The Pilates class started at 6:30 so Illy showed up at 6:10, determined not to repeat her belly-dancing intrusion. Unfortunately the instructor hadn’t arrived yet so Illy leaned against the locked glass doors and tried not to make eye contact with the lady sweeping inside. She dug her fists into the pockets of her hoodie and kicked at an old gum wrapper on the sidewalk. She was starting to realize that life for her was a series of timing misjudgments. How did other people do it so effortlessly?
Illy was excited about this Pilates class. She had adamantly refused to attend any more belly dancing lessons and hadn’t even set down her gym bag when she walked into a Zumba class the previous week. There was way too much bouncing and shouting and hip thrusting within the first three minutes for her comfort level. But she’d watched some Pilates videos online and it seemed like the right workout for her. Lots of stretching and breathing and perfect abdominal muscles, which was exactly what she needed. She was hoping for maximum muscle tone and graceful posture with minimal bouncing. Or sweating, if possible.
June, who tried new exercise regimens with wild and eager abandon, and who somehow seemed to pick up the skills by just walking into the room, happily agreed to join her. She had likely already done yoga that morning and gone swimming at the YMCA in the afternoon, but never wanted to miss an exercise opportunity. Even before she’d discovered the marshmallow consistency of the back of her thighs, she’d had the physical discipline of Illy’s mother. Illy was hoping that eventually she’d absorb some of that motivation swirling all around her.
By 6:35 Illy and June were lying on their sides, propped up on one elbow, in the back corner of the studio. The class was a lot fuller than Illy had been imagining an evening class would be, and the other women all seemed to know each other. Illy was glad June was with her. If she’d been on her own, she probably would have kicked that gum wrapper all the way down the block at the sight of those chatty, tanned women with their cool yoga pants and hand-painted Pilates mats.
“Breathe to your core. Remember your body is a perfect breathing machine.”
Illy tried not to snicker. She just could never take exercise instructors seriously. She tried to block out most of the breathing instructions to avoid another hyperventilating mishap, and stared at all the back tattoos of the women in front of her. There were a lot of dragon flies and infinity signs. Some long scrolly quotes. Some of them were quite beautiful and Illy wondered if she should go ahead and get a back tattoo, maybe a typewriter or a quill. Or both, symbolizing her deep commitment to the act of writing. Maybe just knowing they were permanently etched into her skin would give her the regular discipline she needed to write more regularly. Then again most of the women in the room looked older than her so she had probably missed the window of back tattoos being cool. All of these women had probably gotten theirs five years ago while she was still working up the courage to get her nose ring.
“Now stretch your toe to the ceiling, feeling your spine lengthen and your energy channels open.” Illy quickly swung around to her other side so that her head was close to June’s then lifted her leg. There was no way she could lift her foot anywhere near the direction of the ceiling, so lifted her leg a few inches from the floor and concentrated on her energy channels instead.
“So I saw Jay at the grocery store,” she whispered to June.
“What? Did you talk to him?” June really did look like a perfect breathing machine. How did she do that?
“Of course I did. I wouldn’t break my solemn donut oath to OGJAC.”
“Now rest. Breathe. Feel your core contract and release with deep life power.” The instructor was staring directly at Illy. Illy lowered her whispering volume.
“We’re going out. On a date.” Deep breaths. Core power. This was actually an exercise regime she could handle. She felt her abs strengthening already. “And he thinks I’m pretty.”
June opened her eyes and raised her eyebrows at Illy, giving her a “Well, good for you” sort of look. She was clearly impressed. The class sat up and crossed their legs. Illy scooted even closer to June. “He’s obviously been noticing me all along. I think this is the turning point in our relationship I’ve been waiting for.”
The instructor lifted her arms straight overhead. “Now reach, reach, reach. Listen to your body. Now twist, twist like cold taffee.”
Illy dropped her arms out to the side and whacked June on the shoulder. “Sorry.” She scooted back to her spot and twisted, feeling elegant and toned. Maybe true exercise was more about letting the energy flow through your body than exerting yourself too hard. This felt much more natural and effective than running or bouncing. She reached and twisted the other direction, even allowing herself to concentrate on her breathing for a while. Pilates was clearly the exercise approach she’d been waiting for.
“Did you learn anything about Jay from his grocery habits? Any weird items in his basket we should be worried about?”
“Maybe. He was buying an alarming amount of frozen lemonade concentrate. It didn’t seem normal. But I was too busy waddling past the baby food to do a lot of judging.”
June’s eyes widened at Illy in alarm. Grocery store waddling was definitely not part of the OGJAC strategy.
“Don’t worry. He obviously didn’t notice or care because he said yes to the poetry night, which was the main objective. Though from now on I’m wearing a bra to the grocery store.”
June was about to respond to this when she paused and looked around the room. “Hey, Illy,” she whispered as they all leaned to the left. “Do you notice anything about all the other women in here?
They leaned to the right. “The back tattoos?”
“No. Look at their bellies.”
Illy could only see the backs of most of the women She waited till they all stood and turned into a half lunge. And then she saw The Bellies.
“Now put one hand on your heart and one hand on your growing baby. Lunge. Feel the core power flowing to your baby with every breath.”
Illy burst out laughing, then quickly bit her lip as a few of the women glared at her, hands gently rubbing their pregnant bellies. The exercise approach that she’d finally been able to handle was Prenatal Pilates.
Continue Reading: Chapter Twenty-Six