What’s going on?
Three times a week I drive a few miles north of my yoga studio to the financial branch of John Deere to teach class. There in the bamboo-floored group exercise room administrative assistants unroll their mats next to vice presidents and mid-level managers to stretch and strengthen, invert and relax. I walk in smiling one to three minutes before class begins and walk out, mat bag over my shoulder, within moments of the closing salute. I am Susie Sunshine Yoga Teacher, she who lives in a house lightly scented with lavender and patchouli, who never has a care in the world.
It is one of the ironies of what I do, but it’s not an act. My first yoga teacher trainer made it clear, “You’ve got three breaths to leave your sh!t behind and be in the room, with your students, centered and ready.” These are words I teach by.
Nonetheless, if I’m teaching fifteen hours this week and sleeping thirty-five or forty, there are still 113 hours during which I’m living, and some days are worse than others.
Recently, on a cool, spring Thursday, I had one of those days. There was nothing spectacularly wrong, but pretty much nothing was right, either. The requirements of the day included getting out the door by 5:30 am for an early class, heading to an overdue annual appointment with the gynecologist, racing back to the studio for a noon private session, cleaning the studio thoroughly, and picking up my daughter, Eleven, from school to deliver her to dance. Each week when we get home from dance there are precisely fifteen minutes to figure out dinner before I must light out for the studio again for my evening class.
To say I was blue that Thursday is putting it mildly. I couldn’t have a conversation about what kind of tea I wanted at the bagel shop without getting glassy eyed. The kind manager asked, “Long morning already?”
I just nodded because I didn’t want the tears to drip.
“Well,” he said, “here’s breakfast. Maybe it’ll start to improve now.”
Since it was still before the gynecologist and before I was late to meet my private student and before cleaning the studio toilets and scrubbing scuff marks off of the linoleum floor and before someone asked for yet another day off from teaching and before fifteen new email messages each with their own urgency arrived in my inbox and before there were three new voicemails requiring my attention, breakfast didn’t do the trick. Not that really any of those items was so terrible, but I was terrible. I was in an overwhelmed inconsolable place, wanting nothing more than to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head.
It happens, even to Susie Sunshine Yoga Teacher. And while some days I can just move through the miasma and come out smiling, that day little was budging my weepy blue mood.
Eleven parked at dance I took myself to Starbucks, my insane sometimes more than daily habit of last year curtailed to once or twice a week and only when I’m staying at the café. It was writing time. Whether or not it makes me feel better, writing is my favorite thing to do. I pulled up my book as I’ve determined this is the year something will become of it and started to read. That’s when the commotion started.
The opening salvo was a phone call from Eleven and Knocking-on-Fifteen’s father, an air traffic manager at Des Moines Tower. He was working a police plane flying low over 86th and Hickman, looking for an escaped convict. It was only a few minutes after we hung up that I saw the plane, right over my head, and the text messages began to fly. More information flowed from the tower, where they were receiving regular updates from the pilot. Details arrived from a friend, who was monitoring the news and had received an automated alert phone call at work. The convict, the story went, had escaped transport near Menards on Hickman Road, about two miles from my house. He had stolen a van (there was a report of a carjacking that turned out to be incorrect) and driven east, last seen in the vicinity of Hickman and 73rd, right about where my yoga studio is located.
It was time to go. I packed up to make sure I was in the ballet parking lot a few minutes early, collected Eleven safely, stopped for noodles for dinner, and deposited nourishment with a very happy home crew at the cusp of their three-day Easter weekend. I called Knocking-on-Fifteen aside:
“I need you to go around and make sure all the doors are locked tight. I’m sorry to do this to you, but there’s an escaped convict on the loose and if I didn’t say something to you I’d be worried the whole time I’m at class. Please don’t alarm Eighty-Nine and Eleven.”
“Okay,” he sprang to action. It’s reassuring to leave a second-degree black belt in charge.
Driving on Hickman I could see that the events were very real and very recent. Blocking one lane were a wrecked car on a flatbed in front of a dented stationwagen and a police car, lights on, just where the convict apparently escaped and fled through traffic. I passed four more law enforcement cars as I drove three miles east on Hickman Road, and then I arrived at my studio driveway.
It is no exaggeration to say that fifteen law enforcement vehicles of various shapes and sizes were parked higgledy piggledy blocking the entrance to my
parking lot and filling the space in front of the building next door. One of my students was pulled right up into the mix, asking the officer how she was going to drive through to her yoga class. He was telling her she couldn’t go back to the studio because they hadn’t checked the building yet. I drove around the back way, across the rattily bridge, and parked in my usual spot.
For the next fifteen minutes, students trailed in, some wondering what was going on, while others already knew and added information to the story. We learned that the van had been discovered in the motel parking lot across the street. Men wearing bulletproof vests and leading search dogs were looking all around. The plane buzzed overhead. An all-terrain vehicle was dispatched into the creek to peer into the causeway that channels the water under Hickman. Text messages continued to pour into my phone.
What could we do? We practiced yoga.
Well, to be fair, my students practiced yoga. I practiced something else, vigilance. As I walked softly, circumnavigating the room at a pace that was a study in meandering, I was peering out the windows while I spoke in the voice of Tamra Twilight, Susie Sunshine’s alter ego. Whereas Susie is upbeat and delighted you’re arriving or departing the studio, Tamra is soothing, a respite from the chaotic world. I watched with alarm as the men with dogs and flak jackets walked up and down outside the studio and a crowd gathered on the bridge over the ravine in the back. I watched with increasing calm as the men put the dogs away, conferred in groups, then climbed in their clutter of cars and drove away, lights on but no sirens.
My formative years in big cities taught me how to be protective of myself. That early training translated, in a
way that surprises me, when I became a mother bear. Today I’m ever-watchful, perhaps overprotective, of my cubs, my home, the studio. The vigilance means that on a night like that Thursday in April, I took the very best care of everyone I could, right down to making sure that each of my students had someone to walk to her car with and no one got into her car without peering in first. It means that when I got home and told Eighty-Nine and Eleven what had happened, I did so carefully and folded Eleven into my arms to sleep that night. It means that I spent some time soothing Knocking-on-Fifteen, who let me know he had been jumpy the entire time I’d been away. And it means that because I had something else to do, something that felt meaningful and important, the blues chased away.
Twenty-four hours after the drama started, the escapee in question was captured some distance from the studio and my house. Less than twenty-four hours from now, my sweet boy turns Fifteen. A new moon and a solar eclipse seem auspicious starts to launch his new year. Happy early Birthday dearest son. Thanks to you, dear reader, as always, Rxo