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For Those About to Lift || by Melanie Griffin

David Roman Art
by Melanie Griffin

NOBODY TALKS ABOUT HOW much waiting there is in heavy lifting. 

All of the weightlifting manuals and websites and trainers are fanatic about sleep, urging amounts that push into decadence for those with other shit to do. And they each have their own scientifically calculated opinions about the perfect rest intervals between sets, of course. 

But that’s all usually just an excuse to transition to the next move. Nobody tells you how much downtime you’ll have at the gym, between bursts of energy that really feel too short to be supposedly doing you so much good.

My boyfriend convinced me to start lifting, and after we went through my first squat reps together, he put three minutes on his phone and started to space out. 

“So … we just stand here?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “You can sit, if you want.” He demonstrated on the small, shin-high stool that stayed next to the rack and matched its upholstery to the floor mats. 

I nodded as I had for the past twenty minutes after each of his instructions. Inwardly, I panicked. I had left my headphones at home so we could talk through all the new stuff I was learning. But nobody told me about the dead time.


*


Dead time is my greatest dread. It feeds my anxiety like an all-you-can-worry buffet, and when my brain is not focused on a task or interacting with something external, it gets terrifyingly close to eating itself. 

This comes from early and deep inside my childhood. I did most of my growing up before social media, without a TV in my room or a computer the whole family didn’t share. Up until high school, our internet hogged the landline, and my mom knew every single time I connected because I had to crawl under the kitchen table to plug in. 

I don’t have any siblings, either. Only children own neither silence nor loneliness, but I think we may be acquainted with both a little more than most. 

None of this made me so afraid of dead time, though. My dad did that.


*


My dad does not look especially intimidating. He brushes six feet tall, flirts with 200 pounds of weight when he’s off one of his intermittent fasting kicks. His eyes are the same myoptic light blue as mine, and his jokes can get a whole room of folks laughing. Among my parents’ friends, he’s got a well-earned reputation of being charming and helpful. 

But I know him best by his silences. 

They are thunderous and all-consuming, and I’ve never stopped trying to predict what will bring them on even though I have over thirty years of proof that doesn’t work. Whatever thin logic I think I’ve wrestled out of one is pinned down in defeat by what instigates the next. 

At some point I learned it was best to play dead. Any other response was a dare to give him a reason to lash out at whatever subject I brought up. My mom has never stopped urging me to go ask him something to break it up, but it’s so much easier to disappoint her than to stoke his wrath. It was uncomfortable. But uncomfortable I could mostly push past with a book in my room. 

One other thing usually had somewhat of a chance of thinning out Dad’s bad moods. It wasn’t a certainty, because nothing was—or is—around him. But sometimes, music can help. 

The music of Dad’s youth, specifically. The rock wizards he got to see in concert for like a quarter in the early ‘70s when they were un-famous enough to warrant a stop in our fly-by town. He’s still got all the ticket stubs. 

In his manic moods, Dad will crank up the Pink Floyd until the clocks in “Time” rattle my teeth and the Stones until we’re both right there strutting with Jagger. Led Zepplin is his favorite, and mine, too. When I’m depressed, I want to live in the guitar riffs of “When the Levee Breaks” until it all goes away. 

That thunder music has carried us through a lot of silence, when we otherwise couldn’t say anything without setting each other off. I don’t know if I ever understood exactly what Dad meant when he played it for me, but I got what I needed from it and brought it with me when I moved out. 


*


I’ve noticed something alarming happening over the past six or seven years: music is getting too hard for me. 

I don’t mean it’s impossible to stay up on everything coming out, or to keep my various audio media straight. I mean it’s getting too emotionally difficult for me to listen to music at all. Most of it, whether I love it or hate it, makes me physically, painfully weepy.

This could be because of childhood shit catching up to me; it could be a mutation of whatever lonely impulse made me start listening to podcasts for more voices in the room after a horrendous breakup. Whatever it is, it’s had a firm hold on me for half a decade or more. 

And somehow, the gym breaks it. 


*

The gym we use is pretty basic—lots of free weights and treadmills mingled with machines that wouldn’t look out of place in a 1950s health spa. I have no idea what most of it does. 

Over the loudspeakers, they pipe in the local classic rock station. I know that by now, “local” is an almost useless way to describe it. Behind the scenes, this one has been gutted and merged into a conglomeration of its former self, and the few human announcers left are leaving holes for different advertisers to fill between banter they broadcast to most of the Eastern Seaboard. 

It’s called The Fox, 102.3 FM, sharing exact coordinates that melts directly into my hometown station somewhere along the straight spit of interstate that still connects me to my parents. I know I’m close to their house—I’ve made a recent, conscious decision to stop calling it home—when someone comes on to rep The Eagle without a hitch in the music. That change inspires a nugget of dread going one way and of relief going the other.

Now at the gym, surrounded by everyone else’s invisible AirPods or ironically large BlueTooth headphones, it cracks me open in a way that hasn’t felt real since high school. 

The station has expanded the definition of “classic rock” as broadly as their airspace. Any song with a guitar solo from the past sixty years will come up at some point or another in rotation, meaning I hear everything that spans my entire childhood with no regards to my own personal chronological order. “No More Mr. Nice Guy” pulls me into a senior year band trip while “Complicated” tugs me into eighth grade algebra and “All Apologies” has me wide-eyed on the floor of my college dorm room, understanding its draw for the first time. Even fucking Journey stirrs something in me -- the part that found out I love karaoke in my mid-twenties, the part that felt the voices of a hundred weirdos singing at once vibrating my ribcage and declared it transcendent. 

My whole life flashes between my ears, in manageable chunks, and I’ve finally found a way to skim off the good parts and enjoy them wholly for themselves. 

Nothing superhuman happens. I can’t magically deadlift twice my own bodyweight. But something better is happening: I’m having a good time. 

The music flows through me, flowing into the memory grooves it’s carved into my brains. Now, somehow, I catch it before it floods the wounds in my heart. I divert it somewhere else, somewhere powerful. Somewhere all my own. 




Image Credit: David Roman Art


MEET THE AUTHOR:

MELANIE GRIFFIN writes, works in a library, and does research for podcasts. Her work has been published in a number of local and national publications, most recently The Mudsill.



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