Quite a few times after Hurricane Michael came ashore, mostly sparing Tallahassee and leaving us mainly with the annoyance of darkened homes during lengthy power outages as our neighbors to the west had their houses, businesses, and properties destroyed, I said, “We dodged a bullet.” (Many projected storm paths had Michael making a direct hit on our town).
Little did we know that 23 days later, literal bullets at the hands of a murderer would not spare us as a community, as a shooting at Hot Yoga Tallahassee resulted in the deaths of Nancy Van Vessem and Maura Binkley and the injuries of several others (the gunman also died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound).
My Relationship With Hot Yoga Tallahassee
Although I never went to HYT’s first location, I remember several friends raving about it. If I recall correctly, it was on the west side of town, in what was probably a more out-of-the way location.
The clientele and the reputation of the studio grew, and it relocated to Betton Place, a more centrally located, upscale complex. That’s where I first took yoga at HYT and met Brittani, the owner. Although I didn’t go to HYT exclusively, it still played a unique role in my yoga life.
I did glow yoga and sacred music yoga there. I participated in the December Instagram challenge with HYT one year, posting a picture a day for a month. Most recently, I took part in the outdoor community yoga at their newer location off of Bannerman Road.
The entire time, I watched Brittani grow as a business owner. I saw her become a mom and work through the difficult period of her baby’s severe health problems when he was first born. I remember well a time this summer when he was with her at outdoor yoga; he brings her so much joy.
I’ve always thought it must be a difficult balance to strike to own a yoga studio: an activity that is supposed to help all of its participants eradicate worry juxtaposed against the difficulties of running a business. How do you collect unpaid fees from someone who was seeking respite from the stresses of debt? How do you gently and compassionately intercede with the space hog, the yogi wearing the off-putting fragrance, the late arrival who had promised to arrive 10 minutes early to avoid disrupting everyone else?
I admire Brittani for being a business owner, but I love her more for the mother and human she is.
Hot Yoga Tallahassee offered more types of yoga than “hot,” despite its name. However, it does do hot yoga well. I always found its heating system and temps to be relatively hotter than other places, especially with their previous system.
Although the actual helpfulness of this was probably all in my head, I liked getting the spot closest to the door. I had the idea that an infinitesimal wisp of air could get in between the floor and the door to keep me from passing out. The temperature probably wasn’t any different by the door than at the farthest corner of the studio, but the thought gave me some relief (it would also be easier to leave and take a respite from the heat without disrupting other people if I was already by the door).
I am struggling to write about this situation. It is as hard to find words that even come faintly close to being adequate as it was to get air through an imperceptible space between the door and the floor at HYT.
I was talking with a therapist recently about a situation that had formed an emotional knot in my psyche, one that I couldn’t untangle or resolve. Lo and behold, as she walked me through how the knot got there in the first place, it became apparent that the tension keeping the knot so tightly bound wasn’t solely generated from the situation that was presenting itself as the problem, but from the tectonic shift set off when my mom passed away in February.
And for all the grief I feel for this most recent situation, I have had to tell it to “take a number” as if my heart were the DMV and that the various situations needing to be processed were so many expiring license plate decals.
Other People’s Words
Fortunately, as I work through my emotional knot, other people have risen to the challenge with the perfect words.
From Food Glorious Food, a business in the same complex as Hot Yoga Tallahassee:
From David Harshada Wagner:
From John C. Thomas IV, father of Maura Binkley’s roommate:
I don’t have any answers, but I know now the firsthand agony of what no one should have to deal with with such numbing frequency.
My heart goes out to Maura’s family and all other victims of this senseless act, and to all those who live silently with pain in the aftermath of this type of violence.
It [mental health issues and gun violence] cannot be marginalized. It must be our biggest priority, for the sake of our children and future generations.
From Gary Taylor, Ph.D., Florida State University English Department Chair. (Maura Binkley was an FSU English major.)
What we can do, as English majors, is write about the particulars of her beautiful promise. What we can do, as Americans, is dedicate ourselves to erasing the ugliness that erased her.
From Nancy Van Vessem’s daughter, Molly Johnson:
I read that Dr. Van Vessem’s favorite spot was by the door too. I’m guessing she just wanted to be able to leave efficiently to get to work. Maybe, like me, she needed the reassurance that she was close to cooler air if the temperature got too warm.
I don’t know, and can’t fathom, why she and Maura Binkley are gone.
Thank you, Food Glorious Food and David Harshada Wagner, for trying to find the tiniest sliver of hope and a path forward at a time when I’m not there yet.
There are several GoFundMe accounts set up to benefit Hot Yoga Tallahassee:
From the Director of the Florida Yoga Teachers Association
From Lauren Cordy, a friend of Brittani’s
From M&M Monogramming, designed by The Moore Agency:
From Advanced Metal Art:
(As other benefits appear, I’ll add them here.)
I also recommend Moms Demand Action, Everytown for Gun Safety and Sandy Hook Promise to learn more about advocacy for a solution to gun-related problems in our country.
I am linking this post up with the Kat Bouska prompt, “Write a blog post [based on] the word: dark.”
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. My pronouns are she/her/hers.
Jane Anderson says
Paula, this msjma my heart hurt. I’m so sorry for these tragic losses. Prayers for healing and comfort to surround Tallahassee.
Paula Kiger says
Your prayers are appreciated and needed. Thanks, Jane.
Laurie Stone says
This was beyond sad, as all these frequent shootings are. I’m so sorry for your community.
Paula Kiger says
Exactly, Laurie. It’s impossible to get my head around. Yet I try…