1. We know we’re getting erased.
I think it happens to girls around age ten or eleven. We start to see the future, our collective disappearance, but we can’t put our fingers on what’s vanishing. You suspect this “thing” was taken from your mother too. But you’re not sure. You see details when she’s not noticing- which you take as evidence- restricting food, and then over-indulging in cake and cookies in secrecy, smiling when she’s not happy, plumping pink lipstick on her lips, blotting the excess with toilet paper. There’s no music in the background and you wonder about this later when you realize your childhood was during the late 70’s and how could there be no music. You notice how she mechanically puts her body into a bra and underwear like female flesh is something to be handled. You wonder if this is true of your body. And then your own body developments start to happen: breast-buds, armpit and pubic hair, and you begin to smell different. A scent you are told should be washed and powdered. Not by your mother but by your friends. They say every loser smells. Your mother likes the way you smell. You like her smell too. You’ve always known you couldn’t be what you wanted because it’s the mother who cares for the children and that’s a lot of time to devote to others. Girls who used to be your friends now call you a slut, grown men size up your body. Boys hands gravitate under your shirt, in the open without asking, while you laugh with your mouth agape. Pretend not to care. Didn’t you wear that gauzy shirt to attract them? She’ll suck your dick later! He says in anger, and you do, suspecting it’s hard to separate love from hate, skin from sex, and yes from no, but maybe it’s all part of the experience of being you and what are boundaries but limits set by others who don’t see you anyways?
2. The cold rain presses against the window pane. It’s relentless and gray, an early spring storm, moving spine-like in a pelting motion, rolling down the cheeks of glass as if it always meant to part air like the nape of a soft-bodied animal.
I’m alone, warm and dry, under a single lamp of soft light. I push down parts of my body on the yoga mat. Hands, fingers, buttocks, heels. Whatever the pose calls for. Bearing down means power and control. I resist lifting parts of me up – toes, belly, ribs, fingers- to make space or reach for the sound of rain.
Outside, the driveway has disappeared under one mammoth puddle. Both the ground and house moan under the swell. You can’t push parts of your own body down without lifting other parts up.
3. You confuse power and sex, safety and harm, body and worth. You mix up sophistication with everything and don’t believe you will ever know how not to care what other’s think. You feel like everyone can see you. What they see is horrific. part of you understands the necessity to rid the world of you yet you need to stand out because that’s the only part you can remember. A direction to stay visible. This is how you got left with a body you never learned to trust and a body that you hate. This is why you flush it all down, the thing that keeps disappearing, the thing you saw when you could see the future, the thing you can’t name. It needs to go somewhere.
4.“I think it’s bullshit to tell someone that in order to love others, you must first love yourself. Maybe that’s too advanced for a person who’s experienced trauma. Maybe the path to loving yourself is to love someone else, like a lover or a child or even a pet.” Ana T. Forrest, Creatrix of Forrest Yoga
5. When I’m three, I get pneumonia. My lungs are wet and like trees in a hurricane that can’t upright themselves. It’s the same year my parents tie a rope around the apple tree in our front yard and try to save it during a rain storm. Their efforts are not enough. I almost die from pneumonia. I can still see my dad, young, but tall at six-foot-two, and how he can’t hide his fear. He has dark sideburns and his eyes are wet like my lungs are wet. I’m barefoot in my nightgown with small blue flowers. He holds my wracking body in his arms as my mother pushes the up button on the hospital elevator. As all three of us ascend, he keeps telling me how much he loves me. But his words come a little too fast. I know he thinks they’re going to lose me. I want to tell them I love them too. When we get to the room, they put me in a plastic tent. Nurses stick needles in my arms and place a tube in my nose. A few days later, I breathe without the tube and know I’ve made it. Peering out my see-through walls into the low-lighted and hushed room, I remember thinking, This is good. But if I had died, I knew I was loved.
6. The current trend in public yoga classes is to guide yoga in a trauma-sensitive way. This means no hands-on-assisting—because you don’t know who your touch will trigger. This conflicts me. I learned yoga with touch. My teacher put her hands skillfully on each student. Sometimes to align them and other times to hold them steady. I believe touch with clean intention is healing, but it’s not the current thought of experts in the field. My yoga teacher Ana tells me it doesn’t matter what you believe. She doesn’t conform to current trends. “Beliefs are based on the conditioning of others, or stories we invent to keep us stuck,” Practicing yoga is similar to gravity. If we drop something, it will fall. In a yoga pose, Ana puts her hands on my ribcage and asks me to breathe. A switch goes on. A warmth spreads in my belly. Everything we know to be true in yoga can only come from direct experience.
7. For two weeks each summer, I take swimming lessons at Globe Hollow, a man-made pond with a roped off section dividing the shallow and deep end. A raft sits a quarter of a mile out. You’re considered an advanced swimmer if you can make it to the raft and dive off. The day I learn how to do the crawl stroke, I think it’s the raft that will be my reward. Touching it with the palm of my hand and hoisting up my body clothed in a speedo one-piece. But it’s the mechanistic way my body moves with my breath that thrills me. The inhale through my nose as my head turns to the side, my cheek still in the water and the exhale out my nose as my head turns down.The strokes of my arms, the scissor kicks of my legs. How there’s both effort and effortlessness, an acquired ability to propel forward that requires all my concentration. Most of all, I love how the outside world becomes muffled and I become a pattern of body movements and breath.
8. I’m teaching how to give hands-on assists to brand new yoga teachers. I’ve been teaching yoga for almost twenty years. Some of the new teachers are at the point where they doubt me. They think they know more. Maybe they do. My legs push down on the floor as I lecture. I hold my own.
A young woman with lotus tattoos spread like dish plates on the heads of her shoulders wants to know about handling potential triggers.
