It’s lunchtime the next day when I get Maria, from the SottoPelle office, back on the phone. I think briefly about changing my voice somehow, maybe a touch of a British accent or South Carolina drawl so she doesn’t know I’m the woman who hung up on her yesterday. By the time the appointment is booked for Friday, I’ve gone through about four different poorly-delivered accents, but at least it’s done.
In a bag at my feet under my desk, is a pair of yoga pants, a bedazzled T-shirt, socks and sneakers. I had made arrangements for Alex to take the bus and meet me here right after work. Over the cubicle as she walks by, Lila tosses me a wave and a wink. I smile back. I guess we are really becoming friends.
When we arrive at the dojo, Lila introduces me Sensei Takanawa. He’s the real deal from Japan, and he bows crisply to Alex and me. In a thick Japanese accent, he tells us he is happy to have us and fits us with a temporary gi and white belt. There’s something slightly sensual about the way he ties my belt with a rough tug, and I think of Harrison, the guy I’d made eye contact with in the bookstore yesterday.
During the warm up I feel like I’m going to die. Sensei has us running in circles around the perimeter of the dojo. Running! I think the last time I even walked for any length of time was when I took Alex and Camille to Disneyland five years ago. Lila’s hair is tamed under a bandanna, but my hair is all in my face, which is probably the color of a beet. Alex has a determined, happy look on his face as he runs.
The stretching exercises feel like something out of a medieval torture scene. My body doesn’t go in those directions anymore. When we start the burpees (an insane exercise where you jump up, then go down into a pushup and end with another jump), I give up and pretend to jog in place, but I’m really just lifting my feet up and down and trying to catch my breath. Sensei looks at me and gives a slight nod. I guess he’s not going to kick me out for being too out of shape.
“Don’t worry about it. I was the same way when I started,” Lila hisses to me. She’s burpee-ing away with the best of them. Her belt is green.
When we start the actual karate practice, though, I start to enjoy myself. Throwing punches and kicks feels good. I channel some of the aggression I feel towards my ex-husband and his soon-to-be child-wife (well, she’s in her 30’s anyway) into those punches. Then I realize she’s in her 30’s and oh my gosh, what if she gets pregnant?
I throw an extra exuberant round of punches and force myself to think about something else. I focus on my appointment tomorrow and imagine that with each punch I’m getting back a piece of my life, my youth, my vitality.
Choku tsuki. Straight punch. That’s for how tired I feel.
Gyaku tsuki. Reverse punch. That’s for the night sweats.
Mae geri. Front kick. Take that, insomnia.
Mawashi geri. Roundhouse kick. Foggy brain, that one’s for you.
At the end of the hour, my heart is pounding and I’m short of breath, but I feel hopeful.
“You did great,” Lila says, toweling off her neck.
“Can we come again?” Alex asks. His eyes are shining and he’s bouncing on his toes with his fists up, looking more like a prize fighter than a Japanese warrior.
“You can sign up for a three-month trial,” Lila says.
“Okay,” I agree.
On the way home we get stopped at the light across from the bookshop where Lila and I had coffee yesterday, and I can’t help but try to look through the window to see if Harrison is sitting inside. I crane my neck so hard Alex asks me what I’m doing.
“Nothing,” I say, snapping my head back to the front.
As I do so, I see him stepping out of his car in the parking lot. For all his old-fashioned looks, Harrison drives a Tesla. The minute I notice him, his eyes meet mine across the parking lot. Oh no, he did not see me like this! My mom SUV. My matted hair. My sweaty no makeup face. I want to look away and pretend I didn’t see him, but it’s too late. Without thinking I raise my hand in a little wave, then instantly regret it. We don’t even know each other. Why would I wave to him? What an idiot. He’s going to think I’m stalking him.
He holds up his hand in response, not really in a wave, just an acknowledgement, but he doesn’t look away.
“Mom, the light’s green,” Alex says.
I quickly face front and push too hard on the gas pedal. The tires squeal the tiniest bit, sealing my humiliation. But Alex doesn’t seem to notice, so I wonder if maybe Harrison didn’t either. And then I wonder if maybe he did. And I can’t decide which of those two outcomes I am hoping for.
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