Dad said, “Good God, Margaret, why don’t you watch where you are walking! You’re as clumsy as an elephant!”
A boyfriend said, “I hope you don’t allow yourself to get out of shape. There is no excuse for that.”
An ex-husband said nothing. It was the silent treatment after I had trouble climbing the steep banks on the shore of Lake Erie. I had to stop once or twice to catch my breath. He was enraged and disgusted.
I fell from a second storey balcony when I was nine. It took more than twenty years for the injuries to reveal themselves. In the meantime, I struggled to keep up in gym class. I’d trip over my own two feet when I was tired. People made it clear that I was lazy, inept, or not trying hard enough.
That’s the lesson I learned: I was not good enough.
When Reiner and I were “courting” we talked about the differences in our physical abilities and my worry that I couldn’t keep up. I was particularly concerned when he mentioned how frustrating it was for him to walk slowly to accommodate “the lollygaggers” in the crowd. He loved to hike and the more challenging the better.
“I love hiking, too,” I told him, “But I have some issues.” I told him about my weak ankles and wonky hip. I made a point of telling him the Lake Erie story by way of warning: I would not allow myself to be treated that way again! I have my limits and I am going to honour them!
He tries to accommodate my needs. He walks behind me so that I might set the pace. But when we walk along side-by-side holding hands, more often than not, I have to rein him in. Whoa, big fella, slow down! Reasonable or not, that bothers me: why must I always need to remind him? How many times must I say, I have trouble climbing steep hills? My hip hurts. Slow down.
I got the answer to these questions several weeks ago.
Reiner and I decided to explore a new rail trail. He measured the distance on Google and brought along a copy of the map.
The day was fine. Cool and clear and still. Lovely. We started off at a brisk pace to keep warm.
Thirty minutes later, I started to tire. My feet began to drag and my hip was acting up. It would take another half hour to retrace our steps. I did not want to over-extend myself if I hadn’t already. I told him that it was time to return.
He said, “Oh come on, just a bit further.”
I heard that as resistance and I resented it. I restated my request, firmly, and suggested we take the side road a few paces ahead.
He said, “Are you sure that way is correct?”
I heard that as more resistance.
“Where’s the map?” I asked.
“I left it in the car. I didn’t think we’d be taking any short cuts.”
I heard that as declaring that we had to cut short our walk because I was not good enough.
We made our walk back in silence. I was walking upright and more or less without issue physically, but emotionally I was in free-fall. Old garbage surfaced.
I held my tongue. I told myself to be silent, to speak only when the emotion has passed.
It was a lovely, still day.
Then the sound of a runaway train tore through the silence and echoed around the countryside. I watched as it approached and I watched it as it overpowered me and I watched as I spewed and spat and raged at everyone who had wrongly judged me about my physical ability.
“Do you think that I am making it up when I say that I hurt?” I cried at him.
I knew I was out of line and I said so. One minute I called him insensitive, the next I apologized for hitting him with the pent-up anger from decades-long pain.
By now he was upset, too. He was hurt that I would think so poorly of him. “My body aches all the time,” he said. “I figure that if I can get things done in spite of pain, you likely can too.”
I didn’t know that. His body aches all the time? That was news. He also confirmed what I had suspected. That he ignores his pain. He is able to suppress it. In his worldview, if he is able to suppress it, then other people must do that too.
We returned to the car and talked some more and we arrived at a better understanding how each other works.
This weekend I hope to find time for a walk. Maybe look for morels. I’d like to take in another section of the rail trail, too. I’m anxious about it, but we both need more practice.
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Thank you for following along on this hodgepodge journey of mine through the past and to the present. During the time that I composed this series, two posts came to my reader. They illustrate some of the sentiment that I have tried to capture.
There is always a consequence for repressing and silencing who you are. Holding inside the thunderous release of expression does not make it disappear, and the release of that energy will find a different pathway.
People are not symmetrical, naturally, and there is no harm in that. Mostly, our hips and backs are able to compensate for minor differences, such as one leg slightly longer than its neighbour, or a slightly off-kilter spine. But put the whole mishmash together, and some days, she just wanted to dissolve into the water, so fed up was she with her short-sighted, just about can’t quite get it life.
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Updated May 25th for submission to the daily prompt. What can I say. I’m ahead of my time.
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