I know we’ve had our clashes over the years.You’ve put up with abuses from me that you did nothing to deserve:
It’s 1996. I am ten years old and my dad has just been let go from the church our school is located inside. Before, I was outgoing and loved school. Now I can’t concentrate and I don’t want to talk to anyone. I am walking down the hall when my butt is slapped, hard. I turn around; it’s Melanie Gebhart, the quintessential fifth-grade mean girl.
“You have a flabby butt,” she teases. Shame overcomes me.
Fat, I say. You are fat, I tell you for the first time.
I join the high school tennis team in 2000, still a painfully shy eight-grader who is only playing tennis in the first place so she could hit balls against the wall alone and not have to speak with the terrifying pretty girls and boys in class. Now I’m on the track at the high school and the coach is telling us to run. I’ve never run on a track before. I try, but I’m winded by the halfway point. The cool high school girls are looking at me through their peripherals. One stays with me. She says, “If you make that sound one more time and we’re stopping to walk.” I do. We do.
Weak, I say in disgust and embarrassment. Why do you have to ruin everything?
In 2005, I am still a shy college student, but I am just beginning to accept that people like me and want to be my friend. I finally accept an invitation to hang out at Alpha Xi Delta, the house I will join in a few months. There, Dana Simon asks nonchalantly if I’m a virgin; before I can answer, Holly Monroe has answered, “Of course she is. Just look at her!”
What is WRONG with you?! I demand. To compensate for my pathetic image, I drink until my face feels hot and beyond.
In 2009, we turn a corner together. Seemingly out of nowhere, I begin running. I’m living in Beijing, China, and I have so little control over language and culture. I need something that I can guide by myself. I sign up for my first race ever: the Beijing International Half Marathon.
I’m timid to begin, but almost instantly, I’m in love. I begin talking about it with everyone I know. A co-worker, the only other female foreign teacher in our center and whose just-handle-it attitude and successful lifestyle I admire and envy, encourages me.
The day I set out to do my first ten-mile run, I turn on my ipod and set off in Chaoyong Park. I run. When I finally check my ipod, I am stunned to see that I have run seven miles, and electrified to realize that I can run three more.
Thank you, I tell you, still amazed.
Since that moment, I’ve known that we can accomplish great things if we can work together. We have run 26.2 miles together. We know that gravity doesn’t control when we come down from a pushup, we do. We’ve walked away from loved ones who have hurt us badly, wanted to turn back, to apologize for everything, to take the blame for their behavior, but we didn’t. We walked on, together.
You, my body, are strong, powerful, and graceful. You have carried me through nightmares and now you accompany me in my joy. As I enter into a married life, I promise not to forsake or neglect you. Caring for you is one of the best investments of time and energy that anyone could make. Let’s grow old together.