I go to Whole Foods when I wasn’t planning to and buy too many groceries. I fit what I can into my black nylon backpack—a free gift from a retreat I once attended, which I never would have purchased for myself because of the gold zippers and the fact that I would never spend that much money on a backpack—and load the remaining groceries into a paper bag. As soon as I lift the paper bag, one handle breaks. I grab a new bag, but rather than individually repack my items, I simply slip the broken one inside. I leave, holding three out of the four handles. On the subway platform waiting for the D, another handle breaks, on the same side as the first. The bag tips at an angle, my hand gripping the two handles on one side, two useless strips of paper flailing on the other. I fumble with the bag, grabbing it by the bottom as the train pulls into the platform. I walk on and find a seat. I separate the paper layers, leaving the outer bag open, empty, waiting on the subway floor, and raise the inner, full bag into the air. I spin it 180 degrees, and drop it back into the outer bag. One working handle and one useless strip of paper on each side. I lean back against the subway seat and pull out my phone.
[Image: A woman on TikTok wears a white cotton nightgown. Her hair is long and messy and curly, and her bangs have separated into soft rings over her forehead. As she steps back from the camera, she purses her lips, rests one hand on her hip and holds up a peace sign with the other. She wears an AirPod in one ear. The overlaid text reads How to do Cardio when you Hate Cardio but Love Period Dramas. Her peace sign hand turns to a fist, she flexes the muscles hidden beneath her eyelet sleeve. She downs a glass of water, tipping her head all the way back. The camera cuts—now her hair is tied back in a low-slung ponytail and she wears a pair of crisp white gloves, like the kind I used to buy for framing photographs to avoid leaving fingerprints on the inside of the glass. Her hands fold over each other in front of her chest. Set the scene: You find your lover with someone else at the party. She stares offscreen with a fixed gaze, her mouth agape. The strap of her sunshine yellow sports bra peeks out from the square neckline of her Nap Dress on one side. Stumble away like you’re gonna pass out. One open curl of hair falls beside her face, drawing a line which abstractly mirrors her own three-quarter profile, the silhouette of her cheekbone, her nose, her chin. Those optical illusions that ask if what you’re seeing is a vase or two faces. The delicate chain of her necklace extends the line of her collarbone to meet in the exact center. She steps back, blinking repeatedly as if to clear the fog from her eyes. Push through the oblivious crowd. She begins to walk, arms pressing forward and sweeping to the sides. She picks up speed. Start out with a brisk walk out the door. Her breath is short, staccato. Get brisker and remove accessories. She removes one glove, undoes her ponytail, and then peels off the other glove. She gasps, trying to hold back tears. A light jog. She runs, lifting each forearm to the full height of her shoulders with each stride, mouth open in full sobs. Full send sprint. Her movements become more erratic, shoulders bounding upwards to her ears. She falls, exiting the bottom right hand corner of the screen. Until you absolutely wipe out—runner emoji—you got this queen. The camera cuts again. And rest—three applause emojis. She’s crying, eyes closed, one hand clasped over her open mouth to catch the imagined blood. Recover from subsequent injuries for a month, bc you deserve it—raised hands emoji, fire emojis. She lays in bed over a white embroidered pillow case. The light through the window panes falls at an angle across the wall behind her, only illuminating the top of her head, a small section of her temple, and her hand, which she presses against her forehead with her palm up towards the ceiling. She lowers her hand to her mouth, scrunches her nose and yawns into her palm. She raises her eyebrows and rolls her eyes. One last camera cut; she’s pouring herself water from a blue-topped Brita pitcher into a short glass dotted with cat faces. She raises her glass and looks into the lens, stone faced. She downs the glass and offers a sarcastic grimace. Proud of you.]
Ten years ago, wandering in San Francisco, with plans to meet friends later in the evening, I suddenly become self-conscious of the way I looked in my tank top. I ducked into Forever21 and bought a plain gray t-shirt. I preferred the way it looked worn backwards, so I removed the tag with the scissors of the swiss army knife I kept inside my pencil case, so that it wouldn’t irritate my neck. I half-tucked the t-shirt into my high-waisted shorts. Months later, I put the shirt back on, gathered a section of the fabric, and pierced through it with a large tarnished pin my grandmother had given me. The cotton folded into soft pleats, narrowing slightly towards my waist, creating a more “flattering” silhouette. I left the pin in that t-shirt for years. I never removed it when I tossed the shirt into the wash. When the pinholes grew too large, forming a dotted line like morse code “— - — -,” I would momentarily take off the pin, re-gather the fabric, and reattach it through the still-intact patches between the holes.
Whenever I tried to exercise back then, I would always speed-walk at a steep incline for twenty to thirty minutes. When I stepped off of the treadmill, I could feel the pounding of my heartbeat, my feet sinking further into the ground than they had thirty minutes earlier, and I would decide that I needed to leave the gym immediately. Instead of doing actual research into this experience, I was simply certain that it made obvious sense, and began to call the phenomenon a reverse-mind-body thing; my brain feels my heart racing and misinterprets the adrenaline, unable to distinguish a normal cardio heart rate from a panic attack.
Why is it that I can read or write on the subway, or scroll endlessly on Twitter, without ever feeling queasy? But I can’t read in a car, can hardly look at my phone for too long in the passenger’s seat? Why am I so quick to Google certain questions—literally any question I have about a movie as I’m watching it—yet, with others, I feel so comfortable to sit there in my lack of understanding? In the not-knowing, in the myriad potential answers, in the space to come up with my own and then lean into those assertions? It’s been years now since I last attempted to go for a run, though I sometimes still think that I’d love jogging by the water, and I’ll always run to catch a train.
At this point I’ve removed the pin from that old t-shirt entirely, and only wear it to the gym, flipping it backwards (or perhaps finally forwards) so that the gashes are behind me. Now I twist the sleeves inward and under themselves when I wear it, tucking them below the straps of my sports bra. The neckline widens to a boatneck style when I do this, and the t-shirt becomes a tank top with thickly rolled straps. On instagram I receive targeted ads for a clothing brand of elevated basics: asymmetric tank tops and long sleeve shirts whose fabric has been gathered at the shoulders, or the waist. I frequently add items to my cart on the brand’s website, and then I close the window because I do not want to spend $88 on a tank top simply because it almost-but-not-quite resembles the carefully manipulated t-shirt I admire myself wearing as I watch myself do kettlebell spins in the mirror at the gym.
— - — - I LOVE