At 18, I was chubby by American standards. I was probably about a size 12. Maybe even closing in on a 14. But I could MOVE. I could run. I could jump. I could bend in all sorts of positions. Today? Not so much.
Recently, my husband and I got the bright idea to join the gym. At first, I started out at a normal pace, doing what fat girls are supposed to do--hit the treadmill. Even that was a chore for me. All of these lithe, sprinty, little gazelles around me, bounding along with the tireless machine as if they'd come out of the womb running. And all of them have seen the inside of a womb far more recently than I. And then, there I was with my large, pathetic self, trying to at least appear like I could run. In reality, I was doing some spastic hybrid mixture of jog-walking, like a running video played in slow motion. Most likely, to others, I looked like an abnormally-large hamster who had to pee really badly. All the while, I was holding onto the bar for dear life so I didn’t go flying off the machine and splatter my fat, vegan guts all over their pretty, little gym outfits.
This gym happens to offer lots of free "classes." I love the word "free." And as a kid, I loved school. And a "class" constitutes "school" for me. The other night in the locker room while I was trying to tear my sweaty sports bra off of my DD's without injury (imagine trying to peel a grape with mittens on, and that's kind of what it was like), I heard a woman manically screaming "YOU'RE NOT DONE YET!" Oh. Great. Please, gym gods, let this not be one of those "free classes." Tuesday night, I chickened out on the Pilates class. I chickened out on the gym altogether. So I thought I'd make up for it.
Last night, I had the bright idea to tackle not one, but TWO of the free classes! Get as much of a free thing as you possibly can, right? Right? Right. I was frightened. The girl at the front desk called the instructor over. What a seemingly harmless woman! She looked like a porcelain doll, and was about the size of one, too. How bad could she be? I'm fairly certain that those have been the last thoughts of many a chubby gym-goer.
I blindly followed the woman into the "Abs Class." I haven't seen my belly button in about 6 years, so I wasn't sure there was any muscle in there to even be exercised. Therefore, for me, it had to be simple! Anyway, most of it was going to be lying down. My favorite position. Until I heard, "Raise your legs over your heads, pull your belly button to your spine, and CRUNCH!" Crunch? Legs? Raised? Oh God. Please. Don't fart. Don't fart. I'll do anything. I'll go to church every Sunday. I'll give my firstborn to charity. I'll sell my soul to the devil. Just please. Don't fart.
Praise all that is holy, I didn't fart. Not even once, and that's amazing for a vegan. In 2002, I had a near-death experience in the hospital when my appendix burst. Abs Class was kind of like this, only a little more painful. I'd have given my eyesight (what's left of it, anyway) for an epidural and a Jack 'n' Coke. Lift this. Hold. Raise that. Hold. Breathe. Yeah, um, breathe? No. There is no breathing in abs class. Perhaps, this is because my para-sympathetic nervous system was too busy trying to keep the fibers of my stomach muscles together while holding back a giant wad of vomit.
"TWENTY MORE SECONDS, YOU CAN DO IT!" No. No I can't. Those twenty seconds were pregnant pauses on the clock. Seconds took decades. A piercing whistle tore through the room. "YOU'RE DONE!" I pinched myself. I couldn't believe it. I was sure I'd have died from this class. Triumphant, I tried to slither away to find my water bottle and as many Advil as I could shove in my face, only my left shirtsleeve wouldn't come with me. There was a hand attached to it--a tiny, militant hand. An arm was attached to that hand, along with a little body, and a little head. Two giant eyes looked at me. Her mouth moved, and formed words—horrible, hateful words. "You're coming to my next class in five minutes, right?"
My mind had made up its decision: Hell no. My own lips betrayed me. "Of course I am! Wouldn’t miss it for the world!" I couldn't help myself. Why did I say that? I couldn't very well not show up and risk looking like a fat, vegan tool. I ran into the main gym and grabbed my husband. There was no way I was suffering through “Body Shaping” without an ally. I also secretly sadistic and wanted him to be in as much pain as I was. I'm a great wife like that.
We headed into the room, and everyone was gathering brightly-colored modern torture devices. Free weights. Plastic steps. Chairs. Rubber tubes with things sticking out of them. I joined the lemmings in choosing healthy poisons and took a spot in the very unfortunate front-of-the-class area. The teacher walked back in, eyeing her prey. I’m pretty sure she even licked her lips in anticipation of her piecemeal. That was no goddamned porcelain doll I was dealing with. I was about ready to shave her head to look for the “666,” because I am sure, as sure as I am, it had to be there, somewhere.
“TWO MINUTES OF JUMPING JACKS! READY, GO!” I couldn’t feel anything from my boobs on down. I wasn’t positive that I even had legs anymore. But I jiggled. I joggled. I wrestled with my very-pink, incredibly-un-hip tee shirt, praying it wouldn’t release the Ultra-white Fat Roll of Doom for public viewing. I rested. All of these people, effortlessly jumping around me, and I had to rest! Hello, embarrassment! Whatever. This would be the last day of my life anyway, and I’d never have to see these people again.
