I’m at the Y, walking on the treadmill. I’m surrounded by fat people, thin people, old people, young people, all of them trying to make their bodies stronger. It’s peaceful. I have a view out the window and Adele on my iPod. My legs feel good, strong. Today I’m walking a little faster than I did yesterday, I’m a little less out of breath.
But I’m not present.
In my mind I’m eight years old, hiking with my family. It’s spring in the Blue Ridge Mountains, beautiful. Today I have the honor of walking in the front of our line, but I’m doing it wrong. I’m too distracted by everything around me, thinking about everything but my feet. When you’re the leader, you have to be the pace setter, have to pick a speed and stick with it, have to concentrate. This is about responsibility, not pleasure.
I’m ten years old, walking in the park with my dad, around the pond. I’m watching the ducks. Dad is watching the woman walking ahead of us on the path. “Do you see how her thighs are rubbing together when she walks?” he whispers to me. “You don’t want that. Listen, you can hear them rubbing.” I say nothing. He adds, “But at least she’s doing the right thing – walking it off.”
I’m twelve and I’m terrified of being fat, so I get up at 5:30 four mornings a week to walk with my stepmom and some of her mom friends. I’m walking because it’s junior high and kids are awful – I’m being bullied by the mean girls and overlooked by the popular ones. If I can just lose weight, maybe I’ll fit in, maybe junior high won’t be so hard.
I’m twenty-six, and in my head I’m trying to work out how many Points I’ll earn for walking around our neighborhood. There’s a box of Girl Scout cookies in the freezer, and I am walking for Thin Mints. I’m tired, I want to go home and read a book with my kids, but if I walk once more around the block I’ll earn another cookie. Earning that cookie outweighs everything else.
No. No no no.
How many positive associations do I need to make about walking before they overwrite the negative ones? How many rights does it take to erase a wrong? Why is it so hard to shake off the past and simply take pleasure in this present, this movement?
I breathe deeply, straighten my shoulders. Now in my mind I’m thirty, celebrating my tenth anniversary with Aaron in New York City. We’re exploring the city, sight-seeing like the tourists we are, gawking at Times Square and the Statue of Liberty, and I can walk without having to stop and slow down, without running out of breath. This is why I’m on the treadmill today – so that by July, I’ll be stronger, have more stamina – I’ll be able to enjoy walking with my husband.
I’m twenty-nine, and I’m on the treadmill at the Y, surrounded by fat people, thin people, old people, young people. It’s peaceful. I’m getting stronger every day.