The Tunnel

You spend a lot of time in the tunnel.

It’s the space you go to in the workout, when pain is that big black blanket trying to suffocate you. You go into the tunnel and stay there. It’s quiet — you can’t hear the voices or the music. The only thing loud is your breathing … and your pain. Your pain is not a quiet guest. It yells. And screams. It’s almost as loud as that stupid voice inside your head that keeps saying “You can’t do this. Stop. Quit. NOW.”

But you learned to ignore that weakling in your head long ago. Way back, in grammar school, playing basketball, you learned to stuff the pain way down and keep going. Racing down the court on the fast break, ball barely staying in front of you, legs barely staying under you, chest heaving with so little air, 9 players racing behind you. 5 trying desperately to catch you and steal the ball before you hit the lay-up at the end of the court. You weren’t fast then, nor were you big. In fact, the only thing you had going for you back then is the same thing you have going for you now — you’re ornery and you don’t fucking give up. You don’t ever give up. If aggression and stubbornness earned medals, your chest would be full of brightly colored ribbons.

But now, there are no other players; it’s just you and the pull-up bar and your breath this morning. And the workout isn’t over. The others are done. You can tell that. There’s no more bouncing of the bumpers. They seem to be around you, but you’re really not sure. You can’t hear most of them. You’re in the tunnel.

3 more pull-ups to go. 3 more dips. Don’t think about the hang power cleans. Just get this shit done.

Quit. You suck. Why aren’t you done yet? Your stupid head again. Shut the fuck up.

Hands on the bar. One. Two. You drop off.

One voice breaks through. “C’mon. I got you. Get on the bar.” Ironically, it’s a soft voice, from the biggest, baddest, baldest guy in class. You hear him. And somehow, that’s all you need.

You finish the pull-ups, and the dips. You nail the hang power cleans. “Time!” 

It’s over. With air, comes the walk out of the tunnel. You rejoin the rest of the class — grown adults who seem to function so much better in the real world than you do. You wonder if they go down the tunnel too …


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