James Rhine: Essay: July 2022

Southern Legitimacy Statement: Having grown up in the Bible belt to one day feel it a little too strict around my waistline, I’ve spent the latter part of my waking years learning to unlearn. One day I’ll be South of the trauma, this side of and longer than a Mississippi second.

Tell the Body to Stop Keeping Score

I was reading an essay by Gina Nutt in which she mentions how she nearly cried in a yoga class, how intensely her body responded to the possibly of release. I connected; having taken several yoga classes, having been married to a yoga instructor, I’ve given it many a chance, with many classes I’ve almost had to run out of because it felt like I was going to molt right out of my skin. 

It’s hard enough getting into comfortable clothes; I joke that the Canadian tuxedo—denim on denim on denim—is my loungewear. In this soft breathing public, loosely draped, open-toed and vulnerable, I feel like I’m wearing my diary for the world to read. On a day at best I’m an open book in which I pick the page.

There is a constant pang in my throat, a squeeze most palpable whenever I’m in grocery stores, busy sidewalks, and now in a room full of people bathing in the soundtrack of our breath. In the stress and the flex of unused muscles, it feels like I’m pushing air through a silly straw. I suffer from chronic lower back pain and ulnar nerve damage—I’m told from the repeated motion of playing the drums for almost two decades. There is on the side of me I can’t see a game of minesweeper—and any pressure point just might set off a chain reaction.

My mom and I go on a weekend trip together before I start my second year of teaching. She buys us a massage. I have a woman who asks me if there are any places I don’t want touched—I say my butt. I regret this later. I lay on my belly and stick my face through a hole in the table. As she proceeds to work my back and shoulders, she goes from fingers to elbows. She grimaces, says There’s a lot built up in here. In a mess of flesh and nerve I am a baseball glove that has sewn itself shut.

After the massage there is relief, followed quickly by a tidal wave of emotional dread. On the drive home I am paralyzed, overwhelmed with pure unfiltered emotion. When I’m home I sit in my car for fifteen minutes in silence. I can’t even form words. My mind is boiling over; I’m a frog who accepts the myth. I am a frog who forgets what it means to be amphibian. 

Warning: There is a massive panic attack. A suicide attempt which looks like running barefoot down the road in the middle of the night with no destination in mind; anywhere except here. I never make it to the body of water I aim to drown myself in. In the ambulance strapped down I feel the best I have felt, back to a pressure that intends to hold down instead of working to release. I am in a strange comfort with this familiar, that is until I get to a bed of paper sheets and bathrooms with no knobs.

In a learned and better time, I do yoga classes online and at home, cheered on asynchronously by someone who doesn’t know my name or face or the sound of my bated breath leaving in arrhythmic bursts. When it becomes too much I hit pause, right after I hear her and other voices say Make this practice work for you. 

My body is keeping score to a game I didn’t know we were playing until it was too late. I’m working to make that up. I stretch before I do most anything. I try wearing sweatpants on an errand. I’m loosening up in the cool down. If I ever end up with a palm reader, I’m hoping they can feel my body making railroad tracks out of tallies on train to anywhere else but where the brain doesn’t know it’s boiling over.