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Posing Naked and the Art of Separation photo

To a soundtrack of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, I unwind my terry-cloth robe and step on the plywood platform.

Twenty poses, one minute each:

1. There is a protective radius of ten feet on all sides of me.
2. I only know the name of one person in this room.
3. My body hair was groomed solely for this moment.
4. Every inch of me is on display, but this is the opposite of intimate.
5. Heads pop around their canvases, back and forth, like whack-a-mole.  
6. When a person is completely still, the mind inevitably fills itself.
7. I allow my mind to move through stashed memories, following it wherever it wants to go.
8. It usually goes to you.
9. As I get better at this, I learn that there are big, supportive muscles to hold tense for my own comfort but that most others need to be released, group by group, with each exhale.
10. In the short poses, I stay fluid and focused.
11. I don’t make eye contact, aiming my gaze up, down or beyond.
12. Did you remember to pack your goggles during yesterday’s sandstorm?
13. I wonder if my tail-less orange cat, new to my home since you got on the plane, will be jealous when you’re back in my bed.
14. The stopwatch on my phone counts milliseconds, shooting numbers out in fast forward.
15. Those tiny numbers race toward a minute, and another, and another.
16. I think this is the song of “Fall”, with dizzy string instruments screeching against tempo.
17. By fall, you’ll be home, and we can pack picnics in thermal bags and drive to the state park to see burning colors reflected on passing rivers.
18. These days, I sweat out summer nights, the world muffled by box fan hums.
19. The brief postures are a chance to show off—to push my body’s limits, arms extended over head or spine bent into a crescent.
20. The space heater is turned up too high.

Ten-minute break
Chug water. This is exhausting, and my body is never ready, even when I know it’s coming. The day after you left, Minneapolis got hit with a mid-April blizzard. It was the worst of the year. For three hours, I shoveled while listening to My Chemical Romance, hammering into snow piled knee deep, throwing it across my driveway. The heating broke in my apartment, and I created a bubble of hot air by locking myself in a room with a space heater, shivering every time I had to dart to the bathroom. You were just arriving in the Middle East--a land of constant, stifling warmth. I couldn’t picture it. I couldn’t adjust. You weren’t around to help me laugh it all off. 
 
Ten poses, two minutes each:
1. The only woman in the group, a woman I’ll never know, talks to the others between rounds and as the room dies down, she finishes her thoughts in the remaining silence. “It’ll be what it is.”
2. Two minutes is a strange, in-between length. It hurts, but only a little.
3. In January, when you spent just five weeks in South Dakota for Airman Leadership School, I taught myself coping mechanisms, like drink less and bathe more. The lessons apply this time around, to an extent, but each absence is its own exercise in stability.
4. Be still. What’s next?
5. It’s hard not to keep a countdown constantly at the forefront of my mind. 30 more seconds in this lunge pose means I have no choice but to ignore the shake in my thighs.
6. After February’s gig in this studio, you picked me up. I’d been texting you on my breaks, complaining about my period, and there you were, waiting in the dark car, holding a king-size candy bar.
7. There are moments where I know that looking at the stopwatch will only make the waiting harder. I rely on my internal clock and count slow to a minute and a half, fully aware of my exaggerated sense of time.
8. Pencils scratch against paper. A man rips the page from his sketch pad and crumples it in one swift movement toward the ground.
9. When I visited Brynna in Seattle, I saw a military homecoming in the airport, with people holding handmade signs and crying when the doors opened. I don’t think I’m a jealous person, but with months still to go on our countdown, it took extra effort.
10. This is what works: staying busy, side hustles, multiple distractions. Filling my days with good things, productive things, and watching them tick by.

Ten-minute break
I check my Snapchat and you haven’t opened the selfie I sent. It’s your one day off. You must still be asleep in your tent. At times, I’m convinced I sound like a cliché military- girlfriend. An Army Wife blogger who posts playlists of country music and Nickelback songs that she sends to her hubby. I shouldn’t have so much contempt. Of course, they deserve community, deployments are fucking isolating. But with you, doing this, is not where I thought I’d end up. Me with my leanings toward prison abolition, my bookshelf of feminist theory, and my fairly gay dating record. Still, with you is the only place I want to be.
 
