I unroll my mat before collecting my props, using the east wall and the edge of the floor boards to make sure it's straight. Always in the same spot, second from the window on the east side of the room. This means I am practicing facing west when I should be facing north or east, but not everyone can face the right direction in this little room and the other wall is all Military. I stack my two wool blankets at the head of my mat, on the west side, with the folded edges together, facing me. I place my blocks on top of them, side by side, edges aligned. I was late today and I had to get one blue and one purple block, but at least they're the same size. The principles of order, neatness, harmony, these are not destroyed by different color blocks. I don't think. I place my coiled strap across the place where the two blocks touch, making a pyramid with my props. I am not going to use the strap today. I never do. I cup it in my palms when I carry it across the room. Don't want something like this to get into the wrong hands.
The Military are in their usual spots. They all look alike to me, so I think of them as 1 through 6, even though there's only five of them now. They still leave a little space where 2 used to be, with his bulky thighs bursting from his tennis shorts. Today Lana's showing a new guy how to unroll his mat there, right across from me. Facing east. Better from a yoga perspective. But his mat is crooked, I can see that from here.
Don't feel like you need to explain." Lana is careful not to touch him. "Just saying you don't want to do something is enough. If something doesn't feel comfortable you can just stand, or wait it out in any of the other poses." Lana used to say if something didn't feel comfortable to lay down in Happy Baby pose. She learned quick about that. That was back when this class was women only. I was one of the women who wouldn't do the pose, but I didn't walk out. Happy Baby lying on her back with her legs up, just waiting for Daddy.
"Thanks," New Guy says. "Actually, I've practiced before." His lashes are long and soft around eyes that are slick in the whites like undercooked eggs. The centers are deep brown. He waves his arm to the past and says, again, "Before."
"That's wonderful." Lana's getting real good at working with us. "Just know, it might feel different now. Than it did before. And that's okay."
She walks over to the shelves with her quiet steps and returns with his blankets and other props. He doesn't have a problem with the strap. The men never do. It starts to uncoil in his hand and he sets it like that on the floor, its metal mouth lying open across the corner of his crooked mat.
Lana starts class like she always does, having us sit on our knees and breathe from our bellies. It takes the guys awhile to get into this pose. They all have to use the blankets or blocks under their butts and there's usually a lot of shuffling around as they get set up. Meanwhile us women sit quiet as stones, even when our thighs begin to burn.
Military 2 could almost sit on his knees from day one. The only thing stopping him was those big calves. Lana would say, "Reach back and move those muscles out of the way." To Lana, the body is something that can be manipulated. The body is firmly within our command. I wasn't looking when he finally tried it, but I can still hear the sound he made. It was a high-pitched bark, a long sharp naked sound that made all of us stop breathing and look to see if he would do it again. We expected to see him dying in front of us. We expected to see him split down the middle, the two halves of him fallen away, and someone else, someone small and sticky, in the empty space. But it was just Military 2 with his sitbones all the way down on his heels and his big calves squished out to either side of him like mayonnaise. His palms were face down on his thighs, his head and spine were all in a line. His eyes were far and dry and all the muscles in his face and neck were completely still.
We don't sit long before Lana has us up on our feet and into Tree pose. It's going to be a hard day. Now the men have the advantage. They know how to be on their feet. We women with our curved spines and hung heads and hands that want to cover something, we curl our toes and clench our chins and butts. Soft where we should be strong, tight where we should be open. Only two of us moved on to this co-ed class. Me and the one I think of as the Stork. I understand why the others didn't want to come, but there's something I like about being in with the men.
The Stork is bird-thin and jerky, but that's not why I call her that. It's that whenever we have to get into Tree pose something opens up inside of her. She gets up on one leg and while the rest of us are swaying and hopping and waving our arms she presses her hands together with her thumbs pointing at her heart and her whole face goes light. I can almost see her feathers ruffling around her, puffing out to make her look twice, three times her size, so she can sleep in peace.
Maybe New Guy will be like that. More comfortable on one leg than two. He's not Military and he's not Police either. That's easy to see. His hands are slender and white with long dark hairs on the knuckles. His face is flat, his features clean and new, like an apartment that hasn't been lived in yet. It's hard to believe that he's ever had a before.
It's nice to have someone across from me again. When Military 2 stopped coming, I didn't hear why right away. I don't watch TV. Then one of the girls at the knitting circle was telling about a thing that happened in her neighborhood and I went home and looked up the story on the internet. It was a few days old by then, but I found it. There was a picture of him in his uniform with a name. He didn't look like an Eddie. There was a picture of his wife, too, who he shot before he went on the porch and aimed at the police so they could fill him with holes.
It's too hot in the room and when Lana has us get back on the floor and push up into Downward-Facing Dog, my sweaty palms slip on my mat and I have to come back down twice and wipe them on my legs and start again. New Guy never leaves his hands and knees. He stares at his fingers, which are so long they reach out past the edges of his mat. They're jumping pretty bad. Above them wrists so delicate you wouldn't think they could hold him. But it's not the body that carries the weight. I want to tell him this. I want him to look and see. Lana catches me staring and I drop my head and look back at my ankles, wrinkled like an elephant's.
"Don't forget to breathe," Lana says. "If you can't breathe comfortably in the place you're in, back off."
I take a deep a breath and when I let it go I imagine little hands on the ends of my thigh bones taking hold of my shin bones and pulling them up out of my feet. Something down there releases and the skin around my ankles smoothes and I try to hold it like that and still breathe. In the parking lot a car backfires and it's not long before the sobbing starts. Quiet, gurgling sounds, like someone choking on a gag. When we come down into Plank, I see it's Military 1, lying on his side, half curled with both arms sticking out in front of him. Like he was about to push himself up to sitting. I look quick at my mat but I can already feel the squeezing in my chest. It's always like this, when one of us starts, the others follow.
It's not me next, though. Back to Plank and then onto our bellies, chest and face to the sky in Cobra. A strangling sputtering sucking of breath nearby and I wonder if it's the girl next to me. Who I think is Military even though she stays on this side with the women. I want to see for sure but Lana takes us back up into Down Dog and there are my elephant ankles again. "Breathe." But no matter how hard I try, I can't get my thigh bones to latch on this time. And besides I think somebody might really be getting strangled, more than one person maybe, a strap has gotten loose and who knows who it will come for next, I don't know how Lana can not notice.
New Guy is still on hands and knees, fingers jumping. The room smells like onions and sex and she wants me to breathe.
"Let your breath move into the places where you feel resistance."
My breath digs worm tunnels in my head.
"Let the spaces between your ribs expand."
I weld my ribs tight shut.
Throw another one at me, Lana. My answer's ready.
"Be gentle with yourself."
We lay on our backs in Shavasana. This is the Corpse pose, where our breath is shallow and we are supposed to let everything go.
This is when I dream of the things I will do. All the right words come to me. I always forget them by the time I get home.