American Fiction Contemporary

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

“Breathe in…pull in from your core, another breath. Deeper now. Release it slowly…exhale through the mouth. Let all your negativity, self-doubt, and stress go, set it free. You are strong and you are amazing. And another breath in, this is a cleansing breath, hold it, four more seconds, and slowly let it escape, relax as you exhale, lowering the shoulders, good. Rotate your head and neck, slowly, stretching side to side. And reverse directions…one more time, then into position for Sun Salutation,” Jason’s deep voice was encouraging yet firm. This Tuesday morning group was ready for more challenging poses, he just needed them to believe they can do it.

Twenty years ago, I would have never been here, Craig’s mind always wandered during yoga. But I wasn’t the same person then. Everything is changing around me. I used to enjoy life; I enjoyed meeting people, trying new food, sex, you know, everything that makes life worth living. The pursuit of happiness. Focus Craig, be in the moment, stop overthinking, don’t dwell on what you can’t change. 

After a few classes, he asked about his focus and the instructor reassured him this was part of learning the practice of yoga. As he became more proficient, Jason said the moves would become muscle memory and he could work on controlling his thoughts. Letting his mind wander at this stage was fine, but he would need to become more disciplined and focused. Yoga is all about control of the mind as well as the body. He should be in the moment during his practice and set the world aside. This will help with healing and was important if he was going to deal with his grief. 

Easy for Jason to say, he was young and still had his wife.

“Sun Salutation. First position, prayer pose, be sure your feet are pushing downward into the floor, grounding you.”

Sun Salutation. Hello sun, thanks for another day since my wife died. Why the hell am I still here? Why did she have to go first? She was the good one, not me. She was our anchor. Everyone needed her, not me. They filled my job a month after I retired. I mean, a month! She was always active-- doing, planning, and just being there for everyone. She was the perfect wife. I just worked all the time, then retired, took up golf, and tried to stay out of the way. Without a job, how is a man supposed to fill his days? I haven’t been able to figure that out yet, guess that’s why I’m here. Maybe I should go to church…I need answers. Does anyone really have answers? I don’t think so. Counseling? Maybe…could I open up to a complete stranger? It would be easier than talking to someone I know. Be honest about my feelings? Do I even know what I’m feeling?

Prayer pose, ha! I can’t pray! I don’t have it in me to pray. I’ve tried, but it just makes me angry. The only thing I want to pray for is to bring her back to me. I want to scream at God! This life must be some sort of sick experiment of his. We’re thrown into this world to try to survive--we work ourselves to death for shelter, food, clothing. Then, if we are lucky, we find someone we love and they love us back. The years pass by, and they are ripped away from us. Like God is saying, ‘Ahh, you liked that, didn’t you? You can’t be happy forever sucker; I’m going to take her away. Why am I going to take her, do you ask? Because I can, that’s why!’

I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have thought that. Blasphemy, nice, add that to my list of sins. Can I at least ask why God? Why her? She wasn’t sick, she took good care of herself, of me, of the kids. She never ate junk food or drank too much. Hell, she did this yoga crap every day. She swore it would help me with my arthritis, but I never came with her. I was always too busy. Now, here I am. My joints feel better than they have in years. And she’s not even here to say I told you so. God, I wish I could hear her say that. She would smile while saying it, that smile…

“Standing Mountain pose. Inhale and reach up, lengthening the spine. Shoulders back, reach up through the tips of your fingers.”

Reach up Craig, up, farther, pull yourself out of this. It’s been six months already. I should be able to have a good day once in a while. Don’t I deserve a good day? Yes, dammit, I do! I was a good guy. A good husband and father. What qualifies as a good day though? Have I had one since she died? Reach farther, through the fingertips, geez Jason, we hear you, I can’t get any taller. What am I reaching for? Am I at the top of this mountain? What’s on the other side? What’s at the top of mountain anyway? I guess it’s different depending on the person you ask. What’s my mountain? It’s every day without her. 

What’s a good day? Hmmm…it was good to play golf with the guys last week. But I know they were careful not to mention their wives around me. I appreciate that, but people shouldn’t feel like they have to close up about their lives around me. Sometimes, I want to talk about her and hear other people remember her. I want to talk to someone who knew her like I did. It’s hard to do that with the kids. I tried, but we all just ended up crying and missing her more. Maybe one of her friends would want to talk, have a cup of coffee with me. Wait, would they think that was weird? That I was asking them out? I just don’t want her to be forgotten. 

“Downward fold, hold it there. Exhale, widen your feet apart and inhale, exhale and bring your chest as close to your knees, stop if you feel pain. Feel the stretch, hold. Now, move into downward facing dog. Push your feet into the mat, most of your balance should be toward your feet, not your hands or wrists.”

