The Instructor gently takes my elbow and steers me into the corner of the dojang. "End of class . . . Dodgeball?"
For the past two weeks, my whole life has revolved around the kids' graduation ceremony. Last week I skipped Taekwondo class altogether. I don't know why–being here makes me forget I have a job. Every ounce of anxiety slips off my shoulders. I feel younger, invulnerable, untouchable.
But never immortal.
Watching my martial arts classmates, I can't help but envy them. Oh, I remember how I was at their age. Quicker, stronger, more flexible. My skin was as rough and dark as bark, my muscles were more pronounced and my bones could take a pounding.
When I leapt forward, I didn't worry about where I would land–twisted ankles and pulled hamstrings were faraway places. I wore purpling bruises with pride, cut my nails to the flesh and sported Bengay like perfume.
Now I can't make a jump without feeling it all the way up to my knees. When I wake up, I can feel last night's tumbling along my spine. When I rotate my hips for a roundhouse kick, I feel it–oh boy, do I feel it. At 24, my limbs protest. I'm too old to start over.
But when I put on my dobok and look in the mirror, the giddiness spreads from my chest to my toes and fingertips. For these two hours, I am a kid again–and although I can't take the beatings as well as I used to, at least I'm still willing to take them.
I laugh. Dodgeball, okay. "Haven't played that since fifth grade," I drawl. He doesn't understand my words, but he senses my reluctance. He rolls his eyes and tugs me to the mat.
Squaring off against a tall, lithe high adolescent, I grin sheepishly. Look at the little old woman playing with the kids. He looks me over, and his face sets in battle.
For a moment, I'm startled by his solemnity. Until I realize that he has found a worthy opponent.