I crawled off a reformer and hobbled towards the corner of the room where the disinfectant is kept in two spray bottles beside a pile of clean white paper towels. It’s Pilates’ etiquette, you see, to wipe one’s sweat off the machine you were just draped across so the person who works out after you will have the pleasure of only reclining in sweat of her own. It’s been about a year that I’ve been attending this studio faithfully, and I’ve come to be friendly with the other regulars. We know certain things about each other now, the type of casual information you trot out as you lay panting beside one another in the early hours of a weekend morning or in the finally-blessedly-light-outside time of 6:00 PM. I know, for instance, who just had a birthday and whose kid is in his junior year of Art school. I know who recently cut all alcohol from her lifestyle and promptly dropped twenty pounds because apparently her favorite prior food group was vodka. I know which person’s hip hurts when the lunging happens. I know who just signed up for a nutritionist because she ate nine mini cupcakes last night and then exploded into a paroxysm of guilt that manifested into a hysteria of dietary planning. I know who never stops fucking moaning during every single exercise and I’m just guessing here, but I have come to think the reason such a thing occurs has to be because this woman’s imaginary (and perhaps her only) friend told her the class’ secret name is Porn With Pilates. I know that when we’re told right before class to grab the ring, the ball, and the dowel that we will all collectively heave a deep sigh because shit is about to burn.
There’s a easy familiarity we have going, so I wasn’t particularly surprised when one of the women met me near the door on our way out of class and asked if I’m involved with anyone at the moment.
“I’m actually dating like it’s my job,” I told her. “And my work is exhausting.”
It was my second day of college ever and classes hadn’t started yet. I woke up in a top bunk bed I’d never slept in before and tried from the moment my eyes flickered open to convince myself that this – that all of this – was simply my new existence and therefore every part of it was completely normal. Yes, I repeated in my head while I stood behind a flimsy curtain in the shower of the communal bathroom, it was normal to live in an L-shaped shoebox with two strangers. It was normal to tote a bathrobe with me into the shower so I would not run the risk of ending up naked in public, not even during a fire drill caused by some drunk person pulling the fire alarm. It was normal that my soap, shampoo, and razor were kept in a turquoise plastic bucket with a handle instead of on a shower shelf that belonged only to me. And it was totally normal that I was showering in flip-flops to avoid getting whatever sort of fungus had surely been left behind by the stranger who had showered before me and then bequeathed me a tangle of her blonde hair in the drain as a disgusting form of souvenir.
There’s this hotel I once stayed at for well over a week in Laguna Beach called The Montage and every aspect of that place is forever imprinted in the happiest folds of my brain. The pillows? They were clearly fashioned by a large group of benevolent angels out of the finest flurry materials available anywhere in the spiritual stratosphere. The loofah placed lovingly next to the enormous bathtub? That wooden-handled scrubby thing gave me the single finest exfoliation of my entire life. The hotel’s bath gel smelled of verbena. The salad served out of white oblong bowls poolside had perfectly grilled shrimp and the creamiest goat cheese I’d ever tasted and the men climbing the bluffs at dusk after a day of surfing the spiky waves looked like the sort of Ken doll Tom Ford might have fashioned just for sport.
I used to fall asleep without praying. For decades, I would crawl into bed, arrange my pillows into a fluffy mountain to keep my head elevated all night, turn immediately onto my side with my legs curled in sort of a tree pose, and drift off to a choppy dreamland often marked by sugarplum dreams dosed slightly with acid. There was something comforting about getting into bed and just being done. Though my mind would often spin with unanswered questions and unrequited longings, those thoughts were never linear and they certainly weren’t planned out and there was a freedom to my nighttime ritual I wish I could reclaim. Because the thing is, I don’t quite know what happened or even when it happened, but I pray every single night now and it takes me a while to do and, rather than feeling quieted by my prayers, they cause nocturnal anxiety. I think it’s probably that my prayers, though coated with gratitude, are also motivated by fears I spend all day pretending are not there. I speak of my family and my wishes for them and I ask for safety and protection for all of us and I pepper my words with a request that those I care about will be alleviated from whatever ails them. I pray that those I loved who have passed on are at peace and that they are together in a spiritual stratosphere I’m not even sure I believe exists, and I end with thoughts of appreciation. All of it is done in my head; I do it whether I’m alone in my bed or not, and I never really talk about it with anyone – about how I feel like I have to do it now, about the way it’s almost become a superstition, about how I’m not even sure it helps anything, about the way I’ve convinced myself it cannot possibly hurt.
