Growing up I was never a confident child. It took years and years of finding my way through moments that tested my idea of strength and confidence to get me where I am as an adult, but even then I often found myself subject to the opinions of others, wanting their acceptance, and diminished in their ridicule. I didn’t view my physical body as attractive nor my grasp of the world stable, which meant when the validity of either was questioned, I could not respond. I could only defend the insults with exaggerated verbal defensiveness and outward confidence, but really harboring an inward vulnerability.
At some point, however, I transcended both, through the understanding that neither mattered. Finally breaking from the idea that physical attractiveness has an external definition and that only experts are privileged with intelligence, I was able to find the confidence in myself to pursue living on my terms, to create my own definitions of attractiveness and to find a comfort in not knowing. To let go of imposed definitions, imposed parameters, morals and ideals not of your own making, is to offer yourself a blank slate with which to create your own guides, your own interests, your own defenses against a culture that demands not only subservience, but the insult that you must feel broken should you not meet their expectations.
To let go of all that is to become untouchable.
The weather had finally broke from it’s wet blanket of summer humidity and a cool air snuck under the covers, waking the morning with a refreshing bite and chill. I drank down my morning coffee slowly, enjoying both the wake and the warmth. I pulled on my shorts that are barely there and tied my running shoes snug. Going through the warm up motions of crossing arms and gentle leg swings on my porch, I gave the grey light a few more minutes to yellow the tint of the surrounding houses and trees. I started off down the street slowly, gently letting the pace increase by the tension of muscles letting go from the restriction of sleep and lack of movement. By the time I had made it out of my neighborhood, my legs were turning over easily and quickly, compelled to bounce off the ground and glide over the sidewalk more than pushing myself forward with intention. My lungs stayed at ease, no need to work against the gentle chill in the air keeping my body temperature stable.
A mile up the road I started passing groups of school kids waiting at the corner for the bus. Either too early for harmless, child-like mocking or I was too fast for words, they stared at me with an amusement displayed through the looks on their faces, something as fascinating to them as hilarious. A white dude in short shorts, running shoes, bright blue hat, and nothing else, running down the sidewalk on a newly chilled morning. I could understand their expressions.
Running, I found, has made me untouchable, in the same ways I consciously let go of everything that I allowed to injure me before. The opinions of others, while in the act of running, no longer matter. It is the focus that involves moving forward with considerable momentum, stabilizing the muscular effort of propelling 140 pounds with the measure of lungs inhaling and exhaling at a rate that pushes one’s boundaries but keeps you from going over the edge. There is room for little else in that effort. There is only room to be untouched, to move past it, and keep going.
It is also the recognition that most can not do what one is doing in the act of running. For those throwing insults and mockery, it is likely always the act of jealousy, of knowing they can only keep up with words, in that short moment, and never with their physical bodies. Legs and lungs would burst into flame just trying to begin the effort. To then add, personally, the awareness of my physical struggles with cancer, to know what I have come through, to know what I’m going through, to have the scars and implants bared out in the open for all to see, is to make any attempt at mockery, well, not even laughable…but just not even worth consideration. I run through them, untouchable.
But still, they try.
I continued down the sidewalk with a stable swiftness and fluidity I hadn’t felt in quite some time, over tilted concrete, ducking under branches like an elusive boxer, regaining the rhythm after each momentary break. Along the houses still dark with sleep or abandonment.
I passed by one awake. I heard the words, barely.
“Puh onna iir”.
Not breaking stride I continued onto the next block, letting the syllables form in my head.
Oh. “Put on a shirt.”
I kept running…untouchable.
A little context. I had heard this before, from this same house. And I hadn’t forgotten. I hadn’t forgotten because the first time it happened the altercation was a little more direct, with a response. The declaration to “put on a shirt” came from a man, a muslim, with a haircutting “business” he has established on his porch. He wears a white tunic that touches the ground.
Let me first clarify. The absurd delusions of believing in a god aside, I have zero problems with an individual’s religious associations…until those moral guides they have accepted for themselves are applied to others. Then, well, go fuck yourself.
So, when he told me, the first time, to “put on a shirt”, I was in the mood to respond.
“Put on a shirt!” he demanded.
Going the intentionally naive, surely-there-is-nothing-wrong-with-this-so-what-is-wrong-with-you route, I responded with a simple, “Why?”
