You Remember The Weirdest Little Things

My routine begins with stripping off whatever uncomfortable, poorly-fitting clothes I was wearing to make myself presentable, and replacing them with athletic shorts and a tank top.

Then plain white socks, which I almost never wear except for this.

I reapply my deodorant.

I make sure my phone is charged and updated with the newest Citizen Radio episode.

I fill up my drawstring bag: wallet, keys, water bottle, phone.

I tie my hair back, ignoring the little curls that fight their way out anyway.

If I’m wearing makeup, I wash it off. Where I’m going, I don’t need it.

The last part: I step into my black gym shoes (I hate white gym shoes) and put on the drawstring bag.

But after that, the routine deviates. Before, I’d glide down the carpeted stairway, two flights, and out the front door, where the street is lined with trees and students carry bags of groceries. On the way there I pass small apartment buildings and large single-family houses with gardens that spill over with flowers. The sun is starting to set, but it’s still hot and muggy. The sprinklers keep the lawns happy.

I turn right and cut through campus, past the huge science building (one of the largest academic buildings on the continent, I heard my freshman year). To the north of it, they’re building a parking garage for the gym, and the dust from the construction site gets in my eyes every time.

But I finally make it to the gym, where it’s cool, where the windows overlook the beach, the grass, and the water. Even during the busiest times, I have my pick of the machines. When I’m doing upper body, I do pecs, triceps, delts, a few other things I don’t know the names of, and sometimes biceps. When I’m doing lower body, I do calves, quads, inner thighs, glutes, and hip flexors. And always, I finish it off with 30 minutes on the elliptical.

And then I’m back into the humid evening, darker now, a little cooler.

Now things are different. Even though there’s an excellent, affordable, 24-hour gym just five minutes away from me (compared to 20 minutes before), it took me a while to start going and it’s still hard to get myself to do it. I don’t want to walk down the stairs of Not My Building and up Not My Street into Not My Gym where I’d have to do Not My Routine because the machines are different and wrong and usually taken up by burly men who terrify me and honestly don’t need those machines as much as I do anyway. (Oh, what I wouldn’t give to feel like I belong in the gym as much as they do.)

But that’s what I have to make myself do if I want to keep working out in Not (Quite Yet) My City.

The hardest part is the part of the routine that has stayed the same. The smallest physical actions become laden with meanings that are impossible to negotiate and reconcile. Putting on deodorant. Putting on socks. Putting my water bottle in my bag. The same deodorant I used before, when I was there, the same socks, the same bag. Not the same water bottle, though, because I have no idea what happened to the one I had during the move.

Obviously, the solution isn’t to stop working out, because I love it and it saves me every time. After that first time I finally went to Not My Gym, my shoulder was so sore I could barely take my shirt off, and it was the best feeling. But if that’s the best feeling, the feeling I get as I put on my black shoes and realize that after this point, it’s not going to be the way I’m used to it being anymore, is the worst.

Why, of all things, has my brain picked the stupid gym thing to torture me with? I don’t know, except maybe that everything else here is just so different that there are no other triggers for that poisonous nostalgia. Nothing about my life here resembles what my life was like three weeks ago, except the parts of it that I spend on the internet. (But even then, it’s hard to forget, with the constant questions from friends about how grad school and life in Not [Quite Yet] My City are.)

Even my domestic routines are different; my bed feels completely different, I dress differently (sensible shoes, naturally), my apartment is very different (insert snark about New York apartments here, but actually, it’s a beautiful place), commuting no longer means walking 10 minutes through campus to class but walking 5 to the subway, waiting at the station, jumping on the train, taking it for 15 minutes or an hour or an hour and a half, getting off, walking somewhere else, etc.

Shopping is different, the city looks and sounds different, the grocery store chains are different, taking out the trash is different, doing the laundry is different. The food I eat is different (just as I looked forward to), the things I do for fun are different. The people I see are different and virtually nothing about them reminds me of my friends back home.

But one thing that has remained completely the same is the process of getting ready to go to the gym, and whenever I have to go through that process, I swear I’m convinced for a moment that I’m going to walk out that door and into my old routines. Where my friends are, where my real gym is, where everything is comfortable and safe.

You remember the weirdest little things. The cluttered desk where the deodorant hid, the mismatched socks pulled out of the drawer, the waning light through the window of the conditioning room, the opening lines of Citizen Radio as you start the first set.

Eventually I will be able to force myself to do this the new way enough times, and with a short enough interval in between, that the new routine will solidify in my head, and Not My Gym will become my gym, as will my building and the street and the city itself. Eventually I will stop feeling like I’m on some weird vacation/summer camp/reality TV show. I love Not (Quite Yet) My City enough to know that that will happen even when it doesn’t feel like it at all.


P.S. I chose to write about this particular aspect of moving to New York because that’s what I felt like writing about today, but the big picture is rather different. I love it here and I’m glad I moved, and so far it’s actually been even better than I imagined. But sometimes, it’s very hard.

You Remember The Weirdest Little Things

5 thoughts on “You Remember The Weirdest Little Things

  1. 1

    I’m always astonished at what differences seem to matter the most if I move or just spend a lot of time in a new place. On gyms, I had a tough time since most gyms I went to had the nice hexagonal solid metal dumbbells – the one near me now has round ones, which means if I set them down they have a tendency to roll away when I’m not paying attention, so I can totally relate to the ‘new gym’ problem.

    Glad to know you are happy you moved and enjoying it overall!

  2. 3

    Miri, I identified with this so much. It’s been almost 20 years since I moved to NYC (holy $#!+!), and I had the same triggers you describe when some experience was a little bit familiar, rather than completely unfamiliar (which I generally found exhilarating). We are all small-c conservative: none of us enjoys the anxiety provoked whenever our comforting routines change, for any reason. Those routines function to make us feel safe, and keep anxiety at bay. Take my reaction when, say, my coffee store is out of my favorite Peruvian beans. My feelings of disappointment are emotional, and wildly disproportionate to the circumstances: there are 100 other kinds of friggin’ coffee beans here. I understand perfectly well that they can recommend something similar, and I know I will survive (and perhaps even enjoy!) drinking Not My Coffee for a week. I don’t lose it in the store or anything. (And yeah, #firstworldproblems, I know.) But for a moment I sure feel…sad? Crushed? It sounds completely irrational and ridiculous, and it is. But there it is, nonetheless. Perhaps we’re evolved to find changes to our routines deeply jarring, whereas entirely new experiences do not trigger us in the same way.

    I think you are 100% right about this:

    Eventually I will be able to force myself to do this the new way enough times, and with a short enough interval in between, that the new routine will solidify in my head, and Not My Gym will become my gym, as will my building and the street and the city itself.

    In a few weeks, your new routines will become as just as comforting as the old ones ever were. (And then in a few years you’ll move to a different neighborhood, and…there will be another Not My Gym. But the streets and the city will already be yours.) It may not fully hit you until you leave town for a few days or a week, and come back. But I think—actually, I hope—that you are 100% wrong about this:

    Eventually I will stop feeling like I’m on some weird vacation/summer camp/reality TV show.

    I still feel this way, ever since I ran screaming from the Philly ‘burbs and arrived here with nothing more than a backpack and the phone number of some friends-of-friends looking for a roommate. The city has been an endless source of surprises and interesting people. It challenges and changes me, and I thrive on that. Maybe feeling this way has become part of my own routine? I don’t know. But you sure seem like you have a similar case of the New Yorker bug, and there is only one known cure: be here. : )

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