Illustrations by Jim Krewson
I am a Buddhist. I have mentioned this before in VICE, last December. The story was about how I went to Bali to make offerings to Shiva, to ask for a man, after hearing my guru make this suggestion to a Chinese woman at an informal gathering in California.
A piece of advice my guru gave directly to me around the same time was to “write crap”. He said, “Even Wong Kar-wai makes commercials. Then he has the money to make things like In the Mood for Love.”
I took his advice and proposed a column for VICE.com. In it I would interview people in the form of tarot-card readings. I didn’t think this was total crap – I had often thought that this would be a fun column – but I proposed and wrote it (often with great embarrassment because I am not psychic at all and I can be a truly terrible interviewer with strangers or people who I sense don’t like me). Also, the format was just strange and finally, sensibly, VICE killed the column.
But one way or another, after the column ended, I stayed in touch by email with one person I had interviewed: Clancy Martin. I’d interviewed him because I thought he had captured – through the character of the father in his novel How to Sell – the vertigo of authentic spiritual practice. This vertigo is impossible to communicate. And yet he had done it. He had very nearly done it, rather; it is my guess most readers of his novel saw the character of his father – a mystic who communicated on the astral plane, a close student of Sri Satya Sai Baba and a schizophrenic who treated mental hospitals as hotels – as nothing other than a crazy man. I did not see it like that. What I saw was a man who did not know that you can’t talk about your spiritual life. People do it, but they sound stupid and crazy, and – for those who’ve had authentic experiences – they even go crazy, or worse.
Clancy and I spoke on the phone for the interview. I was, at that time, dating this good-looking man who lived in Seattle, who had some strange psychology I didn’t really understand. Maybe when I say this it will be very clear to you, but he only wanted to see me about once every two weeks. What he wanted to do with me was text me, a lot. It was pretty Tiny Furniture.
I would always drink before the interviews because I am shy, and tarot makes me nervous. Also, about 60 percent of the time, the cards would fall and make no sense. I had switched decks at the outset of the column – from Crowley to Rider-Waite – and had assumed the cards were all basically the same, but some aren’t. There were about 30 cards in the deck that I didn’t know.
But Clancy’s reading made sense. It said he was worn out with his relationship and wanted to pursue something higher. That something-higher card was a spiritual card, but I was reluctant to say that to him, so I downplayed that and up-played work. The cards also said he was having trouble letting go of the relationship because he loved the woman and because the sex was tremendously good. I didn’t feel comfortable saying that so I put it more modestly. In short, the cards told him not to be in a relationship, and they told him again and again to work, work, work.
We emailed a bit after the interview came out. Once he wrote to tell me that the reading, so far, was accurate; he and his girlfriend had broken up. I told him I’d broken up mine too, but it was much different. I wrote him when Harper’s killed an essay I had travelled around the world to report and worked two years to write. We switched to texting in the way things go. Sometimes he would write me in the morning, “Whatcha doing?” and I’d say, “Mantras.” My mum and I practiced two or three hours each morning at that time, along with our friend Patience. He asked me what my mantra was, and I said maybe it’s better not to say. He told me his and said it meant “God is at the center of your being.” He also said he didn’t really think it meant that; he thought it meant something you couldn’t quite explain.
To make a long story short, he flew me to Kansas City about five months after we had the interview. By that time we were already in love. When my week in KC ended, he flew to Seattle and stayed in a hotel for five days. Then my mum was offered a free meditation retreat in Whistler, Canada, and so he came and stayed with me a few days. We flew back to Kansas City together for maybe ten days, and then he flew back to Seattle and for five nights he stayed in a two-room apartment with my mother and me.
I have to explain something before I go on. At one point, earlier, Clancy had asked me to come stay with him; he was at the Carlyle in New York for four nights. I got the mistaken impression he was wealthy.
He was asking me what I wanted for my birthday, the very first time he came to town. We had known each other in person for ten days. There was something I wanted a lot – a bracelet by Pamela Love that I had seen at Barneys – and after a lot of nonsense (“Tell me, what letter does it start with?”), he got me to tell him what it was. We went to Barneys and, sweat rolling down his forehead, he bought it. I never take it off.
