’So, I’m the queen of reading too much into things!’ I text him at 12.30am, a bit drunk, giddy and full of love after seeing our mutual friends at the pub, ‘but I’m also the queen of walking around the north when things are grim. Please let me know if they are.’ He had messaged me the day before, wondering what I was up to as he was strolling around my suburb. This would be utterly unremarkable to most, but it is funny how attuned you stay to someone if you spent a part of your life loving them.
When something happens that hurts or I find difficult to process, from the trivial and seemingly innocuous to gut-wrenching ouches, I walk. When something happens that doesn’t make sense to me, when I am trying to understand something or make a decision or decipher how I feel, I use my two legs to take my body 10 or 15 kilometres away from my front door. Earphones, ciggies (although I am vaping now–this blog might need a rebrand), house keys, two full water bottles (just in case) and a book (you never know), shoved into a messenger bag. Off to retrieve a brain much more orderly than mine, which usually takes five or six hours.
If you don’t count getting totally blind with my housemates multiple times a week, these walks were the only thing that got me from one side of Melbourne’s various lockdowns to the other. If I wasn’t home or responding to texts, my friends assumed that I was probably having a cry while scaling a cliff along the Yarra Bend, which was both very funny and not entirely a joke. The Yarra Bend has seen some shit. Princes Park has watched the air go out of me after too many tiny punctures made by boys I’ve dated. The Moonee Ponds Trail has learned how many laps it takes for me to stop panicking about something so. fucking. dumb. Merri Creek has seen my heart ripped open by the absence of one parent and the pain of the other. Royal Park knows I visit when 11am beers are my only recourse to life in general. Edinburgh Gardens is far too cool to recognise me.
In Laura Stortenbeker’s essay ‘Soft Spots’, published in Kill Your Darlings last year, she recounts walks around her neighbourhood, through parks and gardens, watching people smoke on park benches and through apartment windows, observing this small community of people and their surroundings from April to August. It is so rare for a piece of writing to sink its teeth into you and not let go and this essay is still gnawing at me, partly because of its intimacy, partly because she so deftly captures the necessity and isolation of trying to walk off acute emotional pain.
It is my greatest and most telling coping mechanism. It has been since the unbearable pressure of my final year of high school, struggling under the weight of what I needed to achieve, when there was little solace at home and all I could really do was put my dog on a lead and walk from one end of my tiny town to the other, over and over and over again. This habit followed me on my gap year and was practised frequently once I realised that being alone in foreign countries at 18 is absolutely hectic and much less romantic than it sounds.
When I moved to Melbourne for university, knowing no one, the act of walking for relief had already settled into my bones and calves and brain. When, a couple of years ago, I told someone it wasn’t healthy for me to love them anymore, I was grateful for it. When they didn’t scream or cry or yell, and just left, stomping pavement was the only way to tell I was going forward. When our apartment slowly filled with boxes stacked against the wall, when I was packing and packing and waiting for the mourning to turn into moving on, I walked, as if being away from a place stopped it from coming with you all the same.
So when this person messaged me on his own walk, I felt like a doctor recognising symptoms of a disease and diagnosing it on the spot. Perhaps one of these days walking will transform itself into something I see people do for joy and not for healing. I don’t know if things really are grim for him—the wretched but inevitable evolution of a relationship-turned-friendship is that you stop being the person they tell these things to—but I hope that, if they are, there is someone in his life who knows that running away sometimes takes the shape of walking, aimlessly and for hours, around the northern suburbs.