3.) HAVE YOUR HEART BROKEN
And not just broken; shattered. Into itsy bitsy tiny little pieces, by a girl who never loved you and never will. Join the gym at your work. Start going to the gym regularly, and even though you don’t know that much about exercise and you’re way too weak to do pretty much anything but lift 5 lb weights and use the elliptical machines with the old people, do it until your sweat makes a puddle on the floor. Then go home and go to bed early and the next day do it again. And then again. And then again.
Listen to stories of your ex-girlfriend fucking around with gross and terrible people, stories from your friends who think they are doing you a favor. Go to the gym and make more puddles of sweat. Buy books. Learn about different muscle groups and how they work together. Start eating healthy. Learn about nutrition. Plan out your week of meals. Try to forget her.
After work one night, go up up up all the way to the top floor of the parking garage and walk all the way to the back. Look out at the twinkling lights of the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles and think about how every single one of those office lights represents a person. Try to imagine how they feel. What they’re doing right then; if they miss someone special, if they wonder if someone special misses them. Then realize that most of those lights are probably shining into offices with no one in them except for a custodian or two. Realize you are alone, that you are staring at no one. Turn your collar up against the cold and drive home to a meal of a single chicken breast and steamed vegetables. Go to sleep. Go back to work. Go to the gym. Sweat.
Buy a scale. Pick a goal weight. Imagine the goal weight as a shining beacon on a hill. You are at the bottom, in the dark. Talk to her at work. Notice the awkward way she walks in high heels and her goofy smile when she looks over at you. Feel something clench inside your chest. Think about the gym and what muscle groups you are going to work that night.
Get on the treadmill. Push yourself to level 3, then level 4. Then 6. Run so fast you feel like you are going to die. Hit level 10. Pray for death. Think of how bad she makes you feel. Find the strength to keep going.
Late one night, make the mistake of looking at her Facebook and Instagram posts. Feel lower than you ever thought possible. Unfriend her and try to forget what you’ve seen. She is doing things with other people that you asked her to do with you. She is having a great time without you, and you are wasting your life listening to Taylor Swift on repeat and making sweat puddles on a gym floor.
Watch as your life shrinks down to four things: 1.) work, 2.) the gym, 3.) the food you eat, 4.) sleep. She wears the necklace you bought her and tells you that she got it “from someone who’s really special”. That night you discover that Slayer’s “Angel of Death” might be the perfect song to do squats to.
Start to make friends at the gym. Vince and you spot each other on Wednesdays; Chase and you spot each other on Fridays. You used to look down on bro nods and fist bumps – but since that’s how gym rats communicate, that’s become the language you speak most often. Work, Gym, Food, Sleep. Over and over. More sweat puddles. More fist bumps. You run hundreds of miles and lift thousands of pounds.
You start to see new people working out here and there and you realize you have done something you once thought impossible: You have become one of the regulars. Once in a while, you are the last one leaving the gym. You make a point to get to the gym earlier, but your workouts start to stretch from one hour to ninety minutes to two hours. You are now routinely the last person at the gym. You run. You lift. You make more puddles.
Your body changes slowly, then all at once – you are suddenly thin and muscular. You hit your goal weight, pick a new one, then hit it again. You go out and buy new clothes. You receive wave after wave of compliments. Your ex tells you that she’s seeing someone else. Your chest clenches. You feel exhausted.
That night you go to the gym. You listen to all her favorite songs. You run farther and lift more than you thought your body was capable of. It is a good workout. It leaves you numb. You go home and eat a single chicken breast and steamed vegetables. You go to sleep. You dream of a bottomless black puddle.
You’ve stopped drinking alcohol months ago, so now when you hang out at bars or parties you don’t talk to anyone new. But with your new body and new clothes, gorgeous women hit on you constantly. One time, a woman literally comes up to you and says she thinks you’d be good in bed and hands you a napkin with her number on it. As she is talking to you, her hand resting on your chest inside your shirt, all you can think of is how badly you need to beat your best time sprinting across the park across from your house the next day. That night when you get home you research the best shoes for trail running and click “buy”. The shoes are a hundred dollars. The phone number goes in the trash.
There is a girl you see a lot at the gym, who always does these weird leg exercises you’ve never seen before. She’s beautiful. You make it a point to not look at her – because you are overly worried about looking creepy like that guy in the blue shirt who never wears underwear and always hangs around the lat pulldown machine – but you notice this girl is always at the gym when you are, and seems to always choose the bench next to you. You turn up the Slayer and concentrate on making your puddles bigger.
Your ex parades her new boyfriend around, flatly ignoring you the entire time. He is taller than you, more ripped than you, better looking than you, and – according to the Greek chorus of your mutual friends – he comes from money. As you watch her introduce him to everyone but you, you remember how her blue eyes lit up underneath the ferris wheel on her birthday when you gave her those bracelets she’s wearing. In your pocket, your hand makes itself into a fist.
That night, you deadlift your body weight. You sneak a photo of yourself in the mirror and email it to yourself with the subject heading “You Are A Warrior”. The next day you are disgusted with yourself and delete it.
You make puddle after puddle after puddle and eat single chicken breasts and work and sleep and the weather gets warm and then gets cold and you know all of Taylor Swift’s songs by heart and the only things that exist in the entire universe are you and The Gym and then something different happens: a night comes where you are not the last person in the gym.
It is you and the girl who does the weird leg exercises. You end up walking out at the same time.
Her name is Melissa and she works in the building next to you. She’s worked there for two years. She asks you out to dinner on Friday, promising it’ll be healthy. The leg exercises are Pivoting Curtsy Lunges.
You start seeing Melissa a lot, both inside the gym and out. You tell no one. You add a couple cheat days to your week – for when you two get dinner and share dessert – and you start getting a lot less sleep. You phase out Slayer in favor of Springsteen. Vince and Chase note that you’ve stopped looking like you’re praying for death when you run. Your ex texts you late at night to ask you out to coffee, but you don’t write her back. You can’t remember the last time you fantasized about puddles.
One night you’re walking Melissa to her car in the parking garage and she is parked up up up all the way on the top floor. She says she wants to show you something and she takes your hand and leads you all the way to the back. You both stand there in the dark looking out over the twinkling lights of the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” She says. “All those lights.”
You tell her that yes, it’s beautiful, but it makes you sad. All those pretty lights mean nothing; they’re just shining into cold lonely offices with nobody in them. Melissa squeezes your hand and says yes, each light is an empty office – but they’re only empty because the people have all gone home for the day. All those twinkling lights aren’t sad; each one is a person who’s at home, happy with the one they love. And how romantic is that?
You look at her in the lights and she smiles. Something in your chest expands.
Late one Sunday afternoon you are writing out your rent check and realize it’s been exactly a year since you started working out. You think of all those miles you’ve run and those pounds you’ve lifted and chicken you’ve eaten and puddles you’ve made. It doesn’t seem that bad. You realize that it’s not about hitting a goal weight, or lifting a weight. It’s about being able to wait. Waiting, being patient, and trusting that life will slowly inch along and things will eventually get better. After all, change takes time.
But time is all it takes.