Scene: Evening. I’m scheduled to teach a 6 pm and a 7:30 pm class. My phone is playing music through the stereo. A lovely group of people come in for the first class. At 6, I shut the door and take my spot at the front.
“So, good afternoon, everyone,” I sing out. My natural singsong voice naturally cranked up to 11 for class. My natural lullaby. “As always, I love opening up the floor for any requests…”
Suddenly the music is interrupted. A 617 number is calling.
Look who forgot to out her phone on silent. Again.
“Oof, sorry about that,” I chuckle out, sending the call to voicemail. “Anyway, as I was saying…”
Two minutes after everyone closes their eyes, my phone lights up again. Now on silent, it doesn’t interrupt the music. This time it’s my husband.
“A 617 number just tried to call. What’s going on?” I text back while the students are in the middle of sukhasana. Was I talking to them about breathing? Did I randomly stop talking in the middle of a sentence? I can’t remember anymore.
“Your little brother’s in the ER,” he replies back. “They won’t tell me much because I’m not blood relation. I’ll try to find out what I can.”
I’m thanking my husband as I’m telling my students to bring their hands to their heart and set an intention – something I define as a present moment mindset instead of a goal we’re hoping to attain through yoga. Today I’m tripping over my words as I try to say that very piece of information.
I’m tripping through my words throughout the entire class. I’m distracted. Frustration is compounding. What timing. What timing. What fucking timing. I’m here until 8:30. I can’t call the hospital or even check my voicemail for another hour. And now I’m messing up my words because I can’t stop looking at my phone.
Frustration is boiling over. I’m ready to boil over.
I lead my student through breathing exercises. They’re as much for me as they are for the students.
Seven p.m. rolls in and students exit. I dive into my phone. I find out my brothers been in a major motorcycle accident. A bystander called 911 and he was unconscious when the EMTs arrived. He’s alert now, but his face is banged up….badly. He’s going to need reconstructive surgery. He was pinned against a car so they’re keeping an eye on his legs and making sure he’ll still be able to walk. Concussed, but no signs of brain trauma. The 617 number was not from the nurse I spoke to, but from a social worker at the hospital. They’re concerned about my mom being able to take care of herself with my brother not in the house.
My brain isn’t registering, but my eyes are. I’m in tears.
Pull it together. Students are due in any minute. Breathe.
My 7:30. A class for veterans. A class with movements and verbiage specifically designed to help people feel more in control of their own body and breath. A class for the warrior in all of us.
A class that I end up having to dart into the parking lot to grab students for because the main door locked on the students without me knowing. I only realize this as I look out the window and see a regular wandering said parking lot.
Great. A little more wrong for the evening. I’m frustrated. I’m upset. I just want to go home.
I’m going down a rabbit hole and hitting the edges as I descend.
Said regular is cracking jokes about the situation. I crack jokes back. I don’t feel like laughing or joking or even smiling but sometimes you just have to. Class goes without too much of a hitch. Words are jumbled. Poses forgotten. But I survive and the students aren’t complaining.
I’m hysterical on the drive home. Shock has warn off.
Scene: the next morning, at a different studio. My morning class before I drive into Boston to visit my little brother. The music from my phone plugged into the stereo keeps getting interrupted by phone calls. A 617 number. A 603 number. One of my older brother’s phone number. Guess who forgot to put her phone on silent again. Each time, I’m in a position where darting across the room to reject the call would be more disruptive then letting my ringtone play.
“Looks like I’m in demand today,” I joke.
Inside, I’m fighting a nasty fight. One I’m far too familiar with. The one where frustration compounds and I can’t sort it out and it feels like everyone wants everything from me all at once and right now and I can’t deliver and OH MY GOD just leave me alone.
I breathe. I smile. I’m singsongy. I check my voicemails after class. I drive to Boston. I take the T in and walk.
A man shouts, “Hey boo!” to me as I cut across Tremont. Apparently my ass in yoga pants is speaking in higher decibels than the rest of my body. Everything about my body language screams, “don’t fuck with me.” Apparently he’s only hearing half of those words.
Hands keep closing into fists. Shoulders keep rising up to my ears. I can hear my own voice, talking to my students about all the ways our body sends signals to the brain that it’s ready for fight or flight. I can hear my own advice about using exhales to help relax things. I let out a huff.