We were upstairs in the CO-OP section. Clancy was thinking of writing a piece about up-and-coming women jewelry designers, and he asked if I would come downstairs with him and look in the high-end cases. We did. He actually has a lot more interest in jewelry than I do, so I was wandering away from the Monique Pean counter when he said, “Amie.”
I don’t know why, but I kept walking toward Kiehl’s. I like to spray my face with their acai astringent. He said, “Amie.” And then, “Amie Barrodale.”
At this time, I already knew I was going to marry him, and so did he, but we hadn’t talked about it and we both sort of imagined it would come in a year or two.
“Can you try on this ring for me?”
It was petrified boar tusk, surrounded by very small diamonds. To me it had looked plain, earlier, when I had been at the display, but on my hand – Clancy has a very good eye – I saw that it was magic.
No, of course he could not buy the ring right there, but when I gave it back to the salesman something had changed. Clancy proposed on the sidewalk outside the store, and I accepted. Later in Kansas City he proposed again, with a ring. It is a temporary ring, a beautiful one that was my great-grandmother’s. He could’ve bought the Monique Pean – he had intended to – but as his brother is in the jewelry business, I asked him to be practical and knock it off. By some coincidence, I happened to have a very crazy cousin who recently died, and among the things he left in storage – a gun he had bought to kill himself, a ten-place-setting box of sterling-silver flatware by Gorham – was a piece of ivory tusk. A smiley face was carved into it.
This story may be going long, so I’ll just say Clancy mistakenly thought I had invited him to join me for a monthlong abisheka on the Tibetan border. (I can’t explain what an abisheka is. If you want to find out, go to one.) This was before we had met in person, and he had immediately accepted. So now, it seemed like, “OK, I’ll ask Rinpoche to marry us.”
As a part of how we funded our trip, Clancy sold an article to Men’s Journal about the other side of his father. He had written about the conventional view; he sold an article on the unconventional – the possibility his father was a spiritual man. The article would explore the possibility that his father’s spiritual experiences were authentic.
Originally, for the article, Clancy had wanted to fulfill his father’s dying request by throwing his ashes into the Ganges. But he had lost the ashes. Before our trip, I talked to some lamas and they said it was OK; he could use any personal item of his father’s. What he chose was very precious, but that story is his to say or not say.
We went to Benares for the ceremony and arranged for Drubgyud Tenzin Rinpoche to perform the rites. Afterward, when Rinpoche had gone to class (he is learning Pali), our guide said that the Ganges is sacred to Shiva. He told us the story: It would have flooded the world, but someone asked Shiva to stop it, and so Shiva dammed it with his head or tied his hair in a knot. I could not entirely understand, but a small part of me – thinking of Bali – thought, “Hmm.”
Our guide said next we’d go to the most important Shiva shrine. He called it “the number one” and said, “You do have your passports, don’t you?”
We’d left them at our hotel.
“Well, that’s OK,” he said. “We can go to the number two.”
I said I wanted to go back and get our passports. Both Clancy and the guide resisted me. I can be a bit stubborn. I put my foot down. We changed our program and went to Sarnath, where the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths. We skipped the silk shop. We went back to the hotel for four hours, and then our guide came and got us.
“I’m sorry to ask,” he said, “you do have your passports?”
I think the appropriate way to make offerings at a temple is to bring one flower, to simply lay it down. However, I grew up in Texas. My mother and I were not rich and we were not poor, but my grandfather had new oil money, and he liked to spend it, to flash it, to walk into the most expensive store in Texas and shout at the ten women in his party, “If you see something you like, BUY it. We’re here to do some shopping!”
It humiliated me then, but 20 years later I have the very same Donald Trump mentality when I enter a shrine. It embarrasses people. I can’t help it. I’m like a Chinese-restaurant owner in that way, so as we approached the temple, I said to Clancy in a low voice, “Can you do something for me?”
“Can you please let me get a lot of offerings, even when it makes them mad or embarrasses you?”
“Do you promise?”
