When my daughter asked me to join her meditation and yoga class in a vineyard in Bridgehampton last summer, I jumped at the opportunity. I was still recovering from my children’s teenage years, and overjoyed when one of them was willing to be seen with me in public, especially in a situation that involved me trying to stand on one leg. By the time I came to my senses, it was too late. She had already picked out my yoga outfit and left it folded neatly on my bed. I reminded myself that meditation is a powerful energy booster, and the connection between my mind and body needed to be reestablished before they no longer recognized one another. I would be fine, I prayed, so long as I managed not to snore. For the yoga portion my plan was to fake an asthma attack.
I quickly arranged my towel on the grass and tried to look excited for a healthy dose of Ashtanga by breathing in and out as loudly as a person could possibly breathe without shouting. I made eye contact with the woman to my left and commented on the brilliant Hampton’s sky. I pointed out the sunlight dappling through the trees and made a remark about the fresh morning air. If I ended up convincing my daughter to let me leave a little early it would seem like quite an emergency for someone with my enthusiasm to suddenly be forced to high tail it out of there.
I circled my arms several times, in lieu of stretching, and smiled broadly. My daughter’s eyes shifted in my direction to indicate I was overdoing it.
When our instructor walked over I couldn’t help noticing there was a sizable clump of hair missing from the side of her head. She looked like she weighed about seventy-five pounds, and she had a nasty patch of dry skin on her elbow.
“That looks contagious,” I whispered to my daughter.
“We’re not quitting. It’s only yoga. What’s the worst that can happen?”
I looked around the class to see if anyone else was having second thoughts, but most of the other women were too distracted by their own fingerling thighs.
Soon the vineyard was swathed in a great gleam of refracted light and I began to feel a little lightheaded, giddy almost, that my daughter was standing there next to me. The Hamptons was where my family became whole again. Our kids grew up going to sleep away camps instead of running around the backyard of a summerhouse. While they were gone, I would spend my days writing, planting flowers, and missing them. It was a choice I will always regret. They went to college in the city, got their own apartments and made their own lives. Eventually we sold our house in New Jersey and started spending summers out east.
After a few years of renting we finally bought a house on Millstone Road in Bridgehampton. I couldn’t wait to plant masses of roses to remind them of their childhood home. The house was a declaration; there would always be a place for us to relive the early years, to be a family again. If only we didn’t have to ruin a perfectly lovely morning by exercising.
The instructor announced that she’d been having some personal problems lately, in regard to certain things that she couldn’t let go of, and that she had deliberately cut her hair unevenly to balance her chi. She also explained that negative energy, which she renamed negativo energy, was the only thing she found intolerable. It looked more like she’d accidentally lit her head on fire, but I smiled and nodded to get on her positivo side, as though I would have cut my own hair similarly in her situation.
My daughter knew she was taking a chance by inviting me to yoga. In previous classes, I’ve been known to resort exclusively to child’s pose early on, quietly remaining there until someone taps me lightly on the shoulder – usually it’s the cleaning lady.
“Are we ready, People?” the instructor asked.
“Let’s do this!” I said.
“Downward-Facing Dog,” she commanded as she tried to twist her arm around to see if her elbow was bleeding.
“Breeeeath as one, People. Air is communal food,” she said, obviously misinformed about what air is, but the woman next to me believed her and breathed in so much oxygen she must have thought it was an all you can eat buffet. I inched my palms and feet as far away from her as possible without making it obvious that I didn’t want to share my air food.
“And now I’d like you all to stand on your heads.”
I turned to look at my daughter. She was up in a flash looking so beautiful and statuesque, she could be mistaken for chiseled marble in her pure white yoga attire. I was so in awe I stood watching her with my arms folded in front of me for far too long.
“Mom, stand on your head.”
I tried to finagle myself into a tripod but my elbows kept sliding off my knees causing me to slowly roll over and remain on my left side. I did this same move several times until I decided to abandon the tripod and just hurl myself upwards, but my legs refused to leave the ground. It was like when you try to throw a ball and it just falls straight down at your feet.
I finally made the decision to go with a handstand instead. A handstand is easy. There was a time when I could do handstand walkovers, one after the other after the other, across my entire lawn. I put my hands down on the floor and tried to spring up, but only my left leg would leave the ground. It was like someone had put a spell on my right one. After several attempts to release and then flutter my legs into position I thought I might actually be afloat when I felt something snap in my hamstring. I dropped my legs and immediately went into child’s pose.
“I might need an ambulance.” I whispered into my mat.
I imagined my hamstring was completely severed and just laying there limp inside of me like a piece of broken tubing. I knew better than to ask a muscle that’s been happily atrophying for years to suddenly perform tricks, but there were too many summers lost to forego the chance to make new memories, to keep up with my children, and to keep getting invited. If it cost me a few torn ligaments, so be it.
Next summer, I will gladly sign up for another class with my daughter in that balmy Bridgehampton vineyard where the air smells like ripened fruit and freshly cut flowers, the hypnotic scent of my kids coming home. I only hope my son and husband will join us. If, in my excitement, I forget to stretch beforehand, what’s the worst that could happen?