Four poses, five minutes each:
1. No more Vivaldi. We’re on to a mix CD, placed by a stranger’s aging hands into the silver boombox. Mostly decent music, and the lyrics help me concentrate. When they’re songs I know, I sing along in my head. Hold On by Alabama Shakes comes on, and I hold my breath to control the heat behind my eyes.
2. I give them levels. I give them angles and lines. Curves and muscles-- a body I stay in touch with. A body that remembers ballet technique, and flying off cliffs into Minnesota lakes, and rape in an ex-boyfriend’s basement, and proper deadlift form, and the dripping of Amazon rain. My body remains mine, when I bend it before strangers, when I curl it against the strength of you, when I doze off in the bathtub alone.
3. The second half of the wait always goes faster. Past the middle point, time speeds. The difference is, in part two, I’m counting down, not up. Not “it’s only been eight minutes,” but rather “only eight minutes left.” A strained neck will be pulled upright in no time, a cramping foot will be shaken out soon.
4. Do you still twirl your hair into tiny peaks when you scroll on your phone? Do you still whistle when you get dressed every morning? Do you still put exactly three ice cubes in your steaming hot coffee? Do you still laugh the hardest at your own jokes? I have to believe you’ll come home the same.

Ten-minute break
I need to pee so bad, but my foot is beyond asleep, basically dead. It folds beneath me when I stand. The stand immediately becomes a sit. Little stabs evolve into sharp amputation pain, but I stay still, pleasant smile, until I can get up. Once the foot is revived, I barely get my robe tied before I speed walk for the door. Down the cement-floor hallway. Check phone. Still no Snapchats. Dinner for one waits in a Tupperware in my fridge. I’ll eat it in my bed, watching trash reality TV on my phone screen as I starfish my body into the half where you sleep.
 
Two poses, ten minutes each:
1. When it’s time for a long one, something changes in my body. A shift. An acceptance of pain, where it’s no longer really pain—the brain is powerful. The numbness in my foot starts over with pokes everywhere like being whacked with a bristle hairbrush. I want to move but don’t. Can’t. Every discomfort amplified. Sweat pooling in my armpits. An itch on my inner thigh. As soon as I think I can’t handle another moment, I check the clock and there are 10 more seconds.
2. I hate the distance, sure, but I’ve never questioned if it’s worth it. For the nights when you rub my earlobes to calm my panic attacks. For the way you always tell me to “drive safe” when I leave. For our floppy dance parties to Queen and slow sways to John Prine. For the mornings you wake me up with peanut butter toast. Here at home, there have been people all around me, even though you weren’t one of them. Nick talking to himself as he waters the plants in our apartment, Natalie driving me to Zumba in her beat-up sedan, my parents cooking me dinner, always asking about you. Despite the nine-hour time difference and your twelve-hour workdays, we manage to video call every morning. Still, sometimes I go days without hearing you laugh. We’re close enough now, where I can picture your return, close my eyes and see you walking towards me.

Ten-minute break
You woke up and snapped me back. I exhale. You aren’t exactly in danger, but the possibility lingers with me. You’ll spend tomorrow, the 4th of July, in a country where alcohol is illegal. But in your snap, you tell me you’ll line up with everyone else to get with your one (and only one) beer, your regulated patriotic celebration. Tom wanders up and tells me about his plans to take his daughter and grandchildren Up North for the holiday. He goes out of his way to chat with me on at least one break, invite me to stay after class is finished, even though I never accept. They drink wine and eat Cheetos in a room plastered with sketches and framed completed paintings. Being a writer and 100% incapable of drawing above a preschool level, I feel so far from what they do when I twist and recline in front of them. I write stories in my mind while they labor away with charcoal on their noses. 

One pose, twenty minutes:
1. In long poses, it’s best to choose one thing to occupy my mind. Otherwise, I’ll fall asleep. Even standing up-- it’s happened. Tonight, the memory comes easy. I go right to sitting with you on top of Elephant Mountain in the middle of Taipei. My body was depleted by 30 hours of travel and a long night of violent illness. A night where you stroked my back as I scream-puked into a trash can, barely conscious. You were dozing off, so you set alarms for every twenty minutes. Just so you could wake up and make sure I hadn’t died in our Airbnb. At 3:00 in the morning, I had purged my way back to reality and we were both wide awake. Naturally, the obvious move was to hike up a mountain, slow, in the dark. We passed old men and women who use the massive footpath for meditative exercise, clapping hands with every step. Sometimes I had to stop, to breathe, the altitude, the dehydration, something that should have been simple enough felt insurmountable. While I paused to catch my breath and choke down sips of bottled tea, you snapped pictures of our surroundings, quelling my embarrassment of looking like an out-of-shape American to locals. You took it slow with me, stayed with me, pointed out the stray cats balancing on tree branches and the symbols carved into the concrete markers. The sun rose behind us and we dropped our backpacks onto the dusty ground, and hoisted ourselves onto a boulder, just in time to watch pastels light the city beneath us into day. You held my hand. We wondered aloud how it was possible to be there, together, halfway around the world. How we got so lucky. It sticks with me, that moment, because I think the same way often, when I think about you.

 

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