The ABCs of My YMCA

Maybe not all the letters, but more than the mere four the Village People cover. Here's an homage to some people and moments of a building that's about to go away.

A is for a happenstance, a coincidence, a collision of stars. 
"I want to join the Y!" I told my husband eight years ago.

"Why?" he asked.

"I don't know, but I do."

B is for Bob.
Bob has been lending me books for years now. He knows what I like and which BBC series will hook me. Here is what I know about Bob:

1. His name is Bob.

Bob Doe lets me keep his stuff for weeks, months, doesn't worry. When I wrote a book, Bob was one of only a handful of people I lent it to, and certainly the only person whom I wouldn't actually be able to track down. I didn't see him for a long spell after that, and when I did, he was smiling. He had since bought six books and given them out to friends. This made me feel good, because here's the other thing I know about Bob:

2. He has good taste.

B is for all the other Bobs, too. 
If I want to say hello to a male member of the Y and don't remember his name, I call him "Bob." The success rate of this strategy is remarkably high.

B is for the boxing class I taught for a couple of years. 
Notably the one wherein a man stood in the hallway throwing up, and a woman tapped me on the shoulder and said, "This is Zumba, right?"

C is for the client who, when I introduced an exercise as "weird but effective," said, "I feel the same way about you."

G is for the giant hairy guy who waded through a weight room full of people and asked me for a spot.
He sat down with two 100lb dumbbells. "Just push on my elbows if I need help."

I is for the 82-year-old Italian man who said, when I asked how an exercise felt, "Like a sexy blonde is squeezing my back."

J is for Judy.
Judy has Alzheimer's disease. Judy told me this on the day she was diagnosed, back when she still knew where she was and didn't need anyone to walk her to class. Because that's what people did, of their own accord: they would come find her. They would take her to the room. They would make sure she found her ride home. Judy had been a singer. Last week, there were flowers on the front desk counter and a card from Judy's children thanking us for caring for their mother.

L is for the Locker Room Ladies. 
The Locker Room Ladies counseled me, when I turned 40, to accept the changes in my body. The Locker Room Ladies stopped me after my son was in the hospital to ask how he was; they had been praying. The Locker Room Ladies, always in various stages of undress, leave nothing undone.

M is for a man I met once.
Enforcing the rules, I asked him how old his boy was. I hadn't yet learned not to preface this question with the actual guidelines--his kid needed to be 15 for the weight room--and without blinking he said, "15." His wife came around later, and somehow it came up that the boy was just shy of his 13th birthday. The man and I looked at each other. I didn't give him up; his shame was hurting him. He was in the building a couple of hours when he approached me with a pained look.

"I am so, so sorry I lied to you," he said, his shoulders folded forward.
"I forgive you," I said.
We looked at each other. The weight had been lifted.

M is for Mary. 
After a career as a nurse, Mary hid in her house for years, struggling with depression and morbid obesity. She ordered her days according to television programs. When her doctor suggested she begin exercising, she drove to the Y, sat in the parking lot, and drove back home. Another day she parked, got out of the car, and used her cane to get to the bench just outside the front door. She caught her breath and went back home.

Then came the day she made it through the front doors. And the day when she marked 100 pounds lost. Since then, there are still days when it's difficult for her to stay motivated enough to show up. But when she comes back, the Locker Room Ladies ask where she's been, offer a recipe, drive her home. She helps out with kiddie swim lessons. She tells her story to help generate money for the Y's scholarship fund. Mary is a joy and she gives back way more than she received.

M is for Mr. Body, Mind and Soul. 
He wants to hire me as a trainer, he said, to take care of his body, mind and soul. This is his bench press, squat, and vertical jump, and here is his past three years' worth of body fat percentages. He's not ready for me right now, but he wanted to tell me, so I could prepare. He smiles knowingly now when I walk by. So do I.

R is for Robert. 
You already know Robert. Everybody does. Thank you, Robert, for playing pastor, teacher, coach, friend, and confidante. Thank you for talking to the younger guys who need a little encouragement. Thank you for a smile we can count on.

W is for the Word of the Day. 
I'm asked for one on my shift by a certain journalist type, and now, when I read, I hang on to the interesting ones for him.

W is for the woman I talk to twice a week. 
I don't know her name, and it's too late to ask. But we're beyond names, I think, and that's a profound thing.

Z is for a zigzagged path through an old building which will soon be no more. 
The Southeast YMCA spelled home for so many of us, a tight-knit community sweating alongside each other in a small, decaying facility. I found myself there.

Z marks the end. But this place, for me, was just the beginning.


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