Running With Snakes
When I run, my mind tends to outrun me. It races forth on all topics, but mostly it tries to tell me that I shouldn’t be running. That my breathing is too fast. That my arms aren’t going back and forth fast enough. That my shoes are all wrong. That I am not good enough.
But my body is good enough. It is equipped for running. The fault lies within my imagination. When I was small, I attended a summer day camp that took role call on a sweaty old bus. When all heads were counted, we bellowed camp songs until we reached the springs—a destination featuring hiking trails, playground equipment, and coppery water we drank and drank and drank. Each morning, campers could choose to run or to walk the trail. Habitually, I walked with other girls.
One morn, I must have chosen to run because I recall jogging under a leaf-covered sky. And I recall each bone in my body clanking against one another—the arm bone disconnecting from the wrist bone, the wrist bone disconnecting from the hand bones. I was too clattered. I tried to calm my bones, my heart racing out in front of my body. A cartoon character scenario. Soon I was heaving, hands on knees, as a camp counselor stood near. A boy counselor. His arms snaked ‘round my torso in an embrace in attempts to calm me. I was so embarrassed at my lack of performance. I probably cried a little. He walked the remaining trail with me beside him. I tried mimicking his footsteps that seemed so sure of the ground beneath him. His pale arms were longer than they should be. I wondered if he was still growing, too. Cut off shirts were all the rage and he wore it well. Him and his long swinging arms.
Somewhere in that walk, I told myself I would do better. I would be better.
Just after college, I found myself running that trail again. I was dating my best friend—a boy I’d met in a philosophy class and laughed through a marketing class I would eventually drop. After some four years of adoration we shared for one another, I was worried we would soon drop each other. We had always been bosom pals. He gave the best hugs and he was almost exactly my height. I liked that I could look straight into his freckled eyes and know precisely what he thought. I could see his brain. Alas, we were at some form of crossroad cliche.
I didn’t know how we’d gotten there, but I knew his mother loathed the mere idea of me. And she would always play a major role in our theatrical schemes. To her, I would always be a country girl going nowhere and not quick enough. Each step I took on that trail carried me away from her misconceptions of me. I ran up wooden stairs. I ran down her nasty comments of the town I grew up in. I ran up mulched hills. I ran down her snarky remarks about my choosing to study English instead of something more lucrative. I ran across wooden bridges. I ran over her red painted lips, issuing slanted comments regarding my clothing, my blonde hair, my makeup.
In that moment, I knew that she would never approve of me. If she were a snake, she would have bitten me. Before I knew it, I had completed the trail with my fastest time, and I had made a decision that would change the course of my life forever. I would never see that woman again. I would never allow someone to make me feel so insignificant again. Most importantly, I would never tell myself such stories that made accepting her version of me okay. Because it wasn’t okay. Her perceptions of me were her problem. Not mine. And she was just another cranky stone path for me to run through. For she would never become a mother-woman to me.
A few days ago, I walked this same trail with my wee one. It was just magic. The curves and dips from his two-feet-tall point of view stunned me. We took our time strolling about and talking excitedly of snakes he saw (i.e. sticks floating in the water).
Upon arriving home, we watered all of our plants in and out of doors. When we got to my mother-in-law plant, I laughed. For it is also called the snake plant. And it is so easy to take care of.