Repartee

He turned up in the gym a few months ago, wearing color-coordinated little outfits (I mean the shoes matched the shorts and the singlet), sporting a coiffure reminiscent of a scrubbie pad like you’d keep by the sink, and jollying up to existing members with the kind of conversation you’d make if you’d known each other for half a year at least. I have a minor fetish for matching up my gym colors myself, so I spotted him the excessive friendliness and worked on developing a sixth sense for his proximity on the workout floor. It looked as if he knew his way around gym equipment, more or less, but had taken enough time out to develop a slightly flabby, pasty dad-bod and was here to put some resilience back in it.

So of course the gym hired him as a trainer. I throw up my hands. I mostly see him training rather tottery elderly ladies who need to forestall atrophy before they end up needing one of those chairs that pushes you up to a standing position, so he’s probably not likely to do much damage, but seeing him walk around in that shirt emblazoned “Fitness Specialist” kinda crosses my eyes. Plus, it means he’s always ricocheting around the gym playing hail-fellow-well-met, and addressing me three or four times a visit; I’m lucky if it’s only “Hi Sled! … Scuse me Sled! … Have a good day Sled!” instead of tone-deaf, companionable joshing from someone I do not, public notice, think of companionably.

Today, I hurt like hell. Ever since I dislocated my left hip in 2012 I have really not had a pain free day; the muscles I tore sing at different times, one grinding out a bass note of dull ache at one moment, another giving me staccato bursts of coloratura, and occasionally, especially when a low pressure zone is moving in, they can all get together like the collected pod-heads of Audrey from “Little Shop Of Horrors.” When this happens it can literally be so bad that I’m hanging onto the wall to get to somewhere that I can sit down, if I remember from one step to the next where it is I’m trying to get to, which can be a problem. The limp ranges from subtle to lurching. I’m supposed to know how to fix stuff like this, but some days it gets out ahead of me; one thing I do know is that if I can drag myself into the gym, serious weights will actually bust through the pain and tamp it down to a dull mutter that I can ignore. Until then, I’m visibly hauling myself along by the arm, and making the “pain face” that Kelly Starrett tells you not to make: anyone in a five mile radius would know that I am on the thin edge of telling the pirates where the gold is hid.

So of course today was the day that — DWEEB ALERT! — Scrubbie was on the only mat in the warmup room that still had some space, where I dropped heavily with a studded massage ball in my hand, determined to unplug at least some of the death-dealing trigger points in my thighs. Anywhere from the butt down to the knee –I can never predict where the critical one is. Just as I sank onto the ball with what I would have to describe as a cringe of relief, a large, dreadlocked denizen in a singlet approached with his water bottle and, turning to Scrubbie, pointed to a towel hanging off the edge of a plyo platform. “You using this bench?” he said.

I glanced over. Actually it was the Engineer’s towel, at the other end of the room from the Engineer; he will do that. I waved my hand in the air. “You can just pass that over here,” I said.

“There you go leaving a trail!” chortled Scrubbie. “Bet you’re an only child! Spread out all over the place!”

I looked up into his chummily smirking countenance, opened my mouth to say “Golly, you’re hilarious,” or possibly even “Actually it’s my boyfriend’s towel,” and somehow, “Fuck you” popped out. I can’t explain it.

He looked as if someone had just shot his dog in front of him.

“I am in excruciating pain from here to here,” I added, “I have been all day, and I am still in here trying to work out. I can barely walk. I can’t remember what I’m doing from one minute to the next — so cut me some freaking slack.”

“I didn’t know, I’m sorry, I apologize,” he said. “Accepted,” I said, and went back to grimacing as I dropped my weight onto the studded ball.

I suspect that he really can’t help it. He is just a social imbecile, tone deaf to normal conversational interaction and completely insensitive to when you can or cannot assume you have shit-giving privileges with a fellow gym rat. On the other hand, maybe “Fuck you” is exactly what he needed to hear.

The Engineer tiptoed out from behind the lat cable machine after a while. I think he is worried that some day I will emit actual flames or possibly jets of napalm. I tell you at times it is close.

Humility

For the second time in as many months, a client with a debilitating, life-disrupting chronic pain syndrome has confided to me, after a moment’s visible hesitation, oh well, you’re my massage therapist I can tell you: I was raped.

Forget for a moment the political speech about Rape Culture, even the Slut Walks (I have to admit I like those), and just think about the concept of sexual violence, which can be experienced by men or women but alas, sorry, most of it is still inflicted on women by heterosexual men if “men” is the word for them, a person’s boundaries have been trampled, she is forced to experience unwanted sensations in a place that should be hers to guard or offer, her whole body and mind is tipped over into fear and flight and survival and helplessness. Goddammit.

I am not interested — at least for the moment — in taking on here the broader culture that seems from time to time to treat such life experiences as, in effect, the cost of doing business. I’m just thinking about the doctors, here. Clearly none of a succession of “I am a mighty M. D., I will tell you what is wrong with you and prescribe a drug to fix it shut up now already” characters asked, or if told took seriously, what experiences had marked the life of a person presenting with pain, fatigue, measurable changes in the circulation and innervation of random extremities ferchrissake. None of them had asked (people keep talking, when they know you will listen and not judge) if their patients had already suffered from asshole parents, godawful shocks and bereavements, on top of having been forgodsake raped, no, they just wanted to find a problem for which there was a drug and get the hurting person out of their office.

The human nervous system grapples all those experiences and tries to handle them, and one set of brain cells creates an attitude of hypervigilance, where everything might be a threat so don’t you dare ever relax, and another tape-records a wretched violation in the body part that experienced it, and at some point it all caves under the load and the whole person feels crashed, wiped out, nominate your expression. (Scholarly references on request about how this process works.) Reliably at this point some doctor comes along to say he doesn’t believe in chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia or what have you. And of course if an actual rape didn’t occur, but a person was violated in some other way (there are ways, think it through), the chances of having a pain problem legitimized diminish even more. For added fun and excitement, the suffering person is usually asked to endure diagnostics or “treatments” that are — did you get there ahead of me? — helplessness-inflicting or boundary-violating.

And of course someone remarks somewhere along the line that “women predominate in diagnoses of these diseases.”

I suppose I was a hardass from an early age and the only guy who thought he might have a chance was the one who cornered me in a choir loft when I was fourteen, praise Jesus (an adherent of no faith, I sang in church choirs because I liked to sing, look what it lets you in for), and I got away after digging deep furrows in his hands with my nails, but you should not have to be an iron pumper and ass kicker to go through life without someone trying to take out their power issues on your personal parts, seriously. I am humbled and shaken by what it must take to move past it.

And humbled at least as much that anyone will set down that bag of pain in my workplace while I work to tell her body that no, pain is not your inevitable fate. It’s just a load of crap that someone or a bunch of someones tried to dump on you, look here, your shoulder or thigh or face can actually relax and feel good. Yes! Dang!… well… how big a privilege is it to be part of that?