Here’s a story I wrote quite a few years ago. I came across it while searching through my files. It still makes me laugh.
Yoga, Myopia, and the Monkey Mind
by Kim Ellis
After Jake dumped me, I signed up for hatha yoga classes. I figured I needed to do some deep breathing and stretching, needed to get with a new group of people. Maybe I’d even meet a single yoga guy and we could do pranayama and who knows what else together.
The class was held in an old building on Main Street in my small New England town. It was in a long room with a wooden floor. A small sign hung above the door: Lakshmi Yoga Studio. Up a narrow, newly painted stairway I came to a landing where there were some benches and coat hooks. I hung up my coat and signed in. A class was just finishing. Those of us waiting talked in whispers. I didn’t know anyone, so I read the notices on the bulletin board.
My first yoga class didn’t thrill me. For someone used to moving quickly, dancing the Lindy Hop, I had a hard time with the slowness of it all. The teacher was gentle and encouraging, though, so I came back for a second, and then a third lesson. By this time I knew the routine. I had my own purple yoga mat and my favorite place in the back corner.
On the Thursday of the third class, I spread out my mat in my spot. I put my glasses in the pocket of my carry bag. Then, following others’ examples, I sat down and stretched. We began with a short invocation and then pranayama, some breathing exercises. People were still allowed to come in the room until Devi, the teacher, shut the door.
When I opened my eyes after the pranayama, I looked to my right and my heart lurched. Surely that was Jake Murray sitting one row and two spots over from me. Without my glasses, I stared at his back: the bulky, teddy-bear body I knew so well was certainly Jake’s. His short, curly brown hair wreathed the bald spot in the middle of the back of his head. If I squinted my eyes for sharper vision, I could see the black hair on the back of his neck.
Jake! What was he doing in my yoga class? What a lot of nerve! It wasn’t enough to be constantly in my mind, but now he had to show up in my yoga class, the class that I chose to help me get over him.
I began to hyperventilate remembering that day I waited at home for him to call. We had planned to go for a hike together before he left for the conference in Rhode Island. I sat around all morning and then finally I called and left a message. It was a casual message, a message I rehearsed several times so that it would sound light and unconcerned, like I had plenty of other things to do than pine for his company. “Hey, I thought we were going hiking today. Give me a call.”
To my shame and fury, I did wait all day. Waited and wondered and imagined. Well, he’s a doctor, maybe he had an emergency. Not likely, since Dr. Ernest was on emergency call this weekend; Jake had told me that himself. But you never know with doctors, right? The phone only rang twice that Sunday, and neither call was for me.
Then, when I was in bed that night, the phone did ring and it was Jake. “I ran into Barbara last night at a restaurant,” he said. “We decided to give it another try.”
I stopped breathing for a moment so that my brain could replay the words. Then I said, “That doesn’t feel very good.”
“No, it doesn’t.” he said. “I’m sorry.”
“Goodbye, then.” I said, and pushed the OFF button.
It was only the second time I’d been dumped in my entire romantic life. Usually I caught the signals and opted out of the relationship before the guy could end it. The feeling was far worse than I remembered it. Rejection in preference of another woman. And this had been such an exciting relationship, just beginning. I called my best friend and cried.
“What a chicken-shit, doing it on the phone,” she said. We lambasted him for a good half hour. She was on my side and it helped–a little. Still, I wept myself to sleep, feeling worthless and unloved.
Three weeks later I started taking yoga. During the week, I kept myself busy after coming home from teaching second grade. It was springtime, time for clearing up the yard. I raked out dead leaves and planted more perennials. I even started a new flowerbed in the back yard. It began as a two by five rectangle of newly dug dirt. My kids called it “Dr. Murray’s grave.” That made me laugh. Yet every time I shopped in the supermarket, or walked to the health food store, I was seized with a panic that I might bump into him.
And now here he was invading my yoga class. What will I say to him? I wondered. Or should I just ignore him? No, that’s too childish. I can’t pretend he’s not here at all. I must be calm and mature.
“Oh, hello Jake. How are you?”
“Oh, hi, Jake. Are you still with Barbara?”
I knew from my own experience that second tries with old lovers rarely succeeded. The habits or issues that drove you crazy the first time were still there, along with one’s own quirks that the other person found unbearable.
“Hello, Jake. Do you like the class?”
Maybe a simple, neutral statement was best. But wait, questions were a bad idea. Asking him a question would force us into a conversation. I didn’t want to talk to him. Did I?
While we moved through the poses of salute to the sun, I glared at Jake’s back. I was hot with fury at his presumption in showing up for my yoga class. I never told him I was planning to take yoga. This was another one of God‘s weird jokes. Or maybe it was a spiritual test, to see if I could remain detached and calm in the face of this unwelcome encounter. When I wasn’t bent over, I watched him doing the positions. He was lousy. He couldn’t touch his toes at all; his fingers barely reached to his knees. His belly got in the way when he tried to grab his ankles.
As if reading my mind, Devi said, “Remember that this is your yoga, not anyone else’s.”
For a moment, I felt guilty. But only for a moment. Then my petty, picky monkey mind resumed its gleeful chatter. Ha! You fatty, you can’t do yoga. Shut up, that’s mean, I scolded myself, but the enjoyment of his ineptitude remained like a tiny, tickling flame. Hee hee hee, look at that slob, he is sweating like a pig and this is just the easy stuff.
When the class was more than half over, I finally decided that I would be friendly and breezy, “Oh, hi Jake. Great class, yes? Got to run, bye.” Something like that.
And then he turned around.
It wasn’t Jake.