God is my Personal Trainer. He watches over me as I do my power squats and my abdominal holds, my bear crawls and my box jumps. He blesses my push-ups. He sanctifies my sit-ups. He is always by my side.
In the hierarchy of the gym, God is above me, naturally. I am the lowly client - He the all-powerful Personal Trainer. He rules this palace of sweat and spandex. Yes, with his sculpted arms and washboard stomach, He reigns supreme.
When counting off reps God uses his rep-counting voice, (Personal Trainers all have their voices that they use when speaking to their clients.) which sounds like a mama bear crooning to her cubs.
I’m lunge thrusting with ten-pound weights in my hands.
“One more.” says God. I do one more.
“One more.” He says. He says this four more times - His usual gambit. I hate it utterly.
“That’s what I’m talking about!” He says in his fire-up-the-client voice, which sounds like an ambulance siren flying past.
My muscles burn and pull on me to such an extent I feel I will spontaneously combust. I say nothing. I am the lowly client. I am like a sort of pet - like a tired dog for whom my master just keeps on throwing the damn ball. And I must chase it, of course. To do otherwise would be out of the question.
God has airs about him. He is important here. He is God, for one. But He is also the Shift Manager, and holds the lives of the other eight, full-time employees in his strong capable hands. He issues his decrees from an invisible pulpit that follows him around wherever he goes, perhaps dragged by his immense biceps and spectacular glutes. (Any girl would say “spectacular” when describing God’s glutes.)
Some exercises I am not familiar with. God demonstrates them in order to show me how they are properly done. I half swoon as I watch him go through the motions with a practiced ease in his bulging black bicycle shorts and red tank top. When my turn comes, I sweat and struggle and nearly burst my appendix at every attempt. God does not sympathize. He pushes me harder.
I am in the side plank position.
“C’mon you can do this.” He says in his voice of encouragement - my least favorite of his voices. It sounds like a glass of milk being slowly poured.
Just as I thought, I physically cannot do this. God just saying I can do something doesn’t make it so apparently. I am embarrassed and shamed and a little bitter.
God scopes out the other clients while I suffer through a jump rope routine. About twenty seconds in I look to him for approval but his eyes are still surveying the scene. He is the very picture of confidence. Every girl responds to his gaze. They seem to blush with their whole bodies as his eyes pass over them. They are all jealous of me. Everyone wants God for the Personal Trainer.
Maybe someday I could be a fit, trim hot chick like one of these other girls. Maybe God would one day look at me the way He looked at them. But who am I kidding? He was God. And who was I?
I do not want to do this anymore. I’ve tried to quit three times already. Needless to say, God hasn’t let me yet. He tells me one more month, one more week, one more workout. His Almighty self says it is for my benefit that He refuses my resignation. He says this as I line His pockets with gold and support His calorie-burning church.
I have to build up my confidence as well as my body. For some people the two are linked. They are not confident if they are not the right shape. I just have love handles and a bit of a flat tire so I am not so concerned. But I do experience mild self-loathing whenever I see myself in a full-length mirror.
I’m finished with the jump rope. Now I am doing faux pull-ups with the assisted pull-up machine.
“One more.” says God. I do one more.
“Two more.” He says, apparently enjoying himself.
“Sixteen more.” I say in between breaths. God does not laugh. He never laughs. At least not genuinely. He has his pretend laugh of course, but that is like his voices – part of the job. It sounds like an airplane taking off, just before the point the wheels leave the ground.
Now on the treadmill He stands by my side and pushes the buttons that control the speed. God, why do you use me so roughly? I think. Forcing cardio on a dainty little thing like me? Wow! He starts me going fast from the beginning. To me the machine is a medieval torture device. I won’t be able to go very far at this pace, I think.
“Faster.” He says. He pushes the button, and faster I go.
He says a quarter mile as I begin. He changes his mind.
“Lets do a half mile.” He says. And so shall it be.
I am on the verge of falling off the machine. I could very easily be violently propelled back off of it, cracking my teeth on the floor. I can see it happening. After the bruising God would help me to my feet and then, without a word, pull me along into the next part of the routine.
