poster child

This is one of those stories about human nature and personality that lacks a tidy ending or an easy moral. Perhaps that's the difference between real life and fairy tales; in real life, you don't get to turn the final page to see the theme of the story and answer the questions.

In real life, you get the questions as you go along, and you answer as best you're able with the information you have at the time.

I stopped going to the gym around the time I started my current job. I worked a lot of overtime, especially in the first six months, and I started promising myself that when life got a bit easier, and I wasn't so mentally exhausted, I'd make time. I didn't expect eighteen months to pass before I finally hit that point; me, who was so religious about going to the gym every day.

I did it, mostly because I was shamed into it. A friend who works harder and longer hours than I do made the time, and every time the subject came up my stomach churned with guilt. I knew I needed to return, knew that restarting workouts would do good things for me, but had to work up the bravery to walk in the door.

The funny thing was that it was different from last time. Last time, I was scared to walk into a gym, period. I didn't think people like me could find a home there, but I had been proven wrong. This time, I was afraid of the questions that I knew would come from the owners of a small, family-owned gym like mine: 'Where have you been? Why haven't you come in?'

I screwed up my courage on a workday afternoon, after stopping by the vet's office to pick up something for the cats. I made the familiar turn and drove down toward the nondescript metal building. I'd built a lot of my character in that building, and proven to myself that I could do a lot of things I'd never before believed I could do.

Eighteen months gone, and I opened the door and it was the same.

Lynn, the owner, looked up from the desk. "Amy! Where have you been!"

(The sound you didn't hear at that moment was my resolve banging on the doors, trying to leave the building before anyone saw its utter mortification.)

I smiled and told the story of the girl who got her dream job, and who discovered later on that dream jobs sometimes have the unintended side effect of being life-consuming creatures. I showed Lynn the gym barcode that I still had on my key ring, just because I'd been too chicken-shit to take it off, and asked if he could restart my membership.

He pulled out a piece of paper and started writing down my information. He remembered it, even after eighteen months. (My resolve started looking longingly at the glass doors again, whispering, "We could make a break for it and be out of the parking lot in fifteen seconds...") I signed my name on the form and looked around briefly.

It hadn't changed. I was the one that was different.

I wrote down the new gym hours and headed home, promising to return as soon as the new sports bras had come in. My old ones had seen so many workouts that they were nearly worn out. New bras and new shorts just seemed right, somehow.

I did it, too, restarting on Valentine's Day. I went straight from our traditional Valentine's Day dinner at Hooters to the gym. Love my spouse, love myself, I muttered.

I walked in, thinking I would huff and puff and turn red in peace, but that was not to be.

"Amy! Where have you been?"


I gave an abbreviated version of the same story. I tied my shoes and tried not to embarrass myself on machines that were so familiar eighteen months ago. I remembered what levels my prior workouts were at, and tried not to push myself too hard on the first day. My body did it once; it could do it again, given time and conditioning.

The next day? More people, the same question.

Today? A fellow gym rat. "I wondered where you'd been."

It's funny, exasperating, and embarrassing all at once. I'm mortified that these people, who saw me so strong and so determined, are seeing me start over from scratch. Alternately, I'm gratified. These people were a daily part of my life two years ago. I did miss them, and it was a comfort to learn that I was missed as well.

I have no anonymity at this gym, but maybe I'll have support. Until I gain back some of the ground I lost, I think I need the support more than I need that particular patch of pride.

* * * * *

Of course, there might be a moral to this story, but in truth, these events were set in motion before I decided to rejoin the gym. Last night, I spoke with Brad at great length about Jeff's and my plans to visit him and Alice in Hawaii later this year. We talked about what we'd like to do while we were there. I mentioned the telescopes.

"Of course," he said. "Now, I can probably get you in the telescope, but remember, it's 14,000 feet above sea level."

"So being in good shape wouldn't hurt."

"It'd be a pretty good idea."



Take your mortification, give it a face, and stick your tongue at it as you work out.

You've gone back, and that's the most important thing.