“I need you to hold your arm out to the side,” said Mrs. K. “Stretch it out as far as you can. There is strength in the stretching.”
I held my right arm straight out to the side and strained my fingers towards the wall. Mrs. K brought her arm down on mine as though to break it.
“See? Right now you’re strong. But there are things we can do that can make you weak. Do you have a pen and paper?”
I gave Mrs. K a pad of Post-It notes and a red Sharpie pen. She scribbled furiously.
“Now, I’ll you now that I’m going to show you something upsetting so you can prepare yourself. Hold your arm out like you did before. Are you ready for this?”
She turned the Post-It note around very seriously.
I laughed. I had braced myself for a Sharpie replica of Guernica or the black spot from The Lottery. Once again her arm came down on mine, but my arm did not budge.
“Wow, you are strong!” cried Mrs. K, knocking twice on my chest with her fist. That face was supposed to upset you, but it didn't! You even laughed!”
“That’s my defense mechanism,” I admitted.
“But there are some other tests that we can try,” she said. “Now, I just want you to know that what I’m about to say to you is all a part of the test…”
Mrs. K turned slightly to the side, looked down, and glared up at me with disgust.
“You know what? You are terrible at this. You mess everything up and you ruin every day for me. You’re the worst person here. That girl you replaced? She was so much better than you, believe me. I'm never coming back here again.”
I maintained a straight face. She looked up again from the floor and asked me to put my arm out again. Once again, my arm did not collapse. She knocked on my chest like she was trying to draw out the little alien that operated my robot body.
“You are rare!” she cried. “You are so strong! Not many people can do what you just did. The sad face, the insults, that would throw most people off! But not you!”
“Thanks,” I said.
“People always tell me that I should do this test in bars. It works on almost everyone, it’s amazing. You can use it for so many things – do you have any candy?”
Since we were in a yoga studio, there wasn't a counter stacked with candy, but we did sell some candied nuts of the sort you find on the streets of New York City.
“I want you to hold this jar of nuts to your chest like this,” she said, putting the jar in my hand and positioning it. “And stick your arm out to the side like you’ve been doing.”
When she tried to push my arm down, it worked this time. I wasn't sure if I was confused or caught off-guard. Perhaps she was using more force this time, but I couldn't tell.
“Do you like candy?” Mrs. K asked very gravely.
“Not so much anymore,” I said. “I really like chocolate, but that’s not the same thing…”
“Mm-hmm,” she said. “Sugar is the only thing that weakens you.”
She knocked on my chest again.
“What does that do?” I finally asked.
“It stimulates the adrenals,” she explained. “But you can do this with all sorts of things – like music. You know how some modern music is like kkkkkkkomx#dtjoeiflpsb!hudhhbzcvqfgrufjzzzz&nodeddd? You can test how it affects you. And then after you just knock a couple of times on your adrenals and it brings you back to balance.”
Her husband came out of the studio with a yoga teacher.
“This girl is so strong!” she called out to him. “Her only weakness is sugar!”
Mr. K joined in on the test, eager to break me.
“Watch me very carefully,” he said.
With a wide grin on his face he stared at me as he marched in place like a robot.
“Now put your arm out to the side, keep it strong,” he said.
My arm did not budge this time.
“Now watch me this time,” he said.
He marched again with the same frightening smile in what seemed to be the same way as before and when he tried to collapse my arm, it gave out. Once again, I’m not sure if he was using more force the second time or if I was distracted, but it worked nonetheless.
“See what happened there?”
“Not really,” I said. “I don’t understand what you were doing differently.”
“You didn't even notice. That’s good! That means your brain is processing what I’m doing before your conscious mind. Watch me again,” he said, beginning to march. “Right arm, left leg. Left arm, right leg. Do you see what I’m doing?”
“Okay,” I said.
“Now watch this: right arm, right leg. Left arm, left leg. Does that make you uncomfortable or confused? Think of how a baby crawls. It’s instinctual. Right arm, left leg. Left arm, right leg. There, I fixed you. These are tricks we use in our acting troupe. If we want to play with our audience, someone might come on stage marching one way, then we might disorient them in the second act by having them march the other way. If you ever feel confused just march in place and it will ground you.”
“And if you’re ever watching a really rowdy group of children, just have them march in place with you,” Mrs. K said. “It calms them down. And if you ever get a really mean customer here, someone really difficult, just imagine a big, radiant sunflower growing on your chest. Then imagine that this difficult person also has a big sunflower, and it might be difficult to see but it will remind you to be empathetic and not to return their nastiness to them. And if you need to recover afterwards, just give yourself a little knock on the chest to stimulate your adrenals and it will bring you back to normal.”
At this point Mr. K was gone and Mrs. K was standing alone in the doorway.
“See you next week,” Mrs. K said. She blew me a kiss on her way out.