Approaching just around the bend in the not-so-distant distance is a lithe man. He’s got a shock of white blond hair set off by the mid-morning sun and it and he makes me think of "Chariots of Fire." You know those people who weren’t just physically designed to run but who also delight it in, who seem more fully themselves when their knees are lifting rapidly and their arms keep the time, showcasing a topographical map of musculature hidden by everyday non-running life.
We’re getting closer now, me going one way and him going another. We’re close to the water and his hair is whipping around like one of those cheesy inflatables parked out front at every used car lot. Mine would be doing the same thing if I weren’t wearing a hat. I like to cover up as much of me as I can before I leave to go for a run. I don’t want to be recognized, I don’t want to be laughed at, I want to be invisible. Going for a run is like being 12 years old again. I want to be there, present in the world but I’m terrified of what the world will do.
My knees hurt and my boobs are sore because they are strapped down in a sports bra and my keys are in between them jabbing at my flesh. I see my shadow and I shake it off and stare forward instead of down. I am not very nice to myself today. I have not been very nice to myself for a few days. “Fat,” I say looking in the mirror, “Ugly,” I say walking down the street, “Monster, crazy, selfish, crazy, ugly, fat, fat, fat,” the little meanie in my mind whispers. I want to love my body and my face and my head and my heart but this week it is been difficult to do.
Maybe if I run a little longer today I’ll be able to sleep when I go to bed tonight. Sleep all the way through instead of waking up and pacing the house and clacking my teeth up and down. Maybe I will sleep instead of just getting back into bed and wrapping my arms around myself and squeezing me as tight as I can.
This week has been hard. What a stupid way to feel: Everything’s going well. But, but, but -- I’ve got this sentient tar clinging to my heels dragging me down. “It would be easier if you were thinner,” it insists and I know better, but that doesn’t stop the words from taking root, from quickly wondering if I should weigh myself, if I should plan my next meal, if I could eat just half of everything I put into my body that day. It’s control, it’s fear, it’s sadness, it’s the black eye I have that no one sees, it’s the abrasions that cover my face that are invisible.
I dreamed last night that I was showing someone how badly bruised my arms were. The marks were vivid, purple, black, and green. I was showing them to someone and I was saying, “Everything’s fine, really!” Everything’s fine, I’m just bleeding internally, constantly, running down this road at a snail’s pace because I want to be tired enough that I can’t think about anything anymore.
Of course this is all momentary. Of course it is a lapse. Of course I know that tomorrow could be different. I know that if I really plumb all the reasons why I’m running outside now (trying to) there are good things there too. I want to be stronger than I am, I want to be happier than I am, I want to be less afraid. I am about to pass the homeless man and the bevy of cats he lives with on the side of the bike path. He can be unpredictable. When I tried to run outside last year I did it a grand total of one time. Five minutes in and starting to relax a group of teenage boys congregating on a corner sent up red flags in my mostly adolescent reptilian mind. “Fat ass ugly bitch!” One kid yelled it, his voice cracking. Then the others laughed and I tried to pretend like I hadn’t heard, hadn’t noticed, wasn’t fazed.
I don’t want a lot. I want to be just okay. I don’t want to be invisible or gorgeous or flawless or a saint, I want to be okay and I want you to let me.
I tense as I pass the homeless dude and his cats. He’s unpredictable, and he can be vocal. He once spit at my roommate. I stand upright as I pass him and I don’t change my speed. This is a test, it’s all a test. I could have crossed the street, but I didn’t. He is smoking and he’s got a blanket wrapped around his head. His eyes track me as I go. He sees me but he doesn’t say anything because why would he? He’s got bigger fish to fry.
I slow down once I pass him, and hands on my hips, I reach a walk. My hips are sore, my knees are sore, the little meanie is still chattering away, but it is slowing down, it is getting quiet as I knew it would. It’s waves, it’s peaks, it’s valleys, it’s all the things the people who know you best would be shocked to hear dancing through your brain. It’s one minute and then another and then another minute after that. It’s my knee popping as I climb the stairs, it’s the hiss of uncertainty, and the brief black buzzing silence that falls over my shoulders like a cloak, and I pull it closer.