By Josué Alfonso
Joseph had stopped working out.
He didn’t exactly remember when or where or how. He didn’t remember either the last time he had gone to the gym.
For many years he had achieved the discipline of exercising regularly and consistently. Each week, he accommodated his busy schedule as a real estate agent, so that he could go to the gym at least five times a week. On the times he couldn’t do it—like when he traveled or had unusual schedules—he would find a way to go running, or go hiking, or at least work out at home with one of the Nintendo Wii exercise games he had purchased for himself and for his children.
Friends and relatives, acquaintances —all—looked up to him, (for this and many other reasons) for he was truly an exemplar of success. He had an established and growing business selling houses and real estate in San Diego, California. He had graduated with top honors from San Diego State University, getting then a Master’s Degree in Business Administration, before passing his real estate license exam without much of an effort. He had a beautiful wife, who was also smart. She was dedicated fully to the upbringing of their two children, Paola and Junior. He always took care of his Parents until they passed away; and after that, he looked out for his two brothers and sister, who were younger than him. He had everything going for him.
But somehow, he had stopped working out.
“When was the last time I went to the gym?”, he would tell himself many times.
“Why can’t I remember?” He could clearly picture himself at the gym. He had gone so many times throughout the years, that he knew the gym itself like ‘the palm of his hand,’ the entrance, the locker room, the machines and their purpose and location; he knew the schedules of group classes, the names of the workers, the trainers, the managers that had come and gone. But he had stopped…
He was driving to work, thinking about this, and wondering how it had happened. His clothes had slowly begun to fit tighter and tighter until he was forced to move to bigger clothes sizes in both pants and shirts. He even had to 'upgrade' the size of his underwear; something that upset him very much. From wearing sexy bikini briefs, he had started wearing boxer shorts.
His children, now teenagers, used to play with him at home with the 'Just Dance' game on the Nintendo Wii when it had come out a few years back. They would literally spend hours dancing, laughing, and yes, working out but having lots of fun together. He used to search with Paola, his oldest, over the internet, looking for any news of the next available version of the game. As soon as they had word of the next version, he would order it in advance, so that they could be playing it the very day it came out. But now, he too couldn’t remember the last time he had played with them, much less what version of the game they had played that last time.
“Was it ‘Just Dance 4’ or ‘Just Dance 2014?’”
He couldn’t remember.
Sometimes when he got home early, or on Saturday mornings, the children would be playing and dancing with the Wii. But he didn’t even bother to ask them anymore about the version of the game they were playing, nor would they ask him to join them. It had been a long time since he had danced with them in front of the television. At first, they pleaded with him to play with them as before, but he just wouldn’t do it anymore. It got to the point where his wife, Kathleen, had to intervene to get them to stop asking him, mentioning something about him being tired from work, or having to get up early the next day for an important meeting. But he knew that wasn’t it: he just didn’t care anymore.
Before, even if he had gone to the gym in the morning, he would also do sets of well executed, all the way to the floor pushups at the office. He would close the door, and calmly do 35 pushups. He would then open the door of his office, and continue working; he would place a call, review a file, or check his schedule, to then do another 35 pushups; and so on, throughout the rest of the day. For a time, he could even do one handed pushups; only 5 or 6 at the most, true, but they were one handed pushups nevertheless. He used to recall the comedian, Billy Crystal, who had done one handed pushups at an Oscars ceremony many years back. Ever since then, he had told himself that he would one day also do one handed pushups; and he had accomplished it. But now, he was afraid of even trying.
He hadn’t gained a lot of weight, yet. Yeah, he was two or maybe three sizes bigger than in his best days when he was working out, but for a man his age (he had just turned 44), he was ‘OK’. But, as he was driving to work and thinking about all this, what bothered him most was not the weight he had gained, or that he no longer wore bikini briefs and instead wore boxer shorts; or that he no longer spends time dancing with his children; what upset him the most was that he didn’t know why he had stopped working out. He had everything most men could ever hope for: a great job, a hot looking wife, a house with a pool, a sports car for himself, a SUV for his wife, even his Daughter Paola had a car; he had a dog and a cat, lots of friends, the respect of his peers, the love of his brothers and sister. Sure, he wasn’t perfect, but for the most part, he got along with most people and he was loved and respected.
But, he had stopped working out. Why?
After arriving at the office, one of his newer business partners (Larry) told him he wanted to talk with him. Thinking Larry wanted to discuss some of the deals that they were working on, he told him to come into his office. To his surprise, he told Joseph that he wanted to start going to the gym, and that he wanted to see if he would go with him. There was a brand new gym not more than a mile from the office, and he thought it would be great to have a partner to go to the gym and work out with. Too, he had heard from others in the office that Joseph used to go to the gym and exercise all the time.
Joseph looked at Larry, and with a deep sigh and a shallow grin told him that he would love to go, but that it wasn’t possible. Without looking him in the eye, he turned his chair to face his office window, seeing an old woman who happened to be walking in the sidewalk by the office building, and noticing her gait, he told Larry that he just had too much work.
“You know how good business has been this last couple of months,” he continued, looking at the way the old lady struggled to walk, using a wooden cane, “and after how the economy went sour for a while there, I don’t want to miss this opportunity to make up for lost ground. It would be nice to work out with you, but not now”, he added.
“Sorry, Larry. I just don’t have time.”
“C’mon, Joe! Don’t exaggerate!”, protested Larry. “We can always go during our lunch hour. We go, work out for 40 minutes, take a quick shower, and be back in time for our one o’clock appointments; just like that: piece of cake.”
“No,” responded Joseph sharply, after looking at Larry’s pleading face with a sense of despair. “Why don’t you ask some of the other people in the office? You guys can get together a team so that you always have someone to go to the gym with.”
Larry looked at him, and realizing Joseph was getting unnerved about his proposal, apologized for bothering him.
“Sorry,” said Larry, looking at his senior partner with puzzlement. “I really thought you would like the idea. Don’t mean to bother you. Everybody said you used to be the guru of health and fitness; that you knew all the in-and-outs of working out and nutrition. I thought I could learn from you.”
Larry seemed distracted and distant.
“But, if you change your mind, you are always welcomed to work out. I will talk to some of the others to see if they want to join me. I’ll let you know. I want to start this Monday.”
“Yeah…it’ll be good for you”, said Joseph, but not looking at him, already having returned to his desk and work. “Please close the door after you leave.”
After Larry left the office, Joseph stood up, and looked out the window. The old lady was no longer in sight. Cars were driving back and forth. It was still early in the morning, not more than nine thirty. He searched the sidewalk and the street outside, and wondered where the old lady had gone. Turning around, he glanced at the walls of his office: his university diplomas, his real estate license, the many awards he had received throughout the years for his work, framed photos of himself with famous people, politicians, celebrities and his Family, framed newspaper articles about him, about his business and his volunteer work in the community, and his desk, full of work.
“Why did I stop going to the gym?”
© Josué Alfonso