I’m playing whack a mole with tension.
Exhale. Relax the shoulders. Exhale. Unclench the jaw. Exhale. Relax the shoulders again. Exhale. For the love of God, stop strangling your purse strap.
Boston Medical Center is vast. I call up my mom – the same woman I’m supposed to talk with a social worker to arrange someone to check in on her – to get information. All I get is a headache. I’m curt with her and I feel terrible about it the second I hang up. I find the main entrance and am met with hoards of people and flashing lights and sirens and firefighters.
A fire alarm has been set off. I still have no idea where I’m going. What else could go wrong.
Eventually the alarms stop and the firefighters clear out and life goes back to normal. I go to the information desk. After everything that’s happened, there’s a part of me that wants to yelp, “I just want to see my little brother.” It’s a thought I don’t focus too much on because I’ll start crying in line if I do. Breathe. Listen to the inhale. Listen to the exhale.
A lot of things shattered alongside my father’s death, but my bond with my little brother strengthened in light of it. I’m reminded of this when it’s my turn and I ask for a visitor’s pass and attempt not to lose it in front of a woman who clearly has no time for this, or anything.
Scene: Surgical ICU. I have to be buzzed in. My brother’s out cold when I arrive. Black eyes so dark and deep you’d think a makeup artist applied them. Face swollen. The left side is essentially shapeless. A few abrasions, a few stitches, but considerably milder than what I had imagined. I send a message to the same older brother who had called that morning. Since that older brother is a firefighter, I joke about the alarm and the firefighters. I wait while the little brother sleeps.
He wakes up for a moment, speaks lucidly but muffled, and falls back asleep.
I breathe. I think in fevered narratives. I continue to inform friends, family, whoever I’m supposed to. I dance between the three activities. Breathe. Fevered Narrative. Inform. If I do anything else, I’ll start crying. I start crying anyway.
Eventually the nurse comes in; he’s just been upgraded out of the Surgical ICU. I excuse myself as they prepare to move his bed and head back outside.
I walk down Mass Ave — simultaneously Methadone Mile and home to some of the most expensive real estate around. One guy on a porch yells, “Ooooooh if you let me take you home, you’d love me! I’d kiss you from head to toe, I would! “
I do the one response I know: I slightly smirk (not smile, not grin, not even fully smirk) and shake my head and keep walking.
I breathe. I wander. I take in the sunlight. If I do anything else, I’ll start crying.
Scene: Prudential Center. There’s a conference of some nature, for the Academy of Sports Medicine. Men with red lanyards around their neck, who look like the type of guys to be in sports medicine. Broad shoulders and gentle eyes. I hang a left and find myself by the base of the Prudential tower. In all my years living in the city, I’ve never done the Skywalk. Not once.
Today seems as good a day as any.
Boston is laid out before me.
“If dirty water were a salve, I’d apply it to every wound,” I think to myself. Fake poetic, but I blame the speaker behind me reciting quotes about Boston from famous writers.
“Boston is a mindset,” is one of the quotes.
Damn right it is.
I’m two steps into the gift shop when my phone rings again. It’s my uncle, checking in, letting me know what the plan is for my mom (Meals on Wheels to stop by each day. Bare minimum, someone for my mom to talk to. For all our issues and worries for her, I do believe the biggest problem she’ll face without my brother there is loneliness). I’m barely a lap around the observation deck when I get another call.
Little brother, awake and able to talk.
He tells me a little more about the crash. The details I hear are way worse than I could’ve anticipated. How he is still alive — let alone mobile — is beyond me. He asks if I’m coming back to Boston Medical. I take one more lap around the observation deck and head back.
My best friend — someone I’ve known since I was 10 — calls as I’m walking back (walking, walking, always walking. And breathing, and joking). One of many check-ins from the people I unabashedly call my second family.
“Hey, do you remember junior year homecoming?” she asks. “When your brother lit all those candles along the walkway for us?”
“It’s one of my favorite memories with him,” I say and my heart swells.
Just breathe. Just breathe. No tears on the sidewalks of Boston.
His accident made the news, complete with a picture of the crash. The picture makes me wonder how anyone could survive that, let alone still have the ability to walk.