“Look at you.” he said with as much clarification.
I broke and taunted him back. “Yeah, look at me. You jealous?”
This altercation, by the way, was all done in movement. Me not breaking from my run, except to turn around and gesture towards my body in a “fuck your modesty” kind of way. So when he responded after my statement, I was too far away to hear or care. But I always marked that house in my mind, as a point of potential conflict.
This time, when he said, “Put on a shirt.” I won’t say it touched me, but the repetition of the demand sat with me and I had another mile or so to consider my response upon my return when I was going to pass by his house again. I’ll admit, I was sort of relishing this moment. I thought about so many potential responses.
I wanted to insult him, to shame and break his arrogance in dictating morality to others. I wanted to call out his belief and spit on his god. “Say it again you delusional fuck. Tell me to put my shirt on. Fuck your patriarchal, frightened morality and your embarrassing idea of a god. Go ahead, try and shame me you pathetic piece of shit. It will never work.” My adrenaline was high.
And I wanted to guilt him. I wanted to take the high road, calmly and kindly. “I’m sorry you feel broken and unhappy. I’m sorry you want to bring others down to your level, down to your sadness, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can let go and find happiness in your own life, so you don’t have to resort to trying to ruin others…because that won’t help.”
And I wanted to ignore him. I wanted to run right by, expressing just how untouchable I was in action, by that horrible sensation of feeling like no one even knows you exist, that tightened tension when your admonishments aren’t even heard, when you are a ghost, despite your best attempts to let the world know just how right you are. But you are ultimately nothing.
I wanted to let him know, in some way, that his delusion, his faith, his morality, his religion, his arrogance, could not touch me. No one’s can anymore.
I kept running, and with all these responses competing for space in my head, while I tried to keep the intensity and positivity in my heart, I heard someone else.
“Hey, runner man!”, a young girl called out from across the street, trailed by a group of her friends walking to school.
I smiled internally, threw out a hand for acknowledgment, and offered a “Good morning girls.”
I allowed to be touchable in that moment.
Another potential response grew. I imagined actually stopping running and turning to face him on his porch, “You know what? I run by here every day. EVERY DAY. And I run buy all sorts of people, in their cars, on their porches, walking to school, and you know what? No one says anything, except for some of the kids I pass, and you know what they say? They say HI. They say GOOD MORNING. They choose to say something nice and positive. Except you. You don’t say anything of value. You decide to tell me how to live my life, someone you don’t even know. So yeah, what does that say about you?”
I hit my turnaround point, feeling as strong and as smooth and as untouchable as ever, gliding over the sidewalk, powering up the hills, and sensing no mounting fatigue. Back across the intersection and down the hill with a longer stride, the air chilling the sweat beading up on my exposed skin. Running over stretches of grass precariously hanging on to the morning dew, my shoes absorbing the moisture and then letting go as I merge with traffic before bounding back up onto the sidewalk. I begin climbing another short hill while the lines of cars stretch outward to drop off their children at school. To the right I see a group of girls in uniforms walking up a hill. One of them calls out again.
“Good morning again Mr. Runner man!”
I am, apparently, a part of their morning routine now. I smile and shout back.
“Good morning again girls!”
The sidewalk levels out and I concentrate moving forward with the same fluidity as when I began, moving closer and closer to the man who tried to admonish me on the way out. I feel a flutter in my stomach as I get closer, an unavoidable fight or flight response. Quickly going through my options, weighing my emotional state of his words against the school girls, feeling positive and yet determined, I decided to be in the moment, to not script my response, to, well, see what comes out. To go with the honesty of the moment.
But I also had no intention of slowing down. No moralistic asshole is going to break my stride. Not on a day like this. I neared his porch, continued moving with intention and listened…but nothing. I kept running. Untouchable.
This morning, I ran by his house again, in the same chilled air, with the same strength and fluidity. I saw him sitting on the porch a few houses away as I neared. He was in his white tunic, slumped into a couch, reading a book. I set my eyes on him and kept running, as I got to the edge of his property he looked up and we locked eyes. I kept running. I kept my eyes locked on his and as I moved past I turned my head so as not to break my gaze. I was daring him. Say something. Go ahead. Tell me to put my shirt on.
He said nothing. I kept running. Untouchable.