Laughter Yoga/Marlene Olin
Granite Canyon, South Fork
By Marlene Olin
Seven hundred bucks for an airplane ticket. Seven days scratched out on the calendar. Rock climbing. Mountain biking. Hiking. I was vacationing with a doppelganger, a me nobody knew.
“We raise goats,” said RayAnn. “We practice yoga. It’ll be the best week ever. Promise.”
Years ago, in another life, I met RayAnn at college. English majors, we smoked pot and wrote poetry in smoke-filled rooms. We painted our lips white and our eyes coal black. We were the epitome of cool.
Then life happened. After graduation I moved back home to Miami. Instead of becoming a writer, I married my high school sweetheart and became a stay-at-home mom. I spent the next twenty years cooking, cleaning, changing diapers, waiting for repairmen, helping with homework, wiping noses, carpooling, waiting for more repairmen, driving to the orthodontist, teaching my kids how to drive. My life had become a Good Housekeeping cliché.
“Come visit the Tetons!” said RayAnn. “Fresh air. Lots of exercise. You’ll get rebooted. You’ll start writing again.”
While I boomeranged back to my hometown, RayAnn had lived like a nomad. She moved from city to city, teaching mostly at community colleges, managing to get two novels published. She lived the life we had always talked about. One romantic liaison after another. Free and uncommitted. And her stories always ended on a high note as well. Against overwhelming odds, her heroines found happiness. During the six-hour plane ride, I read nonstop.
Sitting on a Dream: Mavis is paralyzed in a car accident. Thanks to the intervention and very hands-on caring of a small town doctor, she regains the use of her arms and legs. The climax of the book takes place on their honeymoon. Cannons fire and fireworks burst. The book sold twenty thousand copies online alone.
Hotel Hospice: Lorelei has terminal ovarian cancer. Lincoln, her only child, is fifteen-years-old and has an IQ of one fifty. A promising violinist, he steals manhole covers in his spare time. He’s the kind of kid who’s either going to end up playing Carnegie Hall or trolling the streets. Then grandpa comes to town. Lorelei’s father abandoned her, beat her mother and stole all their money. But life’s all about the second chances. And grandpa has talents no one − NOT EVEN HE!!! − suspects.
“We’ll be landing in few minutes,” says the pilot. “It’s usually a bumpy ride around now.” I shove the two paperbacks into my purse and brace myself. Below me snow- covered peaks puncture the stratosphere. I suck in air to make the plane lighter and lift myself in the seat.
It’s a small airport. Lilliputian small. I get off the plane and walk down a flight of stairs to the tarmac. The sky’s blindingly blue and cloudless. We’re ringed by the Tetons. They’re so huge they’re one dimensional. For a moment I feel like an actor in a play, the mountains a stage prop, the moon a Cheshire grin.
The people seem unreal, too. Everyone looks the same. Blue-eyed and sun-bleached hair. Tanned and toned. As soon as I find my way to the luggage area, I crane my neck for RayAnn. I figure she’ll recognize me first. I’m just an older, weathered version of the college coed I used to be. Brown frizzy hair. Splotchy skin. I might as well be wearing a sign. Jewish Housewife from Miami.
“There you are,” she says. No, her Facebook page wasn’t PhotoShopped. RayAnn still looks around twenty. Yes, she competed in an Ironman last year. Yes, she really does raise goats.
“It’s for weed control,” she tells me. “They love thistle. So instead of using weed-killer, we bring my goats to people’s yards. They eat the bad stuff and leave the good behind.”
We bump along a dirt road and stop in front of a log cabin. It truly is a log cabin. Like on the pancake syrup bottle. Somewhere I hear a rooster crow. The air smells like Christmas. My skin starts to itch.
“We use the old outhouse as a root cellar,” says RayAnn. “We’ve got indoor plumbing, the internet, the whole she-bang.”
The walls are covered with new-agey art. A hand with an eye. A web of yarn with feathers. Though her conversation is peppered with words like spirit and feelings, there are no periods or pauses, no intake of air. Sentences spill like an avalanche. We get up at five don’t forget there’s coffee. We feed the livestock grab some gloves at the door. We do our chores before sunrise don’t you love to watch the sun rise isn’t the sunrise awesome?
And she talks as if she has an invisible companion or partner only no one else is there. No photographs on the fireplace mantel. No his and hers towels. I’m used to tripping over my kids’ sneakers and finding Rob’s underwear on the floor. There’s not a lick of dust in the house.
