A really long introduction that involves a dead husband, a spin class, and a deer

a spin class is the absolute most perfect place to cry

I cried during spin class this morning.

Not because I was in pain (maybe a little) or because I was in last place on the leaderboard, but more so because I was disgusted with myself. When I was in class a week ago, I was fully charged on caffeine, wearing a new pair of overpriced workout leggings, and was still getting special treatment from the staff because I was new.

I figured they provide this special treatment to make you feel special: to buy a membership at their torture chamber thinking it’s special and you deserve this added financial strain because you’re special and you need to do something special for yourself. It’s a great marketing technique, really.

I wasn't upset about being made to feel special that first day or two; I wasn't upset about the financial strain or the long drive across town to early morning or late-night classes,

but I was crying anyway - and a spin class is the absolute most perfect place to cry: the lights are almost completely out, the music is loud, the instructor is yelling into the mic, and the spin addicts are consumed by it all.

No one is looking at you, no one can hear you, no one…cares.

With each blast of the beat, my thighs burned, and the idea of walking out was a real consideration. I mumbled mother fucker when the instructor advised to crank up the gear (intensify the torture) and I had flashbacks of eating an entire berry pie the night before.

I know it burns! I know you ate too much over Christmas! the instructor blared.

Several spin addicts shouted inaudible agreements at this accusation. I hung my head and stared at my clipped-in feet like they were helpless children in a ransom situation.

I’m not special, I thought. I’m the fattest person in here. What was I thinking when I signed up for this shit?

I can’t do this.

Maybe I had let quarantine get the best of me. I had binge watched everything, eaten everything, used everything as an excuse.

I had never been lazy or unemployed, and this ‘lockdown’ situation seemed like the perfect opportunity to just ‘let go.’ The past several years had been hell – I had given birth twice and moved nine times; and to top it all off, my husband had died.

I had weaned myself off vodka and Xanax just in time to run into a guy from high school who was freshly divorced. He was chipper, well-off, alive; and so, two weeks before the pandemic hit, we got married.

I had a nice big house and the luxury of staying home after years of hellacious office jobs. A recluse by nature, I had no fear of lockdown. We strapped down with distant learning and bought food in bulk. After almost two years of hibernation, I realized I had gained over 30 pounds. I was exhausted, flabby, and none of my jeans fit – I’d been wearing stretchy pants and eating whatever my husband brought home. Fast food is quite luxurious during a worldwide pandemic, and I was a well-qualified expert in the field.

I’d eaten fast food in passing over the years, but my husband (the dead one) was diagnosed with Type I diabetes several years into our marriage, and we had adhered to a very strict diet. Even during my pregnancies, I rarely strayed from our ‘no butter, no sugar, no salt’ way of life. Was it a fun way of life? Not really, but at the onset of his illness he was near death. We took things seriously – we both ate like health nuts and worked out.

Well, he worked out.

Right before his death, he was hitting the gym five days a week; and under the instruction of a personal trainer (provided by his employer), he was doing one handed push-ups and bragging about his slim fitting shirts.

Not being someone who ever liked the rubbery, sweaty smell of gym mats, I took walks when I had time and used the gym just enough to not cancel the membership. Comedian Ryan Hamilton does a great bit about the ‘neck machine’ coming out to a whopping $600 per session based on the times he actually went to the gym. He goes on to admit how anxiety ridden it is to go into a gym and cancel the membership. I get it. I've cancelled several.

I had dated a guy in college who was a gym addict. He wasn’t thrilled with my thighs and made a habit to compliment me by saying, You know, you’d have a great fucking body if you’d go to the gym a few times a week. He was a real rom-com.

I had explained to him that I played tennis sometimes, ate moderately healthy, and had good genes. Furthermore, the gym freaked me out – the intimidating people, the machines that resemble mangled cars, the cost, the commitment.

We broke up of course – I went off to another city and he, well, he got a boob job. He had the fat pockets removed from his chest. This is not a comedic insert, this happened. His struggle to be fat-free was real, and in my opinion – shallow.

