Borrowed I Hate This Peloton That I Love, or I Love This Peloton That I Hate
Everything I do is done behind a desk. And now, now? Now I can even use this Peloton. I don’t even need to run in the rain.
This story, like most stories nowadays, starts with a tragedy. For once, it isn’t mine.
A friend has a crisis; the same friend has two pristine, white Persian cats like clouds with four legs. One is dopey and friendly, the other standoffish and cunning, both squish-faced and perfect. The crisis and the cats are not related, so the friend texts me at six in the morning. They have to put on a mask and a face shield and fly for six hours to the East Coast, and they must do it fast, no time to think about the risk of it all because it is that kind of emergency.
Would I please come watch the cats?
They will leave for the airport and be well over the Rockies before I arrive, so as not to commit the grievous act of seeing each other, holding each other as our lives both atomize, lest we compound our crises by giving each other a plague.
Their house is beautiful. I’ve seen it once before, this past January when we didn’t know what was coming. My partner of eight years and I had dinner here, and drinks. We clinked round-bellied wine glasses in front of a fireplace that worked. Our New Yorker eyes bulged at it, unused to anything that made life at home just a little bit easier, accustomed only to small spaces and spending so much time elsewhere to cure the urban claustrophobia. It was a warm evening despite the chill outside, the kind of soul-warmth only generated by a bunch of queer people breaking bread. We only saw the first floor then, and only glimpsed the frightened cats.
And yet, we wondered if we could leave the city.
We kept repeating it to each other: “Life doesn’t have to be quite this hard.” We planned to leave. We figured out how. She would take a job in California for a time. And then we would see. We would see what would happen if we imagined life a little easier.
But now I am in my friend’s house, the house with the fireplace, alone, without them and without my partner—my ex -partner, very much my ex-partner —and without any other human, exercising my personal super power: the ability to hold any cat like a baby, even and especially those that hate to be held at all.
I tour the house, a gorgeous three-story giant, with a belly-up cat in my arms. I saunter from room to room, marveling. Everything is big. Easy. Three floors of duvets like breathable spa fabric stuffed to overflowing with cotton candy and meticulously planned systems; that’s how one thinks of home when one is a systems engineer, as my friend is. All the laundry baskets are in exactly the right place; the plates and bowls and glasses make a kind of prehistoric sense understood by even my lizard brain; the soap, conditioner, and lotion lined up in the shower are plentiful and accessible.
Even the cats have a system—the food, the litter, the hairball-prevention gel they lick from my fingers each morning while I make coffee in an espresso machine I quickly begin to covet. It would never have fit on my kitchen counter. My former kitchen counter. I’ll never see that one-bedroom on the East Side again; I push that idea off a fucking cliff. Banish it. Fuck that thought.
I haven’t been in New York for months anyhow. She and I broke up during the pandemic. We’d both been in California experiencing our own ease. Before the virus closed in around us, we drove places. San Francisco. Santa Cruz. We got ourselves Salt & Straw artisanal ice cream with black sesame seeds and dunked our feet in an outdoor pool in February, the sun rendering winter a distant memory, and ate endless snacks provided by my partner’s employer, all wonderful and organic and tiny, wrapped in influencer packaging. Pinks and teals. We were only there because we had money, what felt like oodles of it to me, but what my partner might have described as below average.
I ascend the stairs for a third time. I have seen two bedrooms. A laundry room. A garage. A backyard. A couch that held me like a mother and a TV bigger than the whole kitchen in my early twenties apartment. What could possibly be on this third floor? What category of room haven’t I yet experienced?
It’s warm like the crook of an arm up here; not unpleasant, but close and bodily. My head crests above the railing and I see matte hand weights and candy-colored resistance bands, ribbons from myriad marathons decorating the walls, like the gymnastics ribbons in my partner’s childhood home . . . nope. Nope, I am not thinking about yet another home I will never . . . no.
On the third floor, there is a treadmill and then, the pièce de résistance, something I miss only because I’ve been lost in thought. A Peloton bike. I even know they own one; they mentioned it when they’d asked me to stay, said I could use it. I’m in such a fog anymore.
I remember saying it the first time, the phrase I am thinking now—it was in the lead-up to Christmas and I was making candles with Eleanor, a family member. Former family member. I suppose when someone is an ex-partner’s chosen family—anyhow, the candles. Eleanor and I were pouring scented wax into glass yogurt containers and balancing wicks against barbecue skewers and we were shit-talking the family of a friend of hers; that family was terrible.
We had hours to kill while the wax set. This friend’s parents had purchased for her sister a Peloton for Christmas; when the sister realized it was the only gift she was going to get, she said she didn’t want it. So they regifted it to the friend, who had never expressed a want or need for a Peloton. And that’s when I said it, the thing I am thinking now.
