Five burly muggers face one sweet-looking older woman with white hair. They charge her in a scrimmage. She picks them off like ripe corn and within five minutes the bodies are strewn all over the mat. Their bodies. She roars: "Look! Assess! No!" in a voice like a lion, then jogs off.
I whisper to the woman standing next to me in line, "It looks like the final scene in Hamlet." I have so much adrenaline going through my system it is impossible to contain it. I shake my hands out, wriggle my arms, bounce up and down on my toes, try to remember all of the thousand things we have learned this weekend. Breathe. Vocalize. Line them up. Pull them out. Keep moving. One strike at a time. Don't get in the middle. Yell. Elbow strike. Roundhouse kick. Slap kick. Butt strike. Groin slap. Keep moving. Don't get caught in the middle.
By the end of the weekend I have lost track of how many times I have fought off two, three, and even four assailants. It's the most exhausting work-out I have ever endured. All of us are tired. The male instructors pull off their helmets during breaks and down quarts of juice. One woman is too tired at the end of her fight even to lift her knee for a final knee to the groin strike. I'm worried if I will have anything left to "perform" with when our supporters come in.
C sits in the audience, on the floor, watching us fight one at a time, cheering for everyone. I realize this is ritual healing theatre. Time after time, the woman is outnumbered. Even big women look small compared to these bubble-headed monsters. Yet time after time, all expectations are reversed and the impossible happens. The muggers are downed. It is a reworking of a scene out of a classic tragedy--in this case the tragedy of the patriarchy where women always lose power and speech and often, life. In this re-enactment, the women are left intact and in full voice. Their attackers are ritually sacrificed, over and over again.
What kind of man would do this work? Voluntarily put on a big heavy uncomfortable padded suit and charge women so that they can practise bringing them down, a kick, a strike at a time. What a gift. Perhaps they have wounds to heal as well. Perhaps we are healing this wound for all of society.
After it's all over, C takes me out to dinner. I have paella and he has stuffed chiles pablano. We toast each other with wine and some well-earned cheesecake. I was so scared during class. Even though our "muggers" are some of the most benign men on the planet, they are big guys, and it is primally terrifying when several of them rush you at once. It rouses a panic that lies deep in the gut.
G joins us later to celebrate our engagement with a glass of wine and to be regaled with war stories. Job well done. Late that night, I awaken at three. So much adrenaline has been released into my bloodstream I can't sleep, even though I'm dead tired. I lie awake, reciting the psalm, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. She maketh me lie down in green pastures, She leads me by the still waters, She restores my soul, She leads me down paths of righteousness for Her name's sake."
Although I've fought for the right to feel righteous, instead I am filled with that automatic middle of the night self-loathing. Things I said or didn't say. Small transgressions, insensitivities. Gross failings. Those are my multiple assailants. The myriad hordes of self-doubts and self-reproaches that double-team me, sneak up from behind, grab me by the neck when I'm least expecting them.