woman, as if they were either embarrassed, or just simply not as drunk as she was. I couldn't tell if they feared what I might say or do, or were actually concerned for my feelings. Maybe they were simply ashamed to be seen with an idiot who was making a spectacle of herself.
Should I have pumped my fist into the air and shouted, "Right on Sista?” And thereby played it off as a joke? But I didn't want the joke to appear to be on me. The only dignified response seemed to be to ignore the woman. Yet I resented the power she had over me to make my hand shake nervously as I fumbled with my keys. Was this woman just a drunk idiot, who would regret or even forget what she'd done in the morning? Or was she a straight-up racist whose inhibitions had been lowered by alcohol? I comforted myself with the fact that the woman had no visible support for her condescending outburst. Even her friends appeared to be embarrassed by her as they hustled her into the car and sped away.
I sat gripping the steering wheel as I stared into the dark, quiet night. I wasn't even sure how I felt, or how I was supposed to feel. Should I be feeling black rage? A part of me wanted to become invisible. Wasn't that a natural reaction to being thrust into such a glaring spotlight? I'd seen other passersby scurrying to their cars like they also wanted to disappear. How could this be happening in their charming, progressive hamlet? But ultimately, I was alone in my blackness.
I wished I weren't alone. I believed that if I'd had a man or even a woman at my side, I would've been less of a target. If I'd been with a white person, the outburst probably wouldn't even have occurred. If I'd been with a black man, the woman might've thought twice. Even if I'd been with another black woman, there might've been safety in numbers. Regardless, at least I would've had someone to share the experience with.
I drove silently down the lonely stretch of road, beyond cell phone reception, past the towering White's Hill, and into the tulle fog-covered, San Geronimo Valley. I turned left before Spirit Rock and headed through the dark grove of Redwood trees. I wished that I had someone to crawl into bed with and hold me tonight. But instead, I tiptoed quietly into the dark old renovated farmhouse, careful not to wake anyone, and ended up holding myself.