I dug out my gym bag last night. It was just over a year ago that I hid it away, unable to bear its garish brightness mocking me from the bottom of the wardrobe. It was still full of my old life. Sweatbands, running socks, toe-cushions and headphones. I tipped them all out and replaced them with a towel and a swimming costume, and that is all.
I am handed my reinstated card and a bright welcome back smile from the girl on reception, but I feel a fraud as I walk down the corridor, like I don't belong here anymore. I don't want anyone to recognise me. I am not the person they remember.
To get to the swimming pool, I have to walk past the gym. I keep my head down so I can not see, but I can still hear the whir of the running machine.
I hate swimming. Getting cold, pulling jeans up still-wet legs. Dripping water down the back of my neck. Rushing rushing, to avoid eye contact with naked lady applying moisturiser next to me, rolls of flab rippling like waves - or the perfect peach of the bottom bending over in front of me to smooth stockings. Where are her stretch marks? Her mottled corn beef patches of skin?
No, swimming has never been appealing to me, but now swimming is all I can do. Walking out into the pool, I clutch my (daughter's Special Agent OSO) towel around me, and stare at the pool ladder in trepidation. Will I make it unaided? God I hope so. Can't bear to ask the twenty-something lifeguard who is noticing the poor fake tan I hastily slapped on last night. Probably sniggering at me with his friend.
Up and down, up and down. Breast-stroke, my breast stroke, but still no good. My joints pop and crunch as I push water through cupped hands. Along one side, the gym is exposed. Men lifting weights as big as tree trunks. The ridiculous silhouettes of people working out on Cross-Trainers.
Up and down, up and down. A lady in a floral swimming cap flops into the pool next to me. Waves fill my vision. Water fills my mouth. I stop and mop my face, look at the time. How much longer? I'm so tired.
It takes me five minutes to summon the strength to drag myself out the pool. Twice I slip and try to turn it into a stretch.
In the steam room, the thick white fog hides my tears and the slump of my shoulders. I stop for gulps of water before putting my feet into the jacuzzi. Can't let myself slide all the way in like I want to, I'll only pass out. Water jets fire prickles of pain into my heels. Around me, swimming trunks and heaving breasts bob on the bubbles. Their owners' expressionless face are slack in their rapture next to me.
I am in agony.
I don't want to be here. I want to be where the whirring is. I want to be flying.
Instead I go to the sauna, where a naked lady does hot yoga in the cramped space next to me. A downward dog in my face.
I am cold as I dress. My joints are seizing up. My fingertips are white and disobedient, refusing to do up zips and tie laces.
I'm so very tired I don't know how I'll get to the car, but I push open the heavy glass door of the gym anyway.
Noises and smells punch me in the face. The lights are bright and the music pounds. Gritted faces mutter incoherent nonsense. Sweat drips to the floor. I wonder if my own is still in this room too? Lord knows I left enough of it. A thousand worries and anxieties, a million 'am I good enough's' were sweated out of me in here.
I feel myself shrinking backwards in my remedial trainers and fleece lined clothes. I don't have a place in here any longer.
I keep the car running to defrost my white fingers before leaving the car park. Watching people come and go. Imagining them all to be perfect athletes. Hating myself.
My phone beeps. "Baby steps remember. Proud of you bride xx"
And that is when I know that I am going to come back again, and keep on coming.