I walked in on my husband changing the baby’s diaper on my yoga mat. As my eyes adjusted to the sight of my sage-colored rubber mat supporting a pile of feces-coated wipes and our daughter in a child’s pose that was never intended by any yogi, I gasped and asked, “How am I supposed to downward dog on that now?” G rolled his eyes, “Would that be a hypothetical downward dog?” He was pointing out a truth. I hadn’t been using that mat for anything more athletic than some combination stretching-snacking in front of the television. It hadn’t felt the press of my palms or been unfurled within the quiet sanctum of a yoga studio in years.
Raised in a house filled with athletes that was helmed by a father who was once a professional baseball player, I grew up exercising. I was placed on tennis courts, installed on basketball teams, and sent careening around tracks. Once I shipped out for college I continued to work out despite no longer having a maniacal coach or a bench full of teenagers experimenting with lesbianism to soldier me on. When I moved from my university town to New York City, I learned that most city dwellers don’t work out in any disciplined way. Calories are burned by foregoing the subway in favor of walking to get to where you need to go. If you did belong to a gym, it was just a place you went to escape the confines of your office or because you’d already slept with everyone at the bars near your apartment.
I stopped exercising once I became pregnant with my first child. Because two more pregnancies followed in such rapid succession, my break with cardio has become more like early retirement. I think about it warmly and relay fond stories to my children of the time I could run the length of the yard without needing those cardiac paddles applied to my chest. I marvel at photos of myself participating in 5Ks and intramural sports teams while I peruse catalogues for my very own golf cart and consider the sodium content of various soups.
Because I have one of those thin frames that deceives people to believe that my heap of gristle and bone powder is contained by some musculature, they assume I dabble in some kind of aerobic activity. The people who have seen me naked, a list speedily dwindling to my Ob Gyn and my unlucky neighbor across the street, know otherwise. I take pains to prevent my own eyes from seeing myself naked, too, a plan that was working well enough until the other day. I had one of those unintended encounters with a floor length mirror that took my breath away and made me question why I ever thought my heart valves were more precious than the benefits of Fen-Phen. What I saw made me realize that I wasn’t satisfied with my physique anymore. Not that I ever was, truly, since even at my body’s most enviable teenage state, I skipped right over that phase of dressing it up in promiscuous ensembles and found myself graduating from the fashion school of Diane Keaton with honors in Chinos and unflattering eyewear.
As I grimaced at the constellation of dimples floating across my pale skin, all I could think was, If I were holding a carrot, I’d look exactly like a tub of hummus.
So it wasn’t a vivid epiphany, but it was the catalyst I needed to set my alarm clock to an unholy hour and retire to bed donning clothes appropriate for the gym. A friend had been trying in vain to compel me to join her at a 5:45am class at the YMCA, a lethal routine of weights and cardio led by an instructor named Theo. I had never seen Theo, but judging by his passion to lead the unfit in curling dumbbells, I imagined him the creator of a pushup apparatus available only by infomercial, with biceps ready to burst forth from his Humerus bone. As my body moved toward sleep, the elastic squeeze of my sports bra – an early prototype – summoned misgivings. I reminded myself of G’s frenetic travel schedule, which would leave me unable to leave the house for another week, ample time for a new herd of cellulite to begin stampeding across the plains of my ass.
I fished blindly in the dark for my shoes, noting just how sour my mouth tasted and how leaden my legs felt this early in the morning. I crept silently down the stairs, partly hoping to startle the dog so that a spasm of barking would awaken the kids and make it impossible for me to leave. I looked at myself in the light of the kitchen and cringed at the realization my layered workout apparel had left me resembling Virginia Woolf with a Bally’s membership. The doubting voice hissed, “Don’t go. Only people who wear coordinating spandex suits actually burn calories.” I searched the usual places for my car keys as the voice growled louder, “Staring at your computer screen is the same as Isometric exercise.” I couldn’t find my keys and my commitment was fading faster than an all-natural spray tan. Just as one leg dangled precipitously over the ledge to weeping over breakfast croissants, I forced the other one out the door.
I was walking to the gym. In the dark. Like an addict who has just awoken naked at a place of worship, with no memory of how they got there and no car to take them home, jolted to make a lifestyle change.
I trotted slowly as the cold, damp air settled around me.
I can’t believe I am walking to the gym at 5:30 in the morning. This is when murderers strike. This is when shark attacks happen. This is when movies like How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days play on loop. I don’t even have my car keys to use as a self defense weapon. I’m going to have to use the hostile finger jab, but I sincerely doubt the lethal capabilities of my fingers since I don’t even possess any muscle tone in my legs, which is why I’m going to the gym in the first place. If there was ever an occasion for Richard Simmons to smack a person on the rump and gallop beside them in a tank top, this is it…
The events that followed my harrowing walk are hazy in my mind’s eye suffice it to say that I did engage in 60 minutes of cardiovascular activity and not because I was escaping a morning rapist. I remember very little from the class itself as the burn from my thighs overtook both hemispheres of my brain shortly after the warm-up. I do recall that the instructor, though named Theo, was not a hyper-muscular Black man. Theo turned out to be a female, thus also not of Cosby Show fame. She was the exact sort you’d want to survive a plane crash with because she’d extract your unconscious body from the smoking fuselage and run with you hoisted upon her shoulders until she had to put you down so she could erect a triage unit from seat cushions and palm fronds. She is also the dark figure of my night terrors, alternating between shouting “Work through the pain,” and stubbing out a cigarette on my scalp.
I have clear recollection of the conclusion of class and of crawling into the passenger seat of my friend’s car and feeling as though I may live out the rest of my days from that minivan when she said, “Hard work, huh?”
“I didn’t see that coming,” I panted. “Half of those bitches had osteoporosis, too.”