Fat Boy

Those of us who work out regularly usually go to the gym within the same window of time. I go mid-morning, winding up around noon. Occasionally, if my morning is completely filled, I go right after lunch. But if I haven’t worked out by mid-afternoon, I’m not going to work out that day. You’ll never find me at the gym at 7pm. You won’t find me at 7am either. I need coffee, and breakfast, and a good dose of the morning news before I’m ready to brave a serious workout.

If I’m a regular, I get to know the other regulars who choose the same window. Being a gym rat is a great leveler. Age isn’t a barrier to casual conversation, nor is gender, nor experience, nor social status — everybody kind of looks the same in gym shorts and sneakers, and we’re all doing some variation on the same kind of thing.

Yesterday a young guy asked if he could work in on the resistance machine I was using. I said, “Of course.” Working in is a common courtesy — it means that if you are doing 3 sets of reps, resting briefly in between each set, someone else can have a go while you rest. You then alternate. If you’re especially courteous while working in, you reset the weight for the other person’s turn, and he or she resets for you.

The young guy was pushing a lot of weight on the chest press, and I commented admiringly. He grinned, and I added teasingly “And I’m old enough to be your grandmother. I’m most certainly not hitting on you. I just think all that hard work is paying off. You look great.”

He grew serious. “Can you tell I was a fat boy?” He grabbed at the skin on the underside of his arms. “I’ll bet you can see my loose saggy skin.”

I said that in truth I could not see any saggy skin at all, that I would never have guessed he had a weight problem.

“I was over 300 pounds. That fat boy is still in here, no matter how much I work out.”

He turned back to the machine, and the moment was over. I’ve had moments like that before — almost as if it’s easier to share something with a stranger, someone with whom you have the most casual kind of contact, someone who won’t bring up what you’ve shared ever again.

I’ve never been grossly overweight, so I have no idea how it feels. I don’t think we’re destined to carry with us who we were at an earlier age. I was very shy as a child, shy enough that my grade school teacher was worried because I didn’t talk. I’m no longer shy. I’ve developed the skills to be outgoing and social, at least when I want to.

But clearly sometimes the person we were stays with us, in a way that’s more of a burden than good.

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