Zoom Yoga

A woman died in Zoom yoga and no one noticed. She fell from against the wall during dolphin pose. We were all on mute. Nobody heard the thud. Everyone else onscreen in gallery view was still inverted, balanced on sphinx-like forearms, legs behind extended straight up toward the ceiling, a stance that turned their bodies into almost perfect L’s. Her screen name read only “iPad.”

I kept waiting for her to get back up, but she didn’t. I’d been savoring a glass of Malbec (it was the 5pm class) and munching on some sour cream and onion chips. After a few weeks of Zoom class, I stopped full-screening the teacher, opting instead for the more entertaining gallery view where I could see everyone else struggling while I flowed through the Peak Pose Challenge Sequence, effortless as a fish through water. Not really. I was terrible at yoga. Before all this, I’d never even tried yoga. When I saw the class posted by a friend of a friend of a friend on Facebook, I keyed in the code at class time because Bay Area celebrity instructor Aly May Vismaya Schumann, with her jet-black hair and sleeve tattoo, was my type, and I was super-nostalgic for three-dimensional dating. I ordered a mat online that says “Fuck Yoga” on it.

Every week, I tried out warrior-ones while Aly May Vismaya Schumann went on about clearing space to unclog the incredible asymmetry of energetic pathways. I liked to dwell on how we had all seen into so many strangers’ houses, the pandemic forcing us into a surreal sort of distanced intimacy. Except me. I kept my camera off. I drank wine and ate olives straight from the jar. Occasionally, I “practiced” nude. I painted my toenails in forward-fold and made funny faces at people who couldn’t see me back. I wandered away to procure more snacks. Some days, I just lay on my Fuck Yoga mat and took a nap, Aly May Vismaya Schumann’s dulcet tone lulling me off to dreamland.

My initial goal during quarantine had been to teach myself how to lucid dream. Every night I listened to a “wake up inside your dreams” meditation on YouTube, to not much avail. One night, I dreamed I was dipping my hand through mirrors as if they were little portals to another dimension, but I think that might actually have been a result of too much time on Zoom, some primal longing for physical connection propelling a subconscious desire to step through those little boxes into the other spaces and lives simultaneously gathered there, rooms’ worth of people reduced to a chess board on my screen.

iPad’s camera adjusted so she was silhouetted, surrounding flat light showing only the outline of a form. Could have been savasana. A cloud moved, another Zoom self-adjustment, there was her face again. But it wasn’t early savasana. No one could go that long without blinking. I threw on a robe, turned my video on, and unmuted myself.

—Excuse me? Does anybody on here know that person? iPad? Help. Can you hear me? Aly May Vismaya Schumann came down from her own dolphin and approached the screen.

—Yoginis, please remember to keep yourselves muted the entire practice, especially during challenging poses.

Wait! I shouted but my words fell on silence. I had been “muted by the host,” allow participants to unmute themselves unchecked.

—Now slowly exhale as you bring yourself down. Use the wall if you’re using it. Let the intensity of the final postures fall away. Drift or float back down to the mat and grab something to cover your eyes as we begin our descent into savasana. An eye pillow, a blanket, or a shirt.

I waved my arms around, trying to get anyone’s attention—“Rick Johnson” or “Dave Spitz” or “Carol’s iPhone”—while gesticulating wildly toward the tiny square where iPad’s vacant stare resided. Not what Aly May Vismaya Schumann meant by “final postures.” No one noticed me. Being forty-two and single I was used to that, pandemic or not. Given that nobody rushed to her aid, I surmised that iPad and I were alike in that regard. Having yoga on had felt akin to the best kind of gathering, one where not interacting wasn’t strange or socially awkward. Even before all this, I hated parties. I didn’t see the point. We get together and talk about things for what? On Zoom, though, I liked hearing the other people’s stories: updates on Rick’s tomato plants, Rita’s experience homeschooling her kids, the surprising joys of Dave’s life without his killer commute.

Everyone was lying flat on their backs on their mats with their eyes covered, mostly by bandannas. They were trending these days. Noisemaking was futile. I could not unmute. Aly May Vismaya Schumann was telling the class that savasana—corpse pose—was the most challenging posture in all of yoga besides breathing. She complimented all the beautiful asanas, but she wasn’t even looking.

