I huffed and puffed a little more than I wanted to in the middle of slow but long hill. I looked at my mileage: 8.58 miles. I sighed and kept on running. And then Taylor Swift told me that everything would be alright if we just kept dancing like we were 22.
“Shut up, Taylor.”
I said it out loud. Only the horses in the field nearby heard me, but I’m sure they wondered why the sweat-drenched woman in green attempting to run up the hill was talking to herself. Answer: Because who else are you supposed to talk to out on the road and you just want to quit but you promised yourself you would run 9 miles?
“I’d love to feel 22 right now.”
My second run after my back injury flared up and caused me to take a short break, I felt good lung-wise but had a list of pains, aches and general complaints. My back felt tired. My right hip desperately needed to be stacked and cracked. As this was my first trip running out a different road, a misstep caused me to almost twist my ankle and knee, both of which felt faintly like someone had kicked them. Hard. Sweat kept dripping into my eyes which stung. A lot.
“I’m sure running these long distances at 22 would have been much easier.”
My hips weren’t this wide; in fact, I barely had hips and they never cracked when I rolled over in the morning. My back didn’t hurt if I moved or twisted or breathed wrong. I did have a problem with an ankle, but in my younger years, I just put on a wrap and did whatever it was that I wanted to do, pain be damned. I took all of that for granted, of course, because you don’t miss your non-existent hips and aches and pains until they exist.
I continued huffing up the hill. Taylor Swift kept regaling the magic age of 22. A decade out from that age, I snorted.
“But, Taylor, my 22 wasn’t anything like what you sing about with that stupid catchy tune.”
I spent a large part of my 22nd year on Level III bed rest. After spiking a 104 degree fever while 18 weeks pregnant, I went through an emergency surgery on my kidney. I spent the next few months in and out of bed, on and off the couch, in and out of the hospital. Mostly alone, mostly scared. For all of those reasons and more, when I was 22, I placed my baby in the arms of another mother. That Christmas, my hormones still out of whack and scared about what an unreturned phone call might mean, I cut myself — for what I hope remains the last time in my life.
I did no dancing when I was 22.
22 was the year that I grew up in quick order. I aged years during the months in bed. I aged decades during the sleepless, bloody, breast leaking nights after I left the hospital alone. When I think of who I was when I was 22, I see a scared little girl who just wanted someone to tell her that they believed in her. If 32-year-old me could hold the hand of 22-year-old me, I’d tell her that she was stronger than she knew, that I believed in her. 22-year-old me would likely have ignored 32-year-old me, because 22-year-old me knew lots and lots about life and everyone else obviously knew very little.
22 felt like deep, drowning grief. 22 felt like loss, like suffocating. 22 felt like pain, physical and emotional. 22 felt lonely. 22 felt scary and unsure, terrified of making any decision lest it be the wrong one — or the right one. 22 felt like a crisis of faith. 22 felt like the weight of everything I had ever done, everything I had ever chosen. 22 felt almost hopeless.
No, I don’t want to go back to being 22. Or feeling that way — so lost, so alone, so desperately broken.
As I continued running up the hill that would not end, I decided that being 32 — and feeling 32 — sounds much better to me. I like me at 32. I like my body, despite its creaks and groans. I like understanding my emotions and what to do with all those feels. I like knowing more about the world at large, having lived some more and opened my heart and mind to the life experiences of others on their own journeys. I like laughing along with others, and crying with them too.
32 feels like peace. 32 feels like joy and happiness and love. 32 has some hard days, because hard days exist at every age, but I’ve learned how to muddle my way through them and come out on the other side in one piece. 32 feels like I know who I am.
And I love dancing like I’m 32, hips and loose skin, thighs and breasts flapping, holding my back while I laugh so hard because my sons’ dance moves are so killer.
“You can have your 22. I’ll take 32, Taylor,” I huffed as I finally crested the hill. “Thirty-two-oo-oo.”