Five women looped around the indoor track.
“Ugh, I wish I wasn’t so tall,” the twenty-something says to herself, pointing her nose down to her iPhone. She is studying photos of herself on Instagram while trying to work off the Mocha Frappuccino she downed from Starbucks on the way home from class. An Adele anthem blares through the headphones, as the girl ticks through photo after photo of her friends and starlets in short dresses with tan legs. The young woman walks like she is on a treadmill, navigating the corners of the small indoor track without ever looking up. She scrolls to a picture that slows her pace. Posted the night before, the picture showcases five of her close friends posing happily at a local restaurant. Above 134 heart-shaped likes, the caption reads “Celebrating Ella’s acceptance into grad school!” She purses her lips and doesn’t recall anyone mentioning the dinner to her. As tears well up in her eyes, she keeps walking around and around with her head looking down.
The thirties-something mom sprints around the corner breathing heavily. She slows to a walk to start her cool-down. She is exhausted from her workout, and from the one-year-old who woke up three times last night. She quickly checks her watch and then looks over the wall to the gym below, where she sees a group of four and five-year-olds playing Duck Duck Goose with their teacher. She waves at a cute little red head and calculates that she has 15 minutes before she needs to pick Emma up from her class, grab the baby from the gym daycare and then race home to get Charlie off the bus and start dinner. And get that report done for work tomorrow.
She is distracted by a young girl with a lengthy, blond ponytail swishing like a pendulum walking in front of her. She studies the her from behind, admiring her long, lean legs and tiny waist.
“I wish I could get rid of this flab,” she thinks to herself, lightly touching her middle as she passes her by on the track. She notices the younger woman’s cute, matching outfit, and suddenly feels frumpy in her t-shirt and Target yoga pants.
“I could never pull that off, but maybe some new workout clothes will make me feel better,” she thinks to herself. If she could only get some sleep.
A petite woman jogs slowly around a straightaway, lost in a sea of thought. She is thinking of an argument she had earlier that morning with her teenage daughter about her curfew. It didn’t end well, and her strong-willed child left in a huff without saying goodbye. An Adele ballad comes through her iPod speakers, and she tries to distract herself by listing the errands she needs to accomplish before chauffeuring her kids to their various activities after school.
She sees a young mom in front of her waving to a child in the gym below. She hears squeals of laughter despite the music softly playing through her headphones, and a smile creeps onto her face. The young mother’s face lights up as she mouths the words, “Hi Baby,” and waves her hand. She is beautiful. The moment is beautiful.
She trots past the woman as waves of nostalgia, of simpler times, rush through the forty-something woman. She finds herself suddenly holding back tears. She decides to make her daughter’s favorite spaghetti and meatballs for dinner that night as a peace offering. And maybe let her borrow her new boots, like when she used to try on her shoes when she was four.
The older woman in jeans and a nice sweater looks both ways before entering the track and starting to walk at a brisk pace. She took an early lunch from her job as an office manager at a doctors’ office to get more steps in on the FitBit her son gave her for Christmas. There never was enough time for exercising before, but the youngest of her four children is getting married later this year, and she wants to look her best, even for fifty-something years old.
A small, well-put-together woman prances by her, breathing steady like she does this regularly. She appears younger, but a second glance reveals laugh lines hidden below expensive, well placed make up. She has her hair styled in a bob that remains perfectly positioned despite her movement. As she sidles into the lane in front of her, the older woman sighs and thinks, “I wish I would have taken better care of myself before now. Maybe a new haircut, maybe one like hers, is what I need. And to drop twenty pounds.”
The 78-year old woman ambles slowly around the track, one hand on the wall, the other hand holding a cane, a much-needed appendage after suffering a small stroke last year. As she does each weekday, she drives to her local community center to circle the track eleven times, just shy of one mile, as per her doctor’s orders. The event takes approximately an hour and a half to complete end to end, but she doesn’t mind. Her husband passed away three years ago, and her two children and their families live out of state. The routine gives her purpose, something to look forward to each day.
As she strolls around and around, she watches women of all ages, shapes and sizes pass her by. She sees her happiest self, her best self, in each of them, a beautiful living scrapbook of a well-lived life.
When she finishes her walk on the hamster-wheel, she meanders over to the coat rack, taking her time to maneuver first one arm, and then the other, into her coat while leaning on a chair. She smiles at the women who enter and exit the door at a frantic pace, the women with jobs, kids and responsibilities, and marvels at how lovely they all look despite their heavy burdens. Like she once looked, like she once was.
She turns to grab her scarf and checks herself in the mirror. Standing beside her is a beautiful, tall girl with a golden ponytail no more than 21 years old placing a knit cap on her head. In the mirror, they look nothing alike, yet they walk the same track every day.
The reflection startles them both for a moment, as one woman sees her past, and the other her future.
The young girl turns towards the elderly woman half a century her senior, and cheerily says, “Did you have a good walk today?”
“Best one yet,” she replies as she walks away from the track.