blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1



How to Keep Busy While Your Fiancé Climbs Mount Everest

You're not someone who does this kind of thing, but here you are, doing it.

Say, "I've never done this before," to the man beside you, the one with his legs flung wider than a cheerleader's. Then feel embarrassed, as if you've just propositioned him. But it's only yoga. Celebrities do it. The bandy-legged man beside you, reaching for his yellow toenails, does it. The chubby leotarded lady in front of you does it. Now you do it.

Roll out your mat and try to look limber. You bought the mat at Walmart yesterday and it has a pleasant rubbery smell that reminds you of kindergarten, of sit-upons and Fisher Price. There are other people here who look less limber than you, and you concentrate on them—the leotarded lady, a stocky man in blue jeans, and there are a couple of middle-aged women sitting stiffly, as if they're shellacked from the neck down. You are the youngest person in the class, except for one pony-tailed twenty-something girl who is wearing a tank top and biking shorts and is just lying there on the mat with her chest forward, flat against her thighs. Decide to hate her. You need a little more hate in your life. You sometimes hate your fiancé, for going off and climbing Mount Everest and leaving you alone in this dinky New Mexico town, but mainly you just think he's being a jerk. Mainly you just feel a little sad.

Last week he'd said, on the phone from Kathmandu, "You should sign up for something."

"For what?" you'd asked, bewildered, walking the front porch with your cordless phone.

"Something to keep you busy," he said. "While I'm away." Because you teach high school English, and aren't a computer savvy techno-head like him, he thinks you are never truly busy. "Take a class or something."

"I teach classes, I don't take them," you reminded him. You wondered, not for the first or the last time, why you agreed to marry this person, somewhere a zillion miles away. But then later you were looking in the paper and saw an ad for yoga classes, and you thought what the heck, you'd try something new and interesting and strange. You had hoped and expected that everyone would look like swamis and smell of jasmine. But the only swami-type person is the instructor, who is old—seventy? But so bendy!—and wrinkled and bearded. His toenails are thick and yellow as Legos. The whole room smells like feet.

The classes are held in a nursing home, in a big room with a TV and microwave and tables and a play pen. Families probably sit in here and visit their dying mothers and fathers, while the grandkids play in the play pen. It's depressing.

Feel depressed.

Halfway through the class, when everyone is on all fours and roaring like lions (what kind of yoga is this?), an elderly woman from the nursing home shuffles into the room in her pink nightgown and yellow slippers and just sits there, watching. Wonder what she must think. You can't tell by her face, which is blank as a hardboiled egg.

The instructor instructs everyone to lie down and then flip their butts backwards over their heads. He demonstrates. Flip your butt over your head. In the back of the room, someone farts.

To finish the class, the instructor turns out the lights and tells everyone to lie down on their mats and take deep, cleansing breaths. Nap time, you think, gratefully. You need a nap.

When the lights come back on, the old woman is still sitting there.


Your answering machine is blinking red, red, frantically, dramatically. There's a message from your fiancé, who has called you from Kathmandu again just to make sure you aren't mad at him for spending his life savings to climb Mount Everest. "Tomorrow we head for Base Camp," he says, in a voice as measured as a PBS narrator. "I won't be able to call for a while. Well, I wish you were home."

He wishes you'd been home so you could reassure him, as you've been reassuring him ever since he came up with this stupid, childish, irresponsible idea, that you're fine with it. (If you told him the truth, that you think he's being an asshole, he'll resent you later for stomping on his dream, and it'll cause strain in the marriage. What you're realizing now, and haven't told him, is that you don't even want the marriage. Or do you? You have no idea.)


When your fiancé proposed to you, six months ago on a safe, sturdy outcropping barely twenty feet up the Organ Mountains, he'd plopped onto one knee and you'd thought he'd sprained his ankle. You'd helped him to his feet, stared at his sweet, dirt-glommed face, and told him to be careful.

And when he produced the ring from his backpack, you had imagined picnics and children and long, careful hikes, a long and careful life.


The old woman shows up again the next week, in the same pink nightgown and yellow slippers. The instructor is talking about out of body experiences and how once when he was in high school he was tackled in a football game and felt his soul leave his body. Even though it turned out he only had a broken nose. Now, he says, he can go out of his body whenever he wants, just by breathing a certain way.

"Have any of you had out of body experiences?" he asks. No one has. He turns to the old woman. "Have you ever had an out of body experience?" he asks her kindly.

She narrows her eyes and shakes her head.

"Well, don't worry," he says, "if you stick around here long enough, you will!"

Yeah, you think, she's going to die. Think, as you have not thought since seventh grade: One day, I'm going to die. One day also, your fiancé will die.

Feel worried.


At home, in the bedroom you share with your fiancé, take a deep, cleansing breath and then hold it, hold it, hold it—until you're light headed, hallucinating sherpas in a storm.


Read a best seller about climbing Mount Everest. The Hillary Step sounds like a square dance. Base Camp sounds like a pizza party. Try to skip the sections of the book describing how climbers eventually perished, but you find yourself reading about a man who died while talking on a cell phone to his wife at home in New Zealand. They picked out their unborn child's name and then the phone went dead, and so did he.

You don't want your fiancé to call you from the mountain if and when he's dying. You don't want to think about anything, about love or mountains or danger or anything at all. Throw the book against the wall. Rent as many stupid, brainless movies as you can find, and watch them all night, and cry.


You've started taking yoga twice a week now, Wednesday and Friday, not because you like it, but because you can't stand to be in your house, grading papers and listening to the phone not ring.

Think about having an affair with the bandy-legged man, even though he's smaller than you and flamingly gay.

Think about how stupid your fiancé is for risking his entire future, and yours, to climb a 29,000-foot rock. You've known him for five years, and if he dies you'll never marry anyone, ever, you won't even have a date, ever! If he lives long enough for you to break up with him, you might have half a chance.


Take off your engagement ring but then think, psychotically, What if this causes an avalanche? and put it back on, almost shaking. Breathe and pray.


The old woman is gone the following Wednesday, and you know she's dead and you also know—are you insane?—that your fiancé is dead. Think of him frozen on the Hillary Step, his eyelashes full of ice. Think of his blue eyes open and staring, and his hands caked and brittle as glass. He was the best thing that ever happened to you.


But then on Friday the old woman is back, and you pull your mat closer to her chair, until you can smell something sour and floral. Her expression never changes, nothing flickers across her face, but her eyes move slowly from person to person, as if trying to register someone not there, someone long gone. When her eyes light upon you—you're half-heartedly trying to hoist yourself into a backbend—smile and wave. Her eyes travel slowly on.

Make up a history for her. Her name is Olga and she was born in Russia. She used to dance in the Bolshoi Ballet, until she met her husband, an American soldier who whisked her away to New Mexico. He died. She has no children. Feel sorry for her, and for yourself. Feel sorry for your fiancé, who is climbing vertical granite, picturing your face in the blinding ice.

You're so preoccupied feeling sorry that when class is over you forget your keys and have to go back for them.

There you find the instructor squatting barefoot by the old woman, stroking her hand, murmuring. On the way home, shaking in your car, you wonder if he was really saying what you thought you heard— "My love, my poor love"—or if you just made that up.  

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