I post the link online with a few raw words of commentary. Included in the commentary are some equally raw words about how much I love him.
Just breathe just breathe just breathe don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry.
He’s awake and asking if I have a charger. His phone is nearly dead. I offer to run out and get one at the nearby 7-11.
As I’m waiting at an intersection, I let my mind get the best of me. I stop focusing on the breathe and the air and that fevered narrative as I describe the world around me to an audience of myself. Instead I take in everything and it hits me over the head.
Breathe breathe breathe dammit don’t you dare cry at the corner of Washington and Mass Ave.
The woman at the 7-11 speaks in a thick Russian accent and attempts to find the cheapest charger there. They’re all flimsy and overpriced. I buy two.
A boy in a wheelchair goes, “Hey! I like your pants!” to me when I return.
Scene: Surgical unit. The non-ICU kind. I stay a little while longer. I plug his phone into the new charger. He alternates between sleep and talking. Nurses come and go. He’s scheduled for surgery tomorrow. People are contacted.
I hang out. I joke. I singsong as I talk. I make more jokes. I breathe. I joke. I sing out optimism. I make more jokes.
If I do anything else I’ll start crying.
Scene: The vast world of yoga. I started teaching yoga four months before my father’s health started to tailspin. Before my whole life would start to tailspin. Before every aspect of my life would be flipped on its head to the point that my feeble struggle to find my footing in the yoga industry would be the only steady thing I had going.
I would speak in hindsight that yoga was really the only job I would’ve been able to do during that time. I would’ve collapsed in any other profession. Teaching yoga in the midst of crisis after crisis, fuck up after fuck up, was a saving grace. As much a saving grace as whatever it was that spared my little brother, even though the crash should’ve paralyzed him — that, had that car hit him even slightly differently, or his bike had been at a different angle, I would’ve received a completely different phone call.
The saving grace of teaching yoga was partly due to how easily I could slip into the role – slip into the practice like a mouse dropped into a maze and effortlessly finding her way out. It was partly due to how much yoga itself was a saving grace for me, changing an Irish girl with an inwards-directed Irish temper for the better.
And it was partly due to a sense of duty. These people coming into the room are bringing the same crap onto their mat as me. And this invaluable toolset that was given to me is something I feel compelled to pass on. And not as a blissed out yogi bestowing peace on her minions, but a messed up lady shining light on the path for her fellow messed up companions.
And it was partly because teaching them reminds me of the things I desperately need reminding of, myself.
Breathe. Do your practice and all is coming.
I wait out rush hour in Boston. I have pizza in the Prudential Center’s garden. I reflect. I breathe. I continue to inform. Continue to view life in a hazy narrative delirium that all writers know too well.
“I want to see the sunset over Boston,” I say to myself. I want to do something a little frivolous and silly. I want to go back up to the Skywalk in the Prudential Tower and watch the sun lower over the city. And so I do.
There’s a weird blessing behind all of this. A lot of things shattered in the wake of my father’s decline. And a lot of things hardened as other things shattered. There were callouses where it wasn’t healthy to have callouses. And it created a lot of circle running. The whole situation, that whole day, right down to the 7-11 run and wanting to burst into tears over the heart swells, were a vital reminder that not everything hardened back together.
Because life is full of overlaps if you keep your eyes open enough: as I’m driving through Medford on the trek back home, the Fellsway is reduced to one lane due to a crash. A fire truck and police car are still on the scene, their lights still flashing. As is a flatbed tow truck carrying an SUV with its airbag deployed. Two men are sweeping glass from the streets.
Dusk is soft and warm and enveloping. I breathe in the summer air. I breathe in a little more. Among other things, I have two classes scheduled tomorrow. I can already hear one of my regulars noting my smile, that I always seem so happy.
“It’s important to stay positive,” I have said in response, dancing around the subject of emotions.
The sky is vibrant in its final hours. Red sky at night; sailor’s delight. Storm has passed.
I feel the sadness of it all well up in me. Not just the sadness. The everything. The whole range of emotions that such a day, such an event, such a past couple of years, can stir up. There’s a surge of it all as I’m on 93 returning back home.
Breathe. You can cry now if you need.
My eyes well up for a moment, but instead I ride the feeling until it mellows out into the night.