When I was younger I used to go with my grandpa to The Gym he co-owned and worked at. My earliest childhood memories are of me running barefoot across the worn down carpet, surrounded by sweaty fighters and martial arts enthusiasts, playing with the punching bags and “training” during the thirty second breaks my grandpa had between clients.
After a morning at the gym all the “regulars” would decide on a place to eat, usually the pho place not far from where the other owner, Omry, lived. There’d be over six of us, sometimes more, all crammed into this tiny but delicious restaurant.
The adults would talk about upcoming fights, fighters they’re training, and other trainers they know from the fight circuit.
The kids, myself and the two daughters of Omry, would talk about whatever we’d seen on TV that weekend, or we’d time how long it took me to get one noodle in my mouth while struggling with the chopsticks.
After our bellies were filled to bursting, all the leftover food I didn’t eat was packaged neatly for my brothers or my grandpa to finish off later on in the day , and we’d all part ways. The next day, the process would repeat.
I look on the memories fondly because it’s such an innocuous but distinct time in my life that I can remember both clearly and not at all.
I can’t remember how old I was when this started or when it stopped happening. I can’t remember what was so fun about running around a gym filled with fighters and trainers and beat up equipment that I was somehow inexplicably allowed to play on.
But I remember how excited I would be when eight am came around for the morning shift at the gym, and how tired but excited I was when six pm arrived and I got to go back to the gym all over again.
At some point I stopped going, and when I came back it was three years later and I had a cell phone. I was dealing with popularity and cliques and feeling left out among my peers.
The Gym was altogether the same yet different. The carpet, once thread bare and blood stained, was now a pretty pale blue. The speed bags that I could suddenly reach were all updated and the punching bags were no longer held together with duct tape. There were advertisements on once bare walls, and all the candy machines I used to raid had been replaced.
I was so disappointed to see that my one constant had changed. It meant that I was changing too, and that all those absolutes I’d held onto as a child were not as static as I’d hoped.
The co-owner’s daughter, a girl who’d dubbed herself my best friend the second we met had grown up as well. I couldn’t remember her too well, but she remembered me and we fell right back into old habits.
Despite both of us being preteens, we ran around the gym like the little kids we’d once been. We wheedled change from the regulars who saw us as their little nieces, and ate junk food in the office.
So much had changed, but our friendship stayed the same.Those same feelings of nostalgia and home hit me, but they were changed now. The equipment was newer. I was tall enough to reach the speed bag, I was too big to hang off the ropes in the ring on the gym. My “uncles” were either of height or shorter than me.
Being in the gym had changed from being a fond childhood experience, to a memory before I even realized it.
There were new fighters, some regulars who still remembered when I only came up to their knee, and people I couldn’t even remember. Some of them looked at me warily, unsure of who I was and if they should give me the respect they give their teachers. The ones who new me drew me in for sweaty hugs and grilled me about school, my brothers, and if I had any boys in my life.
They all agreed any boy I met had to come to The Gym and fight all of them at once to prove he was worthy of me. I rolled my eyes at their dramatics, but I was secretly pleased that they still remembered little me. That they still saw me as one of their own despite the years that had passed.
Up until that point, I used to think I was static and everything else was changing. And then I went back to the gym, which was both the same and different from how I originally knew it, and I realized that it was me that had changed.