He nodded. “But just flowers, OK? No fruit and incense and lights and all that.”
I agreed to the terms.
At this temple – the number one – you need a pandit to take you through, not a guide, because “it is not open to tourists.” Also, our guide told us, we would have to lie. When asked, “Do you believe in the Hindu faith?” we would have to say yes.
Actually, we did not have to do that, but just as predicted, we did irritate our pandit, who had bought us each a modest offering basket. He shouted at us and at the flower-garland vendor, as Clancy spent $20 on garlands and lotus flowers.
Inside the temple was Shiva’s lingam. It was behind a gate, and a pandit there said prayers over it as lines of devotees offered whitish water (below the lingam was a pool of this offered water, more than several bathtubs, I would guesstimate) and flowers. There were so many people, but the line moved quickly. Clancy and I slid the flowers from the basket into the water together.
One person was happy: the pandit. He smiled and stopped us, putting a garland around each of our necks. For Clancy two, for me one.
Each night at sunset on the Ganges ghat, Hindus gather and seven Brahmins say prayers. We stayed for a lot of that. It was beautiful but temperatures were high (maybe 104 degrees Fahrenheit), and it had been a long day. We took our garlands down and put them into the Ganges. As we came back up the steps, our guide pointed to a small room.
“That’s a very important Shiva temple, too,” he said. “The lingam inside is 1,000 years old.”
Clancy had no small bills for offerings. It is impossible to get change, and I knew I couldn’t get away with Donald Trump spirituality twice. But I wanted to go. Our guide read the situation and went and bought us each a ten-rupee offering. We went inside.
I think going to India to get married by a guru after you have known someone a month is about the craziest thing you can do. But how about I do you one better. Clancy and I made our offerings. I went in first, but a pandit caught Clancy at the door, washed his hands, brought him to the lingam, told him to touch it and then sat him down and gave him a long blessing. He wrapped a red and saffron bracelet elegantly around Clancy’s right wrist. Two or three other devotees were in the temple, and they asked me about myself and made an expression of sympathy because I had not received this holy man’s attention. I could see from their devotion and from his appearance that he was authentic. I also felt he was special. When Clancy joined me he saw my face and made me a bracelet too, more cursorily, so I would not feel left out.
I sat beside Clancy and said, “Should we have him marry us?”
Clancy said yes. He got down before the man and asked, “Will you marry us?”
We both kneeled before him, he said a simple prayer in English, and baffled we came out – 15 minutes had passed, the prayers were over – and walked the mile to our car in the throngs, dazed.
Clancy said, “I feel like I have taken a drug.”
“I know,” I said. “What happened?”
Here I had come all the way to India to be married by my guru and… Well, I still could, I reasoned. I put it out of my mind.
The next day, Clancy and I stayed at the hotel. We went for a dip. We ordered Diet Cokes and Clancy asked the server the meaning of his name.
The server’s English wasn’t good, but he explained it was the name of the man who had prayed to Shiva to stem the Ganges’s flow. Clancy asked the server about the tattoo on his forehead, and he told him what that was. Seeing our interest was unfeigned, the server said, “You can say the Shiva mantra: Om Namo Shivaya.”
Clancy turned to me: “That’s my mantra. I’ve said it a hundred thousand times if I’ve said it once.”
“How come you never told me?”
“I did – remember, the professor asked me to translate it.”
“But you said it means, ‘May God make everything go right.’”
“What does it mean?”
“Well, I don’t know. But for us, Namo means ‘I take refuge in.’ I take refuge in Shiva.”
Clancy – who has many times suffered my theory on his father, whom I never met, of course – said, “Maybe you better not write about this.”
If you'd like to send these lovely VICE newlyweds a gift, we registered Amie and Clancy at Amazon.com. We chose coffee, because they are both lazy and we bought them a Nespresso machine. Amie added a cat-themed tea set, naturally. –The Editors
We argued about the wedding rings in the back of a truck on a narrow cliffside road from Kalpa to Kaza. The Spiti River was far below us. We passed an enormous dam-construction project.
“See that?” I said. “All of this will be covered by the river one day. Even this road.”
