It’s what they tell you all the time, at the gym. Deep breath. When you push up, or pull up, or line up your arms to swing that twelve-kilo kettlebell to the level of your chest. Deep breath. As if breathing might make it hurt less, and maybe it does, but it’s more about focus, you think. More about what’s in your hands, the task at hand, the weight pulling or pushing against you that you must control if the exercise is to do its work.
You let the exercise do its work
Your chest clenches and unclenches and your vision is red. Funny how brute strength can summon rage like a wave threatening to knock you over. I guess it has to do with the pain, which sings in every muscle and wraps iron thorns around your spine so that it takes physical effort not to cry, effort you’re not sure your body has energy for but then again…
You count to ten. You walk across the street, crossing cars that–blessedly–don’t bother to honk at you angrily even as they wonder if this girl has a deathwish. The wind is high, cool and kind, and the sun warms instead of blinds. It’s a good day, you would say, even if it doesn’t feel like it yet.
It doesn’t feel like it, yet. It won’t feel like it for many, many more days. Some times, not even the giant headphones you favor can blast the bass loud enough to block out the voices in your head that whisper, “They’re watching. They’re waiting. You just have to fail once and…”
You won’t fail. You’ll come close, to be sure. Your knees will shake and your ankles will wobble and your face turn red from the strain but you won’t give in to your instinct to let go, because you know the feeling will pass and in its place will be the peace that comes from having made it past another test of control. It’s the perfectly-measured swing of that kettlebell, fists parallel to your chest but no higher.
You summon all the courage you require.
You go to the gym on Wednesdays and Fridays and Saturdays, do your best to beat your body into the same shape as your soul. Those days, you circuit-train, and you learn the value of control. Light focused becomes a laser. Wind focused becomes a hurricane. You are stronger than the maelstrom of emotions threatening to break your chest open, and the silence that comes after the brief barrage of internal noise becomes your best friend. Your muscles learn to mend faster than they tear. You find some crosses get lighter and lighter to bear.
One day you’ll graduate from twelve kilos to twenty, and the pull-ups and rows won’t make you feel like your arms are being ripped from your sockets. One day, the world’s expectations will be no heavier than a puff of smoke. One day, it will be easier not to cry, because by then you’ll have realized that there is really no reason to.
One day, this will all be easier for you. But not yet. So you train. You swallow the pride, you take the pain, and every wave of hurt and rage and shame that you survive without breaking is a victory. I won’t let them have the victory. I won’t let them have the real me.
This is not yet the real me.
The real you waits at the other end of these weights and motions. You have no notion of how long it will take to get there, but you know you will. And the thought makes you smile. The wind is cool and kind and the sun warms instead of blinds.
It’s a good day.
You can feel it.