He had been physically following me for at least a week. I first noticed his blatant gaze across the rack of straight bars. Gazing wasn’t strange. Men often look, stare or try to force my eyes to meet theirs while I’m working out. But this guy was different. I had secretly named him “creepy, stalker gym guy” because when following me with his eyes didn’t work, he would mysteriously appear on the weight machine directly across from me, staring and flashing a big wide smile. I slightly lifted the left corner of my mouth and continued my reps.
“It’s just a matter of time,” I told my husband.
“He’s going to say something to me.”
The following week, I began my routine as usual. Squat, throw ten-pound med ball in the air, catch ten-pound med ball, squat, repeat. Ten push-ups, ten crunches, walk to the assisted pull-up machine, and do ten of those. On my way back to squat, there he was in a tight red shirt: creepy, stalker gym guy.
“Ugh!” I thought silently, and then I wondered why is his shirt so friggin’ tight?
Right on cue, he looked me right in the eyes and smiled, widely while holding his runner’s lunge. I finished warming up, grabbed my towel, bottle of water and phone and walked to the free weights.
Creepy, stalker gym guy wasn’t too far behind. He had decided to do bench presses; I could see him in the mirror and every now and then he would stand up and give a mirror glance. I had just finished one set of bicep exercises when I noticed him walking towards me. Gym etiquette requires that if there are any available benches, then said gym goer is to skip a bench and work out there. Creepy, stalker gym guy walked directly to the bench that was next to me. I could see his red shirt in my peripheral vision. I watched him place his black backpack on the right side of the bench and sit a black container on the left side. And then, he just stood there, smiling his big, wide smile.
“So, you work out pretty religiously, huh?” he started.
I lifted the 17.5 pound weight close to my body.
“You have kids?”
“High school?” So far he was he independently keeping the conversation going.
“One. One is in high school and the other is in middle school.”
“Yeah. I have four kids. One is about to graduate. I had her when I was fifteen. But I had her with another girl. Yeah. She’s about to be 18. I have a15 year-old. And the last two are five and three.”
Now this was getting interesting.
“That’s a lot of kids,” I responded with my first real answer.
“Well, not really,” he smiled again. Creepy, stalker gym guy’s dark brown face seemed to make his spreading smile even that much more white. “I would say one more kid would put me in the range of having a lot of kids,” he laughed.
I laughed too. Oh crap. I laughed too.
Next set – 7.5 pound arm raises.
He picked up a 70-pound dumbbell and started doing a set of bicep curls.
“Yeah, I know. I’m bothering you.”
“Yep. You are.”
“But I’m just going to keep talking to you,” he confessed.
Text to hubby: Okay, yeah creepy, stalker gym guy has struck up a convo smh
Somewhere in between telling me about his kids, he revealed that he was a retired NFL player. I stopped working out, stood and took notice of this person.
This was the first question I would ask, “Where did you play?”
“I played for the Philadelphia Eagles for seven years. Then I played for the Jets for a year, the Vikings for a year and the Raiders for a year.”
Now, I was the one continuing the conversation. “What would make someone play for so many teams in such a short time?”
I vaguely remembered his answer cause I was thinking hmmmph, he does look like a football player. While he answered, I noticed his physique. He looked like a “regular” black guy to me. He was about 5’ 10”. His hair was neatly faded. His dark skin stood out under his tight, red-fitted shirt. Now, I understood why his shirt was so tight. Looked like football-player workout gear. The shirt revealed the muscular structure of his abs. Where his shirt ended, his black shorts began.
I must admit that I loosened up and held a real conversation with this man. And then I texted this to my husband: Okay, so creepy, stalker gym guy isn’t really creepy. He’s a former NFL player.
He told me about how happy he was that his 18 year-old daughter was turning 18. This meant the end of a child support payment that I could only describe as what some of us might call a salary. He described the frustration with having to pay the support, even though he wasn’t playing anymore.
“How does that happen?” I asked.
“Cause they count assets – and you know that shouldn’t even count because it’s not income. Went to court and everything. Tried to dispute it but they sided with her, even though she got a husband and everything.”
“So she’s married?”
“Yeah. And it don’t even matter. And I don’t mind paying it but don’t try to act as if I haven’t been doing anything. You know?”
He wasn’t smiling any more. He told me how tough it had been for him. The girl he had gotten pregnant when he was fifteen was just one person who pulled on him for resources. He was the only one who had made it and his family and friends depended on him, all the time.
“Like, here’s an example, my birthday is in two days. I’ll be 34.”
“Oh, that’s great! What are you doing for your birthday?”
“That’s what I’m saying. If I don’t do it for myself, then nothing. People don’t celebrate it for me.”
“Soooo, your wife isn’t going to do anything?”
“She might get me a card. That’s what I’m saying,” he repeated, “People are so used to me doing stuff for them, they don’t realize I might want something done for me. Like my wife will say, ‘what do you wanna do for your birthday?’ but I’m thinking”
“Whatever you do for me” I chimed in.
My last set of tricep extensions ended the conversation.
“I’m sorry. I guess I just needed to vent,” he explained. “You know I just like talking to different people, cause you just never know. Like you. I would’ve never guessed you were as nice as you are. I thought you were mean.”
This time, I lifted both corners of my mouth to reveal an authentic smile.
“You wanna go work on abs?” he asked.
“Naw. I’m gonna do these wall sits and Google you.”
“Alright,” his smile quickly spread across his face and he walked back to the stretching area.
I suspect he’ll speak to me tomorrow. But at least tomorrow I will use his name, instead of creepy, stalker gym guy.