Chapter 4: Self Defense

The next morning, I awake to the sun searing my eyes, feeling like crap. Apparently I had passed out while sobbing and hadn’t even taken the time to change into pajamas or get under the covers. I was still in my sprawled-out position on the bottom of the bed.

“Oh great, now I’m going to have dark circles under my eyes,” I say as I peel myself off of the covers, revealing a massive headache.

It’s time to get it together Orlaith! Next time something happens, you won’t have someone to save you, they will need someone to save them.

I’ve never been worried about ‘monsters in the night’, because I just figured I was one. I guess constantly trying to push the ‘monster’ out of me has made me the victim now, and that’s not a place I want to be. The question is, how do I become prepared for those situations without letting my monster out of the closet?

I decided that since it was Saturday and I had the day off, I am going to go and join some self-defense classes. The best I could do for now, although a shame I would still need them in this day and age. There has to have classes offered nearby in the city but first, my latte and bagel. Maybe I should just invest in Barices, I’d probably save money in the long run.

Walking out of the building my condo resides in is just the thing I needed this morning; I take in the smell of the freshly cut grass, with the delicate dew drops just about to be devoured by the sun. I think I’ll take the long way and walk through the park, I don’t have anything pressing going on today.

I decide to enter the park at 90th and 5th taking Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir Bridle Path, the one closest to me. It is beautiful this time of year; granted, next month will be even better, as the Okame Cherry Trees, which are just starting to peek out their pink heads and see the sun, will be fully blossomed with brilliant hues of pink, basking in the sun.

I love when I get to slow down and enjoy everything that Mother Nature has to offer. The only part that I miss is walking on Gods given path, but cement paths, I guess, are safer in some ways. Walking along the path, I look to my right basking in the beauty of the lake. I decide to stop and watch the ducks on the pond, resting against the midnight black rails that protect the visitors from harm. It mating season for the ducks and I watch them do the funniest moves; the ducks bob their heads, while circling each other and, recognizing that dance, I decide to continue on my journey, not exactly wanting to see what comes next.

I love to see all of the botanicals that have got the chance to bloom this time of year as I walk along the Bridle path, hearing all of the half conversations as I walk by the lounging benches or as they are running past me, somehow comforting me, hearing the spray of the water fountain bursting in the lake, at a distance.

I notice that the Star Magnolias are showing their snow white petals, and another is sprouting out pink, competing with the hybrid Saucer Magnolias. Okay maybe I was a botanist, at one point, in my lifetime.

  While I admire an array of different coloured tulips in the middle of the park, around 72nd, I feel a strong sensation come over me, almost as if someone is physically pulling me and I can’t help but walk, where to is a mystery: and will stay a mystery because as soon as I felt this sensation and started to walk, it was gone.

Standing in the middle of the park, completely confused, I have felt the changeling pull before but this is a completely different feeling.

Okay, time to stop dawdling now and get to where I’m going, I say to myself, continuing to move forward. Apparently, I’ve started to go crazy!

Getting to the end of the path, it leading me out of the park, I had my mission and my stomach was starting to speak to everyone around, telling them what it thought.

I get to Barice’s pretty fast, running the last little bit from the park. I burst through the door harder than I had anticipated, making the entire bistro turn my way. Feeling more than a little self conscious, especially when I see that the workers rushed to get my order ready. I calmly brushed my coral yoga pants, guarding my phone in it’s pocket, and turquoise under armor sweat guard shirt, off.

When I arrive at the counter the staff magically have my latte whipped and my bagel creamed. I am in awe but also, embarrassed that they felt so rushed by my entrance. Note to self: stop my running several feet from the coffee shop, otherwise you terrify costumers.

I thanked them and said how sorry I was for making them rush, gave them a huge tip and sat down at my usual, corner, wobbly table.

Taking a moment to breathe, I relax my head into the back of the cushioned seat and close my eyes. Then hearing the chime of the golden bell, hung above the glass door, I feel the need to stand up and walk over to the checkout counter, the same feeling I had just had in the park, not fifteen minutes ago.

Snapping my eyes open, I saw from which it came from. “You have got to be kidding me!” My booming voice making everybody stare at me again, including the tan, light brown hair, bright orange wife-beater that clung to his muscular body in all of the right places.