I polished off a bag of cherries wondering how a corpse could be considered beautiful. How could it be anything? It just was

Though I suppose it could be argued that iPad was both beautiful and corpse so maybe I was wrong. She was model-gorgeous. That could have been her job. I wondered what happened to models in general; they couldn’t work from home, but they weren’t essential either. Or were they? I imagined all the out-of-work models the world over just sitting around looking pretty.

Aly May Vismaya Schumann put on our final relaxation music, instructing us to let everything go and focus only on the breath. I pinned iPad, searching for clues that might lead to discovering her identity. iPad and I were inches apart, yet also hours and worlds. Her yoga mat was orange. Her bluish-gray eyes looked illuminated from the inside, the blank stare of a lifeless face an especially alien thing up close. Though she didn’t wear makeup—it was yoga, after all, and quarantine, it would have been weird to wear makeup, though that didn’t stop some people. (Carol with the toe ring.)

I clicked back to gallery and paced the perimeter of my mat, trying to think. I’d been staring at the view outside iPad’s actual window through the Zoom window for so many weeks, what looked to be Pac Heights or Fillmore against the backdrop of San Francisco’s vast gray sky, so besides in a box in the upper right-hand corner of my screen she was also on a floor in Presidio Heights, if I had my geography right. You didn’t need to work at a private investigation firm to put these details together. Though I commuted to San Francisco, or used to, before I was no longer considered essential, I can’t claim to know the city all that well. Though I’d been watching, I hadn’t been noticing enough. Not paying attention to details. Had I ever? Even before all this? And why do we call it “all this”? That’s not even a euphemism. Besides, it’s not “all.” It is very much one thing, though connected to many things, and, well, so maybe “all this” is appropriate, that we’re referring to more than we think we are when we say it.

As meditation music played, Aly May Vismaya Schumann’s attention remained on her phone. Then she made a call. I could see her lips moving as she walked right out of the frame. I Googled “Aly May Vismaya Schumann yoga San Francisco” and found her bio and photo up on the yoga studio website, along with promises of “Covid 19 Updates” and “Check out our Zoom class schedule, Namaste!” I clicked over to the schedule but that only led me to the link for the class that I was already in. On Facebook, with a few clicks and keystrokes I found Aly May Vismaya Schumann, International Yoga Instructor and Clear Channels Coach. She’d given her final pre-pandemic workshop retreats in Fiji and Amsterdam and had been scheduled to lead a weekend called Yoga for Success at a place in a redwood forest south of here, now integrated into some larger online summit about healing. I messaged her and stared at the unread message while meditation music played on, everyone lying there, blissed out in their savasanas, except for me, iPad, and Aly May Vismaya Schumann, who was nowhere to be seen. I pondered calling 911 but what to say? A woman is dead. Who? iPad. Where? On Zoom. Also somewhere in San Francisco. Emergency responders had more urgent matters to attend to as things got bad and then worse.

iPad needed to be found. I needed to get out of the house.

I’d seen a movie once about a woman in England who died in her apartment and wasn’t found for two years, by then a pile of bones, then publicized for being unknown. But iPad, one person knew about her. Me. I had no choice but to try and locate iPad before she rotted in her apartment and her cat ate her face. She did have a cat. A giant fluffy cat pacing in the background during her practice. Maybe iPad wasn’t dead, just paralyzed, and I would save her. Would that have been worse, to have been alive but paralyzed, trapped in her body and apartment, unable to call for help, with the only person who knew being a stranger she didn’t know was watching during yoga? This would count as essential travel I’d say. I finished the bag of cherries and my wine. The meditation music stopped, and my house fell silent. Aly May Vismaya Schumann must have been tending to something involving her business or her kid—a little one dashed through the background here and there during some of the classes, and sometimes she had to step away to tend to the child. Yoga teacher never expected to work from home. As class participants signed off, iPad’s box with her waxy face and blank-eyed stare in it grew bigger and bigger until finally the only boxes left were hers and mine. Her face took up half my screen. Her skin was flawless. Her mouth hung ever-so-slightly agape, and her expression was one of bemusement and wonder, as if it was no big deal, like huh, so I fell and snapped my neck, isn’t life unpredictable and strange. I peered further into the screen, wishing I could reach in there and be at her home, the way I’d put my hand through mirrors in that one lucid dream I’d managed to have. I had never seen a dead person so up close and personal before, and yet this was also the sensation of unreality that came with watching TV.