Just when I am ready to quit, to give up altogether, in body and mind, He grants me a short reprieve. He slows the machine. His timing is impeccable. It’s intentional, what he does, and maybe a little sadistic. He drives me to the brink, keeps me there teetering on the edge, and then pulls me back right before I topple over. He seems to enjoy watching me dangle there.
Within an inch of my life, I make it. I do not fall. My heart does not burst. I step off the machine, my legs quivering. I have half a mind to walk right out of the gym here and now, leaving my belongings in my locker, not saying a word to God or any of the other employees on my way out. The only thing that keeps me from doing this is that I’m not sure I can make it to the door without my legs giving out, and that wasn’t the message I wanted to send.
“Okay, that’s it. Good work out.” God says in his congratulatory voice, which sounds like the footfall on the last step of a flight of stairs.
“Yes.” I pant. This is my chance.
“Can I (pant, pant) talk to you?” I manage to say.
“Sure, come see me on your way out.”
This will be the day when I finally quit, I think. What can He say? I’ve heard it all before. I’ll tell him it’s about money. Even He can’t argue about that. Can He?
I go to get changed in the changing room. Putting on my normal clothes helps me to feel a little less vulnerable, a little more confident. Not that my casual jeans and blouse combo will turn any heads or open any doors.
When I come out God is talking to some young girl who is using one of the chest sculpting machines. She looks like she’s already got everything in order in that area. She is blonde and tan with black spandex from head to toe of her trim, lithe body. I am instantly jealous. I signal to God with a wave of my hand. He kisses the girl on the cheek and we go into a secluded part of the floor where there are no machines.
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to quit.” I get right down to it.
“Quit? You can’t quit. We’re really starting to make some progress. If you stop now all of that will have been for nothing.” He says in his sales-pitch voice, which sounds like fruit in a blender. I expected he’d say something like this. I was prepared for it.
“I’m sure you’re right, God. But I can’t really afford it right now. I have a lot of things going on that are a lot more urgent.” A nice adlib, if I do say so myself.
“If it’s about money we’re willing to work with you. I could drop your fees down to two hundred and fifty per month. How’s that sound?” It kind of sounds like a good deal, I think.
“Thanks for the offer but I think I’m still going to have to pass. Money is just too tight right now.” Looking upon his sculpted body intimidates me. I could feel my resolve being chipped away.
“Okay, okay. I never do this. This is as low as I can go. What would you say to two hundred dollars per month?” He is confident rather than desperate. I am astounded by the offer.
“No, I’m still going to have to decline. I’m sorry.” I say this with my guts wrenching, trying desperately to hold true to my decision.
“Okay but the truth is,” God says in His sympathetic, earnest voice, which sounds like a dog panting after a brisk run, “if you don’t keep up your routines here, you’ll never get rid of that extra weight you’re carrying around your mid section. It’s never going to happen without an intensive workout regimen.”
He looks at me with his all-knowing eyes and it’s as if He says, “I am God. You know that I am right.” If it wasn’t already, my resolve is truly gone now.
“Well…” I can’t believe what I am about to say. “I guess I could manage two-hundred.” My heart sinks. Dammit! How did I let this happen? I want to take the Lord’s name in vain, but I make a conscious effort not to. I am still in His presence after all.
“That’s the spirit!” he says, snapping back to His fire-up-the-client-voice. I am immune to it at this point.
“That’s really great.” He says. “You made the right decision.” We shake hands. “See you Thursday.”
“Thursday.” I say, with my heart in my toes.
“Get ready for it. It’s gonna be a doozy.” God says in his joking-with-the-client voice, which sounds like a gear being turned. “I’m gonna punish you for giving Us this little scare.” He says. I know He is actually serious. He really is sadistic. But in the end, I guess, there is just no escaping God.
Pete Able received a degree in English from Rutgers University in 2007. He has published stories in Tsuki and Foliate Oak magazines. He lives in Philadelphia and is thirty-two years old.