Starting to stand up against my will, I look around, everybody’s eyes are on me. I don’t know why I am surprised when he turns towards me, our eyes meet. His deep blue eyes so inviting, I know I have to get out of here, or I will be humiliating myself in about T-minus 1 minute. Plus right now is no time to meet someone, especially after last night.

And I can never forget, although I’ve tried, the last time I let myself get seriously involved with a guy – it turned out badly… scratch that, it turned out murderous.

Trying my best to fight against the invisible force willing me towards this stranger, I stuff my bagel in my mouth and try not to stare too hard at his toned calf’s, grabbing onto my unsupportive table I stride out of there, as best I could; feeling his gaze stuck to me like a magnet, I turn and tried to not slam the door open like I had the first time.

Oh great, I’m being pulled towards some, really attractive stranger, and being made to look like a lunatic when I try to fight it. Hitting the middle of my forehead repeatedly with my fist, I end up talking to myself, again, for the second time today, “Come on, get it together.”

Finally ending up at the gym that I had found on the internet, such a great invention, I throw away my latte cup, in the garbage outside. Right as I was pulling the double glass doors open, after reading the name ‘Fit Together,’ I saw my reflection and of course, I had ran out of the coffee shop, so fast, that I didn’t grab my napkins and I had strawberry cream cheese plastered all over my face.

Great! What do I do about it now I’m already half-way through the doors and have nothing to wipe my face off with, why can’t you eat anything without it ending up all over you in one way or another?

Walking into the gym I was met with a mixture of sweat, deodorant, rubber and lemon cleaning agent of some kind. Hey it wasn’t that bad of a smell and certainly not the worst I have ever smelled. There were navy blue mats coving the entirety of the floor, a small boxing ring off to my left  and farther down the wall on the left were an array of hanging maroon leather punching bags and at the end of the rows of bags they had punching dummies.

Walking into the gym I am met with a mixture of sweat, deodorant, rubber and some kind of lemon-scented cleaning agent. Hey, it wasn’t that bad of a smell and certainly not the worst I have ever smelled. There are navy blue mats coving the entirety of the floor, a small boxing ring off to my left, and farther down that wall is an array of hanging maroon leather punching bags. At the end of the rows of bags, there is a line of punching dummies, several currently occupied.

While I was slack-jawed taking it all in, I didn’t notice that a woman had walked over to me. “Pretty great isn’t it?”

As I was jumping out of my skin, I managed a reply. “Oh, yeah. Sorry I was just standing here.”

“It’s not a problem. Welcome to my gym. I’m Christina, but I go by Chris. I run this place with my husband over there,” she points to a blond, extremely buff man.

You could see how fit Chris was, too, just by looking at the muscles in her dark brown arms. Her black curly hair pulled up into a tight ponytail at the top of her head.

“So, what brings you here today?” She says and clasps her hands together.

I laugh nervously, “Well…I’ve decided I’ve gone long enough without knowing how to protect myself, and I thought it was time I should learn.”

Guiding me into the gym, Chris spoke warmly, “So, let me show you around,” she points to the center of the room, “there are the mats, we use them for sparring and classes, and over there is our boxing ring, which is self explanatory.”

We walk towards the different people sparring with each other by the punching bags, “Over on this wall is our variety of punching bags, we have heavy bags and speed bags. And then over here is my personal favorite, the dummy. He’s great for getting your frustrations out on.” I laugh, definitely feeling more comfortable than I did walking in.

“Your first time at our gym is a trial so it’s free, no need for payment today…So, you said you were here for self-defense?” she asked.

“Yeah, I heard you guys teach self defense here?”

“We do but you’re early, our next class isn’t for an hour, but if you would like I can let you use the bags while you wait, or you could come back?”

Looking to me for an answer.

“I’ve never used a punching bag before, but I guess I could try it.”

A smile takes over her face, “Great! I can help you if you would like? Over here we have hand wraps and if you would like we have boxing gloves, it’s really up to you if you use the gloves. For your first time you might want them, we’re definitely going to tape your hands first though.”

“Okay, just show me what to do.”

Chris leads me over to a black door leading to the back storage room. In there, there is more tape and gloves than I think you would ever need. She grabs black tape and a pair of violet boxing gloves, both in a sealed plastic bag.

Leading me over to a metal chair, Chris sits me down and helps me wrap my knuckles and wrists; I feel like I got in some accident and have bandages all over my hands. She leads me to a punching bag, then takes out a disinfectant spray, looking at me with a grin, “Don’t want anyone getting COVID at my gym.”

