I never walked, I crawled and then I ran through the backyard through the strawberry patch into the corn field corn leaves making tiny baby cuts on my baby skin falling in the dirt getting up laughing. Mom saying slow down Maggie or Maggie demon child or saying nothing too tired too old three kids already who cares. Then six years old racing Ryan Hammond along the creekbank me smaller and faster and him caught by the Callaghans’ mean German Shepherd Billy who always took. Took slow birds took the neighbour’s cat took the last kid in the race til Mr. Callaghan shot him in the field goodbye Billy. Fifteen and already winning winning at school at the track at the gym and sometimes on the same creekbank down low by the water Ryan Hammond’s tongue in my mouth like a water snake wet poking. I didn’t feel much didn’t care just wanted to run run out of town out of the country out of words out of my skin out of time. They said she’s got a fire an anger some magic or maybe madness and I said cut my hair shorter get me a better sponsorship deal don’t ask if I’m a Mrs. or a Ms. and don’t ever assume I’d rather let you drive.
It takes a lifetime to realize your accomplishments are only things that happened and not sunshine-fuel not god-bringing not life itself. But for a moment I was the fastest woman in the world faster than Aisha Alula faster than Katie “the Bullet” Brighton faster than Yulianna Nowakowski even though before that Yulianna Nowakowski had been faster than me. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel incredible, better than sex, some kind of redemptive naval-gazing high. My mom was already sick by then and she said Maggie you are getting old Maggie I am proud of you Maggie spoiled princess you are going to lose your crown and I cried but never in front of her just like she never once cried in front of me. When it was over I vowed to win one more time not knowing if she could see me (knowing she probably couldn’t see me) but turned out she was right I was slowing down only twenty-nine but the body is mortal the body changes or maybe just the mind.
I mourned on the beach in Puerto Vallarta with a string of lovers who were mostly piña coladas until a Spaniard with shoulder-length hair taught me the true meaning of the word mimosa which is not a drink but a tree with yellow flowers and also a person or pet who likes to cuddle. He said, Spend a little time with me? and a little time turned into six months turned into five years turned into a garden wedding and my sister Gwen saying you have never lived in the real world you don’t know what it’s like. Went back to school bought a house with a plumbing problem became a social worker saw many people addicted to OxyContin felt sad kept running. Ran through the neighbourhood down the main street of town (people waving) into the country through the corn fields (trespassing) letting the corn leaves make baby cuts on my skin not caring fine.
The doctor said sometimes this happens sometimes a woman who runs runs runs stops getting her period stops ovulating stops. Have you ever been certain that things were working? Stop. I hated the idea of poking and prodding didn’t want a test tube baby didn’t want to want didn’t care. Instead we got dogs, a Greyhound who could run like me and a brown Labrador who was loyal like him and a Cocker Spaniel which was a bit of a joke but in the end I loved her the most, it was impossible not to smile when you saw those ears and flanks flopping. We learned how to cook Indian food spent a month volunteering in Africa watched every episode of How I Met Your Mother and home-brewed even though nobody did that in our town and we had to import supplies. I trained for triathlons became an Iron Woman led a running workshop with ex-junkies and single moms who mostly ate frozen pizza. I talked a lot about serotonin and norepinephrine and made a video that blew up online.
What we didn’t say—what nobody ever wants to say—is that we were marooned on the island of middle life everything questionable everything itchy everything too fast and simultaneously too slow. And on this island even the most loyal can wander because they want to feel something new and because they want to be young forever and because loyalty itself becomes abstract the longer you think about it and the more you understand the human condition or the more you try.
Love, he was your opposite an alternate reality and maybe that’s why I told him about my childhood and let him suck my toes in the board room and went running with him many times when you were out of town (him in high-performance running gear and not that holes-in-the-armpits t-shirt I hated). Plus I’d started to wonder if we were playing a game both of us pretending we were the world but also having other worlds or maybe worlds inside worlds and maybe you were sleeping with Kim from the craft brewers committee because she was sarcastic yet perky and had nice legs and legs were your favourite part of me too, back then, before.
I was wrong about that just like you were wrong about Soylent tasting like anything but dust but it was too late we tried our best or maybe only you did. We stayed friends I exploded like a starburst I swam I became a mermaid I shaved my head on television and gave my hair away. The irony was that a year later I felt queasy got sick had my insides burned and qualified for a free wig from the same charity I’d recently given my good hair to.
My sisters came.
They said you are so young.
I said I know.
They said we don’t understand why this is happening.
I said nobody knows why anything happens, really.
We ate cannoli from the Italian bakery and watched Gladiator.
The young nurse with the spiky hair said hey aren’t you that famous runner and I said I’m not sure I think so I used to be.
I grew stronger. I grew weak.
My ex-husband married a woman much younger than him.
They had a son.
My niece published a dissertation on sea urchins and dedicated it to me.
I sat outside with a book and finally learned the names of all the trees.
I grew weak.
The Cocker Spaniel, who was now blind in one eye, ran through the house whimpering and I ran with her or at least it felt like I did and it also felt like I pulled all the photos off the walls and all the glasses out of the cabinets and everything crashed on the floor like an earthquake an art project or maybe the big bang a new universe beginning. My mother said Maggie you were always my favourite Maggie you were all my favourites and maybe I imagined her and maybe she was real and maybe it had never mattered to begin with. I raced back through the cornfield through the strawberry patch like a saxophone solo in a song like I was young like I had never learned about mortality and I was very fast and very tired and she said Maggie demon child and I fell laughing spitting crying into her arms.
© Nicole Baute
[This piece was selected by Valerie O’Riordan. Read Nicole’s interview]