“How are you supposed to wear this thing?” Chris looked in the bathroom mirror as he jabbed his hand through a sleeve and met with a dead-end. “There’s a card here that tells you how to do it.” I held up the instructions I’d found lying on top of the robes, but Chris dismissed them and kept poking away, determined to free his hand.
“Wait, wait, you’re going to rip it!” I said. “Let me see what’s going on here.” I unfolded my yukata and saw the issue. Long flaps came off the arms in a T-shape — a clever design that lets a person stow plenty of personal items while wearing nothing but a bathrobe.
Dr. Nelson said we didn’t have to put them on, but he highly suggested that we do so if we wanted to experience the full relaxing effect of the retreat. He also suggested that we sit in the Detox Box for thirty minutes before a half-hour morning meditation. So far we were running late.
I took my bundle into the other room and read the directions carefully:
- Put on the yukata and pull the right side around the body.
- Place the left side of yukata over the right one.
- Put the middle of the obi on your waist.
- Wrap the obi around the body crossing once at the back of your body.
After a few misfires with the obi I finally figured it out. But what was one to do with all the extra length? And how was it that Japanese women were so much taller than me? I pulled billows of fabric through the belt and tried to pat it all down neatly. Then I checked myself in the mirror. I looked like I’d had a fight with a flying possum, but there was no time to worry about it.
We scrambled out the door and found our sensei waiting for us at the top of the stairs. He greeted us with a slight bend at the waist, his hands folded in front. “How did you sleep?” he asked.
“Oh, the usual,” Chris said. “Woke up a few times and had a hard time getting back to sleep.”
“After today, you will sleep the night through,” said Dr. Nelson. “I always have a perfect night’s rest. Always. That is what a wellness program can do for you.”
After another outfit change, we stepped inside a playhouse-sized wooden sauna and Dr. Nelson shut the glass door behind us. “Are you comfortable?” he asked from the other side of our cell. We nodded and he pushed a button that flooded the box in red light. “Enjoy!” Then came that laugh again and he left us to our fate.
We sat in silence, listening to the click, click, click of the infrared heater as it approached 149 degrees.
“I wonder if anyone has ever died in one of these things,” I said as I wiped sweat from my eyes. We were side by side with hardly an inch to spare, wrapped in little white towels dotted with green apples. Electronic music thumped from the low ceiling, making my heart feel like it might pound right out of my ribcage. I looked for a way to change the CD while Chris opened his book to read.
“Have you seen any other guests since we’ve been here?” I asked.
“No, I think it’s just us,” he answered. “But there’s two other rooms, so maybe more people will arrive today.”
Usually I would enjoy having a five-star resort to myself. And I was. But something seemed different about Dr. Nelson. He’d been nothing but polite and professional, yet he was mysterious. He was so … Mr. Roarke. Maybe it was just the heat getting to me. The air felt thick, like the oxygen had been burned out of it, and I checked the door to make sure it hadn’t been locked from the outside.
“How many more minutes?” “Twenty-seven,” said Chris. He wiped his forehead then returned to the world of P. G. Wodehouse while I considered the benefits of roasting in a coffinlike container — one made of hemlock, no less.
Dr. Nelson had explained that the Detox Box would increase circulation, eliminate toxins, relieve pain from inflammation, and perhaps even take off some weight. But it seemed more likely that I was about to succumb to heat stroke. My eyes burned, and I was overcome with agitation. The seat was hot. The walls were hot. And the air, what there was of it, was starting to smell like a wino on a three-day drunk.
“Is that me or you?” I asked.
“It smells like alcohol in here.”
“Guess the Detox Box is doing its job then,” Chris said without looking up. “Hm.” I leaned back and stared at the ceiling so the sweat would roll away from my eyes instead of into them. If I could just go to my happy place, maybe some good would come of this thirty-minute visit to hell and I would begin to feel ever-so-slightly purified.
But it didn’t work. When the timer chimed, I busted out of there like a deep-sea diver with no air left in her tank. We rinsed off as fast as we could and then mastered our robes one more time before Dr. Nelson reappeared.
“Now that you have removed the toxins from your body, it is time to synchronize your mind,” he said. “This way.”
We followed our guide up a flight of stairs and into an empty multimedia theater room that seated eight. He motioned toward one of the oversized leather recliners and I climbed into it like a bed.
“This is an express route to meditating,” he said and handed me a set of headphones. “What has taken Eastern practitioners thousands of years to master, you can achieve here in this room in half an hour. Just relax and focus on the sound of the flute. And be sure to breathe. BREATHE!” He circled his hands around his rib cage and looked at me. I took a deep breath and exhaled loudly.
“Good, good. Now shake it all out. There you go.” He took a fleece blanket and covered me from head to toe. A shroud, I thought to myself.
“When you hear the sound of the ocean, then the meditation is over.” Dr. Nelson turned off the lights and closed the door softly behind him. I shut my eyes and tried to watch my thoughts float by without latching onto them. But I couldn’t let go of the image of trophies lining the wall behind me. They were huge and shiny and plentiful. “What are those for,” I’d asked when we’d first entered the dimly lit room. “Oh, just a little hobby,” he’d said with the barest hint of smug. “I like a friendly game.”
A friendly game of what, I wondered.