I walk fast. I have long legs and a long stride. I don’t play about it. When I walk, I am on the move.
Fast means I have seen people—including my family—part like thinning hair when I approach. If I’m not bogged down with packages while shopping, people think I’m a mall walker. Even as an adult, I’ve been told to “stop running in church.”
I’m not running. And most of the time I’m not in a hurry. This all started in sixth grade. Fed up with the sketchy education we were receiving in the Kansas City public schools, my parents put my brother and me in a Catholic school.
The transition was difficult. My friends were gone. The school was in a completely different neighborhood. The change in cultural makeup was drastic. I couldn’t stand dressing like other people and equated our new blue plaid uniforms with conformity. I was suddenly in the “slow” reading group. I had hit puberty during the summer and my boobs screamed “Hello, world!” to announce their arrival. (Because of new classmate Tony Quintero and his fascination with them, I didn’t wear a turtleneck again until I was in my mid-30s.)
I hated it.
I cried in the restroom every day for the first three weeks. Every. Single. Day.
And in all that, what was I constantly reprimanded for? Walking too slow.
Of all the things that changed, my pace was a problem?
We had to line up to go every damn where. Recess. Programs in the auditorium. Mass. Field trips. Fire and tornado drills.
My sixth grade class lined up and marched by the fourth and fifth grade classrooms on our way to lunch in the cafeteria. “Close up this gap!” Sister Lucille bellowed at me. She was also new to the school and once danced with a Christmas tree. She snapped her fingers at me then gestured at the empty space between me and the next student, a good twenty feet ahead. I wasn’t aloof. My new surroundings were overwhelming and intriguing. I wasn’t used to seeing all the statues and portraits of Mary and Baby Jesus all over a school. We were supposed to acknowledge them and be reverent but not dwell on them. Keep the line moving.
One day she followed her “close up this gap” mantra with “walk with some purpose.”
And something clicked.
The furious pace crept into my world and took up residency. The practice came in handy when I graduated and moved into high school. The journey across the quad wasn’t for punks. No matter the weather, four minutes was all I had to make it from history class on the third floor of the Music and Arts building to algebra on the third floor of Donnelly Hall. It prepared me for even longer treks in college.
The only thing that came out of all the rushing around was that I missed a lot of things. That walk with some purpose mentality has stuck with me in everything and even applies when I’m driving. I don’t look around or notice other drivers unless they’re in my way or about to hit me. I drove by Cleaver Blvd., and Troost for months before I noticed—when riding in a car with someone else at the wheel—a whole row of buildings on the south side of Cleaver had been demolished. A mini mall and a Subway filled the space. At home, a house on the end of my block that had been there my entire life vanished like a sweet potato pie on Thanksgiving. I grew up with the kids who lived there. Our parents were friends. But the house had been razed so long all the debris had been removed and a lush green lawn had grown knee-high in the empty space before I noticed it was gone.
Leaving work one Friday evening last summer, my coworker, in her quest to beat me to the office exit, stepped in front of me to get to the door. I applaud anyone who can move faster than I do. I stopped, let her by and wondered if she really had something to do or if she was just being obnoxious in stepping in front of me. But she got to the door before the security sensor saw her so it wouldn’t open. BAM! She face-planted right into the middle of that thick locked door. Then she muttered “stupid door.” I said, “Don’t blame the door.”
(Sorry. Just returned from a ten minute break. The sight and sound of her bouncing off that door still gives me the biggest laugh of any day.)
I will be the first one to say I’m grateful I have a job because so many people struggle to find one. But I’m deadly honest about the fact that I’m not fond of the one I have. A month later, with the memory of my coworker’s face-in-the-door still fresh in my mind, I was leaving my doctor’s office. As I crossed the courtyard area of the medical plaza on my way to the parking garage, I spied a white-haired elderly couple on my right also walking toward the garage. I mentally timed our arrivals and knew they would beat me to the narrow staircase. I picked up my pace. The whole scene played out in my head as I tried to beat them to the stairs. They were doing a snail’s crawl and I knew if they reached the stairs to the garage before I did, it would take an eternity for me to get to my car. Then somehow they would magically get to their car first and I would be stuck behind them descending the long, winding, one-way traffic to the exit. Because people that walked that slowly surely drove at the same pace.
I sped up and arrived at the stairs just before them. Then…
I somehow missed the first step. If it hadn’t been a warm sunny day I would have sworn I hit a patch of black ice. As I fell in slow motion—because falling is somehow always in slow motion— I saw that elderly couple reach for me and mouth, “Oh no! Are you alright, dear?” I caught myself before my face could slam into the pavement. My purse was inexplicably open and all my junk spilled out.
Grateful they checked on me, I assured them I was fine and I could manage. They smiled and promptly stepped around me, up the stairs to the parking garage. I scooped up my lipstick, eyeliner, ChapStick, loose change, feminine products, ink pens and EpiPens and resumed my hasty pace to my car. When I realized they were in the car in front of me, in my way, making the long, slow descent down the spirally exit I laughed so hard at myself I thought my stomach would pop open. I deserved every bit of that fall because I was rushing. Again. And rude in the process. All because I was in a freaking hurry to get to that job that I’m not all that fond of.
All my hurrying and not noticing didn’t really hit me until a Sunday afternoon a few years ago. My family had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory on the Plaza for some event— someone’s birthday or anniversary. After dessert we headed to the car. My brother and I walked and chatted about nothing in particular. I turned around, thinking my parents and aunt were right behind us, but they were about a block away. “God, what are they doing?” I asked. I was in a hurry, probably wanting to pick up my car so I could go out with my friends or to a movie.
My brother looked at me with the most twisted look on his face and said, “They’re old.”
I turned around again and really saw them. My aunt had been gray since her twenties, but Mom was now graying at her temples. And where in the world was Dad’s hair? I had been moving too fast to notice that the people I love, the people who kept up with us at amusement parks all over the country, had lost a step. Had lost several steps. My dad and aunt would ride any rollercoaster my brother and I could find and never tired. I seem to remember being a little kid, afraid to ride that scary-ass Screaming Eagle coaster at Six Flags St. Louis and Dad talking me into it. He was fearless.
When I looked at the three of them trudging along that sidewalk in the heat, trying to conserve their energy, I knew always walking with purpose had caused me to miss too much. I lost my aunt three years ago. And my parents are now octogenarians. As my cousin likes to say, we’re not cell phones. We don’t have unlimited minutes. Everything and everyone that we know and love…it will all eventually come to an end.
In this technology-obsessed world, we don’t notice anything unless it obstructs our view of the electronic gadget in our hand. We’re in a hurry to get everywhere to do things that aren’t really important. I long for the time when spending time with friends and family was just that—spending time. I miss the day where we could share a meal and thoroughly enjoy ourselves without everyone rushing through it so they can pick up their phone, hit Facebook and whatever other media they’re on, and catch up with what they missed in the world during the thirty minutes they allowed for human contact.
I still walk fast. But now I catch myself, think about where I’m truly headed and ask, “what’s the big damn hurry?”