I bought the 28-day class pack because the yoga studio wrote a Hemingway quote on the chalkboard outside: “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” After months of dissecting each other in front of a therapist, a mediator, then finally a judge—a black hole year that contained nothing and everything—I needed to know I was a man with more rounds to go.
“Twenty-eight days is the length of a moon cycle,” the cheerful woman at the desk explained as we waited for the credit card machine to beep. A tanned patch of flesh peeked out of her elaborately-strapped sports bra. She handed me a punch card in the shape of a cloud.
It hurt at first, I won’t lie. Years of low expectations turned my limbs to noodles. My middle refused to bend. My feet blushed in shame under the studio’s lights. But I liked being amidst all those bodies, sweating in their more pliable shells. The rainforest hum of the room felt like progress.
We didn’t have any kids, thank God. That’s what my friends said—“Thank God!” I was grateful not to dump anyone else into our mess, but maybe if we’d had a baby I wouldn’t be so alone. Maybe I could motivate to cook a vegetable or clean the kitchen counters. Maybe I’d have more evidence of the past six years than a few pieces of furniture and half a house, which as it turns out, is no house at all.
After the third class I bought a purple yoga mat. After the fifth class, I bought a clever Velcro strap to hold the mat in a tight roll as I carried it. Nine classes in, my body stopped groaning in Down dog. It yawned instead, expanding to let in the room’s humanity. When I left the 12th class, 40% of my molecules had been replaced by better molecules, droplets of hopeful saline that had congregated with wiser souls. The remaining 60% were wrung out by full body twists, shaky from chair poses, but that kept them quiet as I walked back to my place, which was still colder than ours had ever been.
The last night before we separated for good, I hit her in my sleep, hard and in the face. She said that was the final straw, but it was an accident. I’d been under a lot of stress at work so I had taken NyQuil to shut off. I told her it wasn’t me that hit her, but that seemed to anger her more. In therapy, I started counting how many minutes I could look at her without her looking back. I had to switch to counting sessions: four, five, ten. She was an impressive woman.
“If you hurt your ankle twice in a month, maybe you should ask the ankle what it’s trying to tell you,” the Tuesday instructor intoned as the 14th class sank into Pigeon pose. My body was a disaster, I’d heard that for a while. The NyQuil, yes, but before that the beers . A couple, a handful, a case. My shoulders throbbed from supporting my own weight when we had sex. Then, we stopped having sex so I forgot I even had shoulders, forgot I’d ever had sex. But in Crow pose, they creaked a proof of life. The instructor came over with her lavender-scented palms to press the muscles into release. Her touch sent me Roladexing through the early days of marriage, months when we traced our hands over each other’s bodies to find the hidden coves. The whole world was in that touch and I almost fell to the floor.
I had the biggest shit of my life after the 16th class. It was such a long snaking miracle that I wanted to take a photo, but I had no one to send it to. Maybe digestive reincarnation was part of the 28-day challenge too, or maybe my intestines had finally reached their capacity for bullshit.
“We must forgive our bodies first, before we can forgive our minds,” the Saturday teacher warned us as we lay in Child’s pose, a sea of bowing backs in front of her, mine likely the least bowed. After the 20th class, I started doing Child’s pose in the evening, after I brushed my teeth with a new carbon toothbrush and masturbated with the bathroom door closed even though I was always alone. The Wednesday teacher said rituals are the personalized presets for wellbeing. The new meditation podcast the Monday teacher recommended said routines are “a gift we can give ourselves when no one else will.” After the 22th class, Child’s pose replaced the NyQuil, and even sometimes the beers.
The 28th class was a hot vinyasa. I spent the hour awed by how smoothly my new body could react to each shape. The me that she knew was exfoliated and flushed into the gaping fissure of the past year. The real me was free. When the instructor told us to close our eyes, I silently thanked every person in that room, I really did.
The same woman who greeted me the first day offered to punch the final circle of my card. As she handed it back to me she cooed, “Congrats on becoming a yogi!” I felt an electricity wriggle from her fingertips through my arms, my chest and down my legs, bringing all the tiny hairs to attention. High on rejuvenation, I reached out and pulled the woman into my new body, the one that could bend and stretch at will, the one I had almost forgiven. Twenty-eight days later, the top of her left breast was still trying to escape its strappy Spandex cage. My hand moved up to hold it gently, the life inside her skin and mine mixing, the weight of her breath filling my palm. My fingers squeezed around her nipple. And then she screamed, and I let everything go with a final exhale.
REBECCA ACKERMANN — Rebecca is a writer, artist, and designer living in San Francisco. Her writing has appeared or will appear in The New York Times, Barren Magazine, Wigleaf, and Rejection Letters. She’s been lucky to spend time at the In Cahoots and Wellstone Center in the Redwoods residencies, and in a previous life, she was an editor at New York culture magazines Index and Heeb. You can find her on Twitter making bad jokes @rebackermann or on Instagram making tiny clay food @rebeccaackermann.
Art by MELISSA LLANES BROWNLEE — Melissa creates art as a way to help her be a better writer. She posts her daily doodles on Instagram @lumchanmfa. She also tweets @lumchanmfa and talks story at www.melissallanesbrownlee.com.