In my imagination I slide easily and gracefully into a back bend. When I was 8, 9, 17, and on, I was great at backbends. I even did them as party tricks into my 30s and 40s. In reality, whether at a party or the gym, I don’t recall feeling the pride of doing a backbend in two decades or more. Still, in my mind’s eye, I see myself raising first my right arm, and then languidly miming the gesture with my left arm. I arch my back and lead with my hands, reaching, reaching, until, eureka, first my right hand, then my left make contact with the floor. And, with great inner-mind fanfare, I am in a finely arched backbend. My imagination trumpets sound amid a background of oohs and aahs from non-existent-observers.
Reverie finished, I feel pure joy and pleasure – all these decades and I am still the lithe Sara I was. Gone is the frequent lower back pain when I’ve carried more than two bags of groceries, or lifted for “uppies” our treasured 2-year old grandchild. My back doesn’t even remember the weight or drag of the vacuum cleaner or the lifting and washing of the soiled kitty litter pan.
I feel so delighted at my reverie that I decide to try it right now, in reality. And, I do, slowly, carefully, after pushing furniture out of my falling path. It really happens, very slowly and very carefully. Eventually, I luxuriate, my head upside down, my belly pointing toward the newly painted ceiling, my hands ensconced in our neutral color carpeting (we have cats, you see).
My husband walks into the living room and audibly gasps. “What in the world are you doing?” he says. “I can’t believe you can still do that but are you trying to maim yourself?”
“Help me up,” I say, as my arms start to quiver and my fingers begin crumbling into the carpet nap. Both cats lie nearby as if they’ve scored tickets in the Amex gold card section and are intent upon getting their money’s worth. When we were all younger (the 16 and 17-year old cats and me), they would have jumped on me, or paraded proudly under my arched back. But now they are, as I mostly am, satisfied to have a good seat from which to watch such foolish age-defying antics.
My husband stands above me – he is clearly uncertain where to begin to un-pretzel me.
“My back,” I plead. I don’t even sound like me – my voice quivers, it’s breathless, it’s the newly terrified me.
“My back … arm under my back,” I spit out, although my mouth is dry as a desert.
“What, put your arm under your back?” he asks. “That doesn’t sound …”
“Your arm,” I scream. “Your arm under my back.” As I shake my head in fury at his inability to understand, both cats close in, curious to see what this is about.
“Okay,” he says, as he slides his arm under my back and gently begins to pull me up.
I hear him grunt and wonder if his back will give out. I loosen my hands from the carpet and recall the “trust me” game we used to play as kids. I must trust him to carry my stressed vertebrae, ribs, and muscle into something approximating an upright position. The ceiling shifts, the back wall comes into view, I spot the new louver shades, and I am standing on my feet again.
I feel woozy and my arms are vibrating like a stringed instrument.
I laugh joyously. I did it. In reality I did a backbend.
My husband puts his arms around me. “Wow,” he says. “What are you, nuts?”
“Maybe,” I say. “But, I did it.”
Born in Kyrgyzstan to Jewish Polish refugees who fled the Nazis, Sara Nuss-Galles mines the telling details of daily life in her writing. Following careers in teaching, waitressing, and banking, she submitted and published her first piece of writing at age 40. She writes memoir, humor, bawdy tales and social and cultural commentary. She had the pleasure of being a guest contributor on Public Radio’s Marketplace and her work has appeared in The NYT, The LAT, Catamaran Journal of Literature and Art and numerous little magazines and anthologies. She lives with her husband in Southern California, a long way from that mud-floored hut in the former USSR.