Kegels Make a Woman Smarter
BY AGNES ENKHTAMIR
My pelvic floor is engaged. Pulse, pulse. I am doing my kegels as best as I can without a jade egg, which is on my To Buy List, along with sea moss, a walking treadmill platform, and supplements. I don’t know what kind of supplements yet, but I obviously am in need of them because I sometimes have to suppress the urge to lick some rocks. I’m so strong and smart it’s disgusting.
My spiritual teacher Nathan said that I had great calves during my first appointment. No one had ever noticed my calves before, which in hindsight is wild. They probably thought I had great calves but declined to give me that little bit of praise because I’m a mother and a teacher. Mothers and teachers, like Nathan said, are really underappreciated. Then he ran a big, calloused hand up my calf and squeezed. I am thinking that I may need my jade egg sooner rather than later.
The kegels are meant to keep a woman of a certain age tight and healthy. Two of my teachers have told me that kegels are a natural anti-carcinogen and an exercise I can do while waiting on Bailey to come home from school. It’s a nice change of pace; usually I like to occupy my time by looking out of the living room window and working on my diary. A diary is like kegels for the soul.
Bailey will need to be picked up soon, so I must leave the living room soon, which is always an inconvenience. Some women are meant to be at home, and it’s not anti-feminist for me to say that. Bailey, when he was younger than he is now, used to have a problem with gripping. His grip was too tight, and when I breastfed him, he would grip my hair in his wet hand and pull. It was how we bonded. He rarely pulls my hair now, as a fifteen year old.
I should leave and do some groceries. We’re out of afternoon snacks. He prefers Gushers to Foot Longs. I stroll through the aisles of Market Organic Produce and Food Snacks. The store is undergoing a change, much like myself. They’ve ripped out the linoleum floors in favor of dark wood-like panels. The grouting is immaculate. The lights, however, leave something to be desired. My veins glow green, and I can see all of the little flaws in my cuticles. No matter. Women have insecurities, and that’s perfectly normal. A part of growing up into a girl and then a woman and then a mother. The life cycle continues. Bailey will need some milk, also. He prefers full fat milk to oat milk, but Momma has got to watch what she drinks! I’m joking. I’ve never referred to myself as “momma”; my tits are too small.
The kegels are working. I can sense my body strengthening. Soon I’ll be ready. Ready for what, though? Self-improvement ends when the body does I suppose.
Despite the renovation, the aisles of Market Organic Produce and Food Snacks are still familiar. They haven’t reorganized the aisles, although I’m sure that they will soon. Hopefully the yellow tags with the bold, red print will be phased out. “Sale!” they say. “Sale on the certified humane eggs! Scan my barcode to know me, own me, and eat me! Ha ha! I don’t exist, not really!” If I stare at one tag for too long, I can see its ghost when I blink. It hurts my eyes.
A man hits my cart with his basket. “Oh, excuse me.” Floppy hair, young. Glasses. “It’s no problem at all, dear.” I’ve been incorporating the use of “dear” into my day-to-day as it seems age-appropriate.
“I was just looking at the yogurts. There are so many!” He speaks with an unidentifiable accent, but he’s white and semi-normally dressed. Incredible how there can be so many ways to say that you are looking at yogurts. There’s no reason to keep up this interaction, so I smile, and move on. Sea moss, supplements. “I, I was wondering if you’d be okay with me asking you a question?” He moves his basket from one hand to another. A silver band on one hand. He’s married. At such a young age? No need to judge. Many people marry young, and some people don’t marry at all. Better to be unmarried than married wearing stupid cheetah-print leggings feeling one’s stupid cunt brain rot in real time at the grocery store. “I’m can, I mean, can I pay for your groceries with my EBT card? And in exchange, you can pay me.” He’s swaying, the way a young child would when presenting in front of a class. It’s a comfort mechanism.
Kegels. Pulse, pulse, release. He has a jagged scar running up his left cheek. A splattering of acne over his nose. He probably doesn’t own his own home.
“Money for what?” I don’t care, really. Everyone needs money. Maybe I want him to say “drugs” in his accent. I want him to say that he really loves heroin. I would maybe try heroin if I were less careful with my skin. It’s growing thinner, so I slather on a placental-extract ointment at night that’s supposed to make it chubbier. I’ve never really thought about whose placenta it’s made from. I saved Bailey’s. Maybe I’ll make a donation.
