I don’t believe in God but if I did, I would have proof of his or her existence in the divine intervention that brought my wife and I together. Across oceans and over the impenetrable walls that we had both erected around our hearts, some mystical enigmatic force orchestrated our meeting. At a gym of all places.
I was living in Philadelphia and nursing a broken heart from a failed relationship and a failed career. I decided that drowning my sorrows in booze and drugs was a cliche and more importantly wasn’t filling that cavernous void that sent me on a downward spiral so I decided, quite arbitrarily, to start working out at a gym. At first I would run a mile on the treadmill once a week or play some tennis. I quickly harnessed that destructive fervor which once consumed me and applied it towards healthy, wholesome living. In essence I exchanged one addiction for another.
I started taking three spin classes a week, Russian kettlebell weight training twice a week, running 5-6 miles a day and maintaining the diet of an Olympian swimmer. Tuna and rice crackers for lunch. Chicken and brown rice for dinner. Salads all the time. No drinking. I was at my peak physically and had miraculously turned my life from one end to the other. It was around this time of extreme sobriety and health that I made the fated decision to come back to Israel as a returning resident, a decision that my stoned self would have found utterly preposterous.
M. was living at her grandmother’s house in the south of Tel Aviv. She had decided to drop out of her graphic design studies and look for a job while trying to figure out what she wanted to do with her life. She had just ended a relationship and was also at a low point. It isn’t easy for women in their early thirties in this or any country with all the pressure that family exerts, especially a Moroccan family. After all, her younger sister had already married and was pregnant.
My wife hates working out. She hates fitness and had never stepped foot in a gym until that day in April when she went to interview for a front desk position at the Go Active fitness center in Tel Aviv. Within five minutes she had already made up her mind that she wouldn’t take the job. It just wasn’t her. But Hagit, the HR woman who interviewed her was relentless. She called her up the next day, and the next and finally, after long conversations and persuasions, M. decided to take the job and give it a shot.
The first thing I did when I moved back to Israel was find a gym. Even though Go Active was nowhere near where I was staying as a lone soldier in the IDF (Beit Hachayal in Yad Eliyahu) and it was probably one of the most expensive, something inside me urged me to sign up for a year’s membership. Every Saturday morning I would get to the gym twenty minutes before it opened and wait outside. I would read a book and stretch and every Saturday morning I would see M. opening up the gym. She would smile at me and I would smile back, though I never once got the impression from her that she was interested. Besides, she looked like she was in her late teens, early twenties which was way too young for me. I was looking for something serious. I was looking to settle down.
I continued to work out for months. I was serving as a film director in IDF’s educational corps and when my day was done (usually around 4pm) I would head straight to the gym for my daily three hour workout which consisted of ten kilometers on the treadmill at a running pace, thirty kilometers on the stationery bike followed by weights.
One day I was scheduled for a night shoot so I went to the gym in the morning to get my daily fix. When I was done I got suited up in my uniform and waited for the 55 bus outside of Ichilov, firmly clutching the protein smoothie. M. was standing there and she smiled at me and I smiled back. She was genuinely surprised to hear the bizarre circumstances that had led me to be a 30 year old soldier and I was equally surprised to hear the surreal turn of events that had placed her at the front desk of that gym. As Humphrey Bogart once said in Casablanca “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world she walks into mine.”
Our first date was a movie and dinner. We saw a strange and wildly unfitting Romanian movie at the old shut down cinema at the basement of Dizengoff center. It was a tiny screen and I had a hard time keeping up with the Hebrew subtitles. We also sat in the back and the AC wasn’t working so it was a rather unpleasant experience. We had a great dinner at Goocha, a seafood restaurant at the intersection of Dizengoff and Ben Gurion. She ordered the mussels and I the salmon. We shared a bottle of wine. I walked her to the bus stop and asked her to call me when she got home safely. She did.
We got married two years later. M. left her job at Go Active and never set foot in another gym. I stopped working out after I suffered an injury to my knee. I haven’t been to a gym since.
As Tu B’av (A minor Israeli holiday that is the equivalent of Valentine ’s Day) approaches (July 22) I wanted to write this piece in the praise of love. No matter how cynical or bitter you are. No matter how high and how fortified the walls you construct around your heart to protect yourself are. No matter how desperate, hopeless or heartbroken. No matter how late or how early you think it is. No matter how you see yourself or how the world sees you. No matter if you believe in love or not. No matter if you believe in God or not. No matter if you have given up hope or not. It will find you one day, wherever you are and when you least expect it. It will send you halfway across the world and into places you never thought you’d find yourself. It will. It will and it will make you the happiest person alive. Trust me.