So here I am sitting on my spinning bike awaiting our instructor, Ronnie. She’s Australian, good looking and full of energy. She’s also annoyingly happy -- the sort of person that enjoys herself in any situation and doesn’t need booze or drugs to have a good time. She’s always smiling and laughing, a real nice girl. She has that permanent expression of internal delight, like she knows some secret that I don’t. She is so happy, I actually wondered if she was a born again Christian or something like that so I stalked her Facebook page recently. Judging by the clothes she wears to parties I am going to wager she ain’t no Christian. Unless of course one of the Ten Commandments is ‘Thou must wear PVC bondage gear to parties and make as many horny faces as possible.’
As I wait I adjust my bike. Not too high on the seat otherwise I overreach and pull the muscles in my lower back. I did this the first time I went spinning and had to be helped off the bike by Ronnie and some muscly guy called Tony. They both laughed and joked about it but it wasn’t funny I can tell you. Having two extremely fit people grabbing hold of my flab and unshaped body is not funny at all. I smiled and laughed but inside I was dying, especially when Ronnie got a good handful of my underarm fat and actually used it to lever me off the bike.
But that was then and now I’m serious. This time I’m gonna do it. No more late night snacks, no more binges. I’ve bought new shorts, a new training top and a brand spanking pair of Nike’s. This time it’s for real. I’m gonna get fit and ripped and get my old confidence back. I am going to slay that inner voice that wants me to be unhappy -- that voice that tells me every night to order take-away, or eat a family pack of jam donuts. This is it now. The line has been drawn. I’m Saint George about to slay my dragon.
Ronnie starts the class. Nice and slow to start with -- just enough tension on the bike to make you push the pedals, but not enough to burn your thighs out. No, the thigh burning comes later and with it the screams of a woman possessed as Ronnie gets the whole class pumping. This time though I’ll be really hurting and not pretending in order for Ronnie to see how hard I’m working. There will be no slacking this time. When the inner voice tells me to cheat and ease off I’m going to double the tension on the bike and work even harder. I sit at the back under the rotating fans that whirr loudly and pump out lifeless cold air. I always hate the fans at the beginning of the session but I know that half way through those fans are gonna be my life saver.
The pace is getting quicker now. The music is getting faster. Ronnie jumps up from the saddle and is really going for it. Right on schedule the inner voice starts chattering away.
‘You don’t have to do this you know.’
I ignore it. This is its usual routine -- a kind of good cop bad cop shtick. I pump harder on the bike and even apply a bit more tension without Ronnie even telling us to do so. I catch her eye and she sees I have increased my tension. She smiles at me. Yes! I apply more tension and really go for it. Sweat pours down my face and arms. This is it, this is it. I am on my way to being fit and healthy. No more staying in on a Saturday night. Soon I’ll be able to chat to girls. I’ll be confident and funny and I’ll tell them about all the weight I’ve lost. They probably won’t believe me so I’ll carry a picture of myself of how I used to be. They’ll say ‘wow’, and ‘well done you’ and they’ll squeeze my arm and introduce me to their friends who will want to hear my story. It’s going to be amazing.
‘Who are you kidding?’ ‘You’re fat, why do you care so much about being thin, listen, why don’t you just get off this bike and go home.’
Not this time, no way, no way. I am going to do this. The music drops down to a slower tempo. Ronnie sits back in her saddle and tells us to ease off the tension. I take a drink of water and wipe my face. The small hand towel is drenched with just one wipe.
‘No one really likes you do they?’ Ah here it is " the bad cop. This is the usual starting point for the bad cop. He likes to pick out all my faults and failures and then move on to dissect my friends and family.
‘You see, the thing is this. You think you’re funny. I mean you really think you’re an undiscovered comedian but let me tell you you’re not. You’re funny to look at, but that’s about it.’
No way, no way, no way. I’m not listening to you anymore. Ronnie increases the pace and I pump even harder. My breathing is out of control and I don’t know how long I can go on. Yes I do. I’ll go on as long as it takes to shut that voice up!
‘Your relationship with Annie, that’s a bit weird isn’t it. I mean you play the role of the male best friend so well. I wonder if she knows how you really feel.’