“How do you know that?”
“The rock. Look at the way the rock is scored. See all those holes?”
I didn’t know, and later I learned I was wrong: We were on the new road. The old road would one day be underneath the river, but this road was dynamited out above the expected waterline. Our driver didn’t speak any English so I didn’t have to worry about being corrected.
Amie couldn’t stop looking at our hands. She held my hand with hers and then took her hand away. Then she held her hand next to my hand. Then she extended her ring finger and watched my ring finger. Then she held her fingers tightly together.
“I love your rings,” she said. “Do you like my ring?”
“Do you wish you had a silver ring too?”
We’d made two trips to the jeweler in Kalpa. In the first round, he’d made us two gold rings, which Amie had wanted to like but didn’t. So the next day we called the jeweler to our little hotel, and in the dining room the owner of the hotel explained what we wanted. By the expression on the jeweler’s face and the way he nodded his head I could see his profits shrinking. But I didn’t feel bad about it because I knew he had overcharged us. They were simple half-round gold bands rolled out and soldered at the ends. Any jeweler could make them in an hour.
When we went to his house to get the second set of bands – this time I’d asked him to make me a band from silver, too, so that I’d have a band to represent my daughters and Amie’s mother, to wear next to my wedding ring – we sat on the floor of his one-room home and haggled. According to the plan Amie had devised before we came in, she pretended to be unhappy with the rings. We couldn’t speak, so he entered numbers into a little calculator and showed them to me and then I punched away at the calculator and showed it to him. We settled on a price. It was a much better price than what we had paid the day before.
Outside I asked Amie whether she liked the new, fully round rings. They were much heavier than the first set and looked handmade. The colour was also richer. (This set cost twice as much as the first, but the jeweler’s profit was much less.) The rings she hadn’t liked had been the kind of band you might see in any jewelry store in the States.
“I love them,” she said. Her sincerity was obvious. She was excited and kept admiring the ring on her hand.
“Let’s wear them,” she said. “Let’s keep them on.”
“You want to?”
She nodded. She understood she was making me happy. All through the trip there was an understanding between us that I wanted to get married more than she did. It was one of those couples’ unspoken understandings. We had decided we weren’t going to wear the rings until her guru married us, even though we had already married in an impromptu ceremony in a Shiva temple on the banks of the Ganges in Benares.
Now, in the car, the next morning, she liked my rings but not her own.
We’d both taken Valium for the drive – it’s an excellent antinausea drug, and I take it daily for my alcoholism – but our stomachs were still queasy. We were in the Himalayas, above the tree line, in the rocks and the dust, and the driver switched back and forth, up and down, on the bumpy road.
We’d been traveling through India on a Buddhist pilgrimage for about two weeks and were on the way to the monastery, where, if things went according to plan, her guru would marry us a second time.
Like me, Amie has a great love of expensive things. I had first proposed to Amie because of the ring we’d seen in Barneys –it looked so natural on her hand and we both understood something about our future together when we saw it on her finger – and now again it was the rings, and we were married but we weren’t married, just as we’d been engaged but not engaged, because I couldn’t afford to buy her the ring I’d first proposed with, just outside the luxury department store.
The second time I proposed was at a Mexican food place in Seattle, on the patio, where I was watching the bar to see whether I could sneak a drink. I tried to talk her into having margaritas.
The third time I was on both knees on Broadway Boulevard in Kansas City, outside the jeweler’s where we had her great-grandmother’s ring sized to fit on her ring finger. Amie was embarrassed and told me to get up. She said yes all three times, so I’m not sure why I kept proposing. I suppose it was because I still had not purchased a proper engagement ring for her. Amie fell asleep on the road with her head in my lap. We had stopped for lunch at a roadside campsite where the bathroom was at the back of a tent furnished with a bed and a bedside table and a lamp – a very nice tent, we later understood. She had insisted that we find an ancient monastery at Nako that was famous for its 1,000-year-old Buddhist religious paintings, called thangkas. The driver and I understood – silently, between us – that if we stopped at the temple we would never make it to Kaza before night. It was not the sort of road either of us wanted to drive after dark. So he did not look over his shoulder to wonder whether he should look for the temple, and I did not tap him on the shoulder to remind him that we were supposed to find the temple.