“For medicines. I am in need of some medicine, and I was hoping you could help. I would of course pay for your groceries with the card.” He has a cut on his hand, and the white button down he’s wearing is visibly dirty. He looks like he’s been in the sale aisle for too long, spiritually speaking. This is all a little boring. So what if the healthcare system in the United States is failing. Why am I having this conversation? What a callous thought. Pulse, pulse.
I haul the groceries into the trunk. I can feel the heat from the pavement press through the soles of my Hokas. It’s really sunny today. I sit in the heat of the car for a moment before turning it on. An errand is accomplished, but is it really an accomplishment to drive, which I know how to do, and shop, which I also know how to do? It’s a little past noon. Bailey will need to be picked up soon. I turn the key and put on the air conditioner.
Bailey needs new socks. I drive while doing my kegels. When I arrive, I put the car in park and lean forward to see the sky and also more of the outlet mall parking lot. My iPhone weather app told me it would be cloudy near midday, but it’s still clear. Science for you. Incredible how some people can predict the weather with just numbers. It should be a skill that some people are just born with. Do mathematicians discover math or do they make it up? I don’t care. I turn the key and place it in the inner pocket of my purse. Pulse, pulse, release. Bailey only wears mid-calf white Nikes.
The store smells immediately of rubber, which reminds me of the word “rubberized”, which reminds me of the phrase “rubberized vulcan” which is probably a scientific term for an unfuckable waste of potential. I have to start being nicer to myself. Pulse, pulse! Try again. The Nike store smells of rubber, which is familiar. Nice, neutral rubber. The associates wear little black vests and differently colored Nike shoes. It’s like they’re trying to tell me they have rich lives that aren’t defined by being an associate at the outlet Nike. Bailey is a men’s size 9 shoe, which translates into a size large sock. Crazy.
When we were younger, we would go to Trader Joe’s. Bailey’s hands would wrap around my neck when I picked him up. He was a toddler around the time I took this video of him that I still have. He looks so dapper in his school polo and khakis. I’m telling him to smell the flowers and smile for me, and the sweetest thing is that he does! He just walks on over to a lily and gives it a big inhale. He sneezes almost immediately and looks up at me like he’s done something wrong. I say something unintelligible, and he throws his head back and cackles. Bailey smiles so well.
Everytime I watch the video, something gurgles in my chest, and I’m not sure if it’s longing or love. Bailey poses at the end, two hands on his hips. We probably went home afterwards and watched a movie together. He scored a 20 on his most recent practice ACT.
The familiar ache blossoms in my chest. It’s inappropriate to grieve age.
The socks are in my hands, 60% cotton, 30% polyester, 2% spandex, 1% nylon. A six pack for twenty-two dollars. A bead of sweat runs down my back. It’s important to notice your body. That’s what my spiritual teacher Nathan tells me. We are souls bound in bodies, and our bodies become our souls after puberty. Something about the hormones and the comparative growth of lung tissue. I’m not sure if I believe it. I’m not sure I believe that the person in front of me, a cute young Hispanic girl, has a soul like I do. What if I were the only person in the world with a soul? The only one of my kind. It would be lonely to speak only to puppets.
“The total is twenty-five thirty-two. Cash or card?” She blinks at me. Her eyelashes are so long, and her hair is so shiny. A young woman wearing a black Nike hoodie, full of earning potential. I suppress the urge to grab two fistfuls of her thick, glossy hair and pull her towards me. The urgency would be a nice change of pace. But what would I say? I don’t have any wisdom. Silly.
The parking lot is still hot, and the inside of the car even hotter. I put on my seatbelt and turn the air on high. I like driving because I don’t have to think about anything. I merge into the highway and repeat the words on the green signs. “To interstate east forty,” I whisper. “Page Albuquerque left arrow sign”. There’s no use looking at the desert. It’s not interesting; it’s just deprivation.
I put the groceries away and place the bag of socks on Bailey’s bed. Almost immediately afterwards, I hear Bailey’s father turn the key in the door. Pulse, pulse.
Greg is an interesting person because he asked me out immediately after I told him I went to Yale. He said, almost exactly, “Yale, huh? Wow. You must be so smart. Do you have a boyfriend?” He went to a far less rejective school, somewhere in Saint Paul.
I meet him in the kitchen. A sunbeam rests on half his face and shoulders, and his mustache stretches across his face as he smiles. “How was work, sweets?” He kisses me on the mouth, like husbands do. I lay a hand on his chest.
