I scanned the cardio equipment. All the ellipticals were taken and the treadmill is still off limits. Guess I’d have to ride the stationary bike again. At least I had a choice of recumbent or upright. I chose upright. This gym paled in comparison to the mega-gym I worked at over the summer, but with the free employee membership gone now that I was back in school and unable to work, I had to revert to printing out a free 7-day pass to another gym in the area. This time of year I’d rather be on the trails feeling the sweat turn cold on my cheeks and neck and hearing the leaves crunch beneath my feet. But, only having been out of the walking cast for two weeks, running was still so far in the future I might as well spend my time preparing for the apocalypse predicted to happen next December.
Anyway, I was in the gym, surrounded by middle-age “weekend warriors” pushing the redline jogging at 5 miles per hour, old men lifting weights, and one gangly teen trying his best to jog for more than two minutes without taking a break. I stuck my headphones in my ears and turned up the volume just loud enough to drown out the music in the gym. And the sting of not being able to run. As I began to pedal, the little screen on the bike flashed to life. Did I want “random hill workout,” “cardio blast workout,” or good ole “manual?” Tough call. I pressed the “manual” button and set the time for 45 minutes. That should be about the equivalent of a couple shots in terms of easing the pain. I have never gotten drunk, but I imagine exercising has the same effect for me. Both are addicting activities, drinking and exercising. At least I don’t break laws with my addiction, only bones.
I watched the people around me, my eyes never staying in one place for more than a moment. That is one thing I do like about the gym-other people. It is a lot easier to work harder when there others around even though I know they could care less about what I am doing just as I could care less what they are doing. I don’t really need an audience for motivation; I have enough determination to kick out a kick-ass workout on a treadmill 3 days in a row in the corner of a dimly-lit basement, but that is another story. The company of others is nice, though. That’s my favorite environment to be in, a social aggregate, surrounded by others but not interacting with them. It’s a safety zone. No one expects me to talk to them or to explain myself and what I am doing. I don’t have to entertain anyone and honestly, watching others is entertainment for me.
I was about 25 minutes into my bike “workout,” if you could call it that, when the man who was lifting a minute ago stepped on the empty treadmill to the right of my bike. I stole a quick glance in that direction just to see who would be flinging sweat on me shortly. My heart froze for a split second before beating clear out of my chest. My eyes ran down the man’s body again. Every muscle in my body contracted. the heart rate monitor on my bike jumped 15 beats per minute. This man looked almost exactly like him. But this man wasn’t him, thank God. His hair was a similar cut and a similar color-a dark sandy brown color, and very short, short enough that it couldn’t be styled. This man’s skin tone was the same tan as his, almost olive, the color of one who has been exposed to the elements. The wrinkles around this man’s eyes were what really struck me. My stomach churned. I was certain I would be the one flinging bodily fluid, and the fluid wouldn’t be sweat. The permanent creases around eyes that have seen too much rested underneath eyebrows that were a shade lighter than this man’s hair. The eyes triggered my reaction of uncontrollable nerves and cold sweat-while exercising. This man’s face shape was different. This man’s head was squarer, his jaw a bit more pronounced. This man’s ears didn’t stick out as much. Their physiology was the similar, but this man appeared a little heavier. Their running style was different, too. This man ran with an even gait, his heels hitting the belt as his arms swung symmetrically at his sides. He ran with one foot turned out on the back kick, he landed on his mid foot, and his arms made a lopsided ellipse, swinging more towards the right. He has the stride of a man who has been running for decades. Quirky, but efficient. I could recognize his gait a mile away.
This isn’t the only time some random man in a gym or in a park has triggered the memories. Most times I think I see him, I know it can’t be him for one reason or another: I am hundreds of miles away at school, I am in a gym where he is not a member, or he’d be teaching that time of day. I could usually push the thoughts out of my head. After the initial shock, and return of rational thinking I knew this man couldn’t be him no matter how alike they looked. He wouldn’t have a membership to a gym, let alone this one. He has plenty of workout equipment in his basement. He would never run on a treadmill, either. He and I ran in thunderstorms, ice, downpours, temperatures above 95 degrees, temperatures below 15 degrees, and one time during a flood. We only cancelled a run once due to the weather because neither of us was crazy enough to run in a downpour at 5:30 in the morning, and besides, that morning the roof was leaking over my bed. Rationalizing the situation did calm my nerves and by the end of the workout, I had settled down substantially.
The tranquility lasted until I got on the elliptical. Of course the only elliptical not in use would be the one in front of the TV with coverage of the Sandusky scandal. Fuck. Just my luck. The nausea returned and my sweat turned cold once again. I looked at the person on either side of me, fully expecting them to sense my uneasiness that was quickly spiraling into panic. They didn’t. Both had earphones in and were focused on the pro football game on the other television. My eyes were glued to the screen as I read the captions crawling across the screen…”Said it was just horseplay…” “took him 17 seconds to reply no…” “He was in the locker room with them…” As painful as the report was to watch, I had to watch it. I couldn’t turn away. It was like being stuck in traffic and staring at a car accident in front of you after surviving an accident yourself. You want to look away from the shattered glass, disfigured vehicles, the EMT’s lifting a gurney into the ambulance, and guts spewed across the road. Gawking at another’s misfortune isn’t polite, but you are stuck in traffic and can’t move. There is nothing else to look at but the scene in front of you. One person’s poor judgment affects so many more lives than the one in the other vehicle. Are you entitled to look then, if you are prevented from moving anywhere until the smoke has cleared, especially if you have experienced the same trauma? Shouldn’t you at least be permitted to console the survivor, if nothing more than to offer a word of empathy and understanding? Or is it better to watch from a distance realizing your attempts to reach out are fruitless if that person is not ready to heal? The story on the news ended. I extended the timer on the elliptical and turned the resistance way up. The numbness began to set in.