MAXES, MADNESS AND MASCULINE SUPPORT
One of my most exciting lifts took place during a time of severe emotional turmoil. During the Summer of 2010, my last semester as an undergraduate, I was simultaneously involved in a wonderful college weightlifting course (for that last single hour of wellness credit) and in a break-up from the girl I thought I would marry. It has been, to date, my last serious break up and was, like the relationship itself, truly bizarre.
The girl, I call her in my heart The Girl With Diamond Dust Shoes after Andy Warhol’s famous post-modernist painting, is a fun, fey, gorgeous young woman. She is also as mad as a hatter and lives her life as performance art. We loved each other as much as two people could but a moody, melancholy student of the human condition and one who is, essentially, a Ke$ha song come noisily to life are almost inevitably on a train ride to Sheol. Our relationship can be summed up by something she shouted at me during a late night debate argument, discussion, “I like to drive a fast, black car. It’s unapologetic after dark!”
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know, for that matter, what she meant. I’m still not quite sure. It seemed profound to her. It must have been. I had a fiancée that Friday night, and on Monday morning I did not. I don’t blame her; she needed something I didn’t have an, in retrospect, she wasn’t what I needed either. It was better to part ways before we burned each other in fires like those of Gehinnom, more merciful.
I stalked into the weight room with a million things on my mind. One of my training partners—we had played football against each other in high school, across the offensive and defensive line in a particularly vicious game that ended with us both bruised and bloody—said, “Damn, dog, you look rough.”
“Yeah,” I said, “yeah, I feel it.”
“You good to lift? I don’t know if I want a guy out in space spotting me…”
“I’m the only guy here strong enough to spot you,” I said.
“But I’m going to squat first.”
The squat has always been my best lift. I’m not very tall (just under six feet), don’t have long enough arms to get a good pull on the dead lift and am broad and thick enough to get a really good base. I spent quality time with iron, gravity and my two training partners that day. The weight doesn’t change; the earth’s core is always going to pull you towards it, no matter what’s going on. I worked towards a personal best, passed it, and had to think. Would I go further? My breath came in short gasps, my legs and back hurt, I felt blood pooling in a bruise across my shoulders.
“Hell with it,” I said, “I’m putting more on. I want more. Put on another pair of forty-fives.”
The coach looked over, “What’s up?”
“Nothing,” I said. “Going for a new max.”
“Christ, I get nervous every time you look at that squat rack,” he said. “Let me come over there and be your back spotter. Those other two guys can get your sides.” And so I locked into place like a NASCAR with a pit crew. It seemed to take forever. My descent into the hole could not have lasted longer than being lowered into the oceanic abyss in a diving suit and for a moment I thought I was not leaving. The edges of the world turned black. Air stormed out of me and flecks of blood dotted my upper lip.
Suddenly it was over. I lurched into the rack, slammed the weight home, and collapsed into my spotters’ arms. They lowered me gently, asked if I was okay, and at my thumbs up signal proceeded with slaps on the back and cheers. Another friend, sitting on the lat pull down machine, just quirked her lips into a wry smile. “That was a very lot of a weight,” she said, her dark eyes huge and serious, “I’m glad that you’re okay!” I couldn’t believe she didn’t realize how awesome this was. Just different ways of seeing the world, I guess. That’s all right, though. It takes all kinds and this particular person was, in so many ways, an important part of my re-learning that the human race was worth being a part of.
I slept for a week, after my exertion, and ate a herd of cattle. My central nervous system was friend crispy. It was impossible, for a couple of days, to even curl and uncurl my fingers without considerable effort. Even though I have matched the weight I used that day, now, for a double a few times and have even done singles with considerably more—although I have never reached for a true one rep max again—I have never achieved a personal best which quite felt like that. The lift I achieved on that hot, muggy June day felt like freedom, conquest and victory and it also felt like the strong arms and kind smiles of the good people around me, people I could trust. Spotters are important for your safety, and not just your physical safety; sometimes you need emotional spotters, too.