To make good use of my time I’ve been running (jogging? straining my hip flexors?) in a park near the high school where my 15yo homeschooler takes a Chinese class. I was thinking about starting a running or fitness blog, the way it seems briefly logical to start a blog to accompany any new endeavor these days.
In the end, I decided not to because the potential for feeling self-conscious or embarrassed seemed too high. I thought photos would make me feel silly, and my slow times and sad intervals would make me look stupid. The first day I added some slow jogging intervals to my walks, I had to force myself to keep bouncing slightly at my snail’s pace every time another Athleta-clad cougar—the kind for whom the phrase “keeping it tight” is not used ironically–came around the corner.
Little did I suspect that humiliation would look more like scraped shins, muddy knees, and several frantic text messages to my husband and daughter. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
When telling a story, going from beginning to end is not always the clearest route. If this story were a film it would start with me standing outside the shower, finding one twig, then another, then a third, while shaking the ponytail out of my hair. It would show my naked feet, then calves, while I hosed off dirt – and please God not poison ivy – and discovered likely future bruises. The scene would end as I discovered new tender spots and red scratches on my forearms – “Ouch!”
Only then would the story cut back to me running through a wooded park with the dawning realization that the nearest bathroom might not be near enough. A shot of my eyes shifting back and forth, realizing that what had looked earlier like dense brush and thick stands of trees was in fact a sparse collection of reedy branches and fallen logs. A sigh of frustration mingled with the sound of the streams that run under the picturesque bridges of my beautiful walking path. A shortening stride, a determined grimace, and finally, a furtive exploratory dash into a bank of small trees.
But no. I couldn’t do it. Thirty minutes til I’d be at a bathroom, tops. No problem. I emerged from the trees just as an older lady walked past, and I wondered how I looked with my t-shirt full of holes and my ill-fitting fanny pack, clambering out of the woods like an escaped convict. I moved quickly to get ahead of her.
I had started back towards my car at this point, but there was still a ways to go, and moving quickly seemed less and less an option. Finally, I saw my salvation. No, not a bathroom. A turnstile entrance into the nature center part of the park, sure to be less traveled than my running path.
The trees were not much thicker there, but the odds of avoiding another person were in my favor. I crawled back through thick brush and found a clump of thin trunks that might provide some privacy. I tossed my fanny pack aside, took a deep breath and – no. No. I had gone at least 30 years without, well, going in the great outdoors, and I would not break that streak now.
I made my way back to the path, tripping over a fallen tree and pulling a dead branch pointy end first into my chest. Unfortunately, by the time I had run this obstacle course, it was clear I was going to be peeing in that park, on purpose or otherwise. Back into the brush I went, looking for the thickest tree trunk, glancing quickly at the ground cover and thinking “Leaves of three, let it be?” Once more I tossed aside the fanny pack and braced myself for the sense of burning shame that comes only from popping a squat in a park in the middle of one of the Twin Cities’ toniest suburbs.
Reader, I saw a man about a horse. I spent a penny. I came forth from the copse victorious, empowered.
As any writer knows, the walk/run back the car was filled with ruminations on just how this narrative would flow when I got home. It would be the story of a 40-ish woman who found freedom on the trail and said yes to taking her pants off outdoors. Until I got to my car and discovered that my keys had fallen out of the fanny pack.
I’ll spare you that part of the adventure, though it involved me looking once again for likely makeshift outhouses until I gave up and only discovered my keys on the way back. By then my story of whimsical liberation had become the tragically familiar tale of an almost 45-year-old woman for whom perimenopause meant both poorly timed urgency and misplaced keys.
Cut to sweaty pick-up of daughter, an hour late. A shot of an inappropriately amused husband shaking his head. “Did you tell your co-workers that your wife peed in the woods and lost her car keys?” A long, smirking pause. “I’m not going to tell you what I told my co-workers.”
Fade out on a 40-something woman running along a wooded path in bright blue shoes and new fanny pack with an excellent zipper.