As she coats the punching bag with spray and wipes it down, I tear open the plastic to my gloves and start to put them on. Like they aren’t hard enough to put on when you have no idea what you’re doing, but for some reason, my nerves are on the fritz. I feel like I can’t get at that bag fast enough.

“Okay, it’s all clean. Are you ready?”

As I finally get my right hand in the glove, my thumb in the right hole and the bottom velcro stuck together, I look up in confrontation, “Yeah I’m ready!”

With my own back facing the wall next to the punching bag, Chris stands on the opposite side to hold the bag with her taped up hands, “Okay now we’re going to start really basic.”

I nod my head and she continues, “Okay so first off, what hand is your dominant one?”

My hands feeling unusually heavy, just dangling to my side, and I pull up my right hand, turning it back and forth.

“Okay then we’re going to start with your right side. Now put your hands up in front of your face, palms of the glove facing you and knuckles pointing up. Since we’ll be punching with your right fist first, you want to have your left leg forward, putting most of your weight on your back, in this case, right leg.”

While I got in position, Chris continues with her instructions.

“Now when I say ‘one’ you’re going to punch with your right hand, and transfer your weight forward when you swing. Like this.” After demonstrating her instructions she asked if I was ready.

Once I confirmed I was ready, Chris held the bag and shouted, “One!” I jabbed my fist forward making contact with the bag, and then pulled my fist back to my face, ready for another.

 “Great, again, one,” Chris gestured for me to continue, and I swung another punch.

This continued for about five minutes. 

“Now you’re going to learn ‘two.’ So when I say two you’re going to do the exact same thing, only then you’re going to hook with your left fist as well. Ready?”

“Of course.” My confidence might be a little too high.

Chuckling, the instructions continued, holding the bag Chris said, “Two!” My body obeying her command, I stepped into it, punched with my right arm and then twisted my body hook punching the maroon target as well and back to position.

As I let out a chuckle, the instructions continued, and holding the bag Chris said, “Two!” Obeying her command, I punch with my right arm and then twist my body to hook with my left hand before I get back to position.

As she yells off different sequences, I obey every one, only getting caught up a couple of times. “One!” Punch and pull back. “Two!” Punch, twist a hook and pull back.

After doing those sequences for awhile Chris adds ‘Three’ to the sequence, so it is now right jab, left hook, duck, and right jab again. I am so happy and relaxed, I am in my element; I didn’t even care that I am sweating like crazy.

It is when she adds the kick that things get out of control. “You’re doing great and your punches are surprisingly strong for a beginner. So, now whatever number I call out you’re going to do that combo, plus add a kick with your right leg at the end.”

Showing me the proper way to deliver a kick, she demonstrates while explaining. “So after the punch, or punches, you step back to give yourself room for a kick. Then swivel your hips, shifting your weigh to the leg in the front before pivoting and lifting your back leg to strike the bag.”

“So lets try it. One.” Step, punch step far back and wobbly kick and back to position. 

“Good, job. Lets try it again, keeping your body upright and squeezing your butt together, to keep you up.” Trying to remember everything she had said. “One.” And i went again, step, punch, step back and pointed kick, connecting with leather this time. 

“Good, job. Let’s try it again, keep your body upright and engage your glutes.” Trying to remember everything she had said I give it another try. Punch, step back, and kick, connecting hard with leather this time.

“Yes! Okay again.” As Chris directs my sequences, my mind can’t help but wander to the man in the café and why I am so drawn to him. Can this be a changeling thing?

While I think about those ocean blue eyes, the stranger’s face is suddenly replaced by Vlad’s. Somehow the punching bag morphed into that man and the next thing I know, when I kicked, Vlad goes flying, turning back into the maroon punching bag and smashes into the back wall, and leaves an indent where it hit the wall, before it falls back to the ground.

My hands go up to cover my mouth, the thick gloves clash into each other. I look forward not only is Chris’s green eyes huge, her mouth seems unable to close, but everybody in the room is staring at me. What the heck just happened?

“I’m so sorry!” is all I am able to mumble out before I take off, running past the people and out the door. I’m just glad I had tucked my phone into my leggings; there is no way I would be able to pick that thing up with the boxing gloves still on my hands.

Hitting the pavement as fast as I could, I head for the only safe place I know: my condo. The class was supposed to be free…but I don’t think that offer still stands after this. I’ll pay them back later. Right now I have to make a phone call.

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