For the past year, I have been running. Around the subdivision. At the gym. On the treadmill. With my stepdaughter. With my friends. In little, sterile gyms if I’m at a hotel. On Wellington Crescent if I’m at my mom’s house. Up Mount Royal if I’m in Montreal. But mostly just on my street. Almost every day, I lace up my runners, grab a water bottle and go.
For a year, I’ve been telling myself and others I’m training for a half-marathon. But so far, I haven’t even registered for one. Things have come up. We were busy that weekend. Or it was too hot that day.
But finally last week, as I raced on the treadmill and sweat poured out of me and I forced myself to go faster and made my friend beside me go faster with me, I asked myself why I hadn’t made it happen yet. If my goal was really to run a half-marathon, why hadn’t I?
It was then that I realized why I was really running — or, more specifically, what I was running from.
As far as I know, there are few things I ever do subconsciously. I’ve read about countless heroines who do things in novels without realizing they’re doing them: bite their lip, arch their back, look lost, suddenly start to cry without knowing tears were coming. I’ve never been one of those women, and I’ve never really believed they existed either. Always, even if I do arch my back, I understand why I do things and what the motivation is behind them.
But when I drove home from the gym a week ago and realized that all of this running for the past year never had anything to do with a half-marathon, I was absolutely stunned. Here I thought I was just trying to be healthy and fit. But really what I was trying to be is young again.
There are lots of jokes out there and plenty of clever “New Yorker” cartoons that refer to a woman’s biological clock. I think for a lot of women, the clock is something they realize is there but don’t think much about. This is, in large part, because they are married and have children or are neither but want neither. For women who already have children, they are intimately tied to lives that are blossoming so the ticking is less loud. It’s drowned out by new, humming beginnings, not the quiet ending of something. But when you’re 35 and you want to have a baby but just can’t seem to get pregnant, the ticking is really loud. Not only is it loud, it’s very heavy.
For me, that pressure is not so much something that makes me sad or angry. It’s not tied to any strong emotion, per se, it’s just something that is always there, and I really don’t want it to be. I don’t want to feel old but I do.
Many of you might be scoffing right now, insisting that I don’t know from old. That old is 38 or 42 or 45, that that’s really old. And you might be right. But when my doctor ordered me to get a baseline mammogram a few months ago, I didn’t care that maybe there are women out there who are older than me who are having babies. That John Travolta’s wife was 49. I just wanted to be 28 and cheerful and not be old enough to need a mammogram.
When the ticking gets the loudest, I start to admonish myself for not having prevented it from happening. It’s like that dream you have in which you’re having to take the exam but you haven’t studied for the test and you haven’t even gone to class all semester. So you just sit there, freaking out, wondering why in the hell you didn’t work toward this moment before, why you’ve left yourself unequipped at the last minute.
Then, sometimes, the ticking stops altogether. For brief moments, maybe an entire evening, the pressure will lift. I won’t think about my cycle or about how my friends’ kids are getting older so that even if I do have a baby he or she won’t have anyone to play with. I don’t calculate when the baby’s birthday will be if I get pregnant that month. I don’t worry that I’ll be an old mother and that my husband will be an old dad. I just forget entirely and, like the sun bursting from the cloak of the cloud, I remember what it’s like to feel young again.
When I have those moments, I realize that I’m stuck in a heavy, but relatively brief phase in my life, an existence that faces all women at some point, whether it’s the decision to have a baby or to have another one. Eventually, the ticking will stop either because the clock will run out or I will have a baby. At that time, I realize I’m fine with whatever happens — whether it’s new life or it’s the beautiful three-member family I have now — because it will mean a decision has been made and the end has come. And I won’t have to run anymore.