I've managed to get through life without making too many enemies. A few guys in college I butted heads with, I guess, and over the years I've had some run-ins with various employees and business competitors. And of course you always come across people who you don't particularly want to spend much time with. But, on the whole, I've never gotten to the "blood feud" state with anyone. I guess I've been blessed with a relatively happy-go-lucky outlook on life, and that has kept me from wasting a lot of time holding grudges and cooking up elaborate and diabolical revenge plots.
In fact, until just a few years ago, I thought I was going to skate through life without ever encountering a true nemesis, the one person whose entire existence seemed dedicated to thwarting all my best-laid plans and hopes. But then I had to have my knee replaced, and when my doctor referred me to a physical therapist for my rehab, suddenly I was face-to-face with the person who would become my own, personal Tormentor: a blonde-haired, pony-tailed rehab specialist named Jennifer.
Now, I have to admit, when I first met Jennifer, I kind of underestimated her. She's tiny, for one thing, and about 25 years old, and so I figured she'd go pretty easy on me--I thought rehab would be this relatively painless process, with gentle words of encouragement and support from this very sweet girl who wouldn't push the old man too hard.
Well, wrong, wrong, and wrong again.
Turns out, this gentle little girl who looked like a character from a Trixie Belden novel was actually more like a combination of English bulldog and General George S. Patton. With a bit of Lon Chaney, Jr., thrown in for good measure.
Right from the start, she told me that we were going to "attack" my rehab. She told me it was going to be hard, that I wasn't going to like it, but she was going to make sure that I stuck with it. She told me--in the first five minutes!--that my problem was that I had weak knees, and that I had neglected my hamstrings and thigh muscles all my life. She told me we were going to work on the whole leg, the entire structure, and that we were going to make it stronger than it had ever been. And then she said that we're going to do it NOW.
I had walked into the session with some pep, but forty-five minutes later I laid crumpled on the ground, exhausted, drenched in sweat, with every muscle in my leg screaming in agony. Throughout the entire session Jennifer had growled at me, challenged me, threatened me, questioned my will, questioned my heart. Not once did she offer any words of encouragement, until the very end, when she threw a towel on my face and said, "Not bad. See you next week." And she was gone.
What had I gotten myself into?
The next morning I cursed Jennifer when I tried to sit up. Muscles I didn't even know existed were screaming at me. I hobbled for a bit, then eventually started to move around okay. But I still wondered if I was going to be in good enough shape to make it to the following week's session.
Well, turns out I was in good enough shape, so I made it to the second session, ready for more punishment. And Jennifer was there, relentless as ever. It's funny, outside of the rehab room, Jen's a very sweet girl, always asks how I'm doing, what my grandkids are up to. But inside the room, she's like Bobby Knight with a toothache. I grew to hate the very sight of the rehab room, imagining that all the exercise equipment were actually torture devices left over from the London Tower.
Once, after 5 or 6 sessions, I called Jen and told her I wouldn't be able to make the next one--I needed a break, I started to say, but she cut me off. "Not happening," she said. "You either show up or I drive to your house and we do the rehab in your living room. And I guarantee, if I have to drive there, the session's going to be ten times harder than it's ever been before--"
I drove like a wild man to the rehab center. And I got through that session, which did turn out to be harder than the usual, and just as I was daydreaming about turning Jennifer into the authorities for cruel and unusual punishment, Jennifer spoke to me quietly. "Look, I know it's hard. But you gotta stick with it. You're way too young and active to go around hobbled by anything. And I promise you, if you just stick with it, you're going to start to see results. And you're going to feel so much better, better than before. I guarantee it. But you gotta trust me."
"Okay," I said, finally.
And she was right. Slowly--slowly--I started to notice that the mornings-after were a little easier. And I could feel the muscles in my leg getting stronger. When we got to the pool, in fact, my knee felt great. I was swimming faster, easier, than I did before my surgery. I hated to admit it, but the little pony-tailed sadist knew what she was doing.
So maybe Jen isn't exactly my arch nemesis. But, stubborn me, I don't want to give her the satisfaction of knowing that I now consider her a friend, which I do. So I call her what all the kids call somebody like that: my Best Frenemy.
Until next week,