Hurts So Good

I’m pedaling this bike and going nowhere. It’s my second spinning class ever, three weeks after the first. It only took me three weeks to forget how much I hated it the first time, how hard my legs had to work, how out of breath I got. Dreaded spinning. It’s relentless, it hurts and I keep checking the YMCA’s wall clock that must be broken! Why does it not move and release me from this torture? Then the teacher announces we’re on the last song.

Oh. It went so fast.

I don’t know this song, but it’s long and the chorus repeats until I can sing along, take my mind off the spinning. “It’s a golden life,” the teacher calls out along with the singer. “It’s a golden life,” we pump along with the song. We stand up on the cycles, climbing the last hill. Up and up and up.

If it’s the last song, I can make it. I concentrate on the beat. I close my eyes and try to get lost in my mind. I think of the spot I found on the back of my leg yesterday. The one dermatologist who said she could see me today, whose office I’ll be racing to as soon as this class is over. It’s probably nothing, I tell myself. But there’s always someone else’s tragic story that goes through my mind at a time like this, and as much as I delude myself into thinking I’m special and destined to live a thousand years, I know there’s no reason I can’t get bad news someday, be someone else’s sad reminder of the temporary nature of our bliss.

“It’s a golden life,” we climb the hill, thighs aching. “Come on! Come on!” the spinning teacher urges us to keep going. I’m reminded of my friend Tita’s wisdom about pain learned while training for a marathon: what a blessing to be alive and strong, able-bodied enough to choose this kind of pain. There are much worse pains, not chosen.

I pedal faster. “It’s a golden life,” I huff along. And isn’t it? This music, the sunlight coming through the windows, my children’s school across the street. I pedal with an outsider’s awareness that this could be my last blissfully ignorant moment. I know that people no less deserving, no less loved, no less relied upon by their children than me, have had days like this. Days spent in ignorance of their fate, running through their errands or chores or work or morning workout. Then the moment comes. A lump is found. A spot is noticed. And that moment becomes the defining line of Before and After.

I take the deepest breaths I can manage, send the precious oxygen to the cells that need it, keep going, keep fighting. I close my eyes, pedal, listen to the music, breathe, breathe. I have stopped watching the clock. Only when I know class is almost over—time is short—do I find the wisdom to enjoy the ride, no matter how much it hurts. Isn’t that always so.

It’s 10:15. I sit in the doctor’s waiting room, writing these thoughts down in my black and white composition book, my security blanket, my field guide to humankind. The inner door opens. The nurse pops out, “Laura? Come on in. Right through that door,” she points. It’s my turn. In the treatment room, she asks some questions. Does it itch or burn? No. And it appeared yesterday? I just noticed it yesterday. (I don’t say that I noticed it because I was checking out my butt after Boot Camp class.) She leaves and I wait. I look out the windows facing the Pacific Ocean. Lovely faces on cardboard signs posted around the room tell me why they chose Botox or Juvederm. “For a smooth natural look that lasts, Ask me today about wrinkle correction.” Maybe another time.

The doctor enters and I explain why I’m here. She looks at my spot. She looks up at me. My whole body listens. She tells me what it’s called. And then she says, “And it’s no big deal.” She gives me a cream to put on it and sends me on my way. So there’s still time left, it seems. It’s a golden life. I drive home in a half-daze, going under the speed limit, taking yellow lights as a sign to slow down, not speed up. I wonder how long I’ll be able to make this feeling of immediacy and urgency last, this gratefulness of being here and healthy. In the absence of drama and crisis, it’s easy to be nonchalant.

It’s a month later now. I’ve wasted days. I’ve celebrated others. I’ve played pickle and hugged my children. I’ve fretted over unimportant things. I’ve stopped myself and remembered to appreciate a moment: The beauty of the clear autumn sky, the joy of skating on a melting ice rink surrounded by glorious painted flowers, a near-miss with a speeding tiny 4-year-old, sunshine bouncing off white, chance meetings with friends and former poets, the near-seizing of my hamstring when I almost-but-not-quite crash. The gratefulness for the pain, for being able to feel it, to be here—strong and alive, going around and around with my family, gliding to pop music, enjoying the ride and trying not to worry if I’ll fall.


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