I am walking home from Hampden. Down Keswick, where all the row houses are stuck together like protesters, safeguarding one of the last remaining green-ish grassy-ish lots in Baltimore from the cars, buses, and the passersby like me. I am walking at a steady clip, this stretch of Keswick being relatively flat with the exception of those occasional manmade street bumps built to keep vehicles from speeding. I am walking fast on purpose.
A few months ago, I went on a hike with a friend at one of the local parks — Loch Raven, I think, though I’m not certain — just after Baltimore had taken another snowy beating, leaving the streets jagged and bruised with slush. It was a frozen Sunday afternoon; icicles decorated the bumpers of cars, the gutters of row homes. I’d just finished a hefty bowl of turkey chili when my friend picked me up. Then, off we went for a brisk, rejuvenating trot in the woods.
My friend is an athlete, a runner, a scaler of the sorts of steep things that require a helmet, harness, and spotter. The only thing I’d recently scaled was the privacy fence behind my house after having left my keys on the nightstand, where they are always kept so as not to be forgotten. My spotter had been the neighbors’ dachshund, yelping indecipherable dog-threats as I grunted and groaned atop the fence, straddling its vertical wooden planks that, ever so slightly, swayed with the wind. A half hour into our hike, I was covered in sweat, cooking beneath my long johns, jeans, layers of shirts, and winter coat; I was out of breath, panting and wheezing, embarrassed of myself. I begged the turkey chili to please, please, please stay down in my stomach. Eventually, my friend and I stopped at a picnic table, upon which I leaned heavily, my legs shaking, my throat warm and scratchy — a hot metallic tube through which, had we walked any further, a fountain of stewed turkey chili would certainly have erupted. I told my friend that we needed to walk slower; I’m sorry. My friend graciously agreed.
Now I’m almost to 29th Street, which is where Hampden ends and Remington begins, where the occasional rogue grassy-ish lots fade into the concrete sprawl of the recycling center and train yard. I’m almost home. I take a sip of the coffee I’m carrying and its heat hits the exposed nerve of a rotten tooth, making me wince, making me declare “fuck, shit, damn!” to the world just as a pair of joggers pass by. My body is wrecked, I want to tell them, but it’s healing. Just you wait, I’ll be jogging alongside you in no time.
But they are long gone.
I now have quite a few athletic friends. People to whom, two or more years ago, I would have made snarky statements to make them feel bad for their healthy ways: “Do you jog in order to have an excuse to wear all that fucking hideous neon?” and “Do you run because you have daddy issues and you feel that doing so allows you to literally escape your psychological problems?” In fact, I probably did say such things to a few people. I’m sorry. I was so mean!
These days, I want to be fit too. And I outwardly admire my athletic friends, ask them for advice on what kind of running shoes to buy and where in Baltimore I should jog and not jog. And these athletic friends of mine who knew me two years ago, well, they at least seem to have forgiven me. Apparent in their proclivity to keeping themselves healthy, so was I, back then, in my perpetual state of miserly discontent.
I am a few meters from my house now. Soon, I’ll be in my office, reading, writing, typing away on my laptop. I’m suddenly in the mood to make a declaration. I want to tell all of my moving, shaking, jogging, dancing friends that, hey, I want to do those things with you. Please.