by Denise Lynn
Two things the husband-of-thirty-some-odd-years did every Sunday morning in place of religion: watch the TV news talk shows and accompany his wife to eleven o’clock hot yoga class. This was the concession he made to his wife and her frequent admonitions that he needed to take better care of himself. In fact, he felt perfectly content with his life. His wife prided herself on being both a conscientious and good cook; they ate mostly a Mediterranean diet and fresh seafood twice a week. Though he earned a modest living, their lifestyle permitted him to keep the liquor cabinet stocked with a fifth of 12-year-old single malt scotch or aged Kentucky bourbon. This he accomplished by collecting loose quarters that he would wrap and redeem periodically at Lifted Spirits—despite the sideways looks he got—and then wander into the smoke shop next door for a hand-rolled cigar. The car he drove was not particularly sexy and had begun to show its age, but it was comfortable and dependable. His wife could say the same about him he supposed. His wife loved him; he loved his wife.
Life was good. Or so the husband-of-thirty-some-odd-years thought.
Hot yoga seemed the least he could do to reassure his wife that he had every intention of accompanying her well into senility. The first class proved the most painful, for him at least. Not so much for his wife. She had been practicing yoga for five years now and had agreed to this beginner class, something they could do together—to get more in touch with their spiritual selves is how she had put it. Scanning the sunlit room full of bodies shrink-wrapped in spandex, he wondered why these people even felt the need to work out. Words he would use to describe them ranged from hot to ripped to just plain buff. Words he would use to describe himself were quite the opposite.
But then, he supposed, this just amounted to more evidence of the difference between these yoga groupies and him.
Given a choice, he would be elsewhere. Somewhere not in a 105-degree room stocked wall-to-wall with human heat lamps—the kind with hard coiled appendages that twist and bend effortlessly into any position. For him, the whole body-shape-agility thing ran more along the lines of an articulated bus with its thick mid-section accordion folds and wide girth laboring to bend a right angle without disrupting anyone or anything nearby. No question, he preferred to be somewhere not doing yoga. Definitely somewhere not working up a sticky sweat. Nevertheless, this husband-of-thirty-some-odd-years could be a good sport. After all, a concession is hardly a concession if there is not some degree of dread or hardship involved.
Fortunately—and at times unfortunately—this being a beginner class meant the yoga instructor spent much of her time walking through the piles of bodies on rectangular mats to monitor their positions and make gentle adjustments to a select few. Per usual, on this particular morning, he was one of them.
“Tilt your hips gently forward.” He obeyed and felt his face flush with embarrassment. “Now stretch…bend…feel the pull of gravity through your body? That’s it, stretch.” He could feel gravity’s pull, alright. More than he cared to admit.
“Remember, if anyone feels too much strain, that’s your body telling you to go into child’s pose. It’s okay to forgive yourself. We are all on a journey to learn to listen to our body and our inner self.”
Relaxed in child’s pose, he could picture being home, settled in on their soft leather couch with a cold beer and a roast beef sandwich. The whole of him, primed to watch football all afternoon on his 50-inch, flat-screen TV—the jumbotron his wife called it. This is where they differed most, he and his wife. Growing up along with black and white TV, he could still be held captive by the plasma screen for hours on end; his wife on the other hand could think of a million better things to do.
“You did well,” his wife offered on their walk to the car. “I only saw you go into child’s pose twice.”
It hadn’t occurred to him that she was counting.
“So did you enjoy it at all?”
“Enjoy is a strong word,” he replied and opened the car door for her as he had since their first date so many years ago.
“Well, I’m optimistic. I think yoga is going to be good for you. Good for us.” Those were his wife’s words as she folded her body into the car.
* * *
Sunday morning news shows had become predictable, if not tedious. His wife’s words, not his. Ever since the presidential election, the national conversation had become less about meaningful discourse on important matters of the day—global warming, foreign policy, race relations, gun control—and fixated more on interpreting what the president really meant by his latest Tweet or off-the-cuff comment before a crowd. It made his wife crazy.