“We keep our jackets in the closet and our shoes by the door,” says RayAnn. When I drop my purse on the couch, she picks it up. “Clutter in the house makes for clutter in the soul.”
She’s become the nature Nazi. The Fuhrer in the dell. She opens the door to the frig.
“Help yourself,” says RayAnn. It looks like a bank vault and takes up half her kitchen. “We just eat local. Local fruit. Local veggies. When she opens the door to the freezer, I could swear I see a hoof. “We’ve gotten friendly with a few hunters. They stock us in venison for the year.”
I still suffer PTSD from Bambi. The forest fire. The mother dying. Who could forget? The sandwich I ate on the plane flips.
She directs me to one of the two bedrooms. It’s Martha Stewart pretty. A bed with a blocky quilt. A bathroom with a claw tub and billowing curtains. “This is wonderful,” I tell her. It must be fifty degrees in the cabin and as the sun sets, the temperature’s dropping. In Miami, it’s sweater weather. In Wyoming, it’s a typical summer. My teeth chatter. I crave my flannel nightgown — the one I left home in a drawer.
RayAnn counts down on her fingers. “Monday’s hiking, Tuesday’s biking, Wednesday’s yoga. Once our bodies embrace positive energy, our minds will relax.”
She disappears into the kitchen and I hear cabinet doors opening and closing. Meanwhile I unpack and take a closer look at the house. There’s not a TV in sight. Her bookshelves are lined with Sitting on a Dream and Hotel Hospice. A few Tony Hillermans and Louis L’Amours. What ever happened to Kerouac and Corso? The RayAnn I used to know has become a stranger and this stranger is getting stranger by the minute. We are stranded in a wooden shed in the middle of nowhere. We are starting to panic.
Days pass. The two of us develop a routine. Like a shark, RayAnn needs to get moving. My job is to stay out of her way. When she’s not tending to her goats, RayAnn’s running up mountains, paddling a kayak through the rapids, riding her bike over moguls of Queen Anne’s lace. Most of the time I stay home swinging in her hammock, listening to the ripple of her creek. I read. I write. Even so RayAnn is grateful for the company. I don’t think she realizes how lonely she is. I don’t think she can hear herself think.
“Summer is great, but just wait until winter. D’you snowboard? D’you ski?”
“I’m afraid of heights,” I tell her. Afraid of depths. Speed. Falling. Pain. I am the anti-RayAnn. I am afraid of everything.
She looks crestfallen, her mouth like two parentheses, a sad clown kind of face. I toss out a bone.
“But there’s yoga, tomorrow! I’d love to try yoga.”
There’s maybe twenty people in the park. In the distance, I hear children playing. Ravens as big as cats sit on tree branches, caw.
“Welcome to Laughter Yoga,” says the instructor. “For the next hour I will be your leader, your guru, and your friend.”
RayAnn is standing next to me. She’s holding one of her feet directly over her head. With her elbow out she looks like the letter P.
“It’s great exercise,” she whispers. “Loosens the diaphragm. Relaxes the back.”
My lips form the letter O.
“Let your mind be drawn to the spirit of the Tetons,” says the instructor. “Become one with the universe.” We are stretching our hands over our heads then reaching for our toes. Then waving them side-to-side like cheerleaders. I look around to see if strangers are watching because I feel like an idiot. I’m sure we look like idiots.
“Now loosen the mouth.” The instructor sticks out her tongue and starts shaking her head. Ho Ho Ha Ha Ha. Ho Ho Ha Ha Ha. The last time I heard a person breathing that hard she was in labor. There’s an old man in back of me. He’s pushing eighty for sure. Ho Ho Ha Ha Ha. Then I hear someone hyperventilating. It’s either the old man or me.
The instructor moves onto another exercise. We are holding hands in a circle, moving in, moving out. This I understand. Just when I’m getting the hang of it, she changes direction. Now the group is moving from right to left like a pile of dominoes. We are clapping on each other’s backs. Banging the hell out of each other’s backs. While I’m pounding on RayAnn, the old man is pounding me. Only he misses half the time. Pounding my ass, the air, my head.
Now laugh, shouts the instructor. She forces a staccato grunt from her mouth and aims it towards the sun. Laugh! She commands.