Aly May Vismaya Schumann walked back in, still on the phone. I waved again and shouted even though I knew I was still on mute and she, enthralled in her conversation, walked up and closed her laptop without looking at it. iPad was gone, and so was I. Why hadn’t I taken a screenshot? That would at least have given me something to go on. Something to show. Proof. Such an obvious thing to do I’d missed it.

I grabbed my keys, unable to remember when I’d last driven. Everything came via Grubhub and Amazon and Instacart and Zoom. I had to get gas. I wore rubber gloves to touch the pump then threw them away. I went through a Burger King drive thru and chugged a Diet Coke. In under an hour I neared the city, record time, when lights flashed. I was pulled over.

—License and registration please, she said.
I was glad to see another woman. I shuffled in my canvas tote.
—Was I speeding, officer?
—You’re not supposed to be crossing county lines. And you were doing eighty-five.
I saw my work ID sitting on the dash and handed it to her with the license.
—I’m on a case, I said.
—This says administrative assistant.
—Well it’s an emergency. Somebody died at yoga. She fell out of dolphin pose. I’m trying to find her.
—Presidio Heights, I’m pretty sure.
—Do you have an address?
—Not exactly.
The cop peered over her glasses. She didn’t say it, but her look did.
—Fine for violating the stay-at-home order is a thousand dollars. Get back to your county. Watch more of that Netflix. Make a therapy appointment. On Zoom. Take a bath.

As I watched her return to her patrol car and make some entries on a pin pad, I wondered why she’d been so kind and polite, and wished we’d had more of a chance to talk. She waved me on. I pulled back into the lane, drove slow. Once I was sure she was gone, I took the next exit.

The city also was dead, no one on the streets, people out walking dogs here and there, dashing in and out of bodegas wearing masks. I drove through the hills, searching for a place with that exact view I remembered, rang some doorbells. No one would talk to me. I get it. Who would open their door to a masked stranger when we were barely opening them for friends? My phone alerted me to a message from Aly May Vismaya Schumann.

Oh no! I don’t know what you think you saw but I’m sorry you think you saw that. I’m not sure who it could have been, I have thousands of followers and this evening’s class was 92 of us, it’s by donation and not everybody Venmos. But I’m sure everything is fine ☺ See you next class. Namaste, AMVS

I didn’t see iPad in the following Zoom, though, or the one after that. I kept copy-pasting the meeting ID, “taking” every yoga class for the remainder of the quarantine and through every phase of reopening until finally one day in-person classes resumed. I left work just in time to make it to the 5 o’clock, restored to its realspace state. I didn’t get any better at yoga but almost every day I still Google woman dead apartment Presidio. Nothing resembling iPad ever comes up, or at least it hasn’t yet. The ticket that came in the mail—just for speeding, not violating the lockdown—still sits next to my laptop on the desk, along with all the reminder notices. I’m not sure what I’m waiting for. I guess because now I can do whatever I want.

Sometimes, I’ll be on a Tinder date eating dinner in a restaurant or sitting in the park near my office and see someone with waxy skin and blue-gray eyes. Especially if they have kind of a vacant stare, I think maybe that’s her, maybe the whole thing really was, as the cop and Aly May Vismaya Schumann implied, some kind of quarantine-induced delusion; something went awry in the lucid dream meditation; I lost the ability to differentiate waking life from unconscious realm. I’ll tell my date the story, pointing out the woman receding down the path or at the table strategically placed at six feet and say maybe that’s her, is that her, could that be her?

Author Headshot

Liza Monroy is the author of the essay collection Seeing As Your Shoes Are Soon To Be On Fire, the novel Mexican High, and the memoir The Marriage Act: The Risk I Took To Keep My Best Friend In America And What It Taught Us About Love. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, LA Times, New York Times Magazine, Washington Post, Marie Claire, O, Catamaran, and other publications, and anthologized in The Best of Modern Love and Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York. She lives in Santa Cruz, CA, where, when not at her writing desk, she’s usually found surfing and parenting a couple of tiny people. She is working on her next novel, The Distractions. www.lizamonroy.com

Instagram: @lizamonroy