“I’m OK!” I say brightly, smiling back at him. I can see a sparkle in his eye that suggests he wouldn’t be averse to practicing together, and I don’t mean taiji. I’ll have to nip that in the bud because I do not like mixing business with pleasure. Besides, he’s young enough to be my kid, and despite what Betty intimated, I’m not into teenagers at all. The older I get, the more unformed anyone ten years and more younger than I am appears. I like my partners with some wear and tear on them, preferably scars that tell the tale of their life journey. “Practicing your sword?”
“Yes! I can’t get enough. Would you mind?” Donny waves his sword at me, and I nod my head as I pull out my metal sword. We go to the middle of the floor, and I lead Donny in the Sword Form. I say the names, but not the counts, and he’s doing a great job keeping up with me. I glance at him out of the corner of my eye from time to time, and he’s struggling once we get past the part he’s already learned. He doesn’t give up, however, and he follows me as best he can until the end.
“Good job.” I hold my hand out and shake Donny’s. He’s sweating more heavily, but he’s beaming as he enthusiastically pumps my hand up and down.
“Thank you so much! That was fantastic.” Donny’s eyes are shining, and I know it’s not all because of the sword. He swallows hard and asks, “Do you think it’d be possible for us to practice outside of class?” I hesitate. I actually wouldn’t mind having a practice partner, but I can’t shake the feeling that he is developing a crush on me. If that’s the case, then being practice partners would complicate things. On the other hand, maybe I’m being too arrogant in thinking he wants me. I have to make sure he knows it’s nothing but taiji if I agree.
“Donny, I’d like that. However, I need to ask you a delicate question.” I glance at his face, and he’s flushed red.
“OK,” he mumbles, his eyes glued to the floor.
“Is there a reason other than our mutual love for the sword that you asked me to practice with you?” That’s about as gentle as I can ask, and it’s enough to allow him to keep his composure. Just to make sure, I add, “I don’t mean to be presumptuous, but I have to ask.”
“I think you’re very attractive,” Donny says softly. He risks a peek at me before looking down again. “I wouldn’t mind dating you.” I’m flattered, but not interested. How do I let him down gently? I have to find a way and quick. Should we be practice partners if he wants to fuck me? I decide to tackle one issue at a time.
“I’m flattered, Donny,” I say, nodding at him. I notice that more of our classmates are milling around, so I ask, “Do you mind if we go outside to talk about this?” Donny nods, so I sheathe my sword before leading him outside and away from the studio. “I’m dating someone, Donny, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to mix class and dating. I would still like to practice swords with you, but I can understand if you don’t feel comfortable doing so.” I’m too old to play games when it comes to dating. I used to dance around the topic when I was younger, which led to major misunderstandings. I don’t need to crush his feelings, but I also don’t want him to think he stands a chance with me.
“I understand,” Donny says, his eyes meeting mine. I can tell he’s disappointed, but not outrageously so. I didn’t think he’d be because he’s pretty even-tempered, but you can never tell. “Let me think more about sword practice?”
“Of course!” I smile at Donny to show him no hard feelings. “I don’t want you to feel weird about it because the sword is so fucking awesome. For now, we can just practice in class, which is still helpful to both of us.”
“Sounds good to me!” Donny smiles, and we go back into the studio. Betty gives us a hard stare as we walk in, but she wisely holds her tongue. I nod at her, and she averts her eyes. I’m satisfied with the interaction, and I’m optimistic that I won’t have to put up with her bullshit any longer.
“OK, time for warmups, gang,” Lydia says, clapping her hands once. We take our places on the floor, bow to her, and start the warmups. My mind drifts to Rembrandt, whom I left sleeping in his bed with the three cats, and I find myself smiling as I think of him. I’m feeling very warmly towards him, and it’s not just the sex. He’s been so supportive of me with this whole father/not father fiasco, and I am truly appreciative of it. He’s also willing to look after Onyx and Jet in my absence, which makes him aces in my book. I feel the tension in my body moving around as we do warmups. Ideally, it would drain from my body, but I’m not at that level yet. I try to keep my spine aligned and my movements smooth, but I can feel myself jerking when I’m not paying attention.
