True Story, Issue #12

"Spinning" by Jill Christman

True Story, Issue #12

For years, Jill Christman has been waiting for her long-lost lover to communicate with her from beyond the grave. Finally, he walks into her early-morning exercise class, setting her world awhirl.

From "Spinning" by Jill Christman

Spinning. I am spinning. Not like my six-year-old son whirling, spinning for that moment when equilibrium flies away like fluff from a dandelion and he lurches sideways, goes down grinning. Not like a field full of tripping Dead fans, flailing and twirling, open palms to the sky, ready to receive anything. Not even like my own 4 a.m. mind, turning over worries as wide-ranging as the lack of storage in the kids’ room and the essay in need of a better ending.

No. This is an exercise class where we churn the pedals as hard as we can and still go nowhere. The shining flywheels on our stationary bikes are the only things actually spinning. Also, at the YMCA in Muncie, Indiana, where I spin at 8 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, it’s officially called “Y-cycling” because that other name is registered to the folks who make a particular brand of bikes—too bad—and our bikes are Keiser, which I think about more often than I should because it’s stamped in red on the back of each black vinyl seat, so when I’m looking at someone’s Lycra-clad keister, wiggling in an exercising sort of way above the seat, pumping out “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” or taking names on the fast flats during “Friday I’m in Love,” my comrade’s fanny is actually labeled Keiser, which is the sort of thing that makes me smile at 8 a.m. when I’ve had just the one cup of coffee and I’m starting to sweat out even that.

The room where we ride could not be more ugly. It’s on the top level of the Y and has a windowless, low-hanging drop ceiling made up of particle-board panels that look as if they were pressed in the heyday of asbestos. Because the evening instructor likes to conduct her class in semi-darkness with no overhead lights, she had the ceiling painted black and the rear wall a deep-bruise purple. I’m pretty sure this is what interior decorators would recommend if you were going for a kind of apocalyptic ambiance—foreshortened sky, the world pressing down on you—but I’ve heard the evening instructor say she just doesn’t like to ride with the lights on. She doesn’t like the way her skin looks, sweating, under the fluorescents. The remaining three walls are a dull nicotine yellow. Thirty bikes all face the small platform with the instructor’s bike, and the red kick bag that serves as a side table for her iPod. At 8 a.m., we ride under the humming ultraviolet rectangles cut into the low ceiling—our false sun. Two giant mirrors at the front of the room create the illusion that we are riding toward ourselves.

What if we could do that? I wonder some mornings. Pedal hard and arrive at ourselves? What would we do? What would we say?

I can imagine prettier places to ride, but I cannot imagine a nicer group of people. I’d say we’re an even mix of retired folks, stay-at-home moms, and professionals with weird schedules (professors, like me, and a few doctors and nurses); the morning class doesn’t attract college students. It’s too early, for one thing. We exchange pleasantries about the early hour and the weather as we prepare ourselves and our bikes for the ride. Cold enough for you this morning? Get the kids to school on time? Hey, are those new glasses, Jill?

Sometimes, when the friendly greetings kick in, I hear the Cheers song jingling in my head as I drape my rough Y-issued towel over the smooth black handles of the bike, twist the thick knobs and adjust the seat bar, trade out clogs for Velcroed cycling shoes, swing my leg over—always from the left, as if I’m still back in the West, mounting a horse—and clip into the pedals.

This is nice, I always think. I am grateful for this ugly room and its beautiful people. And if it weren’t for what happens when human beings strip off their outer layers, raise their butts in the air, and ride hard until their thighs burn and their brains warm and open to a place where the right song has the power to open a portal to another time, this might just be a sweet story about unexpected community in a small Midwestern city.

BONUS! Listen to Jill Christman's "Spinning" Spotify playlist while you read! Or, browse our other True Story playlists.