Roam: Learning your power
“As long as you’re in front of Moritz- you’re doing okay.” I hardly hear him over my heavy breathing and pounding heart. I only register what he is saying as my classmates snicker as they lap me on our weekly mile run.
I have thick thighs, a stubborn belly- curves. But not the curves that are romanticized; not the ones that you see on the pages of magazines; not in all the right places. I stuck out like a sore thumb, big and unwieldy. I’d heard more than once, “you don’t look like you’re from Los Angeles.”
“A girl like you isn’t built for that.” Because I felt I wasn’t built for experiencing- I was meant to blend in, hide along the sidelines, I didn’t dream of adventure, never dreamt of possibilities. Instead, I dreamt of how to stay under the radar. I perfected the art of being invisible, fantasized about shrinking and disappearing altogether.
I learned to be funny, to be agreeable, make the jokes before someone else can, tear yourself down and no one else will have the opportunity: and to say “yes,” always say “yes” even when “no” pounds in your chest and rattles between your ears.
I didn’t know that being agreeable can be dangerous. 1000’s of yesses, and 100’s of bad decisions later and found myself standing woefully underdressed on a cold fall day at what I now acerbically refer to as “bad kid school” in Provo, Utah.
I was told, “If you follow the rules, you’ll gain privileges. How much you enjoy your time here is up to you.” And another yes, “Yes ma’am.” I meet my housemates: “You don’t look like you’re from California.”
Six months later, I lay on the cold ground, shivering in a sleeping bag (being underdressed is a habit I unfortunately developed) staring up at what I’m sure are a billion stars. I soaked it all in, basking in the soft glow of the moon, and yet all in the stillness, the silence echoes “You weren’t built for this.”
I focus on the life all around me, listening for the sounds ones I’d never heard before. I hear little critters scraping at the earth underneath them, moths flapping their wings in the shadow of the moon; I hear a howl against the sky, and instead, I think “Maybe a girl like you is built for this.”
Six more months go by, and I’m standing at the familiar doorway of my house. I am home, and yet the world feels congested and lonely all at once. I find myself missing Utah and unsure of how to walk around in a skin that doesn’t feel like mine; I’m utterly lost. The battle with my body rages with a vengeance. And again, “yes” spills from my lips until I don’t know myself.
One day, sick of the clamor and chaos, I find myself driving along Pacific Coast Highway. I spot a hiking trail: just a narrow, unimpressive little trail- inconspicuously starting behind a gas station. It’s dusty and scrambles awkwardly up the mountains, it looks about as out of place as I feel on it. But without a second thought, I take a breath, and my first ever yes- for myself stumbles and shakes between raspy breathing. I’m bound and determined to finish this trail. I look down at my thighs, sore and dusty, and for the first time, I see them as an ally, not an enemy.
“Yes, I’ll move to Montana.” A yes like this- screaming to be let loose, it explodes from my lips, and just like that, I just changed my life. I was 22 hours from everything I had known, sleeping on an inflatable twin mattress, living off of leftovers from my waitressing job, and smoking and drinking too much. I hardly slept: saying “yes” poured forth, and the exhaustion of making myself likable was wearing me down.
Nobody questioned my body since stress had eaten away at my stubborn stomach, and my shoulders became bony from carrying the weight of the world. But nobody questioned if I belonged on a rock wall or kayaking the North Fork River.
I doubted my body- in secret. Again, we were two entities: my body and me. I felt like an imposter. All geared up and nowhere to go. I bounded from relationship to relationship, trying to outrun my insecurities. “A girl like you can’t be meant for much.”
And then I met my (soon to be) husband.
“Want to go camping?” and another yes, the kind that you don’t realize is about to change everything, comes tumbling out.
“I’m not sure my body can do this.” I’m pregnant. We lived in a tent and knew each other for only six weeks. I was 22 and terrified.
I watch as my belly grows big, and my steps get heavy. And for the first time, sticking out like a sore thumb wasn’t bad. I waddled along hiking trails, my peers bounding ahead, and it didn’t matter. My body had become something mighty, a force of nature like an avalanche or summer storm.
Three kids later, the power melts and dissipates after each birth, it’s the aftermath of the avalanche- wreckage. I have watched my body morph. I gaze at my figure in the mirror, frozen in photos, and I feel foreign. And again, I feel at war with this body of mine.
“I know a woman who had three kids, and she bounced right back. You didn’t expect to bounce right back, did you?” “Some bodies aren’t made to do that.”
My daughter has just turned two, and I had just had my thyroid removed, and to add insult to injury, I’d gained over 50 pounds as a result. I had always felt at odds with my body, but this was an actual betrayal.
I’d never stepped foot into a gym; it was the glaring paradox of feeling like you need to be fit to go to the gym. I was terrified that all the voices, all the looks, and the echoes of “Some bodies aren’t meant to run.”
My friend, and in my mind, a “real” runner casually asks me one day, “Want to run a 5k?”
I cry my way through the 3.1 miles. Unsure of what possessed me to say yes to this madness. “As long as you’re in front of Moritz, you’re doing okay.” I hear it over and over in time with my heavy breaths. It’s done. I catch a glimpse of my reflection in a window, my face streaked with sweat and tears and I think, “Maybe I’m meant for this.”
After that 5k, I decided to try my hand at trail running. Initially, it was to hide from sideways glances and judging stares. Then it became a source of power, a silent rebellion against the idea that certain bodies don’t belong. “Yes, I do.”
I’m back in Utah, it’s late August, and the air feels familiar. I am loading my day pack for my early morning meet-up time. It’s the night before I hike Mt. Timpanogos with Freedom Hikers.
I’d signed on to this organization to help raise money and awareness- to free women and children from sexual slavery- through group hikes. It felt like a way to use the outdoors as a way to empower others, as it had done for me.
I’d trained and fundraised for this all summer: ran 40 miles a week, carried my daughter countless miles on my back, and spoke to people about the organization. And then- “That’s a big hike, are you sure you’re up for it?” That question hangs like smog over my anticipation.
If only they knew how far I can run, how the art of suffering and pushing through has become my rebellion. How my body and I have called a truce. How I can’t and won’t shrink back to the corners. How my “yes” has become a battle cry. “Yes, I belong here, yes, my body can.” Everybody can.
“As long as you’re in front of Moritz, you’re doing alright.” “Yes, if you can catch me first.”
The “yesses” that shook and shrunk me have become the very word that reminds me to take up space. “A girl like you isn’t built for climbing.” Yes, she is. “You’re not built like a runner.” Yes, I might not look like a runner, but other runners look like me.
My body hasn’t changed. The thick thighs and soft stomach, the curves that for so long defined where I “belong” are more pronounced than ever. My daughter watches me run and hike. My sons watch me try (and fail) at bouldering. My children watch me take up space.
I’m done loading my pack. I set it by the door, and I sit down on the hotel bed next to my daughter. “You ready, mama?
About the writer
Alyx is a mama to three. Aspiring writer// world traveler. Type-B wanderlust extraordinaire. Midwest & Mountains. Join her at @rewild_mama on IG and weekly on IGTV for her #rewildmotherhood series.