A man interrogated me at the gym: I was wearing headphones, but that didn't slow him down

Tracey Folly

*this is a work of nonfiction based on actual events that I experienced personally

It certainly didn't stop him.

On my last trip to the gym, I downloaded the latest episode of my favorite podcast, laced up my running shoes, and headed to my favorite workout spot. After using the weight and cable machines while listening to My Favorite Murder to my heart’s content, I decided to round out my workout by pedaling on one of the gym’s plentiful stationary bikes.

Still wearing my headphones and my resting serious face, I settled onto one of the bikes and commenced pedaling.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man wearing torn blue jeans and a Cosby sweater approaching. He said something I couldn’t hear over my podcast.

I pulled out one earbud and looked at him. “Sorry?”

“Is this yours?” he asked, gesturing at a pile of clothes on the floor about fifty feet from where I was pedaling.

I shook my head and popped the earbud back in my ear. “No,” I said. “Not mine.”

“Are they coming back?” he asked.

“What?” I took out the earbud again. “No. I don’t know. I don’t know who that stuff belongs to. I don’t know if they’re coming back.” I replaced my earbud and looked straight ahead.

He sat down on the stationary bike immediately to my left and resumed his interrogation.

“Do you cook?” he asked.

“No,” I said, shaking my head. This time I didn’t bother to remove my earbud.

“How can you eat if you don’t cook?” he asked.

“You can pay people to cook for you. It’s not a problem.”

“Are you married?” he asked.

“No,” I replied. Giving up on being able to enjoy either my workout or my podcast, I took out both earbuds and slipped them into the pocket of my sweatshirt.

“Are you getting married?” he asked.

“No,” I replied. “Why would I be getting married?”

“Why aren’t you getting married?” he asked.

“I’ve been married,” I replied. “It wasn’t that great.”

“Listen,” he said. He was pedaling so slowly that the computer screen of his stationary bike didn’t even acknowledge that he was working out. “BEGIN PEDALING TO START” was lit up on the screen in glowing green letters. “Marriage is like a rose. You have to get through the thorns to get to the flower.”

“Okay, I’ll try to remember that,” I replied.

“I’m divorced,” he said. “My wife left me for another man.” He made the sign of the cross and then kissed the fingertips of his right hand. “Does your ex-husband want to get back together with you?”

“I hope not,” I said. “ That would be awkward. He’s dead.”

“He’s dead?” he echoed.

“Yeah.” I looked longingly at my displaced earbud and my iPhone, which contained the podcast I needed to get me through the rest of my workout. My neck was beginning to cramp from keeping my head turned sharply to the side to face my interrogator.

“Do you see your parents often?” he asked.

“Well, I live with them,” I replied. “So, yeah. I see them like every minute of every day.”

“Are your parents still alive?” he asked.

“Yes, they’re alive,” I replied, “which is a good thing since I live with them.”

“They died?” He sounded alarmed. “So you’re all alone.”

“Not ‘died,’” I clarified. “I said, ‘They’re alive. Alive.’”

“Oh.” He sounded disappointed. “They’re alive. How long have you lived with your boyfriend?”

“I don’t live with my boyfriend. I live with my parents,” I replied.

“Oh,” he said. “You live with your parents. Can you come back here tomorrow at this time? I have something I want to show you.”

“I don’t know about that,” I replied. “I think I’m switching gyms.”

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Ordained Minister, Universal Life Church

Massachusetts State

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