The following story was found in a journal I stumbled across while cleaning my room today. This floating memory, an entry from October of 2014, depicts one of my briefer horrors while in France. I simply had to type it up (but mostly I wanted to put off cleaning just a little bit longer). And so I wrote….
I was gonna do it. I was gonna make this happen.
So I went to the gym for the first time in 2 months.
Casual was what I repeated to myself as I walked down the crunchy pebbled path to the “salle de musculation”.
I took a step in to the room.
…and it took all of my self-control to take the next one as casually as I could, to keep my face straight. I hoped, HOPED that the step showed no hesitation. In reality—after the reality of what was around me smashed into my vision—it took all my strength to control my foot, which wanted desperately to pivot and turn on the spot to walk me back out. It took all my will power not to let my eyes grow big, to not start shaking my head in disbelief.
Are you fucking kidding me?
I should have won an Oscar. I pushed my second foot to stay in-step, then step again, then step again in the rhythm that I started in. I stared straight ahead at first, then glanced around the room trying to look a mixture of indifferent and mildly curious. I threw in a couple kind grimaces and small eyebrow raises—I was trying to channel the air of someone who’s walking through a museum really quickly but needs to get to the other side to meet her group. Intrigued, but not excited. Motivated, but not rushed.
It was all an act. I was in a great rush.
Joke: Why did the Katrina cross the gym?
Answer: Because she was chicken-shit and just needed to get to the other side.
I needed to push myself to the other side of this one room gym. Because my first goal of the day was just to cross to the other side, to make it past the scariest thing I’d ever seen.
A small, warm, (bizarrely mustard yellow) room filled with only boys. French boys. French boys who I immediately realize aren’t wearing headphones. French boys who are instead talking, laughing, conversing around the machines. French boys who aren’t wearing headphones, talking, laughing, and who immediately stop conversing when you walk in. French boys who aren’t wearing headphones, no longer talking, and altogether staring as I use every ounce of will-power to show not a seconds’ hesitation in my pace. I try not to look startled. I push towards the opposite wall where I see the lockers, I push all my focus on getting to those lockers.
DON’T PIVOT. DON’T STOP MOVING.WHERE THE FUCK ARE THE GIRLS? WHY IS THE WORLD HERE? WHERE THE FUCK ARE THE GIRLS. DOES THE WHOLE WORLD NORMALLY WORK OUT ON A MONDAY NIGHT? WHY ARE ALL THESE MACHINES BRIGHT YELLOW? WHERE THE FUCK AM I GOING? WHY AREN’T THEY TALKING? AND NOW I CAN’T LEAVE. THEY ALL SAW ME COME IN, I CAN’T JUST LEAVE.
I find out later—after I start doing some ab stretches and wishing with all my heart I’d worn baggier clothing— that I was stared at because I was breaking the rules by walking in from that entrance with my running shoes on.
The manager who soon after walked up and told me this spoke no English (none, ziltch, nada…except “uhhh ’ow doo you sae?”) and his two second conversation with me turned into at least 7 painful minutes as I struggled to understand what the fuck he was trying to tell me. He was kind enough to make sure this talk with me occurred subtly IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FLOOR, quite loudly, as he grew steadily more and more physically distraught by my inability to understand the concept behind (“uhhh ‘ow doo you sae?! OW DOO YOU SAE?!”) you-need-to-bring-2-pairs-of-shoes-when-you-work-out.
That’s right. Because I strolled in through the back door wearing running shoes, I had broken some weird damn French gym rule. So that’s what earned me all the stares. I’m not sure what skyrocketed and what plummeted—I have no idea what direction my relief, ego, and embarrassment went on that Monday night. It seemed splattered all over those yellow walls.
So right there, a mess of but what do you mean I need my own towel and 2 pairs of shoes and to come in from this door and why does no one wear headphones and can you please ask them to stop staring I tried to look like I understood everything he was saying, aware that my beautiful foreign audience could totally hear 100% of the transaction.
And I subsequently pumped out the most badass, tiresome workout I could muster. Not because I had anyone to impress—oh, no—I just knew that I would never, ever, set one foot (regardless of whatever goddamn shoe they approve of) in that room again. I had to make it fucking count, you know? Being decidedly my last workout in Bordeaux and all.
…sorta. I returned 2 weeks later to test my theory. Not a single Jacques, Pierre, or Thibo stared when I came through the correct entrance.
Ok, maybe Thibo stared a little, but that’s besides the point.