The driver honked his horn. In the mountains you honk your horn before every turn. As we made the curve he swerved to avoid a truck.
Amie sat up. She blinked and took a sip of water.
“You slept through a pretty part of the drive,” I said. “It’s beautiful up here.”
There were waterfalls, icecaps and strange towering rock formations that looked like the standing crypts of giants.
“I was tired.”
We were both exhausted, even after our rest in Shimla and Kalpa. We’d been driving and driving. We were also both writing, and we hadn’t stopped moving since we’d come to India. And we were newly engaged, and we’d quit drinking a couple of weeks before. A problem we had in common is that we did everything at once. We are both impatient, hot-tempered people.
“I really like your rings,” she said.
So, I thought, she doesn’t like the second set of rings.
“It’s not that I don’t love my ring, I do. It’s just that I really love yours. Do you honestly think it looks nice on my hand?”
She extended her hand again.
“It’s so elegant, Amie. It looks beautiful on your finger. Because of your long, narrow fingers. Look at it.”
“You’re right. Oh. I don’t know.”
She thought I was trying to sell her.
This is not about the rings, I thought. For her it was, but also it was not. It wasn’t that it was confused in her head; the ring and the marriage were tied up together. In the 12th century many intellectuals and mystics saw the world as wholly allegorical. God’s text. Amie can be that way.
At last we arrived in Kaza. I had suggested that we stay a couple of extra days in Kalpa, where our Swiss-chalet-style hotel room had floor-to-ceiling windows and tremendous views of the mountains. So we were two days late, and our hotel room at the Parasol in Kaza had been given away. The Parasol struck me as a friendly place. We needed that. Kaza was dusty and frightening. Dogs barked in the streets, and the town was desolate. On the face of a mountain someone had written Om mani padme hung like graffiti in 100-foot-tall letters. It was a lonely place made of concrete and I felt like if I got sick, they would put me onto a cot and carry me to a different hotel. The one we were taken to was bare and grubby. I lost my temper. It was Amie who had brought me to India. This was all her idea. Even the marriage she’d reluctantly agreed to that hadn’t happened yet.
In bed I said, “Listen. If you’ll forgive me for missing the thangkas, I’ll forgive you for not liking your ring.”
“What? I never said anything about not liking my ring.”
“You heard me.”
There was a knock on the door. A boy came in with the four teas I had ordered. I asked him if they had fresh lime soda.
“With salt, sir?”
We continued the fight until our sodas arrived.
“You are always saying I don’t want to marry you. I do want to marry you. I’m wearing the ring, aren’t I?”
“You’re wearing it, but you don’t like it.”
“I never said I didn’t like it. You said I didn’t like it. I do like it. I’m getting used to it.”
“Oh, that’s good. I’m glad you’re getting used to it. Obviously you love it.”
The fresh lime sodas smelled like bad eggs.
“They have sulfur in the salt here,” Amie said.
“I know,” I said, though I hadn’t known. I drank my sodas quickly. “What do you want to do?”
“I want to check my email,” she said. We hadn’t checked our email in more than a week.
It was night. “The email place will be closed,” I said.
“You say that like you know it, but you don’t know. I’m going to sleep. I’m taking a shower and then going to sleep.”
“Fine. Good for you. Have a nice shower, Amie.”
In the middle of the night we rolled onto each other, and in the morning we made up.
The next day we made it to the campsite below the monastery. We rode in a jeep alongside a deeply suntanned woman wearing a kind of robe, her hair in long braids, with cloth bags and dozens of crystals hanging from her neck. She waved at every Tibetan we passed on the mountain road, smiling with an aura of hysteria. She could have been from any country in the world – if she’d been a dog, she would have been the perfect mutt – but Amie guessed she was French. She was wearing a lot of makeup.
“Classic woo-woo,” I whispered to Amie. The crystal lady rolled down her window and shouted out greetings in Tibetan. “Blissed out,” I continued. “That’s what my dad always called people like that. God save us. Tell me they won’t all be like that.”
