Pinned Under the Bodies of Men

When he easily put me in a lock during our first class, I had a stupid revelation. In all our years together, I had failed to comprehend him as he was — extremely fit and strong. I knew this at some level, of course. A lifelong endurance athlete, he had been a Singapore national cyclist, competing at the World Cycling Championships, and his jiu-jitsu friends frequently comment on his stamina and toughness.

None of this registered because I had never encountered his body that way. Here was the sweet man who shares my bed and adjusts my glasses when they slip down my nose, whose physical prowess I best observed in his dexterous use of chopsticks, lifting the delicate cheek off steamed fish — that prized part, which he always saved for me.

In Brazilian jiu-jitsu, the first objective is usually to “pass the guard,” getting past your opponent’s knees to establish a more dominant position, often mounting them. The instant I felt the weight of him on me, felt my body pushed against my will, I was returned to those awful moments of helplessness, felt the involuntary acid taste of fear pool in my cheeks.

It had never occurred to me that my husband could be capable of violence in the same way that we forget that animals, however cute or domesticated, are animals. When he swept my body under, pinned me down, I felt the fright I knew all too well and did not care to know again.

Then that memory crackled, like a glitch in the matrix, a program being overwritten by another.

On me was a body, scarily strong, but one I knew intimately, belonging to a man who loves me. His body, capable of such force, had only ever done nice things to mine. My body, thrumming with stress and adrenaline, began to hum instead with desire. Here was my place of refuge and solace. Here, this nook, where I place my head like a question, and he answers with the steady constant of his heartbeat. His overpowering jiu-jitsu lock was something I had only ever experienced as an embrace.

Here was the man who told me he would love away my fear. Wedged under him, as the old dread rose and then subsided in my chest, I realized he had really done it. Like an oyster, he had taken the painful grit of my past into the sanctuary of his embrace and smoothed it over into a pearl he was presenting to me.