Work is a fun joke we have between the two of us. It’s funny because I don’t go to work, but I honestly don’t mind it. I like staying at home because staying at home is comforting. I am very good at creating and completing physical tasks. I can wash the dishes perfectly. I can buy socks perfectly. No room for improvement; no errors. Besides, all this is technically labor, a kind of labor that’s primarily done by women. Just because something is coded as feminine doesn’t mean it’s not worthy or special. That’s what I was taught at Yale.
I lean into him. He pats my ass, and smells my hair like my mom used to. “How was your day, babe?” As he’s telling me about working at his father’s construction company and the headaches of contracting with state governments, I nod attentively. When he’s finished, I ask him if he can pick up Bailey from school.
“Now?” he asks.
My left arm itches. I look down. A mosquito. I let it sit on me a moment longer. Yummy. It’s important to be a meal occasionally.
“Babe, now?” No, not now. Two-thirty. You’ll have to leave the house in thirty minutes.
“Is that enough time for a little grope-and-release?” Another joke between the two of us, a cheeky little phrase for sex. Greg is still really handsome. I think it’s because he wears expressions well: Happy, sad, tired, horny. They’re all so immediately legible. He pulls my hair so my back arches concave while he’s fucking me, and I think about that Hispanic girl at Nike. Pulse, pulse.
When Greg leaves, I do a little bit of sitting by the living room window. I like to look at the street. Our gated community recently started allowing flyers on the vintage-style street lights that were installed a few years ago. The lights were a contentious point, primarily because the workers the association hired at a discount ended up being illegal immigrants. The lights look pretty though. The flyers look nice, too, in their own way. I like the way they flap in the wind. Maybe one day I’ll put a flyer up. I stare at one printed on bright pink paper. Neons aren’t allowed. I’m trying to read it, but I can’t make out the words. I unfocus my eyes and sip my tea. Some amount of time passes, and my phone’s alarm rings.
Bailey and Greg are late.
I make my afternoon smoothie and take my collagen supplement. I leave the house with the to-go smoothie container and lock the door behind me. I pull into the highway. The sun is setting over the mountains. It’s a bright pink. I think the sky has gotten prettier since the industrial revolution. Pollution makes the air look so pink and pretty. Am I really against open-pit mining? Could I be an open-pit miner? The texture of it appeals to me. My skin would be craggly and rough like the side of a mountain. It would be caked in a fine coal dust that I’d never be able to wash off. My lungs would be black but my wife’s would be wet and pink. I’d burrow into her at night but having sex would make me want to cry. I’d be so thankful that my children were in school instead of the mines, but they’d be vaping under their blankets.
My life is so easy. Immorally easy. When people tell the story of their lives, so often they touch on some hardship or disaster that they fought through. I’ve never fought through anything. I’ve never been poor or addicted or unable to learn, and my pelvic floor is always engaged. I pull into the parking lot, relieved. The drive is sometimes dangerously long.
The waiting room of Eckerman Health is white and bare. I only sit for a second before Nathan calls me in, wearing a white coat. It helps me better pretend that he’s a doctor.
I smile when I see him. “How are we doing today? Lick any unusual rocks lately?” “Oh, Nathan!” I say like I am a sitcom wife. “You’re so funny!”
“You don’t really think that,” he replies. I like Nathan primarily because of his voice. It’s low and soft, and when we’re in the heated meditation room, I trust in him to deliver me from something.
He takes my pulse and blood pressure in the exam room. He draws some blood and puts it away. I tell him to kiss my arm before putting the bandage on, and he laughs. He tells me that it could get infected, and I reply that I don’t care.
“Let’s take a look at your body composition. Stand just here.”
I hop off of my stool and stand on the white platform in the corner. Nathan stands behind me, motionless, for a long time. I get the impression that he’s breathing me in. I know I’m correct when he runs a finger down my spine until he reaches my ass. He pulls my ass cheeks apart
and squeezes. I turn, and I see that he’s squatting. His breaths are a little heavier. “Just checking your fat content, Amanda.” I want to laugh.
“Let me know if you feel any discomfort.”
What an interesting person. I really can’t tell if he thinks that I think that this is how body fat percentage is checked. If I really wanted to know, I’d go to my primary care physician. I wonder what he does at home. I wonder who he goes home to. Does he have a cat, maybe? I feel around in my mind, trying to understand if I care.
“Why don’t you go ahead and take your leggings off? We want to see how those kegels are working.” He’s never taken it this far before.
In college, my friends would often say that they cared about spending money on experiences, not things. I would make a good case for a thing; once you buy it, it’s yours forever. This is something that you own. Permanently. You can do whatever you’d like with it, even if it’s just holding it in a dark room whispering to it that you own it.
