Perkily, she greets him. “Hi, Haakon!”
As is his way, he extends a quiet hello.
Then, at loose ends for the few minutes until class starts, she notices someone else she can greet.
“Are you Haakon’s mom?” she asks, extending her hand towards me. As I nod, she adds, “I’m Mrs. Rebecca King.” We shake hands.
Mrs. Rebecca King! So the giggly, bouncy, upbeat, prone-to-yelping, always-bringing-the-fun lady in Paco’s fencing class has a name? And it’s not “Caitlyn Marie”?
Now this is interesting.
I’ve always liked that she’s in the class, one of the few females, definitely the only one who doesn’t read manga, for her energy is a perfect counterpoint to the male “I love weaponry” ponytailed vibe of the rest of the participants. Even more, I’ve always been glad when she and Paco are partners in a bout; he relaxes with her because she’s chatty and so clearly having a good time. When they are facing off, he smiles and talks during the lulls.
You make my beloved kid smile and talk, you are my very special Mrs. Rebecca King forever.
I like her even more once the introductions are over — because what she wants to say is “Haakon is such a nice boy” and “He is so polite” and “He’s a gentle giant. I actually have to tell him ‘It’s okay. You can stab Mrs. King!’”
Why, thank you for the nice words about my kid, Mrs. Rebecca King. Do you perhaps need a kidney? A piggyback out to your car after class? A pair of matching French braids woven into your hair by freckled hands?
In return, I tell her the things I’ve long thought: that she brings great energy to the third floor of the YMCA every Sunday afternoon and changes the feel of the whole class, that I’m always so happy when she and Paco are paired off, that she has a gift of sunshine.
Life policy: say the nice things out loud to the people. The potential effects are boundless.
As we continue to talk, I learn that this slip of a woman is mother to five children, all grown and gone. My astonished reaction is genuine. Seriously, Mrs. Rebecca King is built like a figure skater working on her triple loop, and she appears to be about 31. When I tell her this, she tries to shuck off my observations as thin compliments, but I’m serious. If quizzed, I would have written in ink that I believe she’s 31.
Clearly, upbeat energy keeps skin unlined and eyes bright.
So her kids range in age from 26 down to 19, which means she bore five kids in seven years. Yes, it was crazy, she assures me, but now that they’re gone, she misses it — even though having gotten through the intense years of motherhood means “I eat sometimes now…and I get to do things like taking fencing!”
When I ask her how she came to enroll in fencing classes, her answer, as with everything about her, is easy. “I just always wanted to. Always. And now I can. The only people in my life who were surprised when I announced I had signed up were my mom and brother. Everybody else saw it coming.”
It’s almost time for her to go out onto the wooden floor and start warming up with footwork, almost time for me to start running on the track that loops the wooden floor. But first, she wants to tell me where her kids and their spouses live — from Alaska to Ohio — and I want Byron, who’s just arrived, to say hi.
The rhythm changes. We are almost done, and the introduction of new information is replaced by reiterations of previous niceties. At some point as we wind down, Mrs. Rebecca King says, referring to herself, “Hey, not bad for an Amish lady, right?”
And then she’s gone, in her white jacket with the strap laced between her legs, with her slightly wild hair springing until her face mask tames it, having skipped out to the middle of the wooden floor.
Twenty feet away, I tuck in my earbuds and fire up a podcast. We had a quick moment, we two moms on the third floor, but now we each focus on our own business.
For the next hour, I run, and I run, and I run, circling the clanking foils, circumscribing the changing pairings of the fencers, drawing a line with my feet around their thrusts and parries. I move my body, grin at my husband, answer a few messages, listen to stories, and think, my brain circling and circumscribing and drawing lines:
“Excuse me. An Amish lady?”
After class, I ask Byron what he thinks, and he posits she’s more a Mennonite or some other offshoot that isn’t quite Amish but is still “sect-ular” in nature. He’s noticed previously that sometimes a couple younger girls in slightly old-fashioned dresses, tights, and shoes accompany Mrs. Rebecca King, sitting on chairs during class and looking at their phones. Paco knows that she’s a teacher at a Christian school. But still my brain circles.
Life policy: say the questions out loud to the people. The potential effects are boundless.
Thus, by the end of the hour, I have readied myself to approach her again and say, “I just have to ask: you were sort of joking earlier when you said you are an Amish lady, but you sort of weren’t. Do you mind if I ask about that?”
But I’m out of luck.
Mrs. Rebecca King changes into her winter wear while talking to a teenage boy from the class; their conversation is intent, and she moves rapidly as she buttons her coat. She dashes — always, she dashes! — to the top of the staircase, and before she starts pattering down, the boy calls out to her: “God be with you.”
“And God be with you,” she replies to the round-faced red-head whose brothers and pastor father are packing up their gear nearby.
They are Godsmacked, and I am gobsmacked. Are we the only heathens in the fencing mix? Did we stumble into a homeschooling extracurricular? Should these Good People be stabbing each other on a Sunday? Have I ever in the past year dropped a 20-pound weight on my foot while doing bicep curls and inadvertently yelled “FUCK”? Do I owe anyone an apology? Should I follow my impulses in this moment and dodge over to Mrs. Rebecca King to say, “My regrets if I’ve ever yelled a swearsie, and do you have a bonnet with dangling strings?”
Ah, but she’s gone, Mrs. Rebecca King is, gone down the stairs, gear tucked into her arms, coat buttons askew, hair flying. She missed class last week because she lives “due north,” out in the country, and her husband hadn’t plowed them out in time for her to get into town. This week, she had him prepared and on the job: she wanted to go to her fencing class. Good as his word, the father of her five children cleared the snow so she could get out —
his wife, that mother, this yelping, happy foil-wielder–
so she could attend her class —
the class she always wanted to take —
from the time she was a young girl until now, when she looks 31 —
and all along the way, it appears one thing about this open, light-hearted woman has always been true:
God has been with her.