I’m on a treadmill. It’s been a little while since last I treaded. The last two times I walked into the gym, I walked almost immediately back out again.
Sometimes I get so angry. I turn into a less-sexy Patrick Swayze from Dirty Dancing. I NEED MY DANCING SPACE. Personal space isn’t so sacrosanct at the gym. Most of the time I’m fine with that. Some days I am not. The last two times I went were that way. I felt like the crowd was chasing me up the stairs. Seriously, one woman was so close she very well might have been able to look up my shorts. On my way to the locker room, people bumped into me and said nothing. When I actually made it into the locker room it was crowded, humid, and loud.
Rather than pressing my lips together so tightly that my mouth looked like a freshly bleached sphincter, I gave myself permission to leave. “Fuck this,” I said, and I just walked out. It felt so good that I resolved to quit things more often. Quit my job, quit keeping my thoughts to myself, quit not saying just what I feel.
When I look back there are so many things I wish I’d just given the middle finger and walked away from. I saw saying ‘no’ as losing out on proving something. More often than not, when I have an impulse to walk away, it’s the correct one. There’s 'being a quitter,' sure, and then there’s resolving not to put yourself through something that distresses you for no reason. One day I will apply this wisdom to the men I fall for.*
I let myself leave the gym without doing any actual exercise sometimes now, because I know I’ll be back. I understand that feelings -- even dreadful ones -- pour over you like a brunch creamer spilling slowly into your lap, and then the mess is cleaned. The feeling passes. So I’m back at the gym again. I am running. Because in spite of the complete number I’ve done to myself over the years when it comes to exercise, I do like it. I’m wearing terrible green shorts that smell perpetually of sweaty vagina, probably because they spend so much of their time on the planet being stuffed up mine, courtesy of my inner thighs.
I’m not built for running, whatever that means. Whenever people say that, the word ‘eugenics’ flies up behind my eyes in puffy School House Rock-style lettering. Whatever. Running -- it hurts my knees. I wear two bras when I do it. I either go it blind, or bring very large headphones that hold my glasses in place. My legs are short and I am easily bored. I didn’t run at all before Prozac. Now I know I can stop at any time. Nothing bad will happen. Now, I can make an obscene gesture at the machine and leave if it hurts, or I get bored, or I just don’t want to anymore.
I am looking at some crazy image that’s supposed to be a simulated trail run. It looks like a very touristy jungle. There are monkeys and lots of shirtless guys. In my mind I am in Australia. I keep passing the same CGI woman and her baby and try not to think about how if I wanted a trail run, I could have gone to an actual trail. It’s a freeing, fussy sort of thought that I wouldn’t have allowed myself six months ago. That, however inconsequential, would have been a feeling, and I didn’t want that. I ran from that.
I am not, as we’ve established, a good runner in any literal sense. But I am Usain Bolt when it comes to how I feel. It’s kind of silly. I’m quitting things left and right now all the time, letting myself off the hook. But that’s different than running. Running is saying, "I cannot begin to unpack this, I do not want to do that work, I’m settled in my misery." Quitting from time to time is good. Quitting is looking into a burning building and going, “That’s going to be awful, and there aren’t any people to save in there, plus I am not a fireman.” I just compared my anxiety to a burning building void of people. Let’s not delve too deeply into the morass.
It’s funny now that I’ve stopped figuratively running, that I’m actually doing it. Maybe I get off on the actual pain. I like finishing a workout and looking down to find my legs red and mottled from exertion. I feel like it’s an honest reflection of who I’ve been on the insides for so long. The runner. That’s me, the chick bolting from every feeling that flies up in her face. Before trying to remove the molten crust surrounding my entire self, my diary was filled with two sentiments. The first, "Why doesn’t Ewan McGregor ever answer my letters**," and the second (far more relevant to my point), "I just want to feel something."
No I didn’t. I harbored these fantasies of being caught out in the rain bawling. I sighed in my bed over the idea of ever getting a chance to feel something so sharp that its razor edge nicked my bones. When I eventually did find myself bawling in the rain there was nothing romantic about it. Snot poured out of my nose and into my mouth. You could tell. Snot and rainwater look very different.
I remember stopping in front of a Starbucks to catch my breath because I couldn’t understand or handle the waves of awful that were rolling over me. I looked inside the window of the coffee shop and there were two women laughing and talking with their hands. At the time I resented them. Now I wish I’d seen their very existence as proof that even the worst isn’t forever. I think this now as I begin to lose interest in my run. I can quit whenever I want to. I can stop and go to Red Mango and go home. I can, I acknowledge. Then I keep going.
* Dear every man I know reading this -- this isn’t about you. It is a funny joke about my inability to apply what I actually know to situations that could benefit from that knowledge. Picture me as Groucho Marx saying it and waggling a cigar if that helps.
** Eventually he did send my an 8x10 signed glossy of his face which I have now lost. He had Jesus-long hair in it and I wanted to marry him and move to the Scottish highlands.