Amie shrugged. If she doesn’t have anything nice to say, she tends not to say anything at all, unless it’s to your face. Then she says whatever she damn well pleases, most of the time. I’ve seen her throw a chair at a woman who angered her.
When we arrived at the camp, things went from bad to worse. Our deluxe tent leaned to one side and was full of dust. The Himalayas stood all around us – bare rock and sand and ice. The campsite was desperate, out of place and barely hanging on. We pushed the beds in our tent together and piled our luggage in a corner. Amie was in a hurry to get to the gompa (temple). We asked Bishan, the short, handsome, muscular Tibetan mountain guide who ran the camp, how to get there. The other Westerners had already arrived and were up at the temple.
“You could wait until tomorrow,” he explained. “I could make you something to eat.”
“No,” we said.
“You should eat something,” he said. Then he pointed, showing us how to take the high path to the monastery. “Or you could take the road. There’s a shortcut when you get below the monastery. But it’s steep.”
“We’d like a walk,” I said. Amie had bought hiking shoes at REI and I had boots we’d found on sale at APC. I fell four times and was told by several people: “You should have hiking boots like Amie’s.” I’d agree.
After half an hour we arrived at the monastery. We climbed a wall and saw hundreds of Tibetans sitting on the ground in the hot sun. A voice was broadcasting from loudspeakers, reading quickly in Tibetan or Dzongkha.
“That’s Rinpoche’s voice,” Amie said. (It’s an honorific, pronounced, “Rin-poh-shay.”) Rinpoche was the man we had come to see. There was no reason for us to be here other than Rinpoche. We would not have come to India if Rinpoche had not been teaching for three weeks at the gompa.
“Do we just go in, or?” The temple door was closed.
“No. I’m not sure,” Amie said. “Why don’t we just stay here?”
We sat in the sun. A tall, middle-aged Australian wearing aviators with leather flaps around the lenses approached us and said, “Eh, you know the sun can be murder here. Up in the mountains.”
I was annoyed. We moved, and I made a point of leaning my face back into the sun. I needed sun on my face.
Then the reading stopped, and Amie said, “Let’s see if we can go in,” and we stood on the steps as the doors opened. I stood beside her and pressed my palms together, as she did, and bowed my head. I noticed her looking up over her hands. There was a man about my own height, bald, about 50, unusually handsome, with eyes that seemed to see whatever he looked at – in this case, me – as opposed to the usual eyes that look while thinking, Here I am, looking at this and Later I will eat a dumpling and I wanna rock your gypsy soul/ Just like way back in the days of old. He was wrapped in a scarlet robe, passing us on the steps. He looked at Amie curiously and then looked at me and then looked back at Amie and scowled.
“That was Rinpoche,” she said, after he was gone. “What do you make of that?” She was smiling, because it was the first time she had seen her guru in a year – this was a man she’d loved since she was 11 years old, a kind of father to her – but underneath her smile was disappointment, suspicion or relief. I didn’t know which. Maybe it was all three. She was off the hook. But whatever he was telling her about me, it wasn’t good.
A few nights after we arrived I had a dream. I asked a monk whether I could talk to Rinpoche. He told me he was sorry, but Rinpoche was very busy. I asked again, and he said no, again. Then I asked a third time and said I just needed two minutes. Rinpoche came over.
“You want to know why I won’t marry you and Amie.” I nodded, and he continued, “It’s hard to explain.”
I said, “OK,” and started to walk away, but he told me to wait. He turned to his attendant and asked whether he could see his necklace. I understood it was the necklace I’d seen on the strange, blissed-out woman from before.
The attendant said, “I can go and get it.”
“No need,” Rinpoche said, and he noticed the bracelet I had given to Amie for her birthday a few months before. It has 14 quartz crystals protruding from it like teeth.
Rinpoche said people were sort of like the bracelet. He pointed at it and said, “My Amie is like this.” All the crystals lit up but two. “You just have these lit up,” he said, and he looked at me very gently and kindly. Only a few crystals illuminated. He said, “I’m trying to figure out whether it will be too hard for her.”
