I walk

starting at Clark and Adams where I work
south on Clark
pass the jail
pass Congress
pass the big Target
pass the bridge
pass the cop shop

All the way to Archer, when I turn and forage for food or trinkets in Chinatown. I walk from downtown to Chinatown after work once a week. Sometimes I miss my walk and I try to walk twice the next week. I've been walking this for a few months. I'm trying to get healthier, but it's not the kind of walking program where I celebrate when I lose weight or get my heart rate up. Actually, I smoke most of the time while I'm walking.

Dear Salem,

It's been a long time, and I'm not sure if you even remember me.

I usually just wear whatever I wore to work that day. I can't stand the idea of carrying an extra pair of shoes for specific kinds of walking, so for a while I would wear the same boots to work every day that I thought looked work-friendly but never hurt my feet. The heels wore down unevenly. When I took the boots in to the shoe repair place for the first time, the guy asked me if I ever walk with a cane. I said no, and he said, "Then you shouldn't be running in these boots." It was a strange exchange and he seemed to crack himself up over it. Whatever, I thought, and started to think of new clothing combinations that would match my black gym shoes.

The first time I did the walk, I really wanted to go get drunk. I was feeling weird about going to the bar I always go to after work, thinking someone would be there that I didn't want to see. I was headed to a liquor store that has a bar in the back of it, remembering that everyone was always two sheets off by around noon there, and figuring that no one would want to talk to me. I was really angry that day and a little paranoid.

I was pleased to see your name in the newspaper. I always thought you would do something creative. Your parents must be proud of you.

I got angrier and angrier, in a pathetic and stereotypical way, with each step. By the time I got to the liquor store, I was almost panting and my neck felt like there was a steel rod in it.

All I wanted to do was punch someone out. The feeling didn't go away after buying a pack of cigarettes, after checking out the horoscopes in the newspaper, after friendly banter with the guy behind the counter. The feeling didn't go away and I felt like I needed to move or risk setting something on fire.

I know it must be hard for you sometimes. I want you to know that I think about you often and I pray for you.

Half an hour, a few drinks and an awkward moment where I thought I was choking a guy and he thought I was hitting on him, and I got back on the road. I walked south until I realized I had hit Chinatown.

You're a very special girl.

If I walk down Archer, I eventually hit a stop on the bus route that goes straight to my house. There are groceries and shops along the way, so I can work some errands into my walk. I never plan it out, and I walk along other bus routes in case I get sick of walking.

I usually dream up Walter Mitty-esque scenarios along my walk. I think about attacking people who attacked me in the past. I picture myself growing bigger and bigger, like a tornado, and knocking over skyscrapers.

I wish that things could be different.

This walk isn't joyful or interesting. I never want to invite anyone else on it, or make it a permanent part of my "schedule". I still get angry or sad at times, and my first instinct is not to go "walk it off". I actually kind of resent this walk, but I still do it. Something is better by the time I get to my spot on Archer, something I don't have to talk to anyone about or define for anybody else. It's an added bonus that I'm missing from anyone else that knows me for that hour.

I was molested when I was a kid. I don't want to write any details because it's complicated, happened a few different times, and in case another molester reads Ausgang and gets excited about it. Fucking dirt bags don't deserve the attention. I used to dream about setting this man on fire and then pushing him over a bridge and then watching the river dry up and snakes eating the remains of his carcass.

I've had a lot of luck as an adult -- met a lot of people who understand me or know enough to stay out of my way when I'm acting "crazy". Either kind of friend is good to have if you have ever been through some sort of shit. I'm not writing this to elicit help from others -- I have a lot of it, some professional. I don't think that by reading this anybody who didn't know about my past would gain a better understanding of me or of other survivors of sexual violence.

I can tell you, if you're in the camp that doesn't know about this stuff, that there's a lot of stuff that you could never know about. Triggers pop up every day that no one can control. Being on an elevator with a group of strangers. Hearing someone yell on the street in a particular way. Reading a magazine. When you've been through something that you have to deal with every day, you start to figure out ways to manage it so you can still live among others. Some people drink, some get violent, some find other ways. The walking thing, or at least this walk has been a good distraction for me recently.

I write for you, though, who knew what I was talking about when you read the first few paragraphs. It's going to be all right even though you want to kill them. It's going to be all right even though you want to jump out the window. It's ok if your boyfriend doesn't understand -- it's ok if your friends don't understand. It means they didn't have to go through it, and that is a good thing. The people you want around you will seek out ways to help you. They will read the books you tell them to read, they will go with you to counseling if you want them to, they will back off when you need it. I'm lucky that stubborn people in my life have proven this to me.

I will not prescribe walking, even walking to Chinatown as some sort of therapeutic cure-all. Nothing will solve what happened. But when I do it, I'm not bashing my head against the wall or someone else's chest. I'm just taking a longer way to get home.

Nothing can ever change the past. I hope you know that by now.

He signed the letter "yours" and sent it to my mom's house. I read it on the train back to my house, got home, went to sleep, went to work the next day, left work, you know the rest. Haven't thought about him for a while, thought he was dead. It took about a second for me to go from 31 to 5; it's averaging about forty-five minutes lately for me to go from a tornado back to human.


Salem Collo-Julin