LIZ’ JOURNAL:

“A person writing in a notebook while on public transport” by Ilya Ilyukhin on Unsplash

I’m not really afraid of treadmills — actually only one treadmill.

***

Fifty-eight years old today. Fifty-eight pounds overweight? Could be. I ride the bus to work, ten blocks away, sit at a computer all day. Eat lunch at a greasy spoon where I stop back by after work for dinner take-out, catch the bus home, and top it off with half a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Half-Baked.

Not Frank’s fault. We divorced ten years ago. Time to get over it. ‘Nutrition facts’: 270 calories per serving, two servings. Might as well just spoon it on my thighs.

Tomorrow, I’ll walk to work, eat a salad for lunch, climb the stairs to my second floor office. Skip dessert. I can at least do that.

***

That “tomorrow” was five months ago. I’ve cleaned out the pantry of unhealthy snacks, so now I’m only eating nutritious food in small portions. I also joined a gym. My personal trainer, Lori, a perky, athletic, twenty-five-year-old snowboarder/runner/tennis player runs on the treadmill beside me every day. I’ve slowly built up from five minutes to ten, to fifteen.

On the treadmill next to her is Leo, sixtyish, salt-and-pepper hair, his loose T-shirt covering a slight paunch. I remember the first day he joined us. He set the resistance on the machine, turned our direction, smiled and introduced himself.

“Leo.”

“I’m Lori, this is Liz.”

He nodded hello and said, “better than the KKK.”

A look of puzzlement from Lori and he reddened, “Dumb joke, sorry. We’re L-L-L, better than KKK. Never mind.”

***

They’re with me every day, cheering me on as I sweat through an incremental increase in time — “15:10, 15:20, 15:30,” Lori’s counting off, “15:40, 15:50, a very good year, 16:00. Good job, start your cool down. “

Was it Lori who put the idea in my head of the numbers being dates? I Google ‘1520 in history’ “June 30: Spaniards are expelled from Tenochtitlan.” Score one for the Aztecs. ‘1550 in history’ –“July 7: Traditional date chocolate thought to have been introduced to Europe.” Yes, a very good year.

The resistance down a little today, building up to a full twenty-minute cardio. Slowing down at 18:00. I stare at the digital display: 19:14, the year my dad was born. Lori counting off, “19:30, 19:40, 19:50 –”

I wake up in a hospital bed. Seized by a panic attack, I throw the light covers off. A nurse rushes in. “Easy, miss. You’re fine.” She pulls the covers back up. “Do you remember what happened?”

“I fainted?” It’s the only way I can describe it. A sudden feeling of tightness that clamped onto my skull, then my shoulders — mangled and squeezed. Before I went down, I imagined my torso and legs covered in muck and blood.

Three days off from the gym — doctor’s orders. I watch a few favorite DVDs — “The Proposal”, “Un Día Sin Mexicanos”, “The Abyss”. Ed Harris breathing the liquid filling his helmet, struggling — being born. I was born in 1959. Was I reliving my own birth on the treadmill?

***

“Don’t push it, Liz.”

“I’m fine.” I have to experience this rush again. And what comes next?

The numbers fly by. 19:57, 19:58, 19:59, 20:00.

I hit the emergency stop button. Jump off the belt to the frame. My whole body feels stretched — not in a good way — a Mel-Braveheart-Gibson being quartered “Freedom!” way.

What the hell was I expecting — 19:60, 19:61?

Lori and Leo are at my side. I feel myself redden and force a weak smile. “I’m okay.” Without a word they lead me into the employee break room and sit me down at the table. A minute later, Lori is serving us smoothies. She covers my shoulders with a towel, gives me a soothing shoulder rub and tells me to take it easy. Funny that’s the song on the speakers right now, too.

Mentally calculating my age in 2000, I look to the ceiling for help. Easier to subtract from 1999 and add one. Forty-one.

“Tom Petty or the Eagles?” Leo asks.

“Hmm?”

Hotel California or Free Falling?

“It’s hard to choose. I still like them both.” I search his eyes — why would he ask me that? “Did you think I was falling out there?”

“You caught yourself in time, but yes, you looked like you were dizzy, like you were suddenly — I don’t know — taller than you thought you were. Does that make sense?”

“Yes, that’s how I felt.” Growing pains. “I’m fine now.”

We sipped our smoothies and talked for an hour. Went to an Eagles vs Petty tribute bands show that weekend. And we haven’t been apart since.

It took another three weeks before I got up the nerve to venture beyond 20:00. Bits of my life flashed before me — a year in a second. 20:01 — a happy memory — Frank and I in the Bahamas, flamingos flying into the sunset on a pink sandy beach. 20:07 — a sad one — divorce papers flying into my hands. 20:17 — Leo on the treadmill next to Lori, smiling at us.

I’ve ventured into the future. 20:19 — Leo and I on a mountaintop, scanning ancient ruins below — Machu Picchu? My bucket list.

Striding quick and determined through the first twenty minutes. 20:20 darkness. 20:21 darkness. 20:22 — the same.

It never changes.

Her writing muse lurks in the volcanic hills amidst mustangs, marmots and jackalopes. While hiking with her dogs, Ann stumbles upon stories of dark humor.