To say running was a challenge this summer is an understatement. The heat and humidity, the air quality, my own mental state, all presented significant barriers to my ability to put one leg in front of the other and push through.
Yesterday dawned without actually dawning. The sky was slate and raining, and a mad wind blew light rain around. I’d told a friend of mine I was going to attempt six miles, after six weeks of being stuck at three-and-a-half, and dragged myself out of bed to hit Central Park.
The insoles in my shoes are old, and my shoes probably have 300 miles on them. Some people run in the same pair of shoes for years; I’ve been that person. But my knees can tell the difference between new shoes and old. The armband I’ve been using is too tight for both my phone and my bicep. I’m getting over a cold and it’s been freezing outside. Every reason I could think of for not getting up yesterday, I put out of my mind and skipped down the stairs.
Central Park’s outer path loop is about 6.1 miles, so it was perfect for the task at hand. No thinking; I needed only to run a pattern I’d run many Sundays before. I worried about the giant hill on the northwest side. I didn’t want to walk at all. But I also tried to put the fear of that hill out of my mind, since my powers of self-sabotage are expert-level.
I put my head down and headed from 57th and 7th into the park. I focused on my breathing, or moving my feet. I tried not to feel pangs of embarrassment as people passed me. I’ve always been slow, and I’ve always hated it. One of the greatest head fakes I’ve had to pull as I’ve started running more and more is to continuously remind myself I have to ignore those people running by on my left and concentrate on what I’m doing that moment. That the only way I’m going to finish the course I’ve set is by keeping pace, focusing my feet, and steadying my breath.
I didn’t make it to the hill. Before I even got there, at the entrance to Jackie O’s Reservoir at 86th street, I made a left and chose two whole loops of the running path. Some quick figuring in my head said I should be able to hit 6 miles around 72nd street if I crossed the park and ran down along the west side. A smooth, even surface mostly devoid of the rolling hills germane to the park, was a good entry back into six. It told me I can hold it together for six, that I don’t need an elaborate plan or amount of time to build back up. Now, as I told my friend, I’ll get back to running over bridges.
When I was running 15 miles and more each week, I noticed marked improvements not only in my moods, but also in my ability to handle stress and the frustrations of being a woman in a mostly-male professional environment. On the train to collect a dress I’d left in the office over the weekend, for a wedding I was to attend last night, I felt a sense of calm roll through my muscles. I was content that I’d achieved this goal I’d set and had been dreading, and pleasantly surprised that it hadn’t been as painful to reach as I’d anticipated.
In the next moment I realized that sense of calm is what has kept me in one place for too long. So, the next step is channeling that peaceful feeling into the anxiety and apprehension I have for applying for new positions and planning the first in a series of moves.
In other news, I made a couple of silly mistakes in the past few weeks. I was thirsty for no reason; opened my mouth when it did no good to anyone to do so; and responded to an email that should have been left to rot in the annals of my inbox. What is it about ex-boyfriends that they think after a year or five they should go ahead and hit “send” on that message? What is it about me that after a year or five, I should tear open wounds stitched up by nights spent reading alone and wordlessly yearning while smiling and laughing with friends? And why, why, why can’t I just leave a text message alone?
It was on the heels of this madness that I put on a gorgeous dress covered in embroidered flowers and delicate lace edging and attended a friend’s wedding last night. In a sea of women wearing black, my shoes were coral, the lace mint, and the flowers on my tunic white and red. I made a new friend. After she left, the conversation shifted to one with a gentleman also flying solo, to whom I’d been introduced earlier. He was difficult to draw out, but we talked about music and television, and eventually the conversation flowed a little easier. I was careful to speak with passion but not flirt (I didn’t want to convey an idea I had no interest in).
He asks, at one point, “do you like to dance?”
What do I say to that? “Yes, I enjoy it.” That’s one option, I guess. “No, not really,” is another. I’m not sure I want to dance with him, nor am I sure he’d even ask, (and the music isn’t that good for dancing) so I equivocate. We continue talking, and I tell him he MUST watch Atlanta. He looks convinced, and when I turn to the dance floor, my friend, the bride, is beckoning. You don’t turn down the bride, so I place my hand in her extended one, and move to the beat. The guy moves away, down the bar.
The song ended, and soon I was alone in the middle of the floor. The DJ queued “Bad Boy,” by Ma$e and Diddy, and I pointed to one of the guys who’d been dancing a moment ago. His eyes lit up, he pointed back, and moved with me into the middle of the floor.
And thus, a dancing partnership was begun! Or, like, something. He could handle his own until he thought too much about it, and then he reverted to the white boy two-step while I danced (literal) circles around him. He looked good, in a gray checked shirt and light yellow tie. I could swim in the blue-gree lagoon of his eyes.
We smiled and laughed and twirled and talked about work, and where he lives, and finally exchanged names. Our faces got close. His hands grew more comfortable on my waist and hips. He, too, is a friend of the bride’s. One of her oldest friends, in fact. He was there with another of their oldest friends, and when she was too drunk to carry on, he helped see her safely back to where they were staying. I told my friend, when she sat to talk with me, that I thought he was VERY cute (I’m too old to waste time).
“You should come to brunch with us tomorrow,” she smiled conspiratorially. We’ve known each other a long, long time. We’ve known each other through terrible decisions about men, and terrible situations with men. And then, after the invitation, we talked about feminism for twenty minutes until she got up to have more cake.
Juvenile’s “Back That Ass Up” (aka the soundtrack to my adolescence) came up late in the evening and no one took to the floor. I moved toward the back and indeed backed that ass up. The guy I’d been talking to earlier in the evening watched awkwardly from a few feet away. When the song ended, he said, “I asked before if you liked to dance and you were like, ‘ehh, I mean, kind of?’ You throw down!”
“Of COURSE I throw down! How do you not throw down, when given the opportunity to dance?!”
We drifted apart. I gathered my things when “King Kunta” came on in this room full of white people and still no one stirred.
I added lagoon-eyes on Facebook after brunch today. He doesn’t talk much, which is an indicator of any number of things. I’m too forward and I’m impatient, and I’m also tired of playing bullshit games with dudes. He lives half the country away, but distance ain’t nothin but a number, really. Mostly, I want to maintain the option for an adventure-buddy, should I find myself in his part of the world. And keep the door open if I wasn’t imagining the way he looked back at me.
In the meantime, in the near-term, though, I’ve got to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other, steadying my breathing, and ignoring anyone passing on my left. They don’t matter. The only thing I need to be concerned about is me, and where I’m headed.