No Shame in Rooms Like That

No Shame in Rooms Like That by David Ebenbach

Listen—I know I’m big. I was a heavy child, and I was heavy in high school, and in college I was heavy enough that the white kids didn’t even assume I got in on a basketball scholarship. And I know that sitting in a desk chair for the last six years, helping the helpless retrieve their network passwords all day, every day, hasn’t slimmed me down any. I open my closet each morning and I know what my belt size is. I’m not trying to be all better than anyone, and least of all Tawnya, who, I’m telling you right now, is a beautiful woman at any size. So don’t get the wrong idea; that’s not why I walked out of there.

Not that it’s easy to explain why I did walk out. It was intermission and I had been watching those ladies shake their bellies for an hour or more, and there I was, with all the other guys in the bathroom, and when I was at the sink one of them turned my way and said, “They’re really something, aren’t they?” with a look on his face that was halfway to religion, and right then I just knew I had to get myself out of there. I barely dried my hands before I took off, out onto the street and through that late fall wind toward the car. Tawnya and I had come in separate cars.

I was supportive when Tawnya had first signed up for lessons. I remember when she came home from work, crying—and this is Tawnya, cool and collected, assistant vice principal, barely thirty but minded by freshman and seniors alike—crying, because that new teacher Maria had lost her mind and asked her if she was maybe pregnant. Now, I don’t think my wife has gained a whole lot of weight in the two years since we got married, and I think it was probably just the particular blouse she had on that day, which had some kind of tie thing right over her stomach, but I do know that’s not the kind of question any woman wants to hear. And it was maybe an especially touchy subject with Tawnya, given that we’d been more thinking about a family than making it happen. Well, I’d been thinking about it; Tawnya wasn’t even quite at that stage yet. Anyway, I sat with her at the kitchen table, which is where we make our big plans, and I listened and nodded my head.

“We’ve got to change things around here,” she said, smacking her hand down on the table, her bracelets making noise. “We’ve got to eat right. We’ve got to exercise. You know this isn’t good for us.”

And I nodded my head, even though I wasn’t sure how we had gotten from her to we. Two years of marriage is plenty of time to learn that sometimes it’s the smarter thing to just go along to get along. That’s how I do my work, too. When some hysterical professor or administrator calls down to IT and I get the call, I tell them, “My time is your time.” I have that printed out on a piece of paper on my cube wall. That and some photos of Tawnya: us at the wedding, the honeymoon on the cruise, her promotion party, the Baltimore aquarium.

So I nodded and agreed that sure, we needed to turn things around. Tawnya’s face was still damp, and her Halle Berry cut was a little disarranged, and she was wearing that green blouse with the tie thing over her stomach, which she has never worn since. I felt all the love come up in me. I held my wife’s hand and asked her what was next.

It wasn’t until a couple days of steamed vegetables had passed, though, that she came home with the belly dancing idea. She had gotten it from Bonita, the vice principal at Jefferson, who had lost some weight herself over the last year, and it turned out that it was from belly dancing, and that it wasn’t just a thing in the movies or Las Vegas anymore, but a craze that all kinds of women were doing. And Bonita knew a place that had classes over in Tenleytown.

“Belly dancing?” I said. This time we were on the couch, though you could see the kitchen table from there.

“Think about it,” Tawnya said. “It’s a powerhouse workout.” She put a hand on her stomach. “It works everything right around here. You lose weight and you get strong.”

“It’s just for women, right?” I said, hopeful.

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David Ebenbach is the author of several books, including two short story collections—Into the Wilderness (Washington Writers’ Publishing House) and Between Camelots (University of Pittsburgh Press)—and a guide to creativity called The Artist’s Torah (Cascade Books); he teaches Creative Writing at Georgetown University. Find out more at