“I need another short breather,” I say.
Patrick stops a few steps ahead of me. “No worries,” he says. “We’re in no rush.”
We’re standing in the shade, halfway through the first ¼ mile of this hike, which has a 600-foot elevation gain. I lean forward and put my hands on my knees as my lungs struggle to gulp enough air.
“Don’t let me forget my inhaler ever again,” I say.
I’ve only had my inhaler for a few months, so I never remember to bring it anywhere. I got it after I realized that my lungs were consistently tight after going on walks in spring. My lungs often felt tight in spring in general. But this time, my lungs felt tight in early spring when I was going on daily walks in an effort to stave off the madness of quarantine. (The albuterol prescription also helped alleviate my anxiety about having COVID-19. If the inhaler helped, it meant I was negative for the disease?)
“Okay,” I say, once my lungs stop burning. “I’m ready.” We walk slowly, setting a deliberate pace. I glance around at the aspens, the rocks, the wildflowers. I take a sip of water. My head has begun to ache. Not enough oxygen. Not enough hydration.
I put one foot in front of the other. I’ll probably be a little sore tomorrow. If I had marched yesterday, I would be sore today too. But yesterday, we stayed in the car, honking the horn, blasting Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” participating in a drive-by protest of police brutality.
I wish there was a phrase other than “drive-by.”
My muscles and bones and lungs and heart carry me up the mountain. They’re carrying a lot for me nowadays.
How it felt to dance in the blinding heat, a few hundred of us in the streets, dance-dancing for the revolution, blocks away from the District Attorney’s office. How it felt to lay on the hot pavement in front of the governor’s mansion, face-down, gravel pressing into my knees, for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. The burn in my feet and knees as we walked up the long hill to the Capitol building. I forgot my inhaler that day, too.
Patrick and I pace ourselves, a slow and steady climb to the lake. When we get there, the light glints off the water, and the grass is wet and cool at its edges. The sky is blue blue blue, the leaves on the aspens twirling in the breeze.
It feels good to be outside. I temporarily took Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter off my phone yesterday. I’ve recently found myself caught in an endless cycle of bad mental health, which I try to alleviate with social media, but social media makes it worse. So I’m doing a “fast” for a few days, even though I’m always judgmental when other people do that. Just have some f***ing self-control, I always think. Or, If you think social media sucks that much, I think you just have crappy friends.
But I also apparently lack self-control. And it’s not that social media sucks, or that I have crappy friends. It’s that I mostly have passionate, empathetic, and compassionate friends who are constantly fighting for justice and equity and it’s beautiful and also somehow exhausting, and then I have a few friends who keep doing theatre and having social gatherings without masks and it is NOT beautiful and it is definitely exhausting. (The pandemic is not over, my friends. You are endangering everyone around you and prolonging hardship for yourself and your entire community, my friends.)
And I’m exhausted by strangers stopping me to discuss how “not all police are bad” because they see the sign on my car. I’m exhausted by people telling me that Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization. I’m exhausted by editing my resume for every remote job posting that I find on ZipRecruiter. I’m exhausted by not being able to breathe when I walk up a mountain. I’m exhausted by calling the DA’s office every day to ask that the life sentence charges be dropped against protestors. I’m exhausted by the steady and relentless heat of this corner of the planet, and by the wildfires that blur the skies for days on end, and by my dwindling savings account.
So I’m taking a break. I’m taking a break, knowing that my whiteness is part of what allows me to take a break. But I'll be back to do the good work eventually. I just need a few moments.
A few moments to just breathe.