As the weeks went by my crush on the tall guy only got worse. I have mentioned that when I actually like someone I lose all of my social skills. I stutter, can’t think of anything to say, blush, and my hands get all clammy. As a result, I usually avoid the objects of my affection that make me feel so awkward. It’s an excellent way to attract a mate. Not speaking or making eye contact with a person you feel something for really shows them that you’re interested.
After doing the look down and walk fast through the lobby routine for a few weeks Laverne and Shirley asked me if I wanted to start taking a TRX class with them. “We’ve got our cardio down pat from taking your class Steph but now it’s time to get buff. Let’s take it this Thursday.” I agreed and looked up who was teaching that day. Oh God. I started blushing right then.
Tall guy was the instructor on Thursdays.
To be honest, that first class was not so bad. I managed not to say anything ridiculous and kept my awkwardness to a minimum . The three of us began taking his class every week after that. One night Joni and Cheryl couldn’t make it so I was the only person there. I told him if he needed to get out of here early to go ahead and enjoy his night, there was no need to stay. He said nonsense, he planned on staying to work out anyway did I want to join him?
As we started warming up he asked me questions about myself, where I was from, what did I do outside of SBR, where did I go to school, etc. As we began our first set I knew we were coming up on the inevitable question, “So do you do tri’s? What brought you to work at SBR?” I told him my rehearsed answer that I was looking to get back in shape after taking some time off and make a little extra money. He of course continued this choreographed dance with “why did you have to take time off?” and I was just about to answer with my generic, “Oh I got kind of sick earlier this year and had to have surgery” but for some odd reason something in my brain tripped the flood gates and I began pouring my entire story out into that room. My mind was screaming at my body to be quiet, this is way too much information for someone you hardly know but I couldn’t stop. Up until now I had been more open about sharing my story but not with almost complete strangers. This guy was going to think I was nuts.
And I didn’t just tell him about my surgeries I told him about almost losing my job, dealing with insurance companies and claim bills, how hard it had been on my family, how I had found out who my real friends were, and how much it hurt to find out who wasn’t. I was like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” Where he is talking 90 miles a minute telling Santa he wants an “ official-Red-Rider-Carbine-Action-Two-Hundred-Shot-Range-Model-Air-Rifle!” and then abruptly stops and smiles expectantly up at the man in the red coat. When I finally shut up I looked up at him expecting him to excuse himself saying he needed to use the restroom and instead to run out the front door of SBR never to return.
But he didn’t run.
He looked over at me with a strange look on his face and told me that he understood how I felt. He knew what it was like to sit in the hospital or in doctor’s offices for hours on end and to wake up every morning uncertain of whether it would be a good day or a bad day. He told me that his Dad had Hydrocephalus and had survived more surgeries than he could count. He knew what it was like to deal with Doctors’ egos and that not all of them know what’s best. He had listened to his mother on the phone fighting with insurance companies regarding claims and coverage and he’d seen and lived the stressful toll that a chronic health condition can have on a family.
Most importantly, he knew what it was like to live a normal life and wake up one morning and have it taken from you. To realize that you can never get it back. That sometimes life isn’t fair.
He knew what it was like to hurt.
When I told him about my surgeries and the nights spent in the hospital he nodded in understanding and told me he knew what it was like to sit at someone’s bedside in one of those ugly hospital Barca loungers and try to sleep while you knew the person next to you was struggling and in pain. To be angry at yourself because you can’t make it better. I knew what it was like to be in that bed knowing the person sitting next to me was exhausted from worry and the feeling of helplessness. To be angry at myself because I couldn’t make it better.
We were two sides of the same coin.
As he bravely shared his story with me I no longer felt awkward or afraid. Instead I began to feel a profound connection with this person. We had both been through things in our life that made us a little worse for wear. But we had chosen to try and make the best of it. When it comes to life’s challenges Sean and I speak the same language. There’s no point in feeling sorry for ourselves. We roll with the punches, laugh when we can, cry when we must, and decide to be happy in spite of the things we must endure.
I left the gym that evening feeling elated. Did that conversation just happen or did I dream it? Was that tall guy real or just a figment? Like “listeners,” real people do not exist in great numbers among us. Up until that night I had met very few. Being sick had shown me that many people can look like they are real on the surface but when they are tested life can prove that they’re not.
That they were just pretending.
When I returned home that evening I pulled a book off my bookshelf. When it comes to life’s lessons I have found that consulting the wisdom of ancient texts can provide excellent guidance and knowledge. As I got it down I blew the dust from this revered manuscript and carefully folded back the pages. As I read the passage that I was looking for and thought about our conversation I smiled…
“”What is real?’ asked the [Velveteen] Rabbit one day, ‘Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?’
‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbitt.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘but when you are real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once’ said the Skin Horse, ‘You become [real]. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints a very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are real you can never be ugly, except to people who do not understand.’
I had recognized it from the moment we began talking that night that both of us were people who could “understand” but in the next few months Sean would prove to me in every possible way that he was not someone who pretended to be something that he was not.
He was indeed, real
Book Citation: The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, copyright 2009, page 1 paragraph 3