Treadmill Ghost

May 2, 2008

At the gym today, I saw the ghost of me. His image materialized six feet in front of me on the window overlooking the squash courts. I was striding in place on an elliptical machine. Cast in shades of gray, he appeared to occupy a space between two worlds, mine and one of shadows. He bounced up and down, a reflection methodically running toward me but getting no closer.

He looked maybe 15 years older. An old bald man well into decline but trim and relentless. I was thankful I couldn’t see his eyes, only darkness. The more I stared the more familiar the image became. My oxygen-deprived brain was perceiving signals heretofore beyond range. I was watching a broadcast of what will become of me. The soundless, subliminal message was clear: “I’m coming for you.”

Turns out the ghost of me was some guy on the treadmill over my shoulder. I wanted to turn and see the real him but thought better of it. My mind wandered to the TV screens, distracted by some meaningless news crawl. I turned up my music player and pumped my legs and arms faster to Andrew Bird’s “Fiery Crash.”

This was my first day back at the gym after a late summer and full autumn of steady hard exercise. I’d shed 20 pounds and found never-used belt holes. Then I quit. In my head, work became the convenient excuse, masking loss of will. Much of the burned-off fat returned. My tight-ab confidence loosened along with my belt.

Last night I dreamed of telling Suzame that I’d been diagnosed with a debilitating heart condition. That was enough to make me do this morning what I’ve vowed for weeks: get off my lazy ass. My window ghost was a stark reminder I can’t wimp out again. I can’t let him catch me.

When I looked back at the window, the reflection was gone.