“Arrogant pug. A hundred and forty characters to inform the American people about issues that determine the future of the country—our children’s future!” she would rail as she paused on her path through the room. This is when he knew to sit quietly, point his face in her direction and follow the rant:
“He talks to us like we’re idiots. It’s all for show…to keep us off guard. It’s his way of controlling the narrative…and…what I really don’t get…the news media keeps falling for it. All of Washington is just one big Carnival cruise ship bouncing off the tips of icebergs—this Tweet or that Tweet, him pointing a finger at the news media, the news media pointing fingers back at him, everyone talking in circles. Nothing of any real substance gets relayed back to the mainland, just a lot of tit-for-tat innuendo and name-calling. It’s like we’re living in some alternate universe —American life as defined by the ruling class. I am so SICK of people deciding for me…for all of us…what we should and shouldn’t know or do…I’m not some friggin’ child for god sake… first the electoral college, then super delegates…o’ because the masses aren’t intelligent enough to read and ask questions and know what’s best for them…we need this whole other layer to think for us, run our lives for us…and now…now we have FAKE news. How did lies and false claims become a thing? It all feels disingenuous to me. Let’s face it, no one knows truth anymore. We all live in a state of suspended disbelief. Welcome to Looney Tunes cartoons land, folks, the place you once knew as the U.S. of A.”
So it would go when his wife decided to stop folding laundry or Windexing the light fixtures and watch the Sunday morning news shows with him. Much as he enjoyed her company, it came at a price; there was no pulling her back. Hot yoga class—beginner or otherwise—couldn’t come at a better time.
“What does ‘namaste’ mean anyway?” he had asked his wife on their way to class one Sunday.
“It’s a spiritual greeting.”
“Like saying ‘peace be with you’ to people sitting around you in church?”
“Sort of. Except the lack of physical contact with namaste is what creates the positive aura. Saying it is a way of connecting your souls.”
“Do you believe all that stuff?”
“I do, actually…it means the light in my soul bows to the light in yours. I believe there is a soul, a moral compass, in all of us.”
“Works better for some than others.”
“All the more reason to be cognizant of what’s in your soul, don’t you think? to stave off evil. To recognize happiness?”
“So we are on a path of enlightenment,” is how he had punctuated their car conversation that morning. If only he had paid more attention, asked more questions. Maybe he would have picked up hints that his wife was struggling, that something churned inside her. He loved his wife. He loved that he loved her. The actual feeling of being in love—and being loved—was not something he took for granted.
For most of his childhood, his mother had been a single mom. When he was an infant, his biological father had cheated on her with a woman who, he later learned, had been accused of killing her first husband. Something about a hand gun and a crime of passion: the sordid details were sketchy to this very day. Though no one ever said it out loud, his biological father’s infidelity was something his mother would never forget and could never forgive. A bitter sadness took over her being and rendered her incapable of feeling or expressing love. Mistrust camped in her soul the way a tick lodges itself in warm skin, feeding and growing fuller with time, crowding out all joy or happiness.
Consequently, this husband-of-thirty-some-odd-years had no memories of bedtime stories snuggled beside his mother; or hand-in-hand walks with her to the corner store; or tickle and giggle games on summer nights in their back yard; or for that matter, simple hugs. None of the affectionate gestures that came so easily to his wife. Not until he and his wife had had a child of their own did he realize how much he had missed—the whole first half of his life.
Not that he could get it back now. Childhood was long gone. His mother had passed. The only thing left to do now is to make the most of adulthood.
As a father, he had loved his children with the intensity of a man who grew up without one. His every father-son or father-daughter experience had been akin to traveling down a long and winding, unfamiliar hallway in the black of night. He had had to trust his deepest instincts, learn to be guided by his heart. Even though there had been bumps and stumbles along the way, he held firm to getting it right. In the worst of times raising his children, he would tell himself, at least he wasn’t unpacking baggage from experiences with his father; he had never known the man. “You have the advantage of a blank slate,” his wife liked to remind him.
As a husband, he had been faithful to his wife. Though he had never told her this, she was the solid earth beneath his feet. Friends would point out the irony in that fact. On any given day, his wife’s whole being levitated somewhere between two and six inches off the ground. She was, if nothing else, the embodiment of the next big project waiting to happen—always looking to change this, improve that, explore the next thing that captured her imagination. Endless possibilities. Often he wondered about the underlying energy that fed her need to be in perpetual motion: was his wife running toward or away from something? Standing where he stood now—without his wife—he wished he would have faced that question, head on. He wished he would have asked her.
Okay, class. Let’s begin. Feet centered on your mats. Shoulders back. Now lift your arms…deep inhale…elbows aligned with ears…up. Now, exhale and bring prayer hands straight down to your center chest.
Good. Now again.
Unburden your mind. Let go of worry. Exhale. Prayer hands back to your center chest. Let go of doubt.