“Should we put out gold coins?” she asks. Her shoulders pull back, her face wide open.
I hide my frustration. I know you think it’s the right thing to do, I want to say. I want to roll my eyes and pierce her goodness. I don’t. It’s a valid question and reflects the current ideology. Many yoga teachers will not agree with my answer. We are a society of trigger warnings .
“If they want to be touched, they take the coin. If not, they don’t?”
She smiles, her curls are springy. She is springy. She will eventually be an excellent yoga teacher. Don’t ask me how I know, but I do.
I think back to over twenty years when I first came to yoga. A new mother trying to be everything to her home, husband, and babies. I had no idea my body had its own needs. To acknowledge its neediness would be to open up a language I stopped speaking. I would never have taken a coin. The act of placing it between my fingers would be asking a stranger to touch me. At the time, I barely let my husband touch me besides an obligatory weekly fuck coupled with expected noises coming from my own throat where I would slip out of my body and watch. It was the best I could do.
Take a coin and let someone touch me. Never. Let a stranger think I want to be touched. Never.
“I don’t think coins are a good idea.” The student with the springy hair is not really interested in my response. She made up her mind before she even asked the question, but others in the group are.
9. The summer before sixth grade, Jill, who’s one year older than me and lives across the street, takes me up to our one-hundred-degree attic, lies me on my back, and takes off my pants. She asks me to bend my knees and spread my legs so she can shine a small flashlight down there. She never touches me but tells me in great detail what I look like. Jill says my vagina is wet and shiny. Dust fills my nose as I gaze up in the darkness at the attic beams, avoiding her eyes. We talk in whispers so we can hear if anyone is coming. That summer, we do this many times. She tells me I’m helping her because our private sessions in the attic have confirmed she likes girls.
“Don’t tell anyone, “she says. “Then everyone will know I’m gay.”
“Never,” I promise.
Years later, I tell a psychologist the story about Jill and she asks me if I think Jill is a perpetrator.
All I can say is not at all.
10. During recess, Katie and I crouch down in a baseball field chewing the ends of grass. She tells me her older brother touches her private parts and makes her touch his and when she tells her mother, her mother calls her a dirty whore and a liar. I can’t get any words to come out. I don’t leave her but I don’t know how to soothe her. Instead, I straighten my bent legs and wipe the cut grass off of my jeans. A few years later, my own perpetrators, a group of neighborhood boys, force my face into a broken pavement where they empty themselves into me. I follow their actions with silence. Stand up and keep walking. Brush gravel off my limbs.
11. “It’s one thing to know it in your head, but it’s different to know the same thing in your body.” says the therapist who wears a tie. He taps his head and then his heart with his fingers. During this session, I have no desire to fuck him, like I sometimes have the desire to do, instead, I’m irritated. I look down at my bloated hands.
“I know,” I say. “It’s what I teach in yoga.”
Aren’t we all teaching what we’re trying to learn?
12. I tell a peer of mine, another yoga teacher, that I can’t stop eating. I’m consuming thousands of calories of food a day. Slice after slice of cake. Sweet and thick and eventually sickening. I can’t stop. This yoga teacher, a tiny thing, has me, a not so tiny thing, kneel face-up against a blank wall. She pushes my kneeling body forward until my hip bones and forehead slap up against the interior structure. I must admit, I find her force unexpected, it wakes something up within me, both cruel and exciting. After the impact, she becomes gentle, sits down behind me, leans back on her butt, and with her bare feet presses the space between my shoulder blades. She wiggles her feet behind my heart, so I can direct my breath there. With an inhale, I lift my sternum away from my ribcage. Her feet and legs become my wings. On an exhale, my pubic triangle pushes harder into the wall, my ribcage spreads open like the sky. My head is thrown back and my throat wide open A noise comes out of my throat-old, guttural, wet, shiny and full of gravel. There is no way to take back the rain. I’m a ribbon of rain gleaming in the night.
14. I’ve done yoga thousands of times.
It still surprises me, when I’m in certain poses, and my face presses the ground, how my breath gets stuck in my windpipe. For over thirty years, parts of me were held hostage. I taste my own blood, mixed with spit and broken pavement.
I want to tell the new yoga teachers that during my first yoga class, more than twenty years ago, the yoga teacher put his hands gently on my sacrum in pigeon pose and pressed my hips down to the floor. Because I was new, I didn’t expect it. I want to tell the students that when the teacher pushed down on my sacrum and hips from behind, I thought I would die. My breath stopped. My system jumped. But interestingly enough, a second response formed underneath my initial response. It was if I were in two realms at once, aware that his touch to my body feels good. It lengthened my spine in a way that my body craved all its life. As my spine received pressure, the bony parts of me softened. New space appeared everywhere: spine, pelvis, synapses, between my teeth, and the root of my tongue. A hard exoskeletal layer exists underneath my softer fleshy layer. Forgotten and buried. My protector, but it needs relief. And here it is, relief, under the touch of another. All I have to do is let it in.
Breath came back. Blood came back. A resurrection. When his hands left me, I was soft and new.
“Everything will be OK.” I heard. Maybe from the teacher. Maybe from the sky.
After that first yoga class, later in the evening, I finally stayed in my body during sex. On a down-filled pillow, I traced the lines around Matt’s eyes with my fingers as if seeing him for the first time.
Sometimes when I shut my eyes, all I see is the rain. Do I tell the springy woman and the rest of this well-intentioned group that we can’t predict where triggers will surface or when healing will happen?
We are all soft animals in the dark.
Anne Falkowski has been honing her writing for the past two years in the Corporeal Writing space under Lidia Yuknavitch. Her previous work has been published or is forthcoming in Change Seven, The Coachella Review, The Manifest-Station, and Common Ground.