“Peloton is a symptom of one insurmountable truth: Rich people will do anything to not be in community. They could just go to a fucking gym and rub elbows with other people, but no.”
And Eleanor and I cackled and assessed, each in our own heads, whether we thought that statement was true. Both of us were adjacent to wealth, after all—plenty of people around us had it, and so tangentially we did too, though it did not flow from either one of us.
I think of this friend-of-a-friend I only know in gossip as I stare down both the present Peloton and my year-old opinion, right next to each other. It’s as though they smile at me as I purse my lips about it, hardened against Peloton-as-concept. I scratch fluffy cat belly and shut the light off and walk downstairs. Bet that friend is real grateful for that stupid bike now; the rest of us haven’t seen the inside of a Planet Fitness in most of a year. I am used to community meaning showing up in person; that’s not what it means anymore. In fact, it means staying far away from one another. This is how we keep one another safe. We stay sealed in our bubbles as best we can.
I proceed to think about the fucking Peloton for two days.
My own words haunt me. There’s no way to situate that in pretty language. Of course owning a Peloton isn’t an indicator of a sociopolitical stance or moral fiber or any other personal value system. It is merely an indicator that, somehow, one has happened upon owning a Peloton, either on purpose or by accident. I spend those two days sinking into the comfort that only having a sensible job or a wealthy partner can conjure up. I don’t have either.
I also cannot figure out why I want to cry all the time. I want to, but I don’t, can’t. It is as though my emotions build like steam and yet, no matter what I do, I cannot find the right valve to twist open. I am so busy; I am the busiest I have ever been. I have said yes to every paying job that’s come my way and now all of my hours are overfilled. But sometimes, I stare into the middle distance and try to eke out a tear. It doesn’t work. My therapist says it sounds like I need to throw a temper tantrum.
I schedule one for 9 p.m. in my iCal. I do this as I sit in the backyard (a backyard!), working endlessly and drinking a fancy seltzer that I hadn’t previously known existed. But when 9 p.m. rolls around, I settle into my friend’s couch with a cat on either side of me and I say, Okay. It is time to have a tantrum.
My therapist says it sounds like I need to throw a temper tantrum. I schedule one for 9 p.m. in my iCal.
I try to work myself into it: Okay, your whole life has fallen apart. The person you loved became unrecognizable to you so slowly that you didn’t notice until you did. You have three suitcases of possessions and whatever your best friend could mail to you. You can’t even hug your people about it. Human beings are dying in droves because your government is incompetent. Also wildfire season—remember how you couldn’t breathe? Cry, dammit, cry .
But like an iceberg on the horizon, a hulking mass that I understand is only a portion of what’s going on, I see the icy crag of rage before me. I point my internal compass directly at it. I put on my yoga leggings, lace up my sneakers, ascend three floors, and mount the fucking Peloton.
It is anticlimactic because I have to google how to both power on and adjust the Peloton. But once I have gotten my ass upon the seat and the screen displaying perky instructors with perfect teeth, it is easy. As easy as everything in this house is. And I select a beginner ride. I do what beginners do: I begin.
Back when I did go to a gym, back when anyone could, my partner paid for me to have a personal trainer because I was very bad at exercise and had an autoimmune disorder—I might hurt myself, otherwise. With the delicate joints of a baby deer, I was perpetually a beginner even as I lifted heavier and heavier. It cost so much money; I am such a fucking hypocrite.
It was big words to shit on literally anything back when money made me untouchable. And I didn’t notice until the love was wrecked, the relationship over, and the safety the whole structure provided evaporated into the air. Big words even now, when the wealth I even tangentially experience means a “more successful” experience of what community means—the ability to stay away from everyone to keep them safe from plague. I don’t need to be in the world to work. Everything I do is done behind a desk. And now, now? Now I can even use this Peloton. I don’t even need to run in the rain.
A friend once told me breakups are a blessing, that anything one doesn’t like about oneself can be blamed upon the now-absent party. But that’s not really true. This was all me. I could not see past my own comfort until it was gone.
I look my hypocrisy in the eyes, as represented by the sparkling blue eyes of a chisel-jawed Australian on a glossy display calling out ever-increasing intensities that make my quads scream. I scream along with them. I rage. I cry. I throw my scheduled fucking tantrum.
Here I am, in a house much like the house I might have had, with two cats—I used to have two cats, before—surrounded by the life we saw just months ago for ourselves—I used to have “ourselves,” before. But that’s all gone now; I gave it up. I just have myself. Even as the intensity dials up and up and up, I am perpetually a beginner. And I start again.