Eight Years Ago Today I was a Self Defense Instructor
Eight years ago today I was a self defense instructor, waking up after a long workshop throwing punches. I headed to my “day job” at an ad agency. I wrote things that were too dramatic, but still important.
I read this stuff and cringe. But it’s important as a marker. I was a self-defense instructor and I taught teenage girls to throw punches. That memory is fond.
Feb 03, 2003.
I woke up this morning and cracked like an old woman. Sinking back into bed I thought of how perverse I must be to like this pain. This aching. A shoulder that rotates too slowly, a back that groans, a neck stiff and stubborn.
Yesterday I ducked behind pads as 6’4” men came at me full force with palm strikes and hammerfists. I held my ground. I critiqued their form. They listened.
After my first full-force demo of the palm strike technique the class of 28 teens went silent until someone near the back let out a subtle and sincere, “daaaamn.” They took a second look at my noodle-arms to be sure that they had seen correctly. Sure enough, this little girl with the skinny arms was putting them all – all – to shame. The boys looked impressed. The girls looked in disbelief.
I turned to them to break it down, showing how you use your hips instead of just your arms. And their eyes told me that they might, just might, believe me. They could do it too. Then I smiled as I ducked behind my blue pad to enjoy the feeling of tiny little sixteen-year-old girls letting go of ideas that they’d been fed for so long. I absorbed their blows. The force passed through the surface of the pad, strolled up my arms, into my shoulders, headed down and lingered in my gut. Their strength feeds me. Their confidence makes me full.
And now I can see more clearly the hunger that nags me and burns a hole in places that I can’t always identify. How frustrating to find yourself starving for something without a clue as to what it is. How joyful to finally find it. The simple feeling of a good strike against a pad. The feeling of waking up broken, but finding that you are finally whole.
My lover helps me sit up and brings me hot coffee. He brings me pain killers mixed with kisses. He coaxes me out of bed, talks me out of calling in sick. He says I’ll feel better soon, all I have to do is get up to walk around. And I know he is right so I ignore the screaming in my body and listen only to his voice.
We are already late, which doesn’t bother me at all. He has picked out some clothes for me to wear because he knows my functioning is only at a minimum capacity. And he knows me so well that he has picked the perfect outfit. I pull on my green cropped pants, wrap the grommet belt through my belt loops and zip up my Carolina combat boots. Glancing down at the toes, I see that they are worn, worn, worn. “Sheesh,” I say, “I have to get these polished!”
And he looks down and says, “No baby, it just makes you look tough.”
And I feel better. And smile to myself, because I found a boy who likes it when I look tough – who helps me look tough. Who makes me feel confident so I can feel good out in the world even on a day when it’s going to be hard for me to raise my right arm above my head. On a day when I am somehow both broken and whole.
He helps me maneuver into my bra, and clips it in the back. I pull it down and around in front while he searches for the perfect shirt. And after he’s helped me carefully into it, he picks out the necklace that he gave me for Christmas and puts it around my neck.
It is like a child being dressed. And I could not be more thankful for him than I am this morning. Because I am always strong, always standing up for myself and others, always taking care of myself. Because sometimes being strong means being fragile. Because sometimes, after so many days of resistance and rigidity I just need to curl up in a ball and hope that someone helps me out. And because he’s always there to do that. Because he reads it on my body and I do not have to ask.