When I told Amie the next morning she cried, and then she said it was all just a dream.
Several days passed. It was lunchtime, and we were sitting outside the temple in a courtyard with our legs dangling off a high stone wall, eating curried vegetables out of borrowed ceramic teacups. The crystal-necklace lady from the first day, who had rolled her window down to wave to Tibetans, sat next to us. We hadn’t seen her since day one. Amie told her she’d been in my dream. She asked to hear what the dream was. When I told her, she said, “I’ll give you both a crystal,” and began untying two.
We wanted to give her something in return. After she had walked away, Amie said, “I should give her my gao.” Her gao was a silver locket, about the size of a small pocket watch, that she’d worn ever since we’d met. It was filled with relics. I said, “Your GAO? You can’t give her your gao.” But oddly, I wanted her to. She hesitated, then insisted. She took it from her neck. I ran and gave it to the woman.
The next day, our new friend Jimmy, a gentle Taiwanese biochemist in expensive blue jeans, asked us to lunch. He was staying at the camp and had introduced himself to us the first night.
“I can’t stand to watch you eat out of teacups anymore,” he said. We liked him because he was funny, kind, intelligent, and ordinary, and so we told him we had asked Rinpoche to marry us. He asked if he could give us a gift. “I’ve been carrying this around in my pocket for a couple of years now,” he said. It was a golden gao, ringed with diamonds, holding emerald, ruby, and sapphire cabochons. I used to be a jeweler so I knew its approximate value, something around $10,000. I put it on Amie’s neck.
Later, we fought in the tent.
“Look, it wasn’t me who asked Lama Jowo and Lama Godi if we should get married,” Amie said. “It was you and my mum.”
We fought in the tiny town outside the monastery, in the only place that served food.
“I thought you were certain. If we’re both uncertain, why are we doing this?”
We fought on the mountainside.
“I can’t believe my destiny is being controlled by a man I’ve never even met.”
We fought in the gompa, on paper notes we passed back and forth.
“Did you or did you not ask Powo” – one of Rinpoche’s attendants – “to ask Rinpoche to marry us again?”
Amie had emailed Rinpoche asking him to marry us and also approached him from two other channels. But I had not seen what she had written, and I did not know what sort of reservations she might have expressed. The fact that she wasn’t insisting in the way that I wanted us to insist was further evidence of her lack of commitment to the whole project, as far as I could tell. We both knew the wedding in Benares had been a pretend wedding.
We’d now been in India for almost a month, and to me it looked like the wedding was not going to happen. More important, it was becoming obvious to me that only one of us wanted it to happen. The last two times I’d been married my brides had been enthusiastic – they were insistent, even. Both bride and groom are supposed to be enthusiastic and insistent. That was the idea. Now I was getting married for a third time to a woman who didn’t want to marry me by a Tibetan Buddhist lama who was ignoring me. Or rather, I wasn’t.
Praying in the temple, I made a deal with Rinpoche. He sat at the front of the gompa, in a high seat on a dais, on red cushions, reading from a 14th-century Bhutanese Buddhist text, with an enormous golden statue of the Buddha behind him.
“Rinpoche,” I prayed – I was praying to Rinpoche for hours at a time because there was nothing else to do and we were there from six in the morning until five or six at night – “if you will marry us, I will tell Amie the truth about everything.”
I had in mind one particularly ugly lie I had told her: “You know you have a reputation. For being easy.” I told her this vicious lie while drunk. I had fallen off the wagon just before we first met, when we were still texting and phoning, and I didn’t remember telling the lie. She had mentioned it to me many times since, but I had never corrected it. I had tried to soften my lie in the cowardly way I have of backing away from things I do or say in a blackout. But I had never found the balls to tell her the truth.
That day, sitting in the temple, I continually asked Rinpoche: “What do I have to do to marry her?” And I continually heard what I already knew: “Don’t lie. Don’t cheat. Don’t drink.”
