A Step Back into the Past

While looking for something in a draft folder in an old email account I came across a story that I wrote while taking a creative writing class about 5 years ago.  I forgot how fun the story was, and though parts of it were made up–to protect the innocent, parts of it definitely were me.  Reading the story yesterday made me chuckle, and also tugged at my soul and made my heart ache a bit for the person in the story–who of course was me.  

This evolution of my life has been gradual–although there have been times I have felt there have been some warp speed changes.  I am constantly urged to write more, to write a book, the truth is I enjoy writing. But mostly I write for myself, as a release of the energy out of my mind–sending it spinning out into the Universe.  Heck, I really don’t know or care if people even read what I write.  

Sharing this story, and a piece of the old me with you….and my belly dancing teacher really was named Jiffy!

Looking for a Butterfly

Martha stood at the back of the room trying to hide in the shadows and to avoid looking directly into the mirror. She stood in the very back corner of the room as far away from the mirror and the other students as possible. The wooden floor felt smooth beneath her bare feet. My word, her toes were naked and exposed! What was she thinking? On the drive down to the dance studio she had thought about getting off at the nearest exit. One with a fast food restaurant so she could drown her sorrows in a cheeseburger fries and chocolate shake, super-size it!

She wasn’t quite sure how the idea had popped into her head to take a dance class. Yes, she had joined a gym and started a weight loss program. Hell, she hated weighing in and having someone see those numbers on the scale. The first time she stepped onto the scale it registered 194 pounds. How did that happen? Twenty years and three children ago she weighed 124 pounds soaking wet

When she arrived at the dance studio, she paid her ten dollars for the class, filled out the medical release form. Good grief, could she really die from this? Other people filed into the dance studio in skimpy tights, midriff baring tops and bras that left nothing to the imagination. There were twenty bodies scattered across the full length of the room with plenty of elbowroom to dance. She was surprised to find women with a little roundness in their middle quite comfortable with showing off their bodies.

She didn’t know any of the women, but she gave a few of them names in her mind as she sized them up

To her right Ms. “I-am-so-skinny-I-can’t-gain-a-pound” was dressed in the skimpiest of sports bras and spandex leggings. Over the top of this she wore a coin belt that seemed to jingle each time she moved.

Mrs. “I-am-not-ashamed-of-these-rolls-around-my-middle” stood in the row directly in front of her in a short red top and low riding pants that exposed her entire mid-section. Around her waist was tied a brightly colored shawl. She almost blushed at the sight of seeing so much of her and her willingness at that size to show so much skin.

To the left Ms. “Twenty-something-full-of-seriousness” reminded her of her oldest daughter Susan. She knew in her heart her daughter would never take this kind of a dance class. She had looked at her mother as if she had two heads when she told her where she was headed tonight. There are just some things that moms don’t do, like shop at Victoria’s Secret or take belly dancing classes.  How embarrassing!

She was a bit wistful when thinking about her daughters, even though they rolled their eyes at the idea of her taking belly dancing classes.  You would think that by the second year that they all went off to college leaving her with a very empty nest she would be used to this.  She missed them terribly, missed the fun summer they had enjoyed seeing 80’s concerts several weekends over the summer.  She guessed it was ok for moms to go to concerts, drink a little beer, dance around and have fun—as long as they paid for the tickets.

It was time to break out of her protective shell and to experience the other side of life. She wasn’t off to a very good start padding her body dressed in big baggie sweats. She realized that the sweats made it very apparent she was a newbie.

She had been pondering a number of changes in her life lately.  Maybe the big baggie clothes acted as insulation from the world, or maybe they were to hide the person inside who was struggling to figure out just what she wanted out of the rest of her life.  She felt that the empty nest had landed her at a major crossroad in her life. Her daughters were growing up; they didn’t need her as much anymore.  It made her a little sad, but she had raised them to be independent, self-assured women.   How did she lose track of that part of herself?

The instructor walked confidently to the front of the room and introduced herself as Jiffy. “Jiffy?” She wondered in her head. It was a pretty safe bet that by looking around, she was the only Martha in this room. Martha’s just weren’t the type of people to take belly dancing classes. Martha’s were probably the kind of women you might find in the middle of a quilting bee, a book club or at the local knitting guild meeting.

Jiffy asked for a show of hands of the new people in the class. She timidly raised her hand. “Oh great, let’s make it even more obvious that I am new” ran through her mind. Jiffy started the Middle Eastern music and the class began with a warm up.

In her mind a warm up meant a little stretching. She remembered the aerobics classes that she had taken before becoming a mother. This was a time to slowly limber up the body to prepare for class. Drill Sergeant Jiffy seemed to have other ideas.

“Assume the belly dancing position.”

“Feet together, slightly apart, pelvis tipped up and arms in the air.”

“Um yeah, I can do this part.” She muttered in her head.

A series of stretches from left to right seemed to limber Martha up a bit. Sometimes she would catch a glimpse of herself in the mirror and did her best not to laugh at how awkward she looked. Everyone seemed to be focusing their attention on Jiffy and watching their form in the mirror.

“Ok, down to the floor.” Jiffy commanded.

“Yes, I get to sit down and rest!” She cheered in her head.

Then the sit-ups began. Not 5 or 10 she was pretty sure it was close to a thousand. Of course they weren’t the normal crunches they were encouraging her to do at the gym.

“Cross your legs and raise them off the floor.” Jiffy smiled sweetly and as she came up for the sit up instead of throwing her arms to propel her off the floor, Jiffy did delicate belly dancing arm movements.

