Grief has taught me the art of avoidance. Certain places, heavy spaces, grocery store aisles, concert arenas, entire city blocks, months and even seasons. And while triggers come with varying levels of certitude, there are perhaps none as unpredictable as the media. At any point in time, an image, song, line or scene can invade the screen, provoking memories both welcomed and not, and should you be in a public setting when the unwelcome hit, well. The story tells itself.
Despite this knowingness I went ahead and did it anyway. I turned on the tv, fired up the treