Ai-eeeee/I mean chi

One reason I like Wytheville Community Center’s facilities so much is the pool. Reasons, one might say, because they have four. The regular lane swimming pool and the kiddy area are interconnected by a three foot wader access. These are kept about 84 degrees–according to the facility. Those of us plunging in for semi-weekly aerobic classes beg to differ.

Then there is a small therapy pool, kept around 94 and big enough for 6 people to social distance. The hot tub (limit 3) is around 104. One sees the emerging pattern. It is a great delight to emerge from the big pool after class and sit a happy five minutes in the hot tub with two other women, discussing the events of the class or the week.

In addition to the classes throwing me into cold water twice weekly, I decided to try Ai Chi. Tai chi in the water, yep. Problem: it is popular. The WCC has people sign up for their classes on the third Wednesday monthly. Your attendance for years (perhaps decades) is not protection; everyone applies again on that Wednesday. It’s not unlike working for state or county government and being suddenly required to reapply for your 25+ year position.

They do that so young whippersnappers like me have a chance to get in. I took advantage in December and arose at 6:03 am to call the front desk and secure an Ai chi spot. Even as they sent the confirming email, I felt a great disturbance in the force, the voice of someone somewhere crying out at being shoved from the therapy pool.

The first week I showed up, so did she. It is standard practice for wait-listers to hang out and take the spots of no-shows for that session. If someone hasn’t called in but misses three times, you get their spot. (Not much consolation in a monthly regimen, but there it is.)

Let’s call her Lydia. I took her spot. She had plans. So did her friends, already waiting in the pool. Why did my mind flash an image of crocodile eyes just above water in a still river?

They were all older women, and as a true Appalachian I have been raised to respect my elders. I gave them each a friendly nod, recognizing most from the deep water aerobics class immediately before. (I dropped that morning class in favor of a far less crowded evening class that turned out to have much greater age diversity.)

“Welcome to Ai chi, newbies.” Only I was new. I took a position near the steps. Thin stretched smiles, and “well look who’s joining us, welcome aboard dear” comments, ensued. I could feel hostility entering my body and accelerating my heartbeat.

Stretches began to soft synthesizer music. I felt something brush my thigh. Lydia was moving in. She had taken the position immediately before me at the steps, a little close but I wasn’t in a position to argue. As the class progressed, she moved closer with every stretch, always with her back toward me, until by the time we were doing the free float, I was scrunched in a corner, no place for my feet to reach surface.

I did briefly consider one good mule kick to clear space, but she is older and would bruise easily. Please see: Appalachian values. Also, by then I had ascertained the relationship of Ai chi to the two things I sought: relaxation, and stimulation.

Relaxing, not so much, as I cowered against the wall while the rest of them stretched into warrior poses. Stimulating, yes; it felt like fighting for survival up in here. One of them turned, and her warrior palm extended into something resembling a blade as she aimed at me. She smiled…..

Last Wednesday was the signup for next month. I dropped Ai chi in favor of a nice safe Zumba class. Nobody puts Lydia in a corner.

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