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It shouldn't be too hard, coming back after a little over a week. There is the familiar smell of freshly-varnished wood floor, the new smell of wall paint, the faint scent of Zebra mats, the warm displacement in the air hinting at the arrival of summer. Putting the gi and hakama back on, tying the fabric in place, tugging at the loose ends to smooth out the uniform, even that is a comforting reminder of how it should be. I line up, clap to bow in, and the training starts.
And I thought I paced it right but suddenly everything seems to speed up, and Sensei says for everyone to give it an extra 20 or 25% more speed, and Sempai goes around to tell us the same thing: "Get back up! Attack, attack! Hurry up, let's go!," and I feel the impact of the mats with every takedown along my back, my calves, my palms as I slap the surface, and feel the bruises starting on my knees and elbows, those sharp joints that have had too much time away to remember the conditioned pain, and the sweat starts on my forehead and slides into my brows and eyes, and I could feel the beads glide down my front and back underneath the shielding layers of shirt and gi, pooling at the cinched belt, soaking into the fabric like tears on snow, and the summer air is more apparent now—thickened and heavy with the scent of collective perspiration—and suddenly there seems to be not enough of it as I forget to keep my breathing rhythm and start to gasp, but don't look at that clock because the minute hand has not changed, it is stuck forever at the half-hour mark with no momentum left to begin its grueling climb back to the 12, and the second-hand is not that much more cooperative to my mental plea, so look away and don't think at all about time, and go for that wrist and fall down and get back up and fall down and get back up and fall down and get back up and roll and roll and roll and let's not allow those muscles weakened by illness betray me, or focus on my lack of coordination or my decreased sense of balance as I struggle through vertigo to get even the simplest of techniques right, and I get physically worn and mentally frustrated while thinking, "Come on, Sensei, have mercy," when suddenly he yells out, "Owari masu!"—"Let's finish!" and his resounding clap ends class, and I melt into a pool of gratitude in my place during line-up and pant during the bow-out.
See? That wasn't so bad. Sensei catches me afterward and says, "Welcome back to the mat, Daisy." I smile, bow, and say thank you. It's nice to know the mat and the people on it missed me as much as I've missed it and them.