Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Cheerleader and the Brain

Today I was walking the Wonder Dog and listening to my iPod. It was a perfect, beautiful day after about eight days of rain. So glad was I to be at one with nature that I took the time to smell the peonies. I took three deep sniffs, mindful of not inhaling the ants, stood up, caught my earphones on the blossom, unsnagged them with a jerk, and catapulted about fifteen ants right onto my head and down my blouse.

Once a month when the bill is due, I go to the gym. I can’t say it does much for muscle tone or weight loss, but I am dedicated even though I don’t see results. Once a month. Like clock work. I go to the gym at 10:00. This is the perfect time to go because the only people who are there are usually older people who have either had strokes and are rehabilitating or older people who are healthy and trying to ward off the strokes. Nobody is there who looks like they’ll be on the next series of Real World in other words. The older people don’t really work the machines right. They do things in a lopsided fashion. I say this not to make fun of them but to point out that for me to feel good about the hour I sometimes spend in a gym requires me to be surrounded by people bent over with osteoporosis and propping themselves up with canes. I am not what you would call a natural.

When I was in high school, I was one of those girls who always had her nose stuck in a book and who was always the last one in from the mile run around the track in gym class. Because there were no books involved with gym, I considered it a waste of my time. I didn’t particularly like my body (though I would certainly like to have access to that version of myself again) and so tended towards maximum coverage in oversized Amy Grant sweatshirts and army jackets. Gay men loved me. Boys who read The Lord of the Rings found me a worthy enough companion.

On the other end of the mind/body spectrum was a girl, let’s call her Trixie, who wore her parachute pants so tight that little was left to the imagination. She was spoiled and cute. She had a horrible reputation as being both a bitch and a whore, though I knew her as neither. She was just someone in general math and English classes whose wardrobe and body were enviable, who had gone out with a lot of different guys, and who had a contagious laugh. Also, she was a cheerleader.

Yesterday when I got the gym, there on the steppy-uppy machine I haven’t the stamina to use, was not one of the geriatric regulars, but Trixie, chewing gum, reading a celebrity gossip magazine, and talking to a trainers. She saw me and greeted me warmly, as she always does though we were never friends, and we talked about school and old acquaintances and life. She was sheepish because the last time I saw her was at a restaurant where her eleven-year-old son announced across the aisle separating us that she’d been married and divorced twice and that he and his brother had different fathers. This announcement caused her to clam up and me to eat the rest of my deep friend dinner in uncomfortable silence.

At the gym, we were able to laugh this off. Obviously, this is her domain. She effortlessly talked to me as she climbed an invisible K-2 while I huffed and puffed on the 0% incline of the treadmill. She told me how good her boys are—how they are so much better than she is. She said she wished I had a kid that would spill MY secrets to her, and it struck me how sad it is that we humans go through our lives worrying about what other people think of us. Trixie thinks I sit in judgment on her because she’s been married twice, didn’t go to college, and knew how to have a good time. Meanwhile, I think Trixie is judging the size of my treadmilling ass, judging me for my no mate, no children, and lack of fashionable workout clothes.

Why do we torture ourselves this way? I allowed myself about 120 seconds of the masochism and then forced myself to focus on her and what she is: a thing of beauty. Not just because she is firm or tan or has long blond hair, but because she still cracks her gum and giggles and tells you she likes your shoes instead of mentioning how you look fatter or older or more single than you did in 1985.

As we were getting ready to leave, the trainer she had been talking to earlier was rubbing a kink out of her back. In six years of semi-irregular gym attendance, no trainer has bothered to smile at me let alone rub a kink out of any of my muscles, but here was Trixie, getting a post-workout backrub and telling the trainer that she thought perhaps she was so tense because she hadn’t had sex for so long. Gum crack. Gigggle. Maybe its something I should try to incorporate into my life.

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