If I prayed for you at one point, you probably remain in my nightly thoughts. I’ve never been all that good at the process of elimination.
I used to do yoga. Once a week, one of my best friends from high school — a certified instructor who still smells comfortingly of patchouli — would show up at my house. I’d unroll my yoga mat (it was green and began to absorb the scent of my feet more and more every week) and she would unroll her purple one that never seemed to smell at all. She’d guide my breathing and force me into positions I was initially certain my body was never meant to bend into and my dog would lay beside my mat and yawn, occasionally standing up to do a downward facing dog that put mine to shame every single time.
One taught me how to grill vegetables inside a tent made out of aluminum foil. Just some zesty salad dressing for a marinade, he told me. If you can chop and turn on a grill, you can cook.
It was late October – Halloween morning – and by 7:30 AM, I’d already seen four guys (including my Vice Principal) dressed as Superman. The troopers from Reno 911 stopped by and I posed for a picture with them before they entered the Journalism class next door. I caught a glimpse of a girl in the distance wearing a classic yellow raincoat and holding an open umbrella over her head with stuffed dogs and cats dangling off of it – she was the walking manifestation of it raining cats and dogs – while two bananas, twelve babies in pajamas clutching dolls and pacifiers, the entire cast of Scooby Doo and someone besides me who was also dressed like Cookie Monster rushed to get to class on time. I was wearing a royal blue tutu the color of my favorite character’s fur. I’d affixed chocolate chip cookie-shaped pins along the hem of the skirt and paired it all with a matching tank top, a little black sweater, and a sequined black belt to give the whole thing some definition. I completed the look with four-inch heels. The other Cookie Monster wore a plush onesie that zipped comfortably up the front. Her costume had a hood with Cookie’s eyes affixed to it while I wore a headband topped with eyes of the same style. That headband was squeezing my skull like a vice and giving me the closest thing I’d ever had to a migraine and it took maybe everything I had not to approach this stranger and persuade her to switch clothing with me right there in the middle of the hallway. But head throbbing and foot clenching aside, I liked my costume. I’d gone way more elaborate with my costumes in the past. There were years I was up before the sun, applying the darkest eyeliner and the blackest lips I’ve ever walked out of the house wearing to look like a goth-y witch or a fallen fairy or something equally as ridiculous just so I could have an excuse to experiment with makeup. Not all of my experiments went well. Once I caught sight of myself in the rearview mirror and, for a sudden shocking second, I thought maybe someone wearing a statement ring on every single finger had punched me in my sleep.
You have to give the man credit. He’d performed for two straight hours – just him, a guitar, a piano, and his wits – but then he stood on the tip of the stage and lightly but methodically pounded the wood of his guitar with an open palm. The sound reverberated around the circumference of the theatre mimicking a heartbeat, my heartbeat.
The first time he went up my shirt I was sprawled across a pool table. It was very late – so late it was almost early – and even the crickets were asleep as I arched my back and wondered exactly what it was that I was feeling. I knew two things with absolute certainty as he pressed his mouth on mine, again and again:
1. His teeth tasted like cranberries, his tongue like vodka.
2. I was always so shitty at remaining in the moment.
In the densest layers of the muck-and-scum-filled reality television ecosystem, a few Bravolebrities have risen like deranged phoenixes to the tippy top. They bob there proudly upon the fungus-ridden slimy surface and take comfort in the asinine belief that the only thing that matters is that strangers know their name. The creatures currently crowding that swamp include: