I need to understand things.
I cried in the gym parking lot Wednesday morning.
A few days ago I messaged this sentence to a friend; “Especially since she seems no longer to have any use for me.” I was confessing my sadness for envying another who was being showered with attention I no longer receive from someone whose approval and approbation have become part of my measurement of self-worth.
My friend mentioned being struck by my choice of the word “use” which made me think. A lot. The “get off Twitter, stop texting people, shut the hell up” kind of thinking brought on by the suspicion (fear?) that something foundational in my cosmological makeup might be flawed, and before I disappoint or chase away anyone else (as in, the person I was messaging): Shut the fuck up.
All these decades I thought I was strong, but, is it possible I am pathologically needy and my strength merely a facade I’ve constructed to win admiration? All front and no center? Do I honestly believe that unless I can somehow fill a void in the life of another, serve a purpose, I’ve nothing of value to embrace? And am I so bereft of self-regard that the way I’m responded to (or, not) on social media by people who I’ve never even met in real life matters to me to this degree?
Is that why I was crying in a gym parking lot Wednesday morning?
Wednesday Waking 5:59 a.m.
I woke at 5:59 a.m. It was the final waking in a series. I am usually in bed by 9 p.m. cuddling with a book (or two or three) until I find myself reading the same paragraph three or four times and having no idea what the words mean, having entered a fugue state in which the sentences morph into an alternate reality having nothing to do with the book the author wrote, but, rather, are part of my just-beneath-the-surface semi-consciousness world, that mess of a mass of unprocessed emotions, vague notions, half-formed theories, unexamined beliefs, and the detritus of fifty years of being alive, at which point I mark my place, take off my glasses, turn out the light, and try to sleep.
All of my siblings (and most of my friends) have diagnosed sleep-disorders for which forced-breathing masks are prescribed. I suppose I would have one too had I not chosen a simpler life in which my what-amounts-to-Medicaid insurance coverage assigned me to a practice in which I have not seen an actual M.D. in three years and I have yet to see more than once one of the collection of physician’s assistants and nurses who last approximately three months max with the group before discovering it to be the clusterfuck of overworked, under-concerned soon-to-be malpractice-case witnesses it is.
I rarely sleep more than two hours without waking. Often the waking requires a trip to the bathroom because as you age, your body does this thing where the parts you want not to grow, balloon, and the parts you wish would grow, shrink, as in the bladder and its male associated organ become ever smaller. This up and downing, in and outing, is not only not restful, it’s annoying, frustrating, the old-age bookending to the toddler fury of being told it’s too early to get up, one needs to sleep or nap longer. Only, now I am the authority figure — a role for which I am poorly suited — and I have made a rule that I am not allowed to get out of bed, lights on, day begun, until at least 5:00a.m.
Furthermore, what passes for “sleep” nowadays is all too often a half-waking, tossing and turning, fever-like semi-night-terror. My subconscious picks some nugget of unprocessed botheration and turns it into a scenario from which I cannot escape, all night long. Tuesday into Wednesday involved a scenario in which members of a sort of NSA-like version of the Literati-Twitterati world determined not only that my writing lacked any worth, but I was also a dangerous spiritual vampire with whom talking sucked the talent and joy out of people, so I was, forever after, to be ignored on Twitter and in life.
Why would a dream about people I have mostly never even met IRL make me cry?
I suppose, had I better health insurance, along with a sleep apnea mask, I would also be prescribed anti-anxiety medication. And Ambien or Halcion. Or, a straitjacket.
Anyway. 5:59 a.m. I allow myself to get up. Coffee. Water. And I leave for the gym at 6:15.
The Gym 6:30 a.m.
I have tried the gym at nearly every hour in search of a quiet, less populated time. I want a gym absent the teens and tweens whose bodies and needy-look-at-me-gruntings distract and intimidate me. I need a gym absent the old men (My age? No, even older.) who parade their nudity and start conversations, indicating they think I might be one of them. I need a gym without the school-moms who use my favorite machines and talk, often about god, but always — like the teen and tween boys — too loudly and with an eye to the performance they are giving. Thus, 6:30 a.m., it is too early for teens except for a very few over-achieving sports-team-y types who populate the free-weight region into which I never venture, after which they speed through a shower/locker room visit long about 7 a.m. when I am on my elliptical, and the senior men and school-moms don’t start arriving until 9 or 10 a.m., so at this time of the morning I am left, mostly, alone.
Okay, not completely, there are some regulars.
There is the fellow who used to talk to me on Grindr when I still had that account, a man I messaged not for sex, but because he looked EXACTLY like someone I know personally who is married with children and I wanted to make sure it was NOT that person. We became something like friends and he recognized me from the gym; I’ll call him Grindr Pal. After that initial app-contact, we’d end up on nearby machines and in the sauna and showers at the same time, a few times, and we never once spoke out loud or learned one another’s names; all of our words were traded through Grindr messages. Then, there is the red towel man, a short, smooth-bodied, beefy and soon to be balding blond, who never makes eye contact on the gym floor or locker room, but sits naked on his towel in the sauna, casually stroking himself in a way meant to convey unawareness he is doing so, and positions himself in a shower stall across from you, closing his curtain only halfway, jacking off openly. Grindr Pal wrote to me and asked me if Red Towel had done his public masturbation for me, too. Yes. Also morning regulars, Married Couple; one dark, hairy, shaped like a heavy-ish Jason Segel, who only treadmills, while his partner, shorter, blonder, smoother, with just a small beer-stomach and no ass at all, moves from machine to machine, returning to the anti-bacterial hand gel dispensers between each step of his circuit and spends as much time wet-wiping equipment as he does using it. And, less frequent but also a regular, the hot, tattooed swimmer. He has a shaved head and an enormous dick that he is always letting slip out of his towel in the sauna. He, too, showers with the curtain mostly open. And invites people in. After which, he closes the curtain.
I hide. Once I enter the locker room, readying for shower and sauna, I remove my glasses which makes me legally blind. I sit in the darkest corner of the sauna. Eyes closed. Head back against the wall. And I use the differently-abled shower. It is larger. And in a corner where no one goes. Unlike me, Grindr Pal, Red Towel, Married Couple, and Hot Tattooed Swimmer have real jobs and lives with schedules, so their arrivals and departures are predictable. Usually, I make sure to arrive in the sauna and showers as they are leaving, but, I own up to sometimes feeling lonely or bored or in need of life-excitement, and so time my gymming to observe these fellows doing their mini-seductions and game playing.
But, like the Twitterati in my Tuesday night-semi-insomnia-terror, I don’t really know these gym people either, despite them being a large enough presence in my life I am thinking and writing about them. I am affected by what they do, how they do or don’t react to me. When Red Towel jacked off across from my shower, I felt wanted. When someone on Twitter likes or comments on something I say, I feel valued.
I need to understand why it has come to matter so much to me that near strangers evidence approval of me.
Do I blog to understand? For approval? Both? Neither? And the crying in the parking lot, which is what I’m trying to get to. Why?
Why I Am Crying In The Gym Parking Lot 8:30 a.m.
Wednesday, the thing: I wanted to be alone at the gym. I didn’t want to worry about whether Red Towel or Grindr Pal or Married Couple — or, too, the detective fellow who always takes the locker next to me and wears a very fitted pink button-down shirt with a neon blue tie at least twice a week, and who doesn’t play any of the sauna or shower games the others do, but who — in that threatening, daring way of the terrorist-boys in high school — is always putting himself in my path, watching me to see if I’m watching him, which I am careful never to let him see me doing, that Speedo wearing, “here I am, drying my genitals for a very long time right next to you” fellow whose hinted at cruelty and roiling suppressed desire make him almost irresistible to me, yes, well, I didn’t want to be worrying about any of them Wednesday morning. I was still stuck suffering the echoes of my semi-waking-terror-insomnia-dream in which I’d been kicked off Twitter by the literati.
So, I went slowly through my paces on the gym floor.
And then, they came.
They were probably six feet tall and somewhere past three hundred pounds and maybe twenty or maybe older or younger and of indeterminate gender. They radiated sadness. They never raised their eyes to a level where they might meet or notice the gaze of another. I recognize this sort of avoidance. I lived it for many years. And they were the kind of big that people look at. The kind of big that makes it hard to walk. They carried a gym bag with them, because, I imagined, a locker room held all sorts of terrors for them. They tried, first, to use the recumbent bike. They did not fit in the seat. It was clearly so uncomfortable, they could not bend enough to adjust the straps on the foot pedals. They looked around to see if anyone was watching. I, being the only other person at that time in the cardio equipment area, carefully was not. They got up. This effort had made them sweat. A lot. Without having exercised at all, their T-shirt was soaked. They had a small blue towel with which they kept wiping their face. They moved to a treadmill not far from me. They started. They were so clearly carrying such a burden of every kind of weight, I could feel the sorrow and the loneliness and this loud, painful ache, and the effort of walking through it was soaking them through, exhausting them.
And it was too much for me. I left the elliptical. I quickly showered, skipped the sauna, dressed and headed out.
And there they were. Sitting on one of the benches on the sidewalk outside the gym. On their phone. And because I am who I am, I walked slowly, trying not to be seen, not to intrude or invade, because I could not get to the parking lot without walking near them. And I heard:
“I hate it here. I have tried. Please, can’t I come home?” And pause. “I don’t care about college. I can’t do this. Let me come home. Please.”
And it came at me, from those sentences. They were a child. Here, new to Frederick, probably at Hood College, having managed to make a life in a world where people like them are dismissed and ignored and made fun of and insulted, having had courage enough to deal with that and matriculate at a really good college and join a gym where the judging is serious and constant and harsh and bounces off the walls and shiny glassed and mirrored surfaces in a riotous roaring ululation of “you’re not enough you’re not enough never enough” and they were, now, collapsing from all the new, all the alone, all the having to find a way in a world where what you are is outside the boundaries of what most people think you should be.
And it pushed every button I have and some I didn’t know I had.
Because I didn’t have the courage to sit down beside them and try to do something. To solve something. To say, “You are enough and you are not alone. Let me help.”
Because I have, of late, when undressed, been avoiding mirrors because I feel fat. I have gained fifteen pounds in the last few months and it makes me feel UN. NOT ENOUGH. Because I have, of late, been pissed (again) that I screwed up my chances to be an actor, a singer, a writer, by being so afraid — a feeling which is always closely followed by the voice — LET’S FACE IT, YOU WERE NEVER THAT TALENTED ANYWAY. Because I have, of late, messaged a friend whining about not being loved enough by Twitterati. Because I have, of late, turned down an invitation to an event because it would be attended by lots of people whose stories about me are harsh, distorted, untrue, some people I loved, who loved me, and I didn’t want to make it uncomfortable for them, nor did I think I could face it.
Because, by the time I was done thinking about this and writing about it (which I have been trying to do for days) I had come to realize that this depression I have is about me being them; I have spent a life not sitting next to myself on that bench. As many times as I have said it to others, given others the path to find their way to their own Love & Light, I have never, truly, sat with myself and all the ways I believe I am not enough, unlovable, and said to me: You are enough. You are not alone.
Which is self-help-y, new age-y bullshit, I guess.
But, too, is why I think seeing them, hearing them on that bench, all those buttons, it’s how and why I ended up in my car, in the parking lot of the gym, sobbing.
A stranger to myself, still?
Why I. Sunday. 10:30 a.m.
Listen, dear ones, you readers, the 500 or so a day who check in here, and the sort-of-strangers I know from Twitter, from the gym, who I have mostly made up, by thinking about them and imagining them and writing them, maybe, in important ways, they are part of my process of defining who I am. Imagining you people who read this, imagining my Twitter friends, imagining the gym people, filling in details and backstories and wondering why, is my way of finding the truth of who I am.
How we see others, how we imagine others, our ability to empathize, sympathize, humanize others defines us. I often don’t much like myself, feel a failure, wish I were not here anymore, but this part of me, the part who writes is the best of me, the heart and soul and love and light of me, who sees the actions of others and tries to make sense of those actions, who truly believes that at the core of truth in every story, the center of every soul, there at the beginning of each of us, is Love and Light, and why I blog, why I write, why and how I manage to go on, is because I have always believed I was here to find that for me, yes, but even more so, for others.
I blog because it is my way of reminding myself it exists, of seeing the Love and Light.
So, here I am, going.