“Next up, the six postures meditation,” Lydia announces once the warmups are done. I stifle a groan as I take my place in the circle. I allow my mind to compose my next blog post as we go through the meditation. It’s going to be about moving past traumatic events and how I’m having difficulty with losing Julianna bit by bit every day. I thought her being murdered would be the worst of it, but I was wrong. It’s been a month since she was killed, and I think about her a little less every day. In addition, her distinct laugh is fading from my memory. I have several voicemails from her on my phone, but I haven’t listened to them in a few days. The sound of her voice is starting to be foreign to my ears, which is distressing. When I look at pictures of her, she sometimes looks like a stranger for a second before turning back into my beloved Julianna. After I rescued my brother-in-law from his kidnapper, I wanted desperately to talk to Julianna just to get my feelings out. The fact that I couldn’t really depressed me for three full days. It hurt me to realize that I will never be able to talk to Julianna after a major event ever again, and I cried for an hour solid.
“First section of the Solo Form!” Lydia says, startling me out of my reverie. Had we really done all six postures of the meditation? Apparently, we had. I have no recollection of it, but I must have followed along because nobody is giving me the stank eye. I didn’t notice anyone looking at me during meditation, but then again, I don’t remember doing the six postures, so there’s that.
I take my place, front left, and inhale slowly. I vow to pay attention, but I find my mind wandering again. This time, I think about Mr. Tsai and how fucked up his intentions were. It pisses me off anew that he had been so cavalier about my feelings—and my sisters’, of course. Speaking of which, Viv is still at Jasmine’s house. She’s decided to stay until I discover what happened to Mr. Tsai, but Pablo has flown back to Boston already. I’m glad she’s still here so I can see her at least one more time. I wonder if she went to church with Jasmine and Bob today, but I doubt it. She’s more anti-religion than I am, and she is not shy about voicing her opinions. I remember one time she and Bob got into a shouting match because Viv said that God was like an abusive father. Predictably, Bob hit the roof, and it got ugly really fast. Fortunately, Jasmine was able to step between them metaphorically and separate them into their respective corners.
“Take five minutes!” Lydia says. I come back to myself and realize that I’ve done the whole first section without thinking about it. On the one hand, I’m glad that I know the Solo Form well enough to do it even on automatic; on the other, I’m zoning out way too much to get the full benefit of my practice. I take a seat and drink from my iced water bottle. I still have a healthy sweat built up from the first part of class, so at least it’s doing my body well.
“That was quite the workout,” Betty says, plopping down next to me. She wipes her brow with her pink towel and titters behind her manicured hand. I don’t understand why she feels the need to talk to me when it’s clear she disapproves of me. I think it’s a love/hate thing, and it makes me uncomfortable.
“Yes. Taiji is actual exercise, despite its calm exterior.” My tone is brisk, but not rude. I don’t want to start a fight, despite my distaste for her.
“I notice you and Donny were very cozy outside,” Betty says, her smile malicious. She leans forward as she waits for my response. I bite my tongue to stop the retort that is hovering on my lips.
“Excuse me. I need some fresh air.” I stand up and go outside, inhaling deeply. I lean against the railing as I’m in a pensive mood. I’m glad I didn’t rise to her bait, but I’m discouraged that she is still trying to provoke me. It’s up to me to be the adult, I guess, which is not my strong suit. Once I’m calm, I go back inside. I notice Betty talking to Donny, and she’s pressed up against him. He looks uncomfortable, and I resign myself to going over and separating them. To my relief, Lydia walks up to them and gently inserts herself between them without making it obvious that’s what she’s doing. I’m relieved that I won’t have to deal with the situation, but I’m irritated that Betty is making things weird for Donny. I shrug it off as not my problem, and I check my phone to take my mind off Betty. I have a text from Rembrandt, and it’s a picture of our three cats snoozing on his bed. They’re in a kitty pile with Jet on the bottom and Onyx and Ginger on top of him. He’s a big cat, and he can take it. They look ridiculously adorable together, and I text Rembrandt back to say exactly that. He sends me another picture of them. In this one, their heads are all mashed together, and I just want to cuddle with them. I thank Rembrandt for the mood-lifter, and he lets me know that there will be pancakes when I get home. I poke at him for telling me because now I won’t be able to concentrate on my taiji. He texts back to say that’s his evil plan, and I laugh out loud, which causes my classmates to glance over at me. I tell Rembrandt I’ll be home by three, and he sends me three hearts in return. I hesitate and text him back, “hugs”, which I know is a shitty reply, but it’s the best I can do.