And so, when Dead Husband brought home a disease diagnosis, I was more than eager to clean up my eating (and drinking), but still cringed at the idea of working out. I chased toddlers around the house, drank a lot of water, and worked 50-hour work weeks.

Unfortunately, when Dead Husband became just that, I was on antidepressants, Xanax, and any other legal substance used to escape reality. Eating was an afterthought and I considered suicide usually every morning and every evening. By the time New Husband came along, I was a bit more regulated with the meds, with therapy, and the stress of being a single mother.

New husband was a dream: he laughed at guys on diets, enjoyed the couch, and said he loved my chunky body. I knew I had gained weight since we got married, but with the pandemic and no need for business attire, I had failed to recognize how drastic the change was.

I went to the doctor, to another doctor, took vitamins, took diet pills, went to the gynecologist, had my blood drawn over and over, changed antidepressants, took IV vitamins, stopped caffeine, resumed caffeine. I came to the realization that I was just OUT OF SHAPE. Had I ever been IN SHAPE? Probably not and turning 40 didn’t help either.

What also didn’t help was also realizing that I had clung onto my physical appearance at times when my mental health was garbage. All of those years of depression, trauma, grief, had been placed into a separate compartment of my brain. When things went bad, I did what the articles told me to do:

go get your hair done when you’re feeling bad about yourself / go get your nails done / buy a new outfit / get dressed up / go out and feel ‘pretty’

Interesting. I didn’t feel ‘pretty' when I did these things now - I felt gross, and now when I had those ‘bad moments’ I had nothing to fall back on. I had a few things to think about. I thought about how I had taken my naturally thin frame for granted - consuming whatever I wanted when I was younger. Enchiladas, beer, you get it.

I realized I had also played this mind and body game over the years, a type of coping mechanism which is likely one of the most toxic of all toxic coping mechanisms.

Did I mention sex yet? Oh, yes, sex. I’d heard about this over the years – that when a woman doesn’t feel sexy it’s detrimental to her sex life; and yes, this is true. My desire to be naked and exposed absolutely freaked me the fuck out.

No, your penis is perfect. No, I’m not mad at you. No, I’m not cheating on you.

It was exhausting.

I had to face my fear, so I started where any normal millennial starts: the internet.

I googled:

  • How to lose weight (diet and exercise)

  • Mid-size fashion (mostly just covering yourself up)

  • How to get rid of cankles (exercise)

  • How to get rid of double chin (diet)

  • Exercise that burns the most calories (insert your worst nightmare here)

  • Healthy meals that taste good (kale, lots of kale + garlic)

New Husband was raised on bacon grease and candy bars, and after a few months of marriage in a full-blown pandemic, I allowed him to lure me into his pit of milk chocolate and fried chicken.

Damn, it was so good.

Now I had to climb out of the pit – kick my sugar addiction, my obsession with fried chicken, and find a type of workout routine that didn't require a daily dose of Valium.

I googled everything about diets and food. I googled gym memberships, exercises, and YOUTUBE channels. The more I watched, the more Xanax I needed. The gym really freaked me out. All of these people were skinny already. They were smiling. They loved it. I wanted to throw up.

After weeks of reading REDDIT threads on working out, I signed up for a ‘free introductory class’ at a Pilates studio 40miles from my house. I walked in on a Tuesday night, 37 minutes early and eager to tell the girl at the front all about my gym anxiety.

She laughed.

Everyone feels like that, I promise. This is a little different, though – you’re in your own space, the lights are low, and no one here looks like a body builder.

Of course, I didn’t believe her, but after that class and 20 classes into my membership there, I felt ready to try something new.

Cardio. I need cardio, I sighed.

Did I know what cardio was? Sort of. Running? Okay, I didn't really know.

I figured it out, recalled Jennifer Aniston’s character in an Adam Sandler movie being ‘obsessed with spin classes,’ and because movies tend to override my real life, I showed up at an introductory spin class.

