By Anne H. Putnam
CW: Mention of cutting and other emotional distress; swearing
“What’s…your…deepest…darkest…secret?” The tall, slender blonde was slowly making her way around the small yoga studio, padding silently in bare feet, her leggings pulled halfway down each foot in a style that mimicked the way ‘cute’ girls would keep their hands in the sleeves of their sweatshirts when I was in high school. She walked purposefully, rolling each foot carefully, moving like the ballet dancer her form emulated. She padded around the dozen of us who were hovering in a plank position on our provided mats, her voice stretching out sentences for what seemed an infinity. I quivered and grimaced, and once she’d passed, I dropped a knee, breathed deeply, then brought it back up before she could turn and see.
My deepest, darkest secret is that I fucking hate you for speaking so goddamned slowly, I growled inwardly, my shoulders aching, my thighs screaming for a rest. I rolled onto one arm for a split second so I could use the other to shovel the sweat out of my eyes.
“I will never forget,” she continued, in that excruciatingly slow manner, “the morning of my wedding, when I sat in a beautiful hotel room, about to marry the man of my dreams, and cried because I knew I was a liar.”
I tried not to hate her for her wedding, which I was certain went ahead, unlike mine; for the gigantic engagement ring on her slender finger, while mine was bare and swollen; for her basic but undeniably lovely appearance, her slender figure with irrationally full breasts, whereas my pear-shaped flesh was sweaty and red.
I allowed myself to continue to hate her for her unhurried cadence.
I put another knee down when she passed again; she was telling us about her history of cutting to relieve her anxiety, and I did my best to feel empathy rather than disdain. Just because she’s pretty and a yoga entrepreneur and seems to live on Easy Street, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t hurt the same as everyone else, I chided myself. But it was difficult to feel anything beyond desperation to drop out of this endless plank and fury that she took so goddamn long to say fucking ANYTHING.
“So what is your deepest…darkest…secret? And what would it feel like…to let someone…see you?”
She still wasn’t finished, but my response was blaring in my mind: I DON’T HAVE ONE. At first, I was smug – I have no secrets; I’m an open book, unlike my ex-fiancé, and most of my family, and my suddenly-Sphinxlike best friend – and then I realized that this might not be a good thing. But I couldn’t touch it with my mind. My body was too strained for me to strain mentally.
Finally, finally, I heard the magic words: “Now yoga pushup, slowly lower to the mat, up dog or cobra, and push back to downward facing dog.” Never in my life had I been so glad to do a vinyasa. Downward facing dog felt like a fucking loveseat after that much plank work. I pushed my heels down to the mat, trying to stretch out the ever-present tightness in my Achilles’ tendons, and balanced on one hand again so I could use the hem of my tank top to sop up some of the sweat I’d pushed around during the first portion of the class. I tried to slow my breath as she said, far too soon, “roll forward into plank, now yoga pushup, up dog, then back to downward facing dog.”
As I flexed my feet again, I finally let myself touch the thought I’d had earlier: is my lack of deep dark secrets really emblematic of my openness? Am I really such a free and easy person, so trusting and vulnerable? Or is it something else? Through the next few moves, I wondered what that something else might be, completely losing track of my breath in favor of more important things: my thoughts.
I thought about how my therapist was always pushing me to explain why I felt such an intense need to communicate every tiny detail to my ex, what I thought it would accomplish, and how I never had an answer. I thought about how many times I’d tried to guide my parents and my ex and everyone else who’d ever hurt me (even my best friend, more recently), to show them the way to treat me better through my own openness, and how badly it had seared my already open emotional wounds when they failed. I thought about why I seemed to be so obsessed with this sort of plausible deniability I’d invented, the idea that somehow, as long as I did everything I could to prevent people misunderstanding me, it should hurt less when they inevitably did. But, I realized, it only made it hurt more.
And that plausible deniability, I thought, isn’t that just another kind of secret? Isn’t being open for the sake of an ulterior motive in the same vein as not being open at all? Is it really genuine vulnerability if it’s a means to an end, even if that end is a fantasy?
I felt like I’d been split wide open, and I turned to stare at the waifish instructor from my wobbly Warrior One. Shit, I thought, as I tried to figure out whether she’d had any idea what she might bring up in her workaday students during this Wednesday lunch-hour class in the financial district. I’d assumed these ruminations during class were straight bullshit, some topic she’d thought up while high or Googled over her morning coffee, and then a bunch of rambling for long enough to torture us in one awful position before we finally moved and forgot everything she’d said in the bliss of changing positions. But maybe I’d underestimated her.
“What’s your deepest, darkest secret?” I don’t have one. But what if my deepest darkest secret was that I wasn’t always as vulnerable as I thought? That the vulnerability on which I prided myself was, in fact, its own kind of armor? A guard against anyone who misunderstood me having a leg to stand on when they said it was my fault, that I didn’t articulate my feelings well enough?
The cool-down song came on and I realized I’d been going through the movements in a kind of trance. We all lay down on our backs and the instructor came around the room and placed washcloths soaked in cool water over our closed eyes. She put aromatherapy oil on her hands and gave a brief shoulder massage to each student as she went back to her day’s ruminations.“What…is your deepest…darkest…secret? And what…would it feel like…to share that secret…with someone you trust? Would it scare you? Would it…release you? We all…carry secrets within us…what would life be like…if we set them free?”