There are few things I hate more than walking out of the campus gym.
So there I was, minding my own fitness. I had spent the past forty-five minutes on the self-inflicted hell otherwise known as the Stairmaster. The workday makeup that graciously keeps me from looking like a pre-pubescent boy had melted into a stream of sweat that careened off of my chin, down between my sports-bra provided “cleavage” (thank you, lycra) before settling into my belly button. You know what my belly button doesn’t need? Eyeshadow.
Clearly I, on this fateful exit from the gym, was the pinnacle of male desire. This was my peak. This was my time to shine. Didn’t anybody tell you ass-sweat is the gym-equivalent of bedroom eyes? Surely those meat-headed frat boys were just moments away from putting the all-brain-cell-consuming contest of out-grunting each other on hold for just a moment in favor of erecting (ooh, poor choice of words? Get your mind out of the gutter) a statue in my impossibly sweaty honor.
Be the stares in lust or disgust, every eye that should have been deeply admiring mid-bicep-curl muscle pump was somehow tracking my sweaty, red-faced, boy-lookin self out of the gym, including, you guessed it, my well-ab’d ex-boyfriend from two years before. I looked over for a friendly nod, or maybe some unassuming, completely platonic eye-contact. Instead, I witnessed the boy swerve out of my way so aggressively he nearly took out an entire stack of free weights.
Now I know what you’re thinking: “Kayla? Our Kayla? Has an ex-boyfriend? We never knew she dated anyone at all. All she ever posts #online are obscure tweets and covers of songs nobody ever asked for, never anything about a, God forbid, “man.” Much like her parents from the years 2008-2012, we kinda just thought she was probably a (you whisper-shout now) lesbian.”
Yes, I do, in fact, have an ex-boyfriend. They’re plural, even. I just never run into them because the exes of any consequence happened to decide the best way to stop dating me was to leave the state, or, in some cases, flee the country. But that’s a story for another time and place, (ten years from now, my therapist’s office.)
So back to the boy at the gym. I moved into my house by campus after returning from Italy to find my new roommate was currently dating the roommate of my ex-boyfriend. Ain’t that some Biggest Little City shit. For privacy’s sake, let’s call my ex Joe and his roommate, I don’t know, Timmy. Joe, if you’re reading this, stop making things weird and I’ll run out of material for the blog. This is on you, man.
Today’s terribly uncomfortable moment in the gym can be traced back to our interaction from a few weeks ago. I was sprawled across my couch in post-class decompression, jeans unbuttoned eating leftovers directly from a Tupperwear that was balanced between my collarbones and my double chin. My natural state. See again, “pinnacle of male desire.” I heard a knock at the door.
“Hey Kayla can I lock a bike out here?” Timmy questioned, monotonously.
“Hi Timmy! Yeah, of course,” I called as I walked toward the door.
“It’s actually a friend’s bike.” If the boy got any more sheepish he’d need to be moved to a petting zoo.
There, entirely eclipsed by Timmy, not standing on the porch, no. Not even on the porch steps, even. Not even porch adjacent. There, nearly exceeding the limits of the driveway and time and space itself, stood Joe, a good twenty-five feet away from the door.
“Oh, hi Joe!” I called, chipper with a crippling desire to make everyone like me, regardless of whether or not they’ve seen me with less than all of my clothes on. Or even if I’ve made them cry. “Do you want to just put your bike inside?”
Me: “Seriously, it’s not a big deal. I promise I won’t keep your bike hostage.”
Joe: terrified half nod
Me: sweeping gesture that involves some variation of an instantly regrettable curtsy to usher them into the house
Ah, yes, things were going well.
I defaulted to the only way I know how to secure pleasant interactions from the people in my life. I offered baked goods. Timmy was quick to jump on the offer. Joe, however, couldn’t seem to break the 15-foot self-inflicted perimeter of uncomfortable energy to get close enough to grab a brownie. We exchanged the least-pleasant of pleasantries from across the room. If he wanted to get any farther away from me in my dinky little kitchen he would have had to crawl into the refrigerator, a place that would have felt like the surface of the goddamn sun in comparison to the icy space between us. He mentioned his new girlfriend cautiously like the news may send me into a sugar-sharing frenzy. Finally, Joe and Timmy departed with only Joe’s bike and a half-eaten brownie to remind me of the cringe-worthy exchange.
There are few things I hate more than walking out of the campus gym. This was one of them. Never offer to hold onto a bicycle for your ex. Not even for the afternoon. Not even for a moment. It’ll make it weird. And then it’ll stay weird. Whatever you do, don’t make it weird.