Last week I went to a group exercise class at a Pilates gym, using up one of the four class passes I’d purchased a while back when I realized that this particular chichi suburban-lady workout place costs basically the same on a drop in basis as the other chichi workout place I already decided is worth the money (Barre3), which is to say it’s expensive but not prohibitively so if you don’t actually go all that often. (Admittedly not really a winning strategy in terms of fitness benefit.)

I always figured Pilates when done on the machines rather than a mat class was astronomical in cost and it probably is if you’re one on one with the instructor but this gym has a number of reformers lined up for group sessions. In normal times you could probably get, what, 20+ people in there together at a time maybe? Currently there is enforced spacing which limits the class size, another blow against this poor business which literally launched weeks before the original pandemic shutdown.

This was my second class and I had pretty much no idea what I was doing. If you aren’t familiar with the Pilates reformer it sort of looks like a medieval torture device of some kind; it’s a big wooden platform that moves back and forth on springs with a bunch of doohickeys extending from it, plus an array of associated baffling equipment (springboard wall, TRX straps, Bosu balls, etc) in each station. Once you learn how to lay down on the board and make it move by pushing your feet against a platform that part is at least fairly intuitive, but the rest — for me, anyway — definitely requires someone with more knowledge to tell me what to do.

Lucky for me this was an intro class, specifically designed to keep boneheads like myself from folding themselves in half on the machine and slowly asphyxiating to death. However, the instructor was in the very back of the room, and like the rest of us, she was masked.

“Lkljdldfjdghvmfdfgfgsh,” she said. “Mskdjdslfj. Fsdjakip. Lmmllm.”

I was flat on my back, my vision somewhat obscured by my own mask, straining my eyeballs trying to see what the people around me were doing. The handful of other women in the room were all tentatively sliding up and down on the platforms, no one in sync.

“Mdfjshfkdjshssdffn,” the instructor said. “Wwmnddmn! Klknf.”

The last thing she said seemed to have some sort of emphasis but I had no idea if she was telling us to perform some sort of different move or if she was warning us that the building was on fire.

“Kdfmdnfmn!” she said, insistently. “Pmmlfffff.”

This ridiculous situation stretched on for several minutes as I tried everything short of telepathy to try and figure out what she was saying, while shooting panicked glances around the room.

Finally, I sat up and summoned my courage. “Um, I can’t hear a single thing you’re saying,” I said, loudly. My mask had a muffling effect but as you’ve surely learned after actual months of being masked the way to combat this is to, you know, raise your voice.

“Wsdjkshad?” she responded. “Psshdjh?”

I looked around, wide-eyed. “Is it just me?” I asked the room at large. (At this point, I wondered if maybe I was having a stroke.)

“NO,” said every other class-goer.

“HJhkjdfhdfm,” the instructor said, in the exact same inaudible tone of voice from the back of the room where she had not moved one inch.

“I still can’t hear,” the woman next to me told me.

“I’m sorry, I STILL CAN’T HEAR YOU,” I blared.

“Qioudsnfsssssss,” the instructor replied.

“I have no idea what she is saying,” the woman across the aisle hissed to me.

So I finally just got up and … left. I left! I went out to the lobby where I put on my shoes while apologizing profusely to the receptionist that I was so sorry to disrupt the class but I just couldn’t hear a damn thing and I couldn’t really wing it so again I am sorry but farewell.

Then I got in my car and drove home, feeling like I’d just taken part in some sort of weird social experiment, an Emperor’s New Clothes kind of situation. We’ve secretly replaced this instructor with a series of unintelligible consonant-centric speech sounds, let’s see if anyone notices!

I also felt more than a little bit like an asshole. A Karen. I had not demanded to see a manager but it definitely seemed like a dick move to just bail. It felt like a FLOUNCE, although my departure was truly more of an embarrassed scuttle than a grand exit.