I still think that the experiences they craved weren’t the ones they were naming. Having dinner at a Michelin star restaurant and scuba diving aren’t experiences; it’s money. This, right here, is what they wanted. A true experience is a man named Nathan Eckerman in Scottsdale, Arizona, asking you to take off your clothes so he can grope you better. It’s just more interesting.
I comply. I want to see how this ends. I fold my clothes and bra on the patient-bed and face him in just my underwear. I look at him looking at me.
He moves to stand behind me. He puts both hands on my waist. “If I squeeze, my fingers touch. You’re so skinny. You’re so hot. So pretty.”
I suddenly feel a little lonely.
His hands slide down, underneath my underwear. I think I feel homesick. I think that actually I feel really, really homesick for something, maybe for Bailey when he was younger or maybe for myself when I was younger. Sometimes I check up on my childhood home on Google Maps. Nathan is breathing into my ear. A hand is on my ribcage. The property is overgrown now. Parts of the porch were torn out a few years ago, but the renovations never finished.
It’s the same feeling I sometimes get when Greg is sucking my tits. Like no one knows me. My throat is clogging up, and I feel my chest cave in. I don’t want to be here, but I don’t know where I want to be exactly. I’m not very good at planning. Maybe that’s why I ended up here, in this city, in a beautiful Victorian-style house with a catalog family.
“I was wondering if we could talk about supplements? I bought iron, and I take collagen sometimes, but anything you can tell me would be super helpful?” I smile, encouraging. My pelvic floor is still engaged. Pulse, pulse. He feels it.
“I can’t think of anything else you would need. You’re perfect.”
I walk away, and his fingers slide out of me. I turn away and begin to dress myself. When I’m finished, I fish in my purse for my compact. I can feel myself about to give in to something internal, something scary. I’m scared.
Nathan is seated. He looks at me for a moment before sighing and putting his head in his hands. “Why are you doing this? Why are you doing this to me?” I don’t really want to know.
“I’m seeing you because I have anxiety, and you said you would help me.” It’s easy to walk away.
Bailey will be home by now. There’s no sun in the sky. It’s called nighttime. It happens pretty regularly. Can we focus please? On what? I can drive without focusing. I’m just going straight. It’s easy to stay in the lane. The problem is I have nothing to focus on.
Isn’t it interesting that you’re a stupid little girl who can’t ever relax? Isn’t it cool and fun that you have to see a doctor because you can’t relax? Isn’t it so freeing to be a cunt that can’t think?
I need to eat ice cream and watch a movie with my child and have his head rest on my shoulder. I need to go home and sit down in front of my computer and make something of myself. I need to do something, but maybe I already have.
Bailey is my art project. He is the only thing I’ve really created, which is at once disappointing but also divine. I made him, and everything he does moving forward will be a little bit mine too. If he becomes an economist, I will also be an economist. If he decides he wants to be a miner, I will also be a miner. Sometimes I think about adopting another child, but will it be the same? Greg will never allow it, but Greg is so much less than I am in so many ways. I am so conceited. I need to stop thinking.
I roll down the windows. My ear drums pop. I squeeze the steering wheel and inhale. I think about my meditation classes at Yale. Regulating your body will regulate your emotions. People can be chemicals. I breathe in, hold, and exhale. I want someone to hold me, believe in me, and let me cry. I recognize the feeling, and let it pass.
I pull into our garage and put my keys in the inner pocket of my purse. I lock the car.
Greg and Bailey are home. I ask if they want a late night snack. Bailey declines, but Greg looks up from our couch like a little boy, excitable. “Yeah!” He jumps over the couch and nestles his head in my neck. Why don’t I respond to touch in the way I should? Pulse, pulse. I turn around and kiss him. His tongue is almost immediately in my throat, licking my teeth, but it’s not unenjoyable. I laugh like I should.
At night, he presses his body onto mine, sleeping directly on top of me. He whispers: “You’re mine.” It’s so loud. “You’re mine, you’re mine.”
I’m reminded of the chanting circles I used to organize in college. We would meet in the forest early in the morning. It was sometimes so cold I could see my breath, but the girls always arrived dressed in the thin cotton smocks the co-founder provided. I would light a fire in the pit, cooing over it until it grew big and healthy. The girls would join hands around it until someone started screaming. Then we were running. We ran faster and faster, tripping over each other, pulling girls up impatiently when they fell, screaming all the while. I could hear my heartbeat in my ears. I can hear it right now.