Me At The Gym

During my third year in Wisconsin, I finally felt well enough to start going to the gym regularly. I practiced yoga at home and went for short, freezing cold walks, but I wanted to feel more strong.

Granted, I felt nervous about working out in front of so many people, so I decided that the gym would be a place of entertainment for me. I was there to heal, and have fun amidst the sweat stained carpets and endlessly churning bicycles.

The thing that intimidated me the most were all of the strong, intense looking men. I could handle the women, but the the gym rats grunting in front of the many mirrors while they lifted their body weight and then some made me want to hide in the changing room. I didn’t quite know what to do whenever we stood side by side at the mirrors. Should I be making weird grunting sounds too? Should I be frowning that much at my body? It seemed counter intuitive, particularly given how beautiful I was becoming. Everyone always seemed to be assessing my pale, sickly skin and the bags under my eyes with a certain amount of envy. (Or was it pity?)

My trainer was a woman named Charity. She wore tie-dye, loved to text me about different recipes involving natural peanut butter and gluten free flours, and asked if I had thought about buying a mat to do grounding exercises on during the winter. She was, in a word, “crunchy.” And I adored her.

One day, I went back to my Charity’s locker to borrow some bright pink gloves for weight lifting. Another trainer named Mitch asked me what I was up to.

“Oh, you know, just going to lift my tiny weights,” I said. And they were tiny. I was on ten pounds.

“Hey, remember, any amount of weight is good. You’re just starting. You’ll get stronger,” Mitch told me with a smile. I decided he was the most gorgeous man I had ever encountered.

After that, I made it my ambition to make those intense weight lifters break. They had to have smiles locked away somewhere. And they would seem less scary if I could conquer those tough exteriors.

One day, Jeff, the toughest, scariest looking trainer, checked me in. We had had an enormous snowfall the night before, unusual for late April, and the roads were lined with a foot of the powdery stuff. Jeff scanned my card, arm muscles rippling, his face a silent mask of dangerous intensity.

I swallowed. I could do this. “Uh, Merry Christmas!” I said, gesturing to the snow at the door.

Jeff out a loud, surprised laugh, and that scary mask vanished. I floated through weight training that day. I had conquered the toughest gym rat of them all.

Charity asked if she could work on my shoulders one day. She proceeded to have me lie down in one of the gym hallways, and began pinching specific nerves alongside my neck. It was one of the most painful things I had ever experienced. But at the end of it, I was lighter and a little less squeamish about her doing her “crunchy stuff” to my body.

Charity had me doing very basic exercises at first, but I was soon putting in time on the ellipticals and the bikes. Frequently, I glanced as nonchalantly as possible down the rows of other gym goers for people I could be friends with, and imagined what I would say.

“Hi. I’ve noticed you like to read books while riding the bike, and that seems like something I would like to do, too. Would you maybe want to do that sometime together? I don’t have to talk. I can actually be really quiet.” This seemed a bit desperate. “Hello. Is that book you’re reading any good?” Oh dear. That was nosy. Wisconsin people hate people who are nosy, or more chatty than them. (Granted, I kind of do, too) Maybe something casual to start it off? Like, “Hey.” Or I could go with something even more chill. Just glance at them and then glance away. Yes. Perfect. This said it all.

Honestly, I wanted friends so badly, I would have sat and worked out alongside someone in silence as long as I knew they would say “Hello” and “Goodbye” to me each day.

The TVs sort of worked. I could never get the sound to come through my headphones, but since I was always there at the same time of day, they were usually playing silent, non-captioned episodes of the same show: Supernatural. If you’ve never seen it, the show revolves around the adventures of two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, who hunt demons and magical creatures. I was forever confused by all of the women throwing themselves at Dean on the show when Sam was clearly more intelligent, sensitive, levelheaded, and (swoon) wearing glasses. Dean’s leather jacket clearly had magical pheromones. 

I made up the lines for the characters based on what I could figure out from the silent images. My favorite went like this:

Dean: (wearing a leather jacket to convey angst, begins poking around in a very suspicious looking cabinet with a flashlight) I wonder what’s in here.

Sam: (slowly takes in the scene with his thoughtful, bespectacled gaze) Didn’t the people tell us not to look in the cabinet, Dean? I think it might be better for us to come back during the day-

Dean: (with a self-assured shake of his dimwitted head) Sam, I want to know what’s in this cabinet! Stop being such a nerd and let me look inside!

Sam: (reaching out a hand to stop him) No, Dean! Don’t do it! (the cabinet bursts open with a strange mystical light and a demon most foul cackles into the world) Dean, why do you always have to open the cabinets?!

I learned a lot of things in that gym.

1. People will usually smile back at you if you smile at them. It’s a good idea to do this to the same gender, though, unless you’re really interested in getting hit on by older men or gym rats who grunt when they lift.

2. Crunchy trainers are the best trainers. Charity remains one of my most favorite people from Wisconsin. (Wait. She was from California.)

3. Little old ladies at the gym will be chatty to you. Cherish them.

4. Saunas are great. So long as you don’t have to share them with men who want to talk about their lasagna recipes. (Long story)

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