“I have lost friends, some by death…others by sheer inability to cross the street.”
― Virginia Woolf
By Nina Gaby
It was with the best of intentions that I shut down my old life as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in upstate New York and packed up my family and got a quick prescription for Paxil and clonazepam and became an innkeeper in a small village in Vermont. Let it now be known that if you need two prescriptions to convince yourself that what you’re doing is right you might want to take another glance at it. Instead I went to a psychic in a strip mall and interpreted her words as confirmation (what she really said was light some white candles, take a bath with herbs, and think on it.) And while I fully understand I’m using this as a seductive hook here–after all who hasn’t at one time considered the cliché of running away to a simpler life of baking scones and turning down crisp bed sheets and not only smelling the roses but actually having time to grow them–that isn’t really the story.
The story is that for the past fifteen years I have been angry that the story fell apart. As it unraveled into petty interpersonal and not so petty financial conflicts, the small community we had moved to took sides. Think wrong table in junior high school cafeteria. We were not only collateral damage from 911 and eventually lost the inn, our life savings in one of the tech industry debacles, my mom, my dog and the old friend who lived across the road in our new village dismissed me in a way that felt cruel and confuses me to this day. I still feel shame for sounding like such a victim, as it was likely the victimhood that put us at disadvantage in our community in the first place.
Forgiveness has never been a consideration, anger being my stronger suit. Sometimes forgiveness is not even an option, even though we want to believe it is, as if we have more control than we really do. And that’s the real story.
I published a book about the loss of friendship, attempted to regain my equilibrium in numerous ways, stopped the Paxil, but I still needed the occasional sliver of clonazepam to quiet the panic. Like when I went to swim in the lake across the road or on voting day at the elementary school or when visiting the Old Town Hall which we helped renovate, always fretful as to who I would run into. When the town hall committees established caste systems, like popularity contests, it became the very last straw for my husband. We stopped volunteering and donating. Community, I snorted? Bullshit.
I isolated and in turn was marginalized. Or was it the other way around? I knew there were things I should do to take care of myself, since lying on the couch in a tattered robe with a comforter over my face wasn’t doing the trick, nor was working 60 hours a week when I finally ditched the robe and renewed my license to practice. I joined a weekly yoga class in the neighboring town but the owners of the farm where it was being held were part of the group of localvores that my old friend belonged to and the association made it too hard for me to focus on poses and intentions as I floundered in resentment. I had also “failed” at yoga back when I was suppler, before the move hardened me. In my competiveness at forty-six years old, I popped my back attempting things the twenty year olds shouldn’t have been doing. I didn’t go near yoga for a decade. I wasn’t up to the degree of adaptation that would be required.
It wasn’t that I didn’t join the flow of life. I worked hard to pull myself off that couch, my daughter and husband thrived. Financially we found our footing again. So what is she complaining about, one might ask?
Every so often the yoga and wellness center, Kripalu, would send a 2-for-1 special, and I’d treat myself to a weekend there in the Berkshires. I’d meditate on gratitude, I’d race around in Yoga-Dance, embracing my manic three-year-old self, returning to my sadness with a bit of new perspective, even published a short story inspired by Mountain pose. But on a regular basis yoga was too intimate, too demanding that I face myself. It hurt my increasingly arthritic body and my muscles and my spirit felt like desiccated rubber bands pulled too tight.
About the time I turned sixty-six last spring, I noticed another tightening, this time in my chest, and a breathlessness I ascribed to anxiety, to politics, to humidity. The small incline through the village became even more troublesome, and when I walked the dog up the steeper hills around us, I had to pace myself. The clonazepam didn’t help. One morning as I stopped by the edge of our little lake to chat with another dog walker, I began to sink under the weight of sudden vertigo. I held onto the granite hippo sculpture, warm from the sun, a curious piece of public art plopped down in our little New England town park for which it is named. “Hippo Park”–one of the charming oddities that had made me fall in love with our village in the first place–although what I remember most about that morning is not the sculpture’s comforting bulk but my embarrassment for being so weak.
It took another week for me to go to the clinic. And another two weeks to end up in the Cardiac ICU where I demanded to leave after a single night. “An unruly nest of cells,” the handsome cardiologist diagnosed. “Nothing about it is your fault.” My battery was shot and I would be taking a medication for the rest of my life. In the meantime, it was unsafe for me to swim in our lake and if the vertigo took me down I was ethically bound to stop driving. I tested out my Aqua-Jogger anyway and sure enough, no matter how I strapped it on, I flopped forward on my face when my legs stopped pumping. “No lake!” the cardiologist admonished as they taped the Zio Patch on my chest for 24/7 monitoring. “And don’t get this wet.”
