The following was written for The Rumpus by runner Anne Valente and it is excerpted with permission:
“While I was out running this morning, I passed two men on the path. I run a six-mile route routinely, out and back on a paved trail that winds twelve miles through the woods behind my house, and I often see the same people each day, the same people who wave and nod hello though I’ll never know their names. It is a trail that makes me feel safe enough to wear earbuds when I run. It is a trail that makes me feel safe enough to let down my guard and look only for bluebirds and cardinals and the occasional shy deer. But when I passed these men I could hear them yelling at me, even above the sound of my earphones. They were not saying hello. Whatever they were saying, it was not friendly. My body went rigid when I knew I’d have to pass them again, on my way back home.
When I spotted them ahead, on my way back, there was no one else around. I slowed my pace, considered running back the way I’d come. Then I saw a biker far behind them. So I ran. I ran fast. I ran as fast as my body would let me, so I would pass the men at the exact time that the biker did, so I would never be alone with them in a long stretch of otherwise empty woods.
They yelled at me anyway. I ignored them. I don’t know what they were saying. I know it was some combination of lewdness and denigration. I just kept running, away from them, far enough around a bend and up where I could see a few other bikers and walkers until I could finally slow my pace, a pace that slowed long before my lungs finally relaxed.
I am a runner. I have been running for years. I run not only for my health, and not only because it feels as natural to me as breathing. I run so I can inhabit my own body. I run so that in moments like these, when my lack of power in this world becomes more violently apparent, I can feel the strength of my own body, enough to ignore provocations, enough to know alone that I could destroy both of those men if I wanted.
In some corner of my mind, I know this isn’t true. I know that no matter how much weight I can bench press, no matter how hard my muscles get, no matter how much of a machine my body becomes, it will never be enough.
But it is something still, to feel my every fiber in my body coalesce. It is something to feel them gather in defense before a threat, to feel for one moment that I am more powerful than the world will ever know.
Because the world doesn’t know. Why should it? I realize over and over again, in so many different situations, that I live in a world that isn’t mine. A world that wasn’t built for me. I live in a world where there are threats, big and small. Threats that rear themselves when I least expect it, when I think I can at last relax. Threats that I must selectively ignore or they will consume me, whether I am on a path and two men remind me that there is nowhere, anywhere, that is safe.”Share on Facebook