I had pretty much decided never to return to this gym because that’s the kind of conflict resolution I greatly prefer (the kind where you avoid it altogether) and while I considered emailing the owner with an explanation I wimped out, figuring that any reassurance I’d had in the moment that the experience was not existing solely in my own brain had a damn good chance of being falsified by my unreliable ability to read the room and that the other students were probably still talking about that crazy class when a lady just UP and LEFT, probably to rush to her next appointment which involved screeching at a hapless barista that she asked for a SKINNY DECAF EXTRA HOT WITH THREE PUMPS OF SUGAR FREE PUMPKIN goddammit.

However! Lo and behold, the next day I had a long message from a very apologetic owner. She apologized for, her words, the “debacle” with the instructor, who she said was no longer instructing. She comped my account, she said she was sorry I’d wasted my time, and she hoped I would give them another shot.

Now, I want to be incredibly clear here: I did not in ANY way intend for this instructor to lose her gig. Hell, I didn’t even want to complain, because even though it felt like a nutty situation which could be easily been resolved by speaking up it’s not like I was trying to listen to instructions for delivering CPR or something. It was, you know, a Pilates class. Not a huge deal.

Except I probably really wouldn’t have come back, and now I definitely will. I’ve met the owner and I am pulling for her, she invested in what is surely a high-end franchise at the worst possible time, and I truly do enjoy the workout (for a variety of reasons including the low-impact nature but also for the novelty of the machine).

I’m sure it is a real challenge for fitness instructors who are dealing with mask requirements, not to mention physical distancing. Then again, if you can’t adjust to at least be heard, there’s not much of a point in even trying to teach.

Anyway, I have yet to experience enough Pilates where I can vouch for its ability to transform a cookie-bingeing Netlix addict into a willowy piece of human Silly Putty but I CAN tell you that sometimes it’s okay to trust your instincts and bail, because life is too damn short for going along with shit that just flat-out makes no sense.

I had a nasty bike crash a while back, which was sadly not due to some sort of badass Nitro Circus maneuver but the result of clumsily swerving to avoid a small child and promptly colliding with a whole lot of cement. Multiple places on my body took a beating but most of the impact was directly on my right shin, and if you’re wondering whether I reacted to the multiple horrified witnesses by allowing anyone to see if I was truly okay or if I instantly rode off in a wobbly trail of blood and humiliation while shouting through actual tears that “I’M FINE HA HA HA OH NO MY LEG ALWAYS LOOKS LIKE THAT,” well, I like that you gave me enough credit to even consider the first option.

After about a week of side-eying the giant lump that rose so majestically from my shin I thought about hanging some Tibetan prayer flags on it, I reluctantly dragged myself to urgent care for an x-ray, which was of course one of those self-fulfilling medical prophecies. Yea, though it may appeareth to be broken, choosing to get it checked shall instantly prove your complaint to be both baseless and frankly kind of whiny. Forsooth.

The lump was determined to be a hematoma, which is 1) one of those words that is just somehow gross without even trying (MOIST HEMATOMA PANTY), and 2) a huge relief to hear, as I definitely did not want to find out I had fractured something, yet somehow embarrassing? I mean no one laughed at me or gave me a Bad Luck Brian t-shirt that said “CAME IN FOR X-RAY, ONLY HAD BRUISE,” but still.

Eventually the hema-bleargh retreated but not before ever-so-slowly draining down into my foot, which briefly freaked me out one day when I managed to forget altogether that the injury had ever occurred while staring at my Wall-E cankle and frantically googling whether swelling appendages were a side effect of my typical diet which centers around large handfuls of cheddar/caramel popcorn eaten at 10 PM or maybe an advanced stage of cancer. Bitch, you’re definitely dying, said the Internet, and I was like I FUCKING KNEW IT.

Now, if this were a modern blog I would have a great inspiring wrap-up along with a perfectly-staged photo with lots of white space and a mystifying amount of highlighter applied to the tip of my nose plus a brand mention, but this is old school shit so we’re just gonna hit publish.