On January first I took a stroll for the first time in quite a while. I had a bad head cold and my congestion made it hard to breathe in the freezing temperatures of a winter night, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I was conversing with an old friend, a dear friend whom I hadn’t seen in over a year. Really, our lives separated back in 2011, when we graduated from high school, as it seems to happen now-a-days with the world being a young person’s oyster and all that.
My hands dug deep into my pockets, and the thought of getting into bed was on the back of my mind, but I was entranced by the magic of such a slow moment. I sniffled in between every sentence I said, becoming more and more vulnerable to someone whom I might not see again for months, or years. Her voice was comforting and sometimes erratic but altogether calm. Even as we discussed our deepest troubles–mine regarding interpersonal relationships–our feet meandered beneath us, eventually carrying our minds to the park.
“I just don’t know what to do,” I said, conflicted about a particular friendship although unwilling to admit out loud specifically which one. I wanted more but also less; basically I felt scared to take a step forward because that might mean taking five steps back. “And I wonder if this all has to do with my father leaving. That has really fucked me up.”
My friend agreed that her parents have caused her a lot of anxiety too and then I don’t remember what happened next, but at some point we turned around and walked back to her apartment building, where she was staying with her family before she went back across the Atlantic.
“Do you need help, Katherine?” I asked a feeble and elderly woman who was waiting by the elevator. I leaned down, bending at my waist and putting one hand behind my back and extending the other forward, like a servant.
“I’m alright,” she said, her hunchback preventing her from looking at me. “When is my appointment again? I have a short term memory.”
“Let me check,” I said enunciating every word, and rushed over to the physical therapist front desk. After I confirmed the time, I rushed back, only to see Katherine unsurprisingly in the exact same position I left her.
“1:30 on Wednesday, and 1:30 on Friday as well.”
She repeated it back to me and I said “Yes, Katherine, that’s right.” She reminded me of my grandmother who has shrunk with age. Nanny used to be the tallest girl in her class–she would brag to me–but today only stands at maybe five feet tall. (I’m being generous because I love her.)
When Katherine’s elevator finally arrived, she shuffled her way forward, making steps at a snail’s pace. She looked so fragile, I was worried the split second of anti-gravity as the elevator began its descent would topple her over. But I let her on her way, and watched her as the doors closed between us, Katherine still looking at the floor.
Do old people realize how slow they are moving? And do they feel self-conscious about it, perhaps remembering far away days of running and dancing and not needing a cane?
I shuffled my feet into the T car, squeezing myself as the last sardine in the can. It was the day of the Women’s March and I was glad to see so many people lined up at the Davis Square platform, ready to head downtown. I stood against the door, laughing at the thought of the faces of all the people waiting at Porter when they see how packed the train was.
When we arrived, more people miraculously found room.
When we arrived at Harvard, I waved my arms hello to the people wanting to get on, indicating that we finally reached full capacity.
As we made our way into Boston, I had to use my sea legs to stay upright since I wasn’t holding onto anything. Not that I could’ve really fallen, with so many people crammed around me.
“Do you have a candy bar or something with sugar?” a woman with a rolling briefcase asked me. She leaned over so I could see a young woman bent over herself and a friend, perhaps, rubbing her back.
“I have a protein bar, will that help?” I asked, hoping the girl wouldn’t pass out.
“I think so, thanks,” the woman with the briefcase said.
I then realized that we were so crowded that I could not reach into my backpack, or take it off. Only hesitating for a second, I turned over my shoulder and spoke to the women behind me. “Excuse me,” I asked, “would you mind reaching into my bag, the biggest zipper, and getting out the protein bar for me please? Someone doesn’t feel so good and needs it.”
It was almost as if they didn’t even need a reason; they were happy to help. Hands shifted, trying to find the zipper I was referring to.
“The one with the lanyard on it,” I said.
I heard a voice to my right say, “Wow, if I had to be packed into a train car with any group of people, I’m certainly glad it’s all of you.”
At first we shuffled, bottle-necking out of Boston Common. We meaning 150,000 people. It was ironically metaphorical, representing the slow progress we’re making as a nation on the equal rights front. A voice on the loudspeaker suggested we introduce ourselves to the people packed around us.
I wanted to get moving. I wanted to march. But there was a slow magic in the air again, one entranced by positive, and perhaps female, energy. I did not feel angry. I did not feel impatient. After seeing many signs, both serious and silly, after waving at a bus load of elderly women, and after asking a little girl, “Who runs the world?” and hearing her shout, “Girls!” my stride began to quicken. My pace increased and at some points, I was skipping, dancing, and zigzagging Tremont Street. There was pep in every step I took as chants roared out of my mouth. I held hands with my friend as we weaved through the people, staying together. But even if we separated for a second, we weren’t lost. Like the woman said on the T: if I had to be packed in the streets with any group, I was so happy it was these people.
I went for a mile run a few hours after the mile walk. I felt energized by the crowd, and uplifted into doing something that represents the woman I want to be. I even wore my Yankee hat as I jogged around the suburbs of Boston, braver than ever.
Upon reaching the Tufts track, I decided for a speed lap. I awkwardly hit the wrong button on my watch so had to loop back, stop, and start over. Once I hit a strong stride, I felt powerful. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep this pace for any longer than a lap, but my legs were performing well. I kicked into a faster sprint for the last 100 meters, thinking about shaving off one second, two seconds, three seconds…
When I arrived to Dunkin donuts (because obviously all this exercise wasn’t going to go unrewarded–remember, I’m aiming to act like the woman I want to be) my face was flushed red. Blood rushed to my cheeks to remind me that I was alive.
The days after the march have been immensely slower. I’ve been called inspiring, and yet I trip over my feet when I walk because I’ve had trouble picking them up high enough. I’ve been in good company and have also felt incredibly alone.
I finished Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, a patient, observant, and pleasant series of essays about the author’s cohabitation with a snail during a year-long period of her illness. The presence of the snail was highly comforting for the bedridden Bailey, who couldn’t interact with the outside world much less even sit up. She longed to regain her stride, to return to her active and interconnected world. Progress was slow. There were days when she felt a deep sense of longing; similarly to the way a snail can escape to its shell in the face of danger, she wished she could hide away until the misery around her passed.
We are not snails, as evolutionarily savvy as they are. We are people. We are women. We are loving, compassionate, thoughtful, and powerful people. When faced with the inevitable batch of disappointments in life, we will prevail. Admittedly, I am still convincing myself of this very idea as I write, so do not fret if you too are not completely confident. I can say, however, that we will get through as long as we stick together. We must link arms and continue moving, no matter what speed.
“Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” ~Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903, from Letters to a Young Poet, 1927