“Let’s look at the first kick of the kick section,” Lydia says once break is over. “Now, most people have a hard time with the kick section, Megan excepted.” She looks at me and smiles, and I smile back, though it’s more of a grimace. I don’t feel comfortable when she calls me out in class, even if it’s ostensibly to compliment me. I do love the kick section, though, which makes me a weirdo. I watch as Lydia goes through the first kick—Separate Right Foot. Or is it left? As we are kicking with the right foot, I bet it’s right. “My teacher has changed it from a six count posture into a seven count one to make it easier for new people. That’s the way I’ll teach it to you because it’s official now.” She demonstrates the posture with the counts, and I’m puzzled at the fourth count because it’s not something that was ever emphasized when I learned the posture. The way Lydia breaks it down makes sense, though, except for one toe turn (in, not out), and I’m glad she’s taking time to fully explain the posture today.
“I don’t get it!” Betty calls out, her voice petulant. She’s like a child in that she expects to learn everything within seconds, and unfortunately for her, taiji is not intuitive to her.
“Let’s break it down even more,” Lydia says patiently. “Let’s just do the feet for now.” This is one of her tried-and-true methods for teaching a particularly hard posture. She’ll teach the feet, the waist, and the hands separately, and that’s usually enough for even the slowest of learners. We spend a good fifteen minutes on the posture, and when we’re done, I know it better than I ever had. It’ll help in my personal practice because I’m teaching myself the Left Side of the Solo Form, and I’m almost up to this posture. “OK. Everyone do the posture on your own five times. When you’re done, stop so I know you’re finished.” Lydia goes over to her phone and picks it up so we won’t feel as if she’s staring at us. I go through the posture slowly and smoothly five times, and then wait for my classmates to finish. I tend to be fast in my own practice, which means I’m usually done before everyone else. Once everyone is done, Lydia comes to the middle of the floor to address us all. “This was an excellent class, everyone. I am proud of the work you’ve done today. Have a good Sunday!” With that, she bows to us, and we bow in return. I gather my stuff and wait for everyone else to leave so Lydia and I can chat. Once everyone is gone, she goes behind the partition to change clothes.
“I’ve found out more about the man pretending to be my father,” I inform her.
“Oh, yes? What did you find out?” Her voice is muffled, but I understand what she’s saying.
“There’s a lot. Let me summarize for you.” I quickly run down all the information that Yuri has given me, plus the rest I’ve gleaned on my own. She clucks her tongue in sympathy as I tell my tale of woe, and once I’m done, I wait for her response.
“What a jackass,” is her first utterance. “He did a lot of damage while he was alive.”
“No kidding,” I say, pulling my sweatshirt over my head. “It’s amazing how much mayhem one determined person can cause.”
“I saw you walk away from Betty earlier,” Lydia says, emerging from behind the division. “Thank you for not getting into it with her.”
“It wasn’t easy,” I admit. “I almost stepped in when I saw her bothering Donny, but you took care of it.”
“I will not allow anyone to harass anyone else in my classes,” Lydia says firmly. “I want to provide a safe environment to everyone, and that means Betty needs to keep her hands to herself.”
“Except in Pushing Hands,” I crack. We are still laughing as we leave. It’s a good way to end the class.