“To,” Eva began, using the Polish word for this. Pointing to my tired and Monday-ish reflection in the mirror, she continued, “This, is one thing you can control.” Eva was not taking any rubbish off me today, so without protest I mounted the treadmill.
Eva kept a watchful eye as I huffed and puffed, she wandered by periodically to check the treadmill controls, moving the “Difficulty Level” up ever so slightly.
Cursing her, and all the carbs I’d allowed myself over the weekend, I trotted to the completely non-motivational sounds of Celine Dion, who is still being played in heavy rotation during Eva’s shifts.
Towards the end of my treadmill gallop, an elderly couple came into the gym. I recognized the man immediately as he walked through the door. There is a photograph of him on the gym wall near the treadmills.
The photograph is a picture of him and his wife, at one of the gym’s wine and cheese evenings. In the picture, they are sitting close together, laughing, and beaming matching cheeky grins. The photo was taken two years ago.
Although the man appeared much the same as he did in the photograph, the woman had changed dramatically. Her bubbly image in the photo contrasted starkly with the vacant and tentative figure I saw before me.
The moment the couple crossed the threshold, Eva leapt from her seat behind the desk, and rushed round to greet them gleefully. There was something incredibly adorable about them, and I could tell Eva loved them dearly.
After my medieval torture session in the gym, I always treat myself to a swim. The Elderly Man greeted me as he stepped into the pool. “Good morning. How are you?” I said. “I’ll be better once Joanie’s in the pool,” he said, watching his wife anxiously through the glass wall that stands between the pool and the gym.
He had left Joanie in the gym briefly, to work on the rowing machine, the piece of equipment closest to the glass wall, and the pool effectively. Finding her absence unbearable, he lifted his torso out of the pool, and tapped lightly on the glass wall, “Come on, love. That’s enough. Come on in.” he said with a smile.
Joanie made her way to the pool area slowly, and sat down in one of the poolside chairs. “That’s a girl,” the man said to her softly as he got out of the pool near her. He then knelt down in front of her, and began to untie her shoes.
“The water’s lovely today,” he said looking up at her, and a slight smile crept across her face. He then helped her out of her track-suit, and moved her gingerly into the pool.
As a pseudo-serious swimmer, my worst nightmare is sharing my precious swim time in my tiny gym pool with canoodling couples (and kids on half-term break). But this couple was different, and I was happy to give them as much space as they needed in which to canoodle.
At one point the man gathered his wife in his arms and gave her a big kiss, to which she giggled and blushed. We all laughed. “Wonderful!” I exclaimed. “How long have you been married?” I asked. “Forty-six years.” The man beamed proudly. (That’s longer than I’ve been alive.) “I’d have only got 20 years for murder,” he said with a huge guffaw.
“What’s the secret?” I asked. “Simple,” he said. “Give and take. I give, she takes!” At this, we all laughed. But joking aside, there is no doubt that great love is their secret.
I left them in pool, and sat alone in the steam room. I found myself crying, moved ever so deeply by that couple, their tenderness with each other, and the realization that all my cares and obsessions about the wedding are just ridiculous.
I had another wake-up call on Sunday. One Sunday evening, the D.E.B. and I were invited over to his brother’s for dinner. The D.E.B’s brother, a.k.a. “The Guru,” is a fabulous cook, and even more fabulous host.
With my Shakespearean sensibilities, I imagine The Guru having been, in a former life, a benevolent, feudal lord of a great manor, hosting sumptuous feasts and riotous banquets with large flagons of overflowing wine, and madcap jesters and roving musicians entertaining his well-fed guests.
On this occasion, apart from eating far too much gorgeous venison, and drinking far too much red wine, I was overcome by the sense of family. Such an incredible feeling: warmth, love and welcome. A privilege and a gift. And ultimately, that is what it is all about.
At one point in the evening, The Guru said: “You’re alive, enjoy it.” How right he is.