The barbell sat on the platform: lazy, indolent, insouciant. It had always been apathetic. Maybe that’s why she had to care so much about the lift, about the action, about the movement. Because the barbell didn’t give a f**k.
The others watched, in between their own lifts. They had no idea what really went on in her mind. They assumed she was lost in technical reminders, or movement tips.
Tight mid-line. Engage your hammies. Deep breath.
Maybe a little psych-up self-talk: You can do this. The bar is light. Get this.
Sometimes, she was — but sometimes, oh sometimes, she was lost deep in her mind, plunged into her hot, messy soul, unsure of where the surface was or how exactly to get there. Sometimes, her mind wandered so far so quickly so deeply that she was fairly certain she was just this side of madness.
Oddly, that did not worry her. Going mad was always an option, like an extra item on a bizarre menu. It was a dessert, and deserved after a long meal of sanity and rib-eye and sweet, soft, butter lettuce. Besides, if she were to go mad, she would go mad alone, on her own terms, maybe even in the middle of the lift. That would be the way to do it. With the barbell in her hands, with the last clanging cry of irony, that the iron would fail to save her. The iron that she had put so much trust in, proving to be incapable after all of stemming the madness.
So, if madness happened, it happened. Not much to worry about there.
Somewhere, long ago, she had realized that going mad was not the thing to be feared. Failing to think deeply enough to even glimpse madness — that was something to lose your breath over, and choke back a muffled scream. Living a life so shallow that you never plunged under the surface of your own thoughts, never almost drowned in your own emotions, never came sputtering to the surface of your life again, spitting and choking, just happy to breathe in the fresh air and draw it deep into your lungs. That was the life that worried her most: the life of void, the life of banality, the life of choking sameness, the yawning abyss of something other nameless faceless people had designated as “normal.” That was the life that truly frightened her. She could take madness. But she was not certain she could survive being just like everyone else. Cancer would not kill her. Or heart disease, or some strange flesh-eating bacteria. It would be ennui. Her brain would be eaten away by the nothingness of life. This was her nightmare.
If she were to go mad, she would rather just go mad mad. Angry mad. Howling mad. Screaming in the moonlight. Or, grunting as she tried to stand up under a heavy clean, the barbell in her confusing hands — those soft palms with the hard calluses. But certainly there would be iron somewhere, the plates clanging, if only in her head.
The others talked of madness like it was something only found by characters in dusty novels, or by old people in homes. But she knew where madness lived, and it was far closer than anyone realized.
She tightened her laces, and approached the bar.
“Most people have (with the help of conventions) turned their solutions toward what is easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must trust in what is difficult; everything alive trusts in it, everything, in Nature grows and defends itself any way it can and is spontaneously itself, tries to be itself at all costs and against all opposition. We know little, but that we must trust in what is difficult is a certainty that will never abandon us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it.” — Rainer Maria Rilke, “Letters to a Young Poet”