I understood what I had to tell her. But I didn’t want to. That evening on the hike back to camp from the temple, there on the mountainside where we had admired the wildflowers and fought and picked our way across mud and mountain streams like frightened, clumsy children, with me falling down and sliding toward a harrowing drop on my ass and my hands, I heard a voice in my head the way you sometimes do. I tried to negotiate with the voice, because Amie and I were already arguing again.
“Now is the worst time you could tell her,” I told myself. “Wait until she loves you again. She’s already angry. Don’t add insult to injury.”
“You better tell her. Otherwise, don’t expect anything.”
I stopped her and told her that I had lied. I also told her why I had told her. She forgave me. We stood on the side of the mountain and held each other. I was still surprised that I had told her. The sun was going down, and when we made it back to camp it was time to go to bed. I don’t think we ate anything, and I don’t remember whether we made love.
Those first nights and mornings in Pin Valley we made love so often – really trying our best to be quiet – that a friend in a neighbouring tent complained. But the longer we were there, with the bad food and the bathing in buckets and the strange bugs and the constant dust and the hours and hours and hours in the monastery, the less energy we had for anything except writing and fighting.
Then we got sick. First Amie had a sore throat, then a high fever. She could barely move. The other Buddhists in the camp offered their hippie remedies: Chinese herbs, cinnamon from an Australian homeopath, rosemary oil. The camp leader, Bishan, sold me a jar of Himalayan berry distillation for $20: a huge sum by Indian standards.
Amie just got sicker. She couldn’t leave the tent and had to pee in a bucket. She couldn’t eat and lived on bottled water, weak Indian painkillers and the local apple juice. Then I caught it. One night she said, “Your skin burns to touch,” and I said, “Take me and put me in the river. I have to cool off.” This went on for days. We wobbled around the campsite while the others were gone, asking Bishan’s boys for garlic soup (available), chicken broth (unavailable) and plain rice (abundant).
At last Amie had had enough. We sent a note with Jimmy to Rinpoche. Amie wrote it. It said: “Rinpoche. Clancy and I are sick. Should we stay here or go to Bir? – Amie.” (Bir, in the Himalayan foothills, is where Rinpoche keeps a home and would be meeting the foreigners to give a few days of teaching in English after the Tibetan training at the monastery was complete.)
The next morning, Jimmy called from outside the tent. He unzipped the door.
“How you guys doing?”
“Oh, you know, Jimmy. About the same.” By this time everyone believed we had the plague. The Australian homeopath had concluded it was malaria.
“I got an answer for you back from Rinpoche. I think it’s good news? He said you should go to Bir.”
Jimmy looked at us fearfully. I saw he expected us to be devastated. Amie was disappointed, but I was enormously relieved. In Bir they had hotels. They had restaurants. They had the internet, convenience stores and coffee. They had a doctor. It was a town of a few hundred people, but it was civilization.
Then Jimmy added, “Oh, and Rinpoche said when he gets there, then he will marry you.”
Amie burst into tears.
On the day he married us in Bir, Rinpoche talked about Shiva (I am transcribing from notes Amie took on her phone):
“When Avalokites´vara was a baby bodhisattva he said, ‘May my name alone inspire people. May it liberate them.’ And it is like that. In China, in the middle of some Taoist shrine, you will see a statue of Avalokites´vara. Some people may disagree with me, but one of his manifestations is Shiva.
“I guess, Shiva sat at Buddha’s feet, and he said, ‘Teach me something new, teach me something that you never taught anybody else.’ He sat and said, ‘When I stand up I want to be enlightened.’
“Buddha said, ‘OK,’ and he brought Uma” – the goddess who would become Shiva’s lover – “and he said, ‘First you have to fall in love.’ Because when you are in love, everything is pink, and then you are a perfect vehicle for the Tantra.
“So Shiva stood up, pinned the moon into his hair, wrapped a cobra like a scarf, and went out to find his market how to sell himself. And his market is desire.”
If you'd like to send these lovely VICE newlyweds a gift, we registered Amie and Clancy at Amazon.com. We chose coffee, because they are both lazy and we bought them a Nespresso machine. Amie added a cat-themed tea set, naturally. –The Editors