In the dressing room, she sat on the blond wood bench in front of an open locker and bent to untie the double-knots on her work shoes: chunky brown oxfords. She kept her eyes down while she pulled them off, seeing, in her peripheral vision, two women crossing the open aisle in front of her, one from the outside and one from the showers, wrapped in a towel, her hair turbaned in white terry cloth, and her feet bare. Charlie knew the kind of attention she garnered in locker rooms and public toilets; it ran the gamut from curiosity at its mildest through suspicion all the way to downright hostility.
“Charlie” wasn’t just less of a mouthful than Charlene Josephine. It suited everything about her. She’d grown up a tomboy—overalls and a whining desire for short hair—matured into a serious jock, and now, well past adolescence and knee-deep into full adulthood, she was, no mistake about it, a dyke. She was tall and just this side of flat chested. She’d won the short hair battle with her mom at an early age and had never looked back. Now she wore it buzzed short except for a blond shock at the top that she shoved over to one side or the other, depending on the day. People either thought she was in the wrong place (as if a man wouldn’t notice the distinct lack of urinals in a women’s bathroom) or was contagious or recruiting for the cause. Ridiculous, but true.
Regardless, when her head emerged from the old college T-shirt she kept in this gym bag, the towel woman was staring at her. Charlie looked away, pulled out shoes and socks, and busied herself putting them on. The whole time, she felt a heaviness to the air, as if the woman’s gaze turned the electrons between them into something weighty and slow. Since Charlie assumed the intent behind this attention was negative, she hurried to tie her shoes, shove her work clothes and bag into the locker, and close it with a spin of the combination dial. That little burst of adrenaline propelled her onto the treadmill and into a brisk jog, her long shorts swishing around her legs.
The pounding of her stride was the opposite of calming, and the sluggish thump of her heart felt as uncomfortable as trying to come up with pithy conversation over a beer at 3 Greens by work. It was too much, too hard, too aggressively alive in the here and now given her current state. It made her a little queasy, and she felt suddenly like crying. This was a terrible idea. She would come out of this funk without such violent intervention eventually, right? A few more days or weeks on the couch, and she’d be fine.
While she cataloged the horribleness of this activity, her legs started to work through the kinks of her recent lassitude. Her stride lengthened and footfalls softened. Her mind still churned at this continued slap in the face, but her breathing settled into a strong rhythm. The word “indignity” kept floating through her mind, a mantra of revolt against this movement when all she wanted to do was be still and quiet.
Just twenty minutes, she told herself. Exercise wasn’t a miracle cure for her depressive episodes, and it would only help if she did it long enough to break a sweat. Twenty minutes and she could take a long hot shower and still have time to catch a couple episodes of Law & Order. Twenty minutes and she could try again tomorrow, when maybe it wouldn’t be quite as hard.