Dear Lily June,
Your mother is walking again.
On her walk today, during her hour-long lunch break at work, she thought a lot about walking.
Meta-cognition is when you think about your own thinking. So what is the word when you think about your thinking about your walking during your walk?
Metacognitive perambulation? Does such a thing exist?
Is it why, for instance, we refer to memories as a lane, and the process of drudging them up, reconsidering or reconceiving of them, a “stroll”?
When you mother was a child, she walked for miles. Down beaches, boulevards. It hardly mattered. She doesn’t remember ever tiring.
The world stretched out before her like a never-ending road, and she would take it.
Sometimes, as a teenager, your mother would walk the several miles from school to home, not because she had to, but just for the hell of it.
Her high school really was up a long, winding, steep and sharp wooded hill that could take even the best of hikers’ breath away.
She did a lot of panting, but there was some satisfaction in the moment the breath caught up with the desire to lose it.
In her twenties, she skittered over her college campus like a cockroach. Home was an hour commute, by city bus, away.
This meant loading up before leaving home, bringing every prop of every conceivable contingency plan with her.
At any given point, your mother could be found with an umbrella, a scarf or hat, some kind of jacket, a fresh pair of socks, half a dozen books, an ancient Walk-man held together with duct-tape and running, by that point, less on batteries than some kind of shamanistic magic.
Your mother packed like a figurative rat, like a literal Sherpa, like a scripted Ally Sheedy in the 1985 classic, The Breakfast Club:
Accepted to a graduate program in the deep south, she was asked by a college professor, who’d once taught at the University she was heading to, how she intended to get around.
“I lived there for a year,” her professor told her. “You absolutely need a car to get anywhere in Tuscaloosa.”
Your mother, without car money, went down there anyway. She had two fearless, working feet.
She hit the ground walking.
It took a half an hour to make the mile walk to campus each day, made longer than it might have otherwise been by having to play Frogger to navigate major, multi-lane intersections without, at that time, crosswalks.
Your mother, in her first year at graduate school, lost at least thirty pounds walking an hour each day, five days a week, to work and back.
That didn’t include the mile and back to the grocery store each weekend, often in 80-100 degree heat punctuated by a humidity so thick, it turned air into Jell-O you had to bite your way through.
She would buy as much as she could carry in two grocery bags, one hoisted in each arm home.
Your mother spent almost an entire year living on Pasta Sides by the serving size.
Your father was the first man your mother was with who owned his own car outright. It was like being courted by a king.
He would drive her everywhere, and she would point out places along her route where strange men had tried to lure her into their strange cars, stating that women shouldn’t walk alone, citing Southern hospitality to her, an independent Northerner.
Your father would tell your mother about how, when he tried to walk for exercise, strange frat boys would shout out of strange pickup trucks, “Get a car, fatass!”
The road is always safer on the other side.
To lose weight for their wedding, your mother picked up walking again. There was a river where they’d put in a riverwalk, a winding communal system of sidewalks and bridges weaving through the woods just past the park where your father had proposed in the first place.
Those walks, for at least one summer of your mother’s life, were all she’d ever known of meditation, zen, inner peace.
She’d remember, strolling the path, the poet Ilya Kaminsky telling her that, to internalize another poet’s rhythm, you needed to memorize his/her poem and then walk with it, breathing it in and out until its meter set your heartbeat.
She would, unbeknownst to him, do this with your father’s poetry. She was found out once when, at one of his readings, another poet saw her mouthing every word that he was reading silently, right along with him.
At the wedding, the walk “down the aisle” at Great Stone Castle involved a long staircase, at the bottom of which, your father was waiting. By the end of your mother’s fairly short walk (and your father’s fairly short wait), they were both crying.
Six weeks after your birth, back at work and floundering, your mother would get up from her chair at lunch and walk, especially during the winter, through the four interconnected buildings on campus.
It helped to keep her from breaking down, losing her mind especially on days when you’d had shots from the doctor and you were spiking a fever and your father would call her panicking and she could hear you in the background screaming and there was nothing she could do to help either of you and she was at work, so she couldn’t just start weeping.
Walking kept her heart beating, safe from breaking. Somewhere in her walking heartbeat was the memory of the rhythm of yours when it was still inside of her, thumping safely.
You are over a year old now, and, it feels like, perpetually walking.
You never want to be set in your car seat or a high chair anymore; now, you always want to be propped down onto your feet to toddle across familiar landscapes or off into new sunsets.
Your mother sits at work, restless that she spends so much of her day still and without you and your father. Nine hours feels like forever to her when, everyday from 7:00am to 4:00pm, she has to dutifully go away.
But on her one hour off, during her lunch break, she wants you to know that she gets up from her desk and thinks of every step she’s ever taken that lead her on a path toward you.
She wants you to know that she’s strolling through who she’s been and who your father is, and who you’ll become when you step out onto your own path, out from under either of your parents’ wings, lead only by your own two feet.
Your mother, Lily June, is walking again.
No matter where she starts off going, she will, for now, always be headed toward you.