Perhaps there are stars that shine the brightest just before they explode. She was a star whose light I have borrowed for the rest of my life.
6 months ago, one day, while eating a donut and binge watching Breaking Bad, a sudden blitz of shame overtook me and the next morning I was standing in front of the gym – a place of shaping your body (my old belief, not anymore). I weighed 85 kg and the trainer looked at me like he was a carpenter and I – a wooden log, like I was a problem for him to solve. He handed me a customized plan for calories needed in and out, diet chart coherent with it, a workout regime and an advertisement pamphlet in which Ronnie Coleman was posing his beefed up body. I looked at it with my mouth open – there he was, with his three dimensional mighty muscular bulk on a two dimensional paper. He was a lifetime and I was day one. Who can relate?
While I was scanning around to find out if anyone was more out of shape than I, all other folks out there got zoned out of my sight, but a girl. This girl was doing dumbbell squats with 30 kg either side and punch bag kicks alternately, all sweaty and cocky, all by herself. There was no trainer around her, and if there was one, they only shook hands with her in her recovery times. I manually decayed my talk with the trainer and slinked past her to see her face when she was dead-lifting and noticed a 20kg barbell and twice 25 kg on either side of the bar. She was deadlifting 120 kg in her first set which was probably a warm-up set. No kidding. Her triceps – that crazy definition. Obviously I couldn’t see her abs from behind but could make a wild guess and wouldn’t have gone wrong. She radiated strength and athleticism. Ten minutes in and I could figure the guys in the gym didn’t come close to hitting on her, and how could they? They were no match to her intensity of training.
When I came to right angles with her, it was like, “Gladie? She seems like her. Oh yes she’s Gladie! Oh my holy god!”, thought I and old memories rushed in. She used to be my classmate in school. We never talked back then because she was awkward, antisocial and audacious. And here she is hammering the workout. She used to look beautiful in school as she did now. It was just that her movements, her recklessness, her vibe was not very feminine back then. She got along with just one girl who wasn’t much different from her. I still remembered making fun of her mannerism with my buddies. They used to always tease me up about her and to be honest I did like her that time, but the peer pressure kept me from ever talking to her. And presently, I was worse person overall now compared to school. I’d excelled in studies back then, but now? An unemployed guy with natural urges guiding a vulnerable body and mind.
She was five feet three, dressed all in black. I mean she didn’t appear to be one of those aesthetically pleasing skinny yoga women on Instagram. Her countenance, posture, everything was intimidating, especially to a novice like me. The only thing that adorned her was kohl on her eye which made her look even more intense. Side glancing her, I ran the treadmill wondering how small the world is, did some absent minded squats and left for home. At night, I updated my linkedin to feel better about myself and slept early then hit the gym next morning again and there she was already well into the sweat before me.
“Could I talk to her? Just small talk? No, she won’t entertain any weak small talk with a guy like me. She might not even remember me. Waste of her attention probably.” But then while putting my napkin back into the locker, I saw her noticing me as I closed the locker door. I smiled at her. She smirked. Then I went ahead to do bench press with 5 kg either side. I picked up dumbbells from behind upon which she went, “No! Don’t pick up the weights like that, you will hurt yourself.” She showed me how to place the weights on thighs and then push them over your shoulder and then lie down for the press. She was unexpectedly gentle with me.
Later at the end of the session I went up to her to talk, not to say thank you but to bust my curiosity.
“You like pushing the limits?” I asked.
“I do” she replied, and started tying her hair, sitting on a plank.
“Why though? I mean not that it’s anything of my business, but I know you from school, and I hope you remember me?” I asked.
“Of course I do. I also remember that you hated me” she said.
“Well, must not be a surprise for you. Many people hated you”, I said.
“I am aware of that” she replied assuredly.
“So, why you do this?” I asked.
“I enjoy being hated for being strong” she replied.
“It’s another kind of admiration.”
“Really? You think you inspire them?”
“That didn’t answer my question.”
She got up, finished tying her hair back, came close to me and said with those dark eyes in a low tone,
“If people are constantly gazing you while you’re on your last rep, your muscles are begging you to stop, your mind is dissociated from the body and has given up long ago, but the sheer fire takes you through that physical agony and defy those people’s expectation of you to fail, you damn well know you’ve inspired those people that wished your failing.”
“Bye. Good night” she zipped her bag and walked away.
