I saw myself in the mirror right outside the bathroom about a year ago after I’d just showered. The water dripped from my chest — two fleshy mounds that drooped from my torso — and fell to my protruding stomach. I clutched at my middle, right above my pubic bone, and came up with a handful of flesh. On letting go, I saw a crease on my side that didn’t go away and rippled when I jumped. I felt outside of myself, unrecognizable. It wasn’t until then that I realized just how much weight I’d put on in the past year.
I was extremely unhappy with myself and my relationship with a man named Charles, who I lived with in DeKalb outside of Chicago. That was reflected by how I presented myself. I wore sweaters that were large and bulky, which went past my waist. I painted my nails and dyed my hair. I did anything to take away from the fact that I was fat and in a relationship that wasn’t what I wanted. When I broke up with him for someone else, and that didn’t work out, I was shaken out of my comfort zone for the first time in a very long while.
Lacing up my old Adidas that winter was a way to deal with that. I needed to have some sort of constant in my life, something that I could always rely on to be there when the person that I’d been with for two years and lived with for a few months was not.
We still lived together after breaking up, to try working through our problems and make things work. On my nightly runs, there were times that the thought of Charles being there when I got back was both a comfort and a dread. I’d cry so hard in the middle of my treks — on the street or even a just a block away — that my throbbing feet and their popped, oozing blisters weren’t even there.
Slowly — though it felt sudden — I didn’t look like the person I used to be anymore. I didn’t have to suck in my middle to see my toes or close my pants and I wasn’t out of breath in the middle of tying my shoes. When I took off my shirt, I wasn’t entirely embarrassed. My running had gone from a routine to keep from going insane to something that finally helped me see myself as I always had; proud and confident, at times overtly so. As I tell people now, I just wanted to be pretty.
By the end of May, I’d been going on dates to distract from being alone and looking for anything that got me out of the house for more than my hour runs. The week before I moved to Chicago from DeKalb, Peter and I went on our first date and it was as if suddenly everything exploded. What was supposed to be a simple movie turned into a weekend trip to our own world with purple paint, where our endless fascination with each other was the result of the click when we said, “hello.”
Peter changed everything. He made settling into the city not only bearable but purposeful, to the point where I started running as an enjoyment rather than an escape. I wanted to run, wanted to feel the sweat drip into my eyes and run down my back. Running in the city — where noise and movement is everywhere — I felt like I was moving forward and pushing past my former insecurities to the point where they were no longer true. Finally, I’d achieved a sense of self. I took risks and had a confidence that came from the sudden change of pace in my life.
Everything felt right then. By the beginning of September, I started school again. My professors praised my writing in class, Peter said, “I’ll love you always,” at the airport and I had my first piece published. I felt like where I was in life was finally where I needed to be.
The movement I found on my nightly runs downtown was the push that I needed to feel that what I wanted was feasible. Running today, hearing the wet slaps of my running shoes on the pavement as the snow deteriorates in the coming spring, I feel like myself. Everything is as it should be — at least in that moment — as I move against the rain and snow into the blooming grass.