I'm in kickboxing class at the field house and suddenly I want to punch more than just the air in front of me. Usually the class is very cathartic: an hour and a half of intense cardio and violent jabs at invisible foes largely reduces my weekly rage build-up. Some have suggested that we'd all have tighter abs and fewer urges to spray paint juvenile vulgarities across the campuses if more people just took kickboxing classes.
I arrived late, so I couldn't claim my normal spot in front of the room, much to my disdain. I don't stand in the front so I can make eyes at my own image. Due to my exercise allergy, my skin usually turns a splotchy magenta color underneath sheens of sweat. This creature is a panting, frightening sight, and I don't really like to watch her. I stand in the front because even though I've been doing it since freshman year, I have a kickboxing learning disability. I cannot follow along unless I can clearly see my orangutan arms bust a move in the mirror.
I finally find a decent spot, one row back from the charmed girls who have taken the spots next to the mirrors. Then another girl arrives. I don't notice her at first. Then I get a creepy feeling and am suddenly aware she's standing right next to me. I try not to panic. This must be a mistake. Maybe she's about to ask me for a tampon. I look over, ready to receive the whispered request. It doesn't come.
The remixed-top-40 jams begin to blast, and we start rolling out our soldiers. I can hear her shoulder pop as she rolls right by my side. We do some side punches to warm up and her fists enter the air just next to the skin of my chest. This is war.
When I was eight years old and taking ballet for babies in Rhonda's Dance-a-torium! (a studio Rhonda herself converted from her home garage) we learned about personal space windows. With our too-big tights sagging at the knees, we mini-ballerinas would stand in a row in front of the mirror while the row behind would shift to the left or right of us so we could all see our little selves in the mirror–– twirling loosely, picking our noses or watching our mothers longingly through the observation glass.
At age eight I thought my knowledge of many things was exclusive to me, including my understanding of special windows. By now, however, I assumed all knew the concept of Personal Space. This right-side-hover girl clearly hadn't been educated at Rhonda's or any other esteemed institution of this-is-my-space-that is-yours. This girl should have been my kickboxing sister, someone to suffer with through the 200 jumping jacks the masochistic (though loved) instructor prescribes us each week.
I want to give her a chance so I look around. Maybe it is just really crowded today. Maybe everyone is squeezing in two per imaginary window, but no. All around me girls are doing knee-knee-kick-kick in perfectly spaced rows. I look past the right side invader and see her window, the space where she belongs, waiting, unoccupied. Rather than trying to scream over the music to point this out to her, I decide I will scare her into it.
Triple punch to the left, then on the next round to the right, I try to freak her out. Jutting out my arms so they nearly miss her bobbing head, I attempt to send a simple message: I am probably going to accidentally punch your cranium if you don't get in your window. She doesn't take the hint.
Sharing the window with her, I am standing slightly behind the girl ahead of me and can't follow along in the mirror. I am rendered inoperative. I forget the routine. I am Sasha Cohen on shaky faun's legs, eating ice at the Olympics. I miss the counts and the movement switches.
We move into a kick-section, and I become afraid. Her legs seem to detach from her body. Moving out at spectacular angles, they come within inches of my stomach. I can't scare her into her window, so I decide to relinquish mine, moving up to invade two other girls' windows nearer the mirror. I'm a mirror girl, and I hope the other mirror girls will understand, but they see what I'm doing and furrow sweaty brows. I am not welcome.
So I finish out the class. I become twice as purple and twice as tired as usual due to my efforts at dodging my right side assassin. Later in the week a different girl runs straight into me while heading through Honnold Gate. Involuntarily I say "sorry." She says nothing. I wonder what apology I'd offer if someone ran me over with a cement truck: "Pardon my body, didn't mean to interfere!"
Whether or not you were danced into the world of windows in a pink tutu, everyone appreciates a little personal space. Though we may spend most of our time concerned with what occupies our minds, a little bodily awareness might be in order. From now on I'm going to defend my dance space, so invaders beware. Nobody puts baby in a back row.