February 2, 2013

The Housewife & the Healer. ~ Elise Miller {Fiction}

Jeannie winces as she bends to sit on her double-thick recycled purple mat.

“I broke my vagina,” she says, not bothering to lower her voice, which on most occasions booms.

“Which one was this?” I ask, glancing around the room to see that the regulars at Sweat & Reverence do not flinch at my sister’s bellowing pronouncements—they have been inoculated.

Today it’s just regulars, which I count as a blessing. The last time someone shushed her was two years ago. Jeannie got up, walked her mat over to the woman, set up shop and began chanting Hare Krishna until everyone joined in, including the shusher, who never did return for another class.

Jeannie called it karma. The rest of us called it chutzpah.

One guy called it insanity, but you could tell he was dazzled. I’ve grown to love my sister’s mouth after a long, wintry adolescence of resentment. Age and motherhood showed me the light—there’s nothing left except raw honesty when your formerly firm ass is getting kicked by a couple of rug rats. And Jeannie’s got style to boot.

“The real estate agent,” she says. “The one from Match.”

“Oh,” I nod, remembering.

This is the one who makes his killing selling Main Line mansions. Jeannie has some sort of magnetic appeal when it comes to rich men. The trouble is, they’re always jerks. Her ex is an OB-GYN downtown. Jeannie found the texts—dozens of them between him and his girlfriend—while he was showering one night. It was the only place he didn’t take his cell. Jeannie thinks he was too stupid to delete them. I think he wanted to be caught. He left it up to her to file for divorce. Didn’t want to be the one to bring it up. Can’t imagine why.

“And the Odious Testicle!” she bellows. “He just texted me—called me a money grubbing whore! He should talk!”

Jeannie’s salt-and-pepper ringlets dance around as the tan on her face, chest and shoulders deepens to maroon.

“Meanwhile he’s nickel-and-diming me about child support all the way to the courthouse while his new wife, with her plastic tits, drives to the spa in a Hummer.”

“So gross,” I say, surveying the room, watching the other students set up mats, blankets and meditation cushions in two neat rows facing each other, balling up sweatshirts, gathering tissues and setting Sigg water bottles of every conceivable pattern and color within comfortable reaching distance.

Jeannie runs her fingers through her hair, shakes her wrists, bracelets jangling, as if the Odious Testicle were a spider she could flick away. Then she closes her eyes and starts chanting. “Om gam ganapataye namaha…”

“What a suckbag,” I say, noticing the physical effects of my older sister’s stress and sleep deprivation—the purplish shadows under her eyes, the deepening crease between her brows, the lips thinner than I remember, and set in a perpetual frown.

Jeannie opens her eyes, hugs her knees and stares at the floor beyond the edge of her yoga mat.

“I’d better have some yogurt later. Cool my Pitta.”

“Well, at least he reminds you why you left,” I say, wishing I could conjure a sweet, sexy wealthy man for her, which is archaic I know. Or a windfall. But the man would keep her warmer at night.

“Yeah,” she says. “I am so much happier now, you know?”

“Oh God yes,” I say, hoping my tone doesn’t betray my true perspective on the matter.

“How’s your back?” She rolls her head side to side, massaging her neck.

“Today? Sciaticky. Yesterday, more of a crippling spasm. I’m so sick of it.”

“Are you ever going to get it X-rayed?”

“Neil gave me this book that says it’s most likely psychosomatic—subtext: quit your whining.” Jeannie knows everything about me. We are that rare breed of sisters who do not compete, steal from or distrust each other. She’s five years older than me and has a different father. That might have something to do with it. I’m not sure. I think I just got lucky. Jeannie took care of me during our mom’s many emotional crises. She took me to Kip’s Delicatessen for cheeseburgers and milkshakes. Gave me quarters for the jukebox. Didn’t groan when I chose Le Freak or Dancing Queen, even though Jeannie, like her twin brother Larry, prefers Zepplin over disco every day of the week.

Jeannie’s forehead crinkles. “Eve. Listen to me. Even if your pain is psychosomatic you still need to rule out the structural stuff.”

“Lorelei thinks it’s my kula,” I say, wondering what the difference is at this point.

Physical pain. Mental pain. Mystical, spiritual, existential pain.

“I don’t get you. You’ve had this pain for years. What is wrong with a fucking X-ray?”

“Okay,” I tell her.

“And maybe get a clay facial. It will harness your vata.”

“Will you pay for it?” I ask, batting my eyes.

My sister gives me the “fuck off” face.

Lorelei enters the studio, her hard, tattooed body encased in Lululemon, and floats across the floor. “Namaste, everyone. Good to see you on this wet morning,” she says, setting up a meditation cushion beside the small dancing Shiva statue. “I don’t know about you, but when it’s raining I run through the falling drops, in order to get somewhere dry, somewhere I think I will be more pleasant, in the future.”

The students, about 12 of us in all, murmur in agreement. Jeannie eats Lorelei’s sermons with a spoon. Me, I come for the physical. Jeannie says I need to open to the possibilities. I say I need to figure out how to perform a handstand in the middle of the room.

“Now everyone, take a dry, comfortable seat. Spread your sitting bones wide. Elongate your spine and breathe into your lower ribs, stretching tall.”

Lorelei does this along with us, bundling her purple dreadlocks behind her back as she settles.