I look around. Everyone is laughing. Sort of. The old man is wheezing. Some crazies are rolling on the ground holding their stomachs. When I look at RayAnn, her forehead is lined, her lips pursed. Meditation has made her incredibly anxious. She squeezes her eyes shut, fists her hands, and a series of machine gun rat-a-tats burst out. Ho Ho Ha Ha Ha.
“The yogina is a riot. Isn’t she a riot?” says RayAnn. Ho Ho Ha Ha Ha. “Why aren’t you laughing? Everybody’s laughing.” Ho Ho Ha Ha Ha.
I’m the only one not laughing. I’ve always hated smiling for the camera. It’s fake sincerity. A clockwork orange. Meanwhile RayAnn is chuckling like a robotic Santa Claus stuck on someone’s lawn. Ho Ho Ha Ha Ha.
When the group is exhausted, when sides ache and half the class has to pee, the instructor winds things up.
“Let your mind be drawn to the stillness,” she says. We sit in the lotus position, knees crossed, our palms facing up, forefinger and thumb touching.
“Relax the tension. Let your spine rise from the ground. Repeat the word So…ooo…ooo as you inhale. Then exhale and say hummmmm.”
I look around for hummingbirds or bumblebees but no. It’s just the sound of a dozen people collectively expelling air from their mouths. RayAnn tries so hard to relax that she looks more tense. The old man farts. The air’s so still I can hear the aspen leaves whistle, the grass crunch.
And then it occurs to me. I’m the lucky one. My life’s not bathed in Kumbaya but whose is? I love my husband, I worship my children. Our home is our nest. I may not have written the great American novel but I’ve created something of value. While everyone’s quiet, I unfold like a flower and stretch. Hummmmm.
And then I start laughing.
There is nothing louder than a laugh at the wrong time. The instructor hisses through her teeth. Everyone in the class sideglances, sending me death ray stares. Somehow I’ve found a chink in their cosmic armor, put the kibosh on their karma. RayAnn doesn’t speak to me the whole ride home.
We put together the local version of homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and eat dinner in total silence. The goo sticks to my teeth but I can’t say anything, do anything. Finally RayAnn speaks.
“While you’re a guest in my home, I would appreciate if you don’t make fun of my friends.”
We’ve known each other too long for me to bullshit my way out of this. I’ve been hiding in a cloak of sarcasm all week. Covering my insecurities by acting superior and judgmental. And assuming that RayAnn with her gosh darn small town ways wouldn’t notice.
“I think you’re terrific,” I say. “I think yoga was terrific.” I’m digging deep now. “And I really love your goats.” I’m practically choking on the words. Not because I don’t mean them but because my palate feels covered in mud. I stick in a finger and extract a dollop of brown sludge.
“That’s disgusting,” says RayAnn. Her voice is now a high shriek. “Do you know you’re disgusting?”
I stick in my finger once more, circle my mouth, and extract an even bigger dollop. The relief is overwhelming. Physically. Emotionally. “Did you know this peanut butter sucks?” I blurt. “Did you know that I’d kill for a diet coke right now?” I pull back my finger and sling the sludge. It hits RayAnn on the stomach, two inches over her belt and clings like a barnacle. The whole wad stays cemented to her shirt.
She looks down. She stays looking down for a long time. Then slowly she unpeels a grin. Her teeth are checkerboard. Brown. White. Brown. White. “I’d give it to the goats but they won’t touch the stuff.” She takes a fork, impales the brown goo that’s on her shirt, and flicks it back at me. Once we start laughing, it’s hard to stop.
“God, how I hate you,” she says. “I hate your marriage, I hate your kids, I hate the fact that you know just who you are. You’re just perfect, aren’t you? I hate the way you’re perfect.”
She’s joking. Sort of. I get up, walk around the table, and give her a big hug. “You may think you hate me but you don’t.”
She smiles and wipes away some tears. “You want a pizza? I know a place with great pizza.”
Old friendships have a habit of sticking, too. I’m the yin to RayAnn’s yang. The cream in her coffee. The perfectly timed caesura. I hang around a few extra days until it becomes an extra week. My husband and kids say they miss me. I envision a sink filled with dirty dishes and hampers stuffed with dirty clothes. It’ll wait. They’ll wait. The Tetons are calling. I’m one with the universe. Hummmm.
About the author:
Marlene Olin’s short stories have been published most recently in Upstreet Magazine, Emrys Journal, The Saturday Evening Post, Biostories, and The Jewish Literary Journal. She lives in Miami.