I joined a gym. I went the lowest budget route I could find: $10 a month. Yes, they tried to sell me on the upgraded membership that gives access to tanning beds, massage chairs and hydromassage therapy units. I explained that I don’t need new ways to make laying down more comfortable–the basic membership will suffice.
Day one, I walked on a treadmill for 30 minutes, stared at the machines for about three minutes, then I asked for help. The club’s manager directed me to a young man at the front desk. Bryson (I have totally made up this name for him) said he could show me the basics. On our way to the circuit room, we chatted.
“So you just did the treadmill?”
“Yeah, I figured I’d walk on there for a bit first.”
“Why did you do that?”
“Umm, to get my heart rate up and just move my body.”
“Okay, good. I was afraid you were going to say to lose weight. You won’t lose any weight walking on a treadmill.”
INSERT CHEESY 1980s SOUND EFFECT OF A RECORD SCRATCHING TO A STOP
My mother recently sorted out a box of school papers she’d saved from my grade school years. As she went through them, she took pictures of some and texted them to me. One of them, dated January 9, 1984 was titled “Turning Over a New Leaf” (I remember being super into that phrase when I was in elementary school), and it was about my resolution for the new year.
“My New Years Resolution,” eight-year-old me wrote, “is that I’m going to learn how to dance on roller skates. While I’m at it I’ll lose a few pounds because Cara is in 4th grade and weighs about 65 pounds and I weigh 71 pounds!”
I closed the assignment with a true breaking of the fourth wall, a message to my teacher: “Have a nice 1984,” I wrote. I drew a pair of sky blue roller skates with rainbows on them at the top of the page.
“I’m not trying to lose weight, Bryson. I’m trying to regain a sense of strength and confidence in my movements and body. I’m here to get strong and fit again. Weight loss might be a byproduct of that, but that’s not my goal. I just want to feel better.”
Bryson didn’t say anything else about losing weight after that. He told me to do three sets of ten repetitions with 30 seconds between sets on every machine, and he walked me through the basic motions of each apparatus.
I might have weighed 71 pounds in 1984, but I also stood a head over my classmates. I was a beanpole. A beanpole who’d heard her mother constantly talk about her own weight, who consumed 1980s American media and absorbed all of it. I wasn’t overweight; I was over-critical.
The complicated relationships many of us have with our bodies begin earlier than we think. My mother gave me all of the papers she found–including “Turning Over a New Leaf”–and I’ve put them away in a closet.
I’m not at the gym to lose weight, Bryson. I just want to feel better. Have a nice 1984.
I cried on the treadmill one time last week. Not freak-o public sobbing cries, but my eyes were welled with tears, and I’m sure my cheeks and nose betrayed what was happening with flushes of red. I cried because my knees hurt, and the pain in my knees made me remember when they didn’t. They didn’t hurt like this before I fractured my leg jumping out a window to escape two people with a knife who’d beaten and stabbed me. My whole body radiates and holds pain in an unfamiliar and new way since that night. My life, I realized on the treadmill, could now be placed into two categories: before April 26, 2019 and after.
I wanted to leave. I was having a panic attack. I tried changing the music in my ears (I’d put on my Guns ‘N’ Roses Pandora station and just let it run through its algorithm that day, all rock, all adrenalizing). I thought if I played something soothing my heart rate would go back down. I’d feel better.
I walked and I walked, because I was afraid if I stopped, the sobs would come. I walked through pain. I prayed for my mind to settle. I cut my treadmill time short when I hit the one-mile mark.
I went to the machines and ran through my circuit, and when I finished, I felt proud. I just want to feel better.