I joined a “fitness center” this week, which made my friends suspect I might have a “brain cloud.” To put a finer point on it, if any one of my gym teachers could see me on the treadmill, they would blow a valve out of their fit little hearts.
I was the girl who would kindly let you go ahead of me in the batting line, or the kicking line, so that I never had to bat or kick. I was the girl who was far, far out in the outfield, where no projectile would approach. If a projectile were to approach, I would do what came naturally: duck and cover.
Knowing that I recently broke up with someone, it makes a little more sense that I would take up exercise. Pounding out all that anger and nervous energy helps the heartbroken. The recently dumped also need mood enhancement. A touch of the runner’s high staves off the “why why why”s. But to be honest… I was jogging a little in the fall.
I joined this “fitness center” (you see I’m not comfortable even with the terminology) because it adjoins a rehab center. Half the crowd is busted up somehow, and a lot of them are elderly. Not merely older. Elderly.
So there was no intimidation factor for the clumsy, no-aim nerd girl. I can walk free and easy, without a cane, which makes me the jock of the group. I can jump up and zip along at 5.5 miles an hour. Even 6.5. And there’s no place for my whining about not being in great shape. If an 80-year-old can totter down into the pool to water walk, well, I can’t feel bad about not being able to run an eight-minute mile. She’s reminding me to be patient and easy on myself.
After I do my little jog of exactly 20 minutes because that’s how long it takes to become slightly healthier, I sit in the hot tub for 10 minutes because that’s how long one can sit in a hot tub without mummifying oneself upon reencountering the dry January air. Yesterday, sitting steaming the crinks out of my brain, gazing at the swimmers splashing up and down the lanes, I thought: maybe it’s not that I don’t want to be intimidated. Maybe I am obsessed with being better than everyone else.
I like to think I am not competitive, but this is only sometimes true. I’m not competitive as long as I can come up with a reason that I secretly “win” in my own mind. I “win” at exercising because I am young and healthy– although I’ve done nothing to earn youth, and not much to earn health, either. (I ate a helping heap of volcano cake and cool whip when I got home. It was delicious.)
The more I thought about it, the more examples of this kind of thinking popped up, like bubbles from the jets. How often have I consoled myself about not having money by telling myself my job was more meaningful than someone else’s? (As if I were the great judge of “meaning.”) How often have I told myself that I’m not cheerfully friendly because I’m such an excellent listener one-on-one? (As if intimacy is better than courtesy.) That it’s okay to be late for work because I’m so darn focused and clever when I get there? (Completely betraying my uptight, Germanic heritage.)
These are ridiculous competitive thoughts. It’s okay to not beat everyone, all the time, because you have a secret ace in the hole that makes you “better.”
But don’t worry: through the influence of warm water and another languid seven minutes, I decided this doesn’t mean I’m a bad person, or that my introspection makes me better than you. I don’t know. It may mean I’m a worse person, you know, all Hamlet-like. That Hamlet was a real smarty-pants, covertly competitive type.