Push into my heels, right Jason. Hard to do when I feel all my blood rushing to my head. Feel the bend, push through the heels. There are so many women in class today. Other than Jason, I only see two other guys other than me. In the back corner is the investment guy and his wife I met a few weeks ago. She is starting to show her baby bump now. Good for them, nice couple. Better appreciate every minute with her buddy. 

Who’s behind me today? She obviously is struggling and hasn’t been practicing yoga long. Head to toe in all black. She keeps laughing with that annoying Maryann. That woman never takes Jason’s instructions seriously. I hate that, if you are going to pay for the class then act like you want to learn something. Or at least don’t distract everyone else. Speaking of distractions, the redhead is looking good today. White spandex is always welcome in yoga class, thank you very much for that. And that tank top…she is spilling out the top in this downward facing dog position. Good choice Jason, keep us here a while longer. She isn’t tall, but her legs are long and toned. Very flexible. And a little tattoo on her foot. What is it? A sunburst? I like that. I like that a lot. Geez, I’m a dog, I was just mourning my wife and now I’m thinking...well, yeah, I’m thinking. Dogs can be loveable, right?

“Down into a plank now and hold,” Jason was counting backward from thirty. “Two, one, and release the plank. Good, don’t forget to breathe. You are working hard, good form today. Flatten your body onto the mat and then lift up through your arms and shoulders into cobra pose. Don’t give up, we will rest when we are done.”

Craig felt his spine and shoulders open. This pose always felt good. He raised his chin back further, stretching his spine. A click and pop and his upper back felt better. Amazing how stiff the body can get from doing nothing. He’d spent way too much time doing nothing since he lost her. Maybe it was time to do something, get the pops and clicks out. He could see all around the room from this angle, like he had perfect peripheral vision. 

Does a cobra have 360-degree vision when it’s in a strike pose? I don’t think so, maybe that’s why they sway from side to side. Watching, always watching. I wonder about the other people in this class. What’s their story? Do they have all these random thoughts too? All these doubts and insecurities? Anger? Fear? Probably, that’s why we are all here. 

It’s amazing how flat my stomach feels in this position. Wish it would stay that way when I stand up. It’s not bad though; don’t be so hard on yourself, Craig! I’ve done pretty well for a guy my age. I just need some things to fill my days and keep my mind busy. Maybe I should pick up some freelance work. Why not? It would be good to be part of a project here and there. Plenty of development going on downtown, I’m sure they need engineers. Mental note to check into that. Strike while the market is hot. Make a little cash and take a trip. Yes, travel…where should I go?

“Now into the forward bend. Keep your back flat, like the tabletop pose. Reach down toward your toes, it’s ok if you can’t touch the floor. Don’t force it, just enjoy the stretch. Check your neck position. Keep your head and shoulders straight. Now bring your shoulder blades together, open up your chest. Let the air into your lungs, open your heart, accept the good energy you are bringing in. Let the oxygen flow throughout your body. Open yourself to it. You are strong today and every day.”

Keep the back flat, shoulder blades flex together. Another pop, God that felt good. Open up the chest, open up my heart. To what? Shut up, Craig, just open, accept the energy. Accept what comes your way, just be open to it.

“Return to prayer pose and center your thoughts. Take a deep, cleansing breath in. Hold it and breathe a little deeper. As you exhale, slowly release your shoulders down. Head roll to the right, remember to breathe. Again, one more. Now to the left. One more cleansing breath in before we finish today. And hold, then release. Good work all. Thank yourself for your practice.”

Craig took a few extra breaths and stretched his arms over his head. He closed his eyes and leaned back before shaking it out. When he opened his eyes, the redhead was approaching him.

“Craig? Is it Craig? Hi, I’m Annette,” she extended her hand with her introduction. Craig shook her hand, mesmerized by her green eyes. “I hope it’s ok, um, I wanted to meet you. Jason told me you lost your wife this summer. My husband died of pancreatic cancer last year. None of my friends seem to understand, I thought, well, it would be nice to have someone to talk to who had lost someone too. People just act weird about it, you know. Like they can’t talk about it…sorry, I hope I wasn’t being too forward.”

“I’d love to talk. Would you like to get a cup of coffee?” Craig asked as the sunlight shifted and streamed through the studio windows.

November 30, 2022 20:10

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Delbert Griffith
00:40 Dec 08, 2022

Nice story. Gritty in a soft way, which is hard to pull off. Craig's inner dialogue is certainly realistic and heartbreaking. Nicely done, Susan.


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Kendall Defoe
01:45 Dec 05, 2022

I really liked this one. I often find it difficult to get out of my own head, even if I am doing yoga or exercising, and I can understand how those thoughts of loss and pain can rush in on you. Many thanks for sharing this. I wish your protagonist the best of luck over that cup of coffee... ;)


Susan Williams
02:36 Dec 05, 2022

Thank you Kendall. I'm glad you liked it. I'm hopeful for Craig's future! :)


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