Mountain, Loop, and Heart

Erin Britt essays

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She looked grandmotherly, I thought, the lady who looked up from her weeding, pushed her hat back, and watched me huff my way past. She might have been able to ignore my heavily pounding sneakers or my delightfully big breaths, but she couldn't very well have ignored the wailing.

Five-month-old-Alden was only sometimes willing to put up with being pushed in the jogging stroller, and today was not one of those days. He had started screaming a mile into my planned three mile loop and stopping, nursing, rocking and resting had had no positive effect.

The thing about a loop is, there is no shortcut home. On we pressed, him screaming, and me wishing I could.

“Bless your heart,” the grandmotherly weeding lady called after us.

I laughed when I told my husband the story that night, but I wondered. Did I look as desperate as I felt?

Desperate to find some control, some peaceful place where I knew I was doing something right. Sleep-deprived to the point of dementia at times, anxious about Alden's refusal to gain weight at normal rates, yet stubbornly determined to exclusively breastfeed so something about this whole mom thing would be the way I had planned. I didn't recognize myself, or the landscape where I found myself.

Nothing was as planned. So I ran. One step after another.

I had finished my first 5k race the spring I got pregnant with Alden. I had never imagined I could do such a thing, or would want to. Overweight my entire life, I almost cried the day I first ran a whole mile. Crossing the finish line of that 5K four months later, I did burst into tears, and had to be yelled at to keep moving so others could get through.

I ran a few more races during the first two years of Alden's life, sometimes pushing him in the stroller and sometimes waving to him and my husband from the starting gates and the finish line.

When he was two, I decided to see if I could do more. Slowly, steadily, I added distance to my runs, looping extra blocks, and eventually extra neighborhoods' worth, until I ran a 10k, then 8 miles, then 10. 11. 12.

The feeling of being able to just. keep. going…was one I had never known. I felt so sure I was doing something right, something unshakable, strong. I was looking at the top of a mountain I hadn't really believed I could climb.

Until (as everyone tells you will happen sometime) I injured myself, a knee tweak that kept me from the half-marathon I'd been working toward. And, just like that—though not all at once—I fell off the cliff. And began a slow, long, self-loathing two year descent to a startling and yet sadly familiar place. I don't recognize myself.

I have gained over 40 pounds and my knees hurt. I take big breaths just walking up several flights of stairs, and I am sure I am not doing anything right. I am standing at the bottom of the mountain, and it is going to be a very long hard climb, especially with the doubts that rattle me. Can I just keep going? Can I find my control, my peaceful place, myself?

There is no shortcut home, and I kinda feel like screaming, but I do remember how this works: One step after another. Bless my heart.


About the Author

Erin Britt

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