Bouncy torture was over, and it was time to do some sort of leg-patting dance. Coordination is not one of my strong points. My arms and legs don’t move that way—not at the same time. They just don’t. Just as I was about to prove myself Weeble-worthy and topple over, the miniscule dictator grabbed me and saved me from imminent death. She tried to show me what to do, in slow motion. Her efforts were futile and I stood there dumbfounded that even my husband could do the move and I simply could not.
She motioned for us to pick up our weights and to hold our arms out with the weights dangling from our fingers. Finally, a recognizable move that I could actually do! I usually get a first place ribbon in all Failing At Life contests, but this—this I could do! For about thirty seconds I was able to do that exercise, and then each arm decided that two pounds felt kind of like an anvil sewed to my hands. Fantastic.
When my arms were about as turgid as over-boiled spaghetti, we were instructed to wear our heaviest free weights on the sides of our necks. My own little albatross--in the form of a pastel-purple plastic thing. Yay! We were to wear these things and then proceed to do lunges with them! I looked like a fat reject from the Bangles’ “Walk Like An Egyptian” video. I’m also 100% sure that I could have endured 4 hours of surgery without anesthesia instead of this. It would have been much more comfortable and far less painful.
Class wasn’t quite half-over when I came to a horrible realization. The previous “Abs Class” actually had killed me, and I actually was dead. I must have been a reprehensible person in life, because I was sent straight to Hell. I discovered that Hell was actually life on Earth in an endless “Body Shaping” class. The devil was indeed female, 4’9”, and had no tail or pitchfork of which to speak—only a tiny silver whistle, threatening to pierce my eardrums at any given second.
During this nightmare, snapping fingers aroused me from my musings. Pushups. She wanted me to do pushups, people. Hi. I’m about 220 pounds. My wrists lift a fork fine and dandy, dandy and fine, quite obviously. They don’t lift my 220-pound ass. But I tried. I really did try. And I fell, multiple times.
At this point, my lower lip started to quiver, and I fought back tears. Every single drop of embarrassment, shame, and failure welled up hotly behind my eyelids. How could this have happened? When I met my husband, I could run from home to karate and back, with 2 hours of physically grueling class in between. How could I not get through this class without feeling so defeated? I was failing in front of young and beautiful people. I didn’t let myself cry because I had done one positive thing. I’d actually gotten myself there, where so many fat nights before it, I’d only thought about doing something. Turning thoughts into actions is the opposite of failure, so I’d done at least one thing right.
After a few more interesting moves involving chairs and rubber tubes, the class was brought to an end. I’d lived! And the instructor congratulated me (she was probably just glad that I didn’t die on her watch)! My husband and I went home, and I sat on the toilet to pee. Then, it happened—I couldn’t get up. My legs wouldn’t carry me! I sat there for 10 minutes, begging my thighs for just one more upward movement, and then they could go to bed. Eventually, they obliged. Thank God for small favors, kids.
We went to bed, and then the shaking started. I shook uncontrollably until way after midnight. With multiple blankets, flannel pajamas, and thick socks, I could not get warm. I think my body was in shock that I would have done something like that to it. When my upstairs neighbors finally stopped knocking boots, I drifted off to sleep, only to be betrayed by my body once again at 1:00 AM. I had to pee. Cursed bladder! It took me a full five minutes to stand up, but I got to the bathroom and back to bed just fine. My legs were seemingly okay! Maybe class wasn’t so bad and I wasn’t as out of shape as I thought!
And then, this morning, I woke up. Had I been hit by a Mack truck, I’d probably have been more limber today. Smiling through the pain, and obviously a masochist, I donned tights. And boots. And a skirt. Yeah, tights were a very bright idea, if I were vying for a Darwin award. It involves more stretching in 490,923,094 different directions to get them on and off.
I am an avid water drinker. I didn’t think about this today when I filled my huge bottle and drank it all down. (An important aside: My legs keep giving out on me today without a moment’s notice. I cannot sit down without wincing. I also cannot breathe, laugh, sneeze, cough, or do anything remotely human without pain.) After all that water, I had to go to the work bathroom to pee. Peel tights off? Sit down on a hard toilet? Oh, Heaven, help me! Heaven did just that. Heaven is life on Earth, peeing in the stall equipped for disabled people. If I’d had to sit on the shorter toilet, I don’t think I could have done it. I’d rather don diapers and pee at my desk (and if anybody knows an absorbent brand, I’m accepting suggestions!). But the other one, the taller toilet, has these miraculous metal bars! I can lower myself gradually by holding them! And they give me something to hold onto to stand back up! Ahhhh!
Then I realized my tights were at my ankles, and I would have to bend to pull them back up…
I’ll be waddling back to Abs Class again tonight.