About halfway through she looked around for some sort of club or sharp object to show Jiffy just how much she was appreciating these damn sit-ups.

“Come on let me see you all smiling” was Jiffy’s cheer to the class. She was glad that Jiffy could not read her mind at that particular moment.

The song ended and the torture was over. She lay flat on her back, panting at the exertion from this warm up. She had only done about half of the sit-ups yet she was already feeling the pain.

Jiffy jumped up and announced to the class, “We are going to be working on veil tonight”. In her mind she pictured those old I Dream of Jeanie shows from her childhood and tried to figure out how she was possibly going to dance with a veil slapped across her face.

Jiffy pointed to three racks of veils at the end of the dance studio. “Choose a veil to borrow for tonight.” She held back and let the others do the choosing first. The fabrics were beautiful chiffons and satins with all sorts of colorful shiny edges and designs.

The veil Martha found was a bright fuschia with a striped pattern in the same color but shiny on the edges. The veil was about six feet long and 3 feet wide. She looked in the mirror as she wrapped the billowy scarf around her and felt a bit like a butterfly. In reality she thought she looked like some wildly wrapped up mummy. The mummy part was about to really come true.

“The veil is held between the first two fingers of the hand.” Jiffy demonstrated by pulling the veil across her back and extending her arms. The end of the fabric hung delicately down evenly on each end.

When she looked in the mirror she saw that her veil was a little off center so she adjusted the veil so it was even, she thought that now that the sit-ups were over that class was going to be easier—quite the opposite was about to happen.

Easy, since when had her life felt easy these days?  Part of the reason for coming to this class was to shake up her life a little.  She found as she got closer and closer to that big birthday with a zero at the end she was taking a long look at her life.  Fifty was definitely not the end of the world, but it was feeling a bit confining.  Her old life didn’t seem to fit anymore.  For the last twenty plus years her life consisted of being a mother, before that being a wife.  What happened to Martha? How did she lose sight of that person she was so many years ago?

The iPod shuffled to the next song and a slow graceful melody blasted into the room. Jiffy instructed the class to follow along and slowly made sweeping motions with her arms dipping the veil first to one side and to the other. She smiled, she could do this. She was dipping and dancing and had long since forgotten that there were any other people in the class other than Jiffy. Jiffy dipped, Martha dipped this was a piece of cake.

“We are now ready to move on to a little bit more challenging move.”

“Yikes” she thought, “there goes my comfort level”.

Jiffy twirled the vest around like some sort of Middle Eastern matador and smiled as somehow the veil went from behind her then in front of her and ended up over one shoulder. Martha stared at Jiffy as if she were the female version of David Copperfield standing in front of the class.

“She can’t be serious.” She chuckled to herself, nearly snorting at the silliness of this.

Jiffy did the twirl again, this time slower a step at a time. She really concentrated on Jiffy’s movements. She pulled the veil from the back started to twirl the fabric around to the front and soon found herself wrapped up in the veil like a mummy. As she wrestled her way out of the veil she realized that this action was creating static electricity in the veil and her hair was starting to stand a bit on end.

She caught sight of herself in the mirror. She looked more than a bit disheveled with the veil still tangled around her arms and legs. Her hair stood out like a crazy person. Her cheeks were flushed from the heat and the embarrassment of her mummification just a few minutes earlier trapped in the veil.

She began to laugh

Not a timid giggle, but a real belly laugh at how funny she looked. She also realized for the first time since coming in the door of the dance studio tonight, she was actually having fun.

Mrs. “I-am-not-ashamed-of-these-rolls-around-my-middle” looked at her and started to laugh to.

“Is this not a blast? Hi, my name is Megan. I’ve been coming here for 6 months just for a little fun and exercise. I just can’t seem to get this dancing with the veil stuff down right but I still enjoy the class.”

She loosened a hand from the veil and shook hands with Megan. “I’m Martha, nice to meet you, please excuse the way I look at the moment.”

Jiffy made her way back to the back row and stood between Martha and Megan. “Let me stand next to you and we will work on this together a little slower.” Martha and Megan followed along step by step and caught on to the twirling and ended up every time with the veil delicately draped over one shoulder. Heck, they could even twirl the veil in the opposite direction and get it to appear on the opposite shoulder.

“David Copperfield look out!” she giggled to Megan.

She managed to survive the rest of the evening with the veil. Jiffy introduced all sorts of moves and gyrations with the veil. At one point in the evening they switched from several lines to one big circle walking around the room veils flowing behind. It was quite spectacular to see. Yes, she messed up a few times.  Arms were down when they should have been up, but walking in a circle this way and seeing most of the people in the class she realized that everyone made a mistake here or there. Even the people who seemed very serious and passionate about being totally correct didn’t always execute every move smoothly.

She had been way too hard on herself at the beginning of class. Was she being way too hard on herself and the decisions she had been pondering too?

When class had ended and as she was hanging up her veil, Jiffy stopped and put a hand on her shoulder.

“You did really well tonight. It’s not easy to dance with the veil and you tackled that head on tonight and had fun with it I hope we see you back again next week.”

She smiled, Jiffy had no idea how this small little victory over the veil would impact the decisions swirling around in her head.  Belly dancing was something that she had always wanted to try. For years she had pushed down the things she wanted in favor of making first her parents happy, then her husband and next her children.

The veil had lifted in many ways. It was Martha’s time, her turn to find happiness in her life doing what she wanted toward her dreams of a bright and happy life.  

“You can bet I will be back next week!” She chuckled to herself, wondering what type of torture Jiffy had in store for.

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