Nine years old. She couldn’t have picked any other age? I remember having a lot of fun with dolls and games of pretend when I was five. At thirteen I had a close-knit group of friends. Seventeen was the age I finally got my driver’s license after three failed attempts.
Yet she chose nine.
Eyes still closed, I exhaled slowly, letting the air steadily out of my nose.
I sat at the back of the studio, putting some distance between the yoga instructor and myself. I was fairly certain that with a simple glance she was capable of staring deep into my soul, which felt like a violation of privacy. She probably didn’t notice the grimace on my face when she told all of us to think back to when we were nine years old. Possibly because her eyes were closed, just as ours were.
“Think about something you enjoyed when you were nine,” she said, “think about what you loved. When you have your memory, just give me a thumbs-up so I know we’re all on the same page.”
My mind raced as I sensed other people around me giving a thumbs-up. I pictured myself in the fourth grade. I remembered my teacher Mr. G—tall and burly, and tended to wear flannel most of the time, just like Paul Bunyan. I liked him. He was kinder and gentler than his appearances might have suggested; he had the class welcome me when I first arrived at the school as the new kid. He had always praised me in class for being such a good student—turning in perfect homework every day; showing up on time; never speaking out of turn. I was the model student, he once said in front of the entire class.
That was also the year the bullying began. The boys left me alone, but the girls would gang up on me. When we got our test results, one of them would look over my shoulder to see a 100% written on the top right-hand corner of my paper in bright red ink.
“She got an A again,” a malicious-sounding voice behind me said.
I never dared to turn around and face them, but I always imagined them glaring at me while thinking of ways to punish me for my A.
At lunchtime, I passed their table searching for a secluded spot to eat alone. They would snap at me if I so much as looked their way.
“Why don’t you go sit with Mr. G and the other teachers?” they’d say, “Maybe they’ll be your friends.”
I shouldn’t have been so taken aback by their comments. Yet, four months into the school year, their insults still shook me into remaining silent as I continued past them to find an empty table in the cafeteria.
Fearing that the yoga instructor would start to feel concerned that I was unable to produce a happy memory from my childhood, I finally lifted my thumb. I was still fixating on school though. Lunchtime. Recess. That one time when everyone in the class got detention for failing to do a homework assignment except me. I still recalled their glares as I walked out. I was going to pay for it the next day during recess.
“Great. Everyone’s thinking about something,” the yoga instructor said. “Now, think about how that thing—whether it’s an activity or a person—and how it made you feel. Focus on the emotions.”