Once something that never entered the mind of the husband-of-thirty-some-odd-years, doubt had seated itself firmly in his chest. Learning of his wife’s deep questioning, of the hole that bore its way from her mind into the center of her heart, had been the undoing. Nothing he could say would fill the opening. No action on his part seemed to fuse the fleshy sides back together. How long had it been now? five, eight, eleven months since their separation. It felt like forever. Snippets of conversations that had brought them here echoed throughout every part of his days. Between meetings at the office. Anytime he found himself driving anywhere. As he drifted off to sleep at night. Nearly every night.
“How long have we known each other?” his wife had asked one evening.
“What d’you mean? We’ve been married thirty-two years.”
“No. I mean how long have we really known each other? Do we know each other?”
“I’m…I’m not sure I understand the question.”
“Do we even know ourselves?”
“Of course we do. We’ve raised two children.”
“That’s what I mean. All of our adult lives we’ve been defined by the roles we play. Wife. Mother. Boss. Friend. Before that even…since birth,…we’re someone’s daughter, someone’s son. Who is the person underneath?”
On hands and knees now class….downward facing dog. Wrists directly under your shoulders, knees under hips. Press the ground firmly through your palms and knuckles…
Now exhale as you tuck your toes and lift your knees off the floor. Gently…straighten your legs…make your body form the shape of an “A”… High achievers? don’t be tempted to walk your feet closer to your hands…keep the extension of your whole body. Remember, the point is not to focus on the end results. Focus on the progress… then you will see results.
The husband-of-thirty-some-odd-years tried to imagine how progress will look, how it will feel. Will he recognize the woman who until recently he has known as his wife? what will be different about her. Will he look the same to her? Will she see that he has kept his promise, even with her gone; he has continued coming to hot yoga class…for her…with the hope of finding some clue, some reconnection to her and her search for self.
At least, that’s how he had heard it when she tried to explain her reason for leaving.
She needed to burrow inside the crusted exterior that had formed over her these many years, an entire lifetime. She could only blame herself; she had let the crust take hold and grow like black mold. She didn’t know what it all meant. She just knew she had to go. She didn’t know for how long…just that if she didn’t…go now…she feared the end of her life would be one of stagnation, a slow imperceptible suffocation until she drew her last breath. She had to find her way to clean air, to a rush of pure oxygen. She didn’t know where she would find such a place—somewhere with no expectations of her, no definition of her in some larger context. It would be a place where her name was written in small letters at the top of a long, blank sheet of paper. He had pictured an endless scrolling sheet like newsprint jetting off a press. She didn’t know what the paper would say when it was filled. She didn’t know where clean air would take her. He had pictured the brightly colored, hot air balloon they were supposed to go up in once for his birthday, but never did, and pushed down the thought that it was yet another broken promise. She hoped it would bring her back here, back to her husband-of-thirty-some-odd years. She had told him she needed to feel her senses again; feel the prick of a thorn, taste the dot of sweetness from honeysuckle plucked off the vine. She couldn’t say for sure how it would all end. She was sorry. She just HAD TO GO.
Those were her last words, standing in their doorway with packed bags gathered obediently around her feet.
Nice work class. You should be pleased. Let’s give ourselves…our bodies and our minds…a rest and go into child’s pose.
Allow yourself to accept that we are all human, all of us vulnerable.
Now feel your body…your shoulders…your arms and hands…your breath…relax. Good. Stay in the moment. Let your mind empty.
Lying now with his forehead flat against the ground and his arms loosely at his side, the husband of thirty-some-odd-years congratulated himself for placing his yoga mat off in this far front corner of the 105-degree room; a cool draft seeped in from beneath the crack in the closed door. Its light touch wafted over his perspiration-dampened t-shirt and chilled his skin. He could feel his body in this moment, could feel his mind become calm.
Over these many years of building family and friends and home and career, his wife may have gotten lost along the way. With their children grown and gone now and her career drawing to a close, she may be doubting herself and her purpose in this life. She may be struggling to know and understand who she has become, to find the person she wants to be as she enters the final years of her life. Of this much, though, he felt certain: he knows the depth and the moorings of his wife’s heart. When she does find her way back, and she will, this husband-of thirty-some-odd-years will embrace the woman he once knew as his wife—and her newfound self.
Denise Lynn holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Indiana University’s School of Journalism and completed a graduate-level creative writing course at the University of Rhode Island. She is exploring enrolling in a writing program at the College of Charleston this fall. Denise is an active member of Rough Writers writing group in the Charleston area and a current member of the South Carolina Writers Association. When not writing, she prefers to be outdoors– watching dolphins duck waves, roaming backwoods along the marsh, star gazing and, in general, opening windows to let in fresh air.