Her words still hung in the air. I stood in the lobby for a minute, then packed my bag and left.
Same day, I saw her at a grocery store in the neighborhood. She came on a motorcycle and had a biker jacket on. She stopped by, bought just a freaking chewing gum and strolled out humming a song. I’d thought she’d be buying fruits or brown bread or eggs. Chewing gum. We looked at each other and she raised eye brows at me like “wassup?” I had started admiring her already – even in my hatred.
I tried to reach as many college friends as I could to ask about her and found one who lived near her house – Vasu. He said that she was a triathlete, well known in the neighborhood and in town. She’d just finished Mumbai marathon among top ten finishers and her gym pays her for their association with her in advertisement.
“What is her WHY? Everyone’s got their WHYs. She must have it too”, I mumbled while talking to Vasu over the phone.
“Dude, there’s some personal history of her you don’t know about”, he revealed the piece in the puzzle I was missing.
Her mother had died when she was born and her father lived with her until she was twelve. He was an alcoholic and one day he fell drunk in a ditch on the footpath of a metro construction site. She lived with her grandma. Just the two of them. She took workout classes, just the body weight ones. Most of her students were older than her – housewives typically, who wanted to take some time out of their homely schedule to have a good workout. She charged them a meager amount for the service she was providing. Her grandma received government pension out of her retirement which was enough to get by for both of them. But Gladie still worked.
Now her story came full circle to me. She had been through things that most of us never even come close to. She might as well could have given up to the darkness, hell – to her loneliness in the least. But she was absolutely independent of what she went through. And it was a mind boggling realization I came upon after knowing all this about her. After going through hell, she still had an honor and strength to not succumb to self-pity and degeneration. She lived with dignity and that was honorable. My jealousy and ill judgment of her turned into deep respect.
From this day, I stopped being pathetic, and realized that the physical workout, the challenge involved in it comes with gifts to your mind as well and Gladie was a living testimony of it. She used physical challenge to sharpen her mind and her will. I resolved to myself that if there was anything that would stop me from hammering my full potential, it’ll be my own weakness and lack of personal responsibility and that’s it. Comfort was the enemy and discomfort was where growth happened. As Van Gogh himself said, “Normality is a beautiful pavement, but no flowers grow on it.”
Gladie faced adversities. A hell of a lot of them. Parents’ death, abandonment in school, struggle through studies and later financial difficulties. But she’d come out of a storm and people around her complained about her not possessing any flowery and feminine embellished charm. What could come out of a storm not having hardened itself? Nothing. My parents were alive. I didn’t face bullying at school. Never had money crunch. With these advantages as a head start, I didn’t have an ounce of complaint about anything at all.
After getting to know about her, something lit a fire inside of me. I refused to be a mediocre. I refused to be comfortable. I refused to quit. In three months, I was 72 kg and my body was at the best shape of my twenty seven year old life. Career wise, I studied the hardest I’d done for getting into a series of walk-in interviews. I had done everything possible I could to update my resume. And before I could stop and reflect, I had gotten a job. Now I was independent. But most importantly – I had earned my own respect. And I still fight for it.
One inspiration. She was it.
On July 6 2015, an Rx100 was found with a bloody body, shattered on a JCB machine on a footpath of HSR Layout. Gladie had died of an accident, after four days I’d last met her. We had done a good workout together, and she had wished me luck for my upcoming career.
There were talks about it being a suicide. But I knew it was an accident. And Jane knew. Her granddaughter would never commit suicide. With all that god had bestowed upon her along with the curse of a kind of life she had to wake up to face every day, she could die with her choice. But she wouldn’t. She would not choose weakness. As for me, I was left with unspoken things that I wanted to share with her. And I could still share with her, but only one-sided.
Many who are lost, arrive at a guidepost and walk right past it, but only a few are subconsciously looking for it to change their way. On this day, I knew I was looking for it. She was my guidepost.
On a dusk of July 11, 2015, I visited her grave with flowers. My eyes welled with tears upon the sight of her tombstone,
In the memory of,
November 6, 1991 – July 6, 2015
Resting on it was a flower bouquet and a note, written with the following lines
“I’ll be leaving my trails under sunny skies
In the dreary of twilight that never dies
Let the tender Daisies shelter in solace
For the knight of this garden is Gladiolus”
With love, Jane Abreau.
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