He pounds the treadmill, until the sweat makes his skin amphibian slick and he knows that he is one of them. The elite, the enamoured, the desperate, praying in steel and iron cathedrals to a deity in the image of themselves.
It’s more than a way of life, they know; it is culture. It is everything.
He follows the treadmill up with reps, with crunches, with suicides. The repetition is ritual, is habit, until his muscles scream for release, and pain is just another barrier to break through.
This is worship, it’s not supposed to be easy.
Sometimes he considers it a form of combat qi – the conditioning of the body through repeated damage until no pain signals are sent to distract the mind. He considers it, but it doesn’t answer the real question. The one which, like all questions between humans and animals, is a division in degree and not type.
‘Why are you here?’
‘To get fit.’
‘Why are you really here?’
We all have out Tyler Durden’s trapped inside. And, against popular misconception, we’re all trying to protect him, building human-hard shells out of the best materials we’ve got.
In dogma, we trust. Or something like that at least.
He counts down to the final four repetitions, knowing that they’re the hardest and most satisfying to beat. After than he can rest. Ten seconds. Before the next trial of Hercules reduced to a mortal level.
He tenses, inhales, and lifts, messianic in the deluge of adrenaline –
But as he does, his eyes catch sight of something in the wall of mirrors and, like a dog looking for the first time at his reflection, see not himself but another specimen entirely.
A rival, an idol, an inescapable truth.
The man has an impressive physique, nurtured from five years strict dedication at least, but even that does not hide his ugliness. The thick, deep scar curling from the tip of his ribs to his navel is a brand which runs all the way through. Full of victimized fear and violence. A knife wound.
It was the starting gun which brought him to these hallowed halls in the first place, and now marks him a pariah among the aggregation.
In denial we live, and need to, to get by.
When asked why they come here, the majority of people say: ‘To get fit,’ but the real reason is often much darker. Tied up in a damaged self-image, and nearly always the same.
People come here to seek God among the pain, sweat and sacrifice of metal machines and, putting so much faith in, find him conspicuously absent. Deaf to a culture of silent-screaming prayers, or not there to listen anyway.
We may be sheep trying to become tigers, but in neither form are we his. In the end, we’re all lead off one-by-one to slaughter, still hopefully desperate, still looking for something to believe in.