SHUT UP SHUT UP. I pump the bike faster so it shakes from side to side. I grit my teeth as pure anger courses through my body which I use it to fuel the piston action of my legs at the pedals.
‘I wonder if she knows that every night you jack off while thinking about her. You’re really sad you know. You think if you get fit then she’ll look be attracted to you. You’re pathetic!’
I don’t know what it is about exercise classes that brings all this crap to the surface. The worst part about it is I know it’s true. Annie is my ‘best friend.’ That’s what she thinks anyway. The truth is I love her. I think of her all the time. I have to force a smile every time she introduces me to a new boyfriend of hers and sit there as he makes Annie cry with laughter or wow her with some great story about back packing across the Andes. They always treat her badly and I’m always there for her with a kind word or two.
‘You deserve so much better Annie, one day you’ll meet someone who loves you for you.’ My inner voice is right. I am pathetic. I just want to hold her and tell her how I feel, but I know Annie and I know the kind of guy she’s attracted to and believe me I am not that guy. But maybe, just maybe if I get into shape and confident I can be just like one of those guys that she likes. I hold this thought and it makes me pump harder. Ronnie nods encouragingly. I nod back. Someday I am gonna be able to just walk up to Annie or Ronnie or any girl I want to and just ask her out.
‘No you’re not you sad freak, you’re thirty five, you live with your mum and don’t have a job, you’re a joke.’
Pump harder, faster, drown out the voice. I can feel the flab falling off me with every spin of the pedals. I will not be a loser anymore. Get out of my head, you’re not me, I don’t want to be that guy anymore.
‘LOSER, LOSER, LOSER.’
SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!
It’s only on the third shout of shut up that I realise I had said it aloud. The whole class has stopped and for once Ronnie’s smile has been replaced with a look of worry.
‘Umm, are you ok?’ she asks. I am silent for a few moments.
‘You look like a right tit, say something for God’s sake.’
‘Hmm, sorry about that, it’s just I really get nagged at by my inner voice when I exercise’ I say in between deep gasps of breath.
‘Are you kidding me? They’ll think you’re an absolute nut-job.’
Ronnie’s smile returns and she laughs hard.
‘Ha yeah! Me too.’ Mine tells me I’m just a fat girl pretending to be healthy.’ This makes others in the class laugh. The spin studio is humming with people chatting and sharing details about their cruel inner voices. An old man at the front turns to me. He’s all red faced and clammy.
‘Mine tells me I only come here to perv at Ronnie’ he says. ‘The only thing is its bloody true!’ He laughs and wipes tears from his eyes. Ronnie laughs at this as well. She’s a good sport is Ronnie. Once the laughter dies down Ronnie gets the class back on track. It takes only a few minutes for it to start again.
‘They all think you’re a weirdo’ says the bad cop. ‘Why not just go home and eat some cake.’
Not today, not today. The music picks up again and I smile at Ronnie. She smiles back and starts pumping. I push the pedals hard and for another twenty minutes I manage to drown out the inner voice. At the end of the class Ronnie and a few members of the class pat me on the back.
‘Good work today’ says Ronnie in her usual exuberant manor. ‘And don’t worry about…. You know’ she says while pointing to her head. She smiles and rubs my arm as she passes by. I smile. I feel as if my outburst has connected me somehow. S**t, maybe we all hate ourselves deep down.
‘Nice to know I’m not the only one’ says an elderly lady as she gets off the bike next to mine.
‘The only?’ I reply.
‘Why, the only person who has a mental war when taking exercise.’ She puts her leg on the saddle and stretches off.
‘I’ve allowed my inner voice to ruin half of my life’ she says as she changes legs. I nod and listen politely as she imparts a summary of her life story.
‘Two divorces, three failed business attempts and several spells in a drying out clinic.’
‘Yeah yeah that’s so interesting you stupid old oxygen thief.’
‘Wow that’s fascinating’ I reply. While I admire her honesty I don’t want to get stuck in one of those one way conversations where I nod and agree in all the right places but secretly I am just thinking about how to get of the conversation without appearing to be rude. Luckily for me she picks up her towel, wipes her face and says goodbye. I am the only one left. It’s quiet now apart from the continuous hum of the fans and my constant barrage of self-hate. This time though, this time I won’t let it win. Not this time.