A post card arrived in the mail. Yoga classes on Tuesday evenings for the summer, at The Old Town Hall across the road, the teacher is someone I recall with fondness from some projects long ago. So I went. It was a long, steep few hundred yards, as one might imagine.
My arms trembled in Plank, I could no longer balance in my favorite Tree pose, flooded with metaphors and embarrassment.
Dizzy, I persist. In Savasana, the teacher presses down on my shoulders and whispers, “I’m so glad you are here.” I don’t know if she says that to everybody or if she even means it. But it works for me. For the winter the class relocates to a warmer spot. I keep going. I am strong in Plank now, and the things I can’t do, I just smile and don’t do them. The teacher sometimes quietly places a block near those of us who need a bit of adjustment. Some days Tree is fine as long as I keep my focus.
The committees have changed. One “events” person has moved away. Another smiles at me in class and we chit-chat. Her daughters are now old enough to be in class with us. I ponder the passing of all this time and am happy my own daughter has done so well. She has called recently to tell me she is in the process of reuniting with some friends who “ghosted” her and I’m glad she has learned from my gracelessness.
In March I go to my first Town Meeting in over a decade. When a new committee person asks for sponsorship so that the yoga class can happen again this summer, I offer to contribute. And yes, put my name in the newsletter. Absolutely and how about bold italics?
Spring again. For the start of my birthday weekend, I sign up for the special extended Saturday class. It’s a breezy, sunny morning and I grab a spot by the open window. The class is crowded and will be more advanced than what I am used to. A striking couple is right behind me and I’m jealous that they look like “yoga” people when I so clearly don’t (later I find out that their daughter has a rare cancer and I am humbled once again.) Another new committee members takes time to thank me for my sponsorship and treats me like I am a part of something good. Tears are streaming down my cheeks in supported Bridge pose as my song choice for our morning playlist, Cassidy’s “Fields of Gold” comes on. I mop the tears with my t-shirt, not quite ready to cry in class. This is still not a community in which I wish to display vulnerability, but during Savasana the teacher whispers, “Happy birthday,” and later I hug her, and I tell the other woman how meaningful it is for me to sponsor the summer. We are all glowing a bit.
So maybe I don’t have a Forgiveness pose. And that tiniest sliver of clonazepam still comes in handy now and then. I wonder if I can take my sponsorship money back if any nasty people show up this summer. But as I roll up my mat I realize I’ve created my own pose. I’ll call it Renewal pose. Maybe Redemption. At the very least, Reclamation.
Nina Gaby is a writer, visual artist, and psychiatric nurse practitioner living in central Vermont and specializes in treating addictions. She has contributed to numerous anthologies and periodicals, both fiction and non-fiction, as well as prose poetry and articles. Most recently her creative nonfiction has appeared in Quarter-After-Eight where she is the runner-up in their Robert DeMott short prose contest, on ROAR: a Feminist Magazine, Manifest-Station, The Diagram, Proximity, Entropy, Mslexia, Rock&Sling, Kevin MD, Intima: a Journal of Narrative Medicine, and in the collections “Second Blooming” (Mercer University Press) and “How Does That Make You Feel?” (Seal Press). Her first book, “Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women,” was published in 2015 by She Writes Press and she has guest blogged on a number of sites, most recently Brevity.com, infrequently on her own website at www.ninagaby.com. Her sculptural porcelain is in the National Collection of the Renwick at the Smithsonian, and Arizona State University permanent collections. Gaby’s three dimensional memoir vessels explore transparency/translucency/ and opacity in mixed media including the written word and are exhibited regularly in regional exhibits. Active on social media, Gaby worries, possibly excessively, about algorithms.
this touched me very deeply. I too am a health professional. And right now, I’m in yoga teacher training. it’s poking into every corner of every part of me, and it’s both overwhelming and a relief. Thank you for this beautiful piece.
I found such relief as well, as soon as I relaxed into it, which is what it’s all about. Thanks for your comment.
Hoo boy. I recognize my small town in that small town. The isolation/marginalization–which came first question. I love this. Thanks.
Right? To what degree do we self impose? Thanks for commenting.
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Loved this read. Thank you!