My first marriage proposal came from "Sage, the Chariot Man." That’s what he called himself. He was six feet tall with dreadlocks, a messy nest of blond beard and the most muscular legs I had ever seen, live. He was a hippie wizard-looking dude in frayed shorts, layers of indigo linen and hemp, a turquoise pendant on a hairy chest, a paddy hat pointing up to the Sun. Sage was kind and wild and magnetic. His direct gaze was cushioned by crow’s feet. His smile could clear clouds. His knuckles were blushed, chapped and peeling. He blew on a horn.
I knew him for fifteen minutes but I’m not going to lie: I sort of fell in love with him. The way you fall in love with a good mountain view.
It was my second semester at Ithaca College and Bea (that's what I'll call her) was visiting from San Francisco. I took her to Buttermilk Falls, my cherished place, and watched her strip down to her underwear. That's the way she prayed.
“Oh my Goddess, this water’s amazing!” She called out, reaching to me, as she baptized herself. I stood still, shy, too modest. I thought Jesus wanted me to be modest. Back then, I only prayed on my knees. I gestured toward the “no skinny dipping” sign but Bea splashed and insisted, “Sister, you have to come in here!”
Before I could say no again, she slipped on the wet, black rocks. It was scary and I gasped but she recovered, as usual, quickly. We cackled to cover the bruises. I watched her with my right hand over my throat. She convinced me to take off my shoes. The water was cool, like forgiveness. She took pictures of our electric blue toenails, the deep emerald pools of the gorge, the neon moss growing on everything. It was Spring. Of course, it was Spring.
After our hike, we caught a bus to the Ithaca Commons. Bea soaked the seats. Holding hands, we talked nonstop about boys. I wore my favorite T-shirt, stiff and cream, with the word WHATEVER printed above my breasts. We reached our stop and spent our last quarters on organic popsicles from Oasis, the health food store.
Sage turned the corner, like an athletic Jesus or Gandalf’s great grandson or a vagabond Zeus. Clutching a lever covered in batik, he hauled the most colorful rickshaw behind him. It was built out of dreamcatchers, stuffed with sitting pillows, as wide as an adolescent elephant.
Emboldened by Bea, I walked right up to him and asked twenty questions. I even pulled out my little journal to take notes. He was from nowhere, he told me, just passing through. He fell in love with human-powered transportation in the early 1990s. This was not a hobby, this was his calling. He roamed the United States, chasing warm weather and accepting passengers. The little caravan also served as his handmade bed, his only closet, his greatest passion, his meditative practice and his sole source of income. He offered us a two dollar ride but we didn’t have cash. He shrugged and showed his teeth.
“Be free,” he said, “Hop in.”
With grace and ease, the Chariot Man pulled us both around town. It was an alternate world inside the rickshaw. A safe, sacred space of owl feathers, twine and glass beads. We snuggled in Sage’s spider web, we sighed, we shouted with glee:
“Oh my Goddess, this is magic!
“It’s so comfortable in here! Wow!”
“It’s like being inside a rainbow!”
“This is the smoothest ride ever!”
“You are so fast! You are so strong!”
Sage jogged, steadily. Every minute or so, he’d lean on the lever, using our weight for balance, to float or spin or take a ten foot leap. He pedaled the air and tooted something medieval on his horn. We ooohed and aaahed at his every breath, step and explanation. It was a blissful ride. Ten minutes? He didn’t even sweat.
I de-boarded, reluctantly. Bea started taking pictures so we'd never forget it. I thanked Sage, shaking his hands. He nodded like he was a hundred years old. He opened his arms for a hug. This relieved me. I was pleased to discover that he smelled like patchouli, not neglect. We leaned back, locking eyes, quietly bridging our differences and that’s when he asked, really hummed:
“Will you be my wife? For the night?”
Somehow I wasn’t offended. Would you have been offended? It was the most serene request for sex of all time. I exhaled and considered his invitation. How could this crazy story start? I lost my virginity (better yet, found an orgasm) in some guy’s giant dreamcatcher.
But I was the type of girl who wouldn’t even skinny-dip with a friend. No way was I going to get naked with a roving stranger. “Nah, Sage. Nah, brother. No.” I said. “I’ll take it as a compliment, though.”
He nodded. Sagely.
He pressed his palms together to offer a namaskar. I echoed the gesture then watched his eyes blossom with a new idea. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a chunk of amethyst. He placed it in my palm. It was warm, jagged, glinting, heavy. “My birthstone!” I shouted. I was nineteen. My whole life was an exclamation point.
“I went into a cave and dug this out myself.” He boasted, gently. “It’s a piece of my heart. Have it.” This time, it wasn’t a pick up line. This time, it was a peace out line. Exuding good vibes, he watched me study and stroke the sharp edges of the purple rock. We were quiet and bonded and beautiful. We would never see each other again.
Bea made us pose for a final photo. I’m looking at it right now. I’m smiling just as big as what was captured. All those years ago.