“Let your hands rest on your thighs…close your eyes…and enjoy your breath.”

The front door opens. I hate it when people show up late. I was just beginning to relax. Lorelei excuses herself while the rest of us sit still with our eyes closed. Moments later our teacher returns with a fresh student who turns out to be my new neighbor, who looks a little too dazzling for my taste, in her clingy black sports bra and short shorts. Lorelei directs her our way and she squeezes in between Jeannie and me.

“Sorry about that,” she says to us, unrolling her mat. “I hate it when others are late.”

“No problem,” I say, angling to get a look at her cleavage as she squats before us, lining up the corners of her mat with the bamboo floor slats.

Jeannie shrugs. “Eh,” she says and gives me a look that says, what a tart.

My sexy lithe neighbor shoots Jeannie a look that says, the fuck I am, bitch, which I find hilarious. Then she leaps and twirls in slow-motion landing in lotus position. She prayers her hands and bows to my sister. “Namaste,” she intones menacingly.

Lorelei tells us about the children she passed this morning on her way to the studio, two boys who sat on the sidewalk pouring a cup of water into an old Snapple bottle and back into the cup, over and over, all the while getting soaked with rain.

“Kids have so much to teach us about present moment awareness,” she says and I realize that the distance between parents and non-parents is as wide as the parking lot at the King of Prussia Mall. Lorelei reminds us to savor the moment, no matter how wet and uncomfortable, to find the extraordinary in the ordinary, like children do without any effort. But all I can think of is their mother, who was probably pissed they were playing with garbage, yelled at them for getting wet, and had to be running late.

“Do you remember when mud was fun for you?” our teacher asks us.

I suppress my impulse to explain that mud is fun to anyone who doesn’t have to mop it up and do laundry. That when you have no place to be, who cares what the kids are up to? Plus, if you think about it, kids are generally short, close to the ground where they can pay more attention to things like mud, strewn bottles and garbage.

But what they do not possess is an ever-increasing sense of time passing, time we don’t want to spend cleaning up after them because we’d rather leaf through a fashion magazine that makes us feel like shit for being a size 10. So we teach it to them, drum it into their tiny skulls. We’re running late! we chant at them, and Hurry up for God’s sake! Don’t make a mess! Take off your shoes!-–our own desperate mantra, one I’ve blindly embraced and handed down to my kids so they can grow up to run grim-faced through the rain toward some dry, antiseptic future.

Great, I think. I’ve already ruined them.

“So today, let this be your intention: when you find yourself in the rain, struggling with a challenging, uncomfortable pose, just stay there, in the mud, where the lotus grows. Breathe into the discomfort, into the challenge, and allow yourself to get sopping, soaking wet.”

And then we’re off. Cat and cow. Sun salutations. Etcetera.


Parivrtta Trikonasana

My new neighbor’s triangle pose is flawless, exultant.


I can’t stop staring.


Her butt is as tight as a kindergartener’s and those sinewy arms—graceful as a ballerina’s. She’s got flat abs, slender ankles… Even her toes are beautiful. Her blond hair, pulled in a messy bun, looks camera-ready. The thin gold chain around her neck glitters. How lazily it traverses her trapezius as if it had been art directed to look just so. Fuck her, I think.

Then, Om shanti.


Toward the end of class when we’re winding down, bridge pose is a spiny bitch. Reclining twists scrape a jagged key against my hip and along my vertebrae. Today with the rain, even corpse pose feels like a backbend. I never thought I’d feel so old at 41.




My sister snores to one side of me, overworked ER nurse that she is, and I feel a jolt of maternal tenderness toward her that did not exist before I had children. I listen for my beautiful neighbor but can’t hear her because she’s perfect. Her shavasana is perfect. She’s probably actually dead. I can barely lay on my back it hurts so much. By the time I relent and stuff a meditation cushion under my knees, the brass chime sounds for us to rouse. I wiggle my fingers and toes as instructed even though I’m wide awake, turn onto my side in the fetal position. I rise into a fragile lotus position, breathe into the pain, and bow to the great teacher who dwells within me with great effort and strain.

On our way out the door I overhear my new neighbor quizzing Lorelei on her credentials. Jeannie and I roll our eyes at each other and head out. On the sidewalk I tell her that the fresh piece of yoga meat is the one building the McChateau next door.

“Come on,” she says, frowning. “That’s just wrong. You gonna leave a flaming bag of dog shit at her front door?”

“I think she’s married to her contractor. They were flirting and kissing in her driveway this morning. But it was weird.”

“Weird how?”

“Who flirts with his own wife?”

“I have no idea.”

I rub my spine.

“Look baby, I can see how much pain you’re in. Go home. Take a Motrin. Masturbate. Call a doctor.”

“I will,” I lie.

“Then give the bitch a bag of dog shit.”


Elise Miller’s  first novel, Star Craving Mad, was published by Warner Books in 2004. In 2008, her personal essay Forgive Me was published in the anthology Because I Love Her. Other personal essays have been published on nerve.comPapotage and Fresh Yarn. The first chapter of her latest novel, The Housewife and the Healer, was recently published on Northern Liberties Review.

Elise lives in Lower Merion, PA with her husband, two kids and two dogs. She teaches fiction and memoir at Beechwood Writers’ Workshop and blogs about everything at elisemiller.com.


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Ed: Elysha Anderson/Kate Bartolotta

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