When I’m late for my workout with JT, like the day I was caught by a speed camera going one mile over the amount they let you legally speed just a mile from the gym, I walk in the door and accuse him of my own transgression, proclaiming, “You’re late! Where have you been?” just to mess with him. Or when I walk in to discover he’s just killing time waiting, staring at his phone, I’ll swing open the door and announce, “Oh, thank God she’s here!” just to make him laugh.
I was bummed when I arrived this week, feeling abandoned in all the ways you have to fix by yourself because no one is coming, and therefore I was grateful that the workout seemed distractingly difficult. He has this giant rubber ball thing that has been cut in half –like a pitcher’s mound loaded with springs. I eye it warily as he pulls it out. It’s difficult to balance on in the best of circumstances, but especially hard if you are trying not to see your sad face in the giant mirror. Not looking up at the mirror gives you no focus point for stability except the floor. But just as they taught you in driver’s ed that you will involuntarily drive towards the thing you are looking at—so don’t look at cars stopped on the shoulder of the road—turns out if you are looking at the floor, you topple to the floor. Which always makes JT roll his eyes and say, “What on earth was that?”
He routinely makes me use free weights on a slant bench, or flat on my back, or standing, hoisting them up and over my head. He reports there have been no skull fractures. He will catch me if I falter, if it really gets too hard, and I wish someone could just follow me around all day catching the weight of the world when it feels too heavy.
I often look perplexed when JT explains the next heinous exercise I’m to perform and request that he continue to demonstrate. I gaze with furrowed brow and head cocked to the side until he figures it out and tosses me the weight or rope or cable.
Yesterday, he made me use these horrid things called medicine balls, which are deceptively labeled 10, 20, and 30 pounds but are really 100, 200, and 300 pounds. The original medicine balls were animal bladders full of sand used 3,000 years ago in ancient Persia to strengthen wrestlers. Hippocrates was a fan 2,000 years ago in ancient Greece, considering them an excellent tool for restoring mobility to the injured. Whatever they are made of now, they don’t bounce. They plop. Not a fangirl of the medicine ball.
You have to stand on the bouncy half mound, raise the ball over your head, and slam it to the ground, which requires teeter-squatting, then stand up without losing your balance to lift the ball all the way over your head to repeat the maneuver without careening off the half ball. And if you are good at it, the ball gets replaced with a heavier one. This seems backward, like so much in life. Why is the reward something worse? Or, as JT says, “more challenging?”
I try to picture someone I hate to slam the ball into, but I don’t hate anyone. I don’t even dislike anyone enough to throw a ball at them. This has been a historical disadvantage dating back to ancient sixth-grade dodge ball.
We are the only two people in the gym on Friday afternoons. Sometimes I go to the massive window overlooking Forest Drive and mouth, ‘Help.’ I also miscount just to mess with JT—looking directly in his eyes and whisper-counting “4, 5” when it’s really “2, 3,” but he’s never fooled. I admire this ability to see through my subterfuge enormously.
I decided I need to add some variety to my exercise workout. By variety, I mean something like running. By running, I mean pounding a treadmill. I do run outside as well, but outside has hills and no air conditioning and brick sidewalks corrupted by massive tree roots.
And people honk when you run outside. Not in a good way. I don’t know why they are honking. Do they know me? Should I wave?
I have told JT I am trying to love yoga to add it to my routine as well. I have the purest of motivations—my best friend loves yoga, and the clothes are cute. Plus, my entire neighborhood is doing community yoga together once a month upstairs at a restaurant in town, and I want to make friends and drink wine together afterward. But it’s slow, and the music is bad. Seriously. Where’s the melody? Where’s the beat? Also, I don’t actually like to hear people breathe. Or to say things out loud together.
Just once, a yoga teacher guided us through poses to James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend” by candlelight, and I lay on the floor and wept. Because you know it’s about a romantic love that has evolved to abiding love, which feels like a loss, a downgrade, but the music makes you want to believe that it is a holy transformation to a love better than that of which you are actually capable.
For a moment, you know it is the way you’d like to love everyone, and it’s profound, holding you in that place between ego and egoless, between one-on-one love and one-to-everyone love. Between gone forever and world without end.
I love so small and personal when I want to love so big and grand. But I do know you can’t be abandoned by a love that flows from the inside out. You can’t be abandoned by the love you give.
When I leave a workout, I look worse but feel better. Everyone does. I asked, and JT confirmed this. And since you drive towards the thing you are looking at, since you bring more to yourself of whatever you place your attention on, since what you point a finger at grows, I’m not thinking about feeling abandoned as I leave. I’m thinking that for an hour, I have lifted the weight of my heart against the pull of the earth and that laughter is stronger than gravity.
Laura J. Oliver is an award-winning developmental book editor and writing coach, who has taught writing at the University of Maryland and St. John’s College. She is the author of The Story Within (Penguin Random House). Co-creator of The Writing Intensive at St. John’s College, she is the recipient of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award in Fiction, an Anne Arundel County Arts Council Literary Arts Award winner, a two-time Glimmer Train Short Fiction finalist, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her website can be found here.