Feeling Dense

The classes are once a week. Both of them. Hebrew. Group Personal Training. Once a week. The classes are extra. They’re worth more, so you work more. Let me explain.

Training. Learning. New movement patterns. Relearning letters. It can seem too late, a long shot so long that you might as well never take the time, but then again you have the rest of your life. That is a lot of time to get somewhere. But where? And how do you know when it’s far enough?

“That’s why you come here,” my trainer laughs. “If you didn’t come, you wouldn’t do this.”

I’m not exactly having fun, but I play along because she isn’t wrong. “Yeah. I would plan ten reps and stop at three. I would say that’s good enough.” It is harder to let someone else down, than yourself.

With Hebrew, too, and I had the barely filled workbooks and old stacks of flashcards to prove it.

“Today we are going to do density training. Five rounds. Two exercises each round.” My trainer pairs us up by how much weight we can lift.

Standing next to the gym circuit, I inhale deep, maybe for the last time for the remainder of the hour.

Station 1: I let my partner choose. Figure eights and jump rope, it’s not where I would have started. It’s the easiest. While others begin to moan one round in, I can easily say, “I’m not upset with you yet.”

That was the euphoria of asking Edna. The gold star for simply showing up. “Have you ever taught Hebrew before?” I inquired after coffee in the hallway of a mutual friend’s apartment complex.

“Yes,” she listed several academic and online experiences.

I counted myself lucky to find someone with formal knowledge and experience. In the gym, I don’t feel as grateful.

“How many times?” someone manages to clarify while we’re still at the first of five stations.

“Ten minutes.”

Between kettle bell circles between my knees and shoulders. I am careful to stop before the heavy piece of metal reaches rosh sheli. “Head”, that’s a word I know from a song for babies. It had eluded me that first class. Edna asked me to list what I knew before she turned to the kitchen to put the water to boil. Sure, I must know something. This would be fine. That’s before the torrents of notebook scratching started. Before she flipped the notebook to its back, a simple act that could have displayed familiarity instead of ignorance. What had I asked for?

Station 2: There are two sets of kettlebells to hold while performing jumping lunges. One set is 18 pounds each. One set is 26 pounds each. I’m proud, always a little too proud. I grab the heavier pair. The time starts and I count. In 45 seconds how many? Probably not 40 with weight. Maybe 30. I complete 24. While I sit on the wall completing bicep curls, I know I overshot my legs. How will I ever make five rounds? Each round I speed up the bicep curls as if that will mean I can stand up. It doesn’t. 45 counts the same even though it’s longer each time.

“I have a copy of a story. It’s cute. It’s a boy who wants to learn to read. You know your alphabet.”

“Yes,” I nod. I had practiced it. I truly had. I knew I would need it, but we defined “know” differently. The vowels. I had forgotten the vowels. And, I hadn’t learned to write.

“Dots and lines. They’re only in children’s books then they disappear.” Edna writes them quickly as if a review is all I need when I had forgotten to include them in “alphabet.”

She placed the paper in front of me to read. I couldn’t. How long does she wait? My cheeks. No, my heart burned. 45 seconds? Maybe less. I didn’t know. I couldn’t count while I was breathing through embarrassment.

Station 3: The sled. I eyed during the minute transition. I had spent stolen glances in its direction during my first two stations. Now, it’s here. The sled and chest press. My legs wear a blanket of knitted forgotten feeling over weakened ache. My mind wonders if they have any push at all. My outstretched arms press against the sled. Their painful brace is frustrating because it’s unexpected. I want to drop my palms to my side. My upper arms scream until I reach the other end of the floor, reminding me of what verb conjugations felt like.

Round one.

I tried to read the verbs in Hebrew, but Edna’s block letters weren’t enough like the machine print. If I used the Hebrew letters, would the three letter root that was supposed to be a hint, actually help?

Round two.

I used the phonetic spellings. At home, I wrote sentences to my niece about what she eats and what I make and what she likes. Ashamed, I looked back at the notes each time.

Round three.

I wrote a flashcard one per verb per conjugation. I missed each one and each word looked like the last one.

Round four.

I made two piles of cards. One was pronouns. One was the infinitive of the verb. I shuffled the cards and pulled random combinations. Imperfect. This time it’s my nails that screamed when I ripped skin. Gaps in knowledge. I want to drop the cards. I just can’t. But, I have to.

Again. Down and back.

I’m tired.

Another round. Final round.

I want to quit. I rest the weighted bar.

No. Again. I picked up the deck.

I love. Ani ojevet. You eat. Ata ojel.

It hurts.

We go. Anajnu olejim. You girls drink. Aten shotot.

Just one more pass.

Until, it’s done.

Station 4: I didn’t select the weight for my back row, but we’re matched with partners who are supposed to mirror us. This must be the weight I say. Still one round later, my grip struggles to hold the weight. I attempt to rest the bar across my knees.

“Stand up in between,” my coach instructs. That doesn’t help. It’s my partner who drops the weight, for both of us. I stare from the edge of my eye as the clock begins anew. I attempt to press and hold the 35 pound bells. I do. Once. I drop them. I can’t.

“Density training is about volume,” my coach explains.

I’m not sure why that matters. If you Google, you find a common definition of density is “the degree to which something is filled, crowded or occupied." Yes.

My brain was packed too tight. It was the back row with my forehead pinched instead of my forearms.

Edna reminded softly, “It’s for two weeks. Are you okay? I’m not sure where to start you. I’ve never had someone who knew bits and pieces before. Do you want to learn to write?”

I shook my head. “I don’t think so. I just want to speak with my niece.” I dropped weight. No writing, but I still need to read. Even decoding I only practiced now and then. Progress was slow. I looked at the clock. There was still time before bed. I read four lines. I stopped. Before I took my dog outside. I read two lines. I closed my eyes. The closer I inched towards the end, the more breaks I needed.

Station 5: Double rack squat and lunge, then triceps. Movement. Shaky, uncertain movement. The timer dings. My legs can squat and lunge the heavier weight, but my arms no longer can. And, neither one are the point. “Abs,” my trainer mouths from across the room. I know she’s talking to me. “Drop the weight to work your abs.”

Don’t sacrifice form. Work the correct muscles. The objective. Purpose. It matters in the measurement of success. Words. Phrases. Edna’s list of possessive pronouns. I dropped weight. All week, I used only one noun, mispacha, family. Mine. Yours, Ofir. Ours. Sheli. Shelach, Ofir. Shelanu. Connection, an effort and in whispers, a small decision allowed me to continue forward. That’s what mattered. I finished.

I tug my coat over a ratty sweatshirt and dip down for my hat. “You know. I met a woman who lived in Israel. I asked her to teach me Hebrew. And this,” I open my fingers and sweep my arm from left to right to signal the gym equipment covering the turf. “This is what my brain feels like.” I slip out into the cold, December night.

Under my covers before I go to bed, I push record on the Facebook video recorder. “Ofir. Ani rotza’ at osa’ matzeget odot John. Ani lilmohdet hebret. At osa matzeget be hebret. Bevekshah, Ofir. Bevekshah.” I listen. The accent is horrible. I press send. I exhale. I’m tired. But, I know I did something.

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