The first class was rough, but I made it. The staff gave me extra special attention and before I left that day, I handed over my credit card to them and went home to lie to New Husband about how much this second membership was.

Which brings us to today – the day I cried in my spin class.

It was the day after Christmas – a day where most of my tiny town is still asleep at 7 am. I crept past New Husband and scattered Legos to the garage. I chugged coffee as I plowed down the highway. Only a few cars were forced to brave the early morning fog and I assumed asshole bosses were to blame.

As I blared Olivia Rodrigo about a mile from my house, the fog cleared, and I saw an SUV pulled over towards the shoulder of the highway. The driver’s door was wide open, and as I passed the dangerously parked vehicle, I glanced in my rearview mirror to see a woman hanging her head at the front of the SUV. Her hands went back and forth from her eyes to her mouth and in front of her, carefully folded, was a deer. The gentle head of the deer turned towards the median as I drove out of sight, and I turned the knob of my radio.

I knew the woman had to be in distress – a potentially damaged car, an injured deer, maybe an angry husband on the other end of a phone. Hitting a deer has always been one of my biggest fears and I quickly calculated what I would do if I found myself on the side of a lonely highway, the morning after Christmas, staring at an injured deer.

I should turn around, my mind rumbled.

But there’s nothing to be done, my mind argued.

My mind argued as I fumbled with the radio’s volume – up, down, up, down.

The pressure in my chest was building and with the song’s finale, I turned my car around at the nearest break in the highway. It was the fourth morning of my spin class and I snarled at the idea of being late, but something inside me made me turn around and drive back to find the woman.

When I arrived, I noticed a man pulling the maimed deer from the pavement to the high grass. The deer kicked and pulled, but his swift tug of her back legs were over just in time for the woman to hang her head again.

I looked over at the deer, head still up, eyes wide and gentle.

The man nodded his head and returned to his truck.

My social anxiety stirred as I pushed out, Are you okay?

I just – I just couldn't leave her here like this, the woman sobbed.

I know, I know. I turned around – I saw you standing here, all alone – and I saw the deer looking around, and I had to come back.

In trying to explain to her why I had come back, why I had still approached her even with the deer moved and seeing her SUV free of damage, I mixed up words and sighs realizing the true reason I was standing there was because the sight of suffering in her face was all too familiar to me.

I assured her it was okay, despite it being such a tragedy – that deer are often hit on this stretch of highway and no community resource would respond to a hit deer. She explained she had not hit the deer, but only noticed it. The thought of the struck deer, obviously coherent and suffering was enough to make her turn around. Late to work and unaware of any resolution, she stood sobbing until a man had stopped, grabbed the deer’s hind legs, and drug it into the grass.

I turned to the deer, head now resting in the grass, and studied the rise and fall of her chest.

The fog of the morning waned.

The woman sobbed.

The rise and fall of the deer faded and I held my breath to wait for another rise.

I think she is gone now, I spoke. She is not suffering now. I’m so sorry this happened.

As I fumbled with pandemic rules, I breached our six foot barrier and hugged the woman. She held onto me like a grief stricken mother. My heart sank.

And now between the darkness of a spin class, I find myself crying, telling myself they are tears of disgust. I tell myself I am crying because I ate a whole berry pie, because I put too much sweet cream in my coffee, because I am not pretty anymore, because I am fat, because I am not strong enough to push these pedals, because I am not special.

But maybe there is something about a dark room and loud music that unknowingly delivers you somewhere deeper.

Maybe I cried for myself, for my husband that died, for my children who watched me cry alone in the shower. Maybe I cried for being shallow, for thinking my mind was healed and my body was broken.

Maybe I cried for being thankful for my new husband and the peace I found after the Xanax and the vodka.

Maybe I cried for all of those things, for suffering and feeling broken, for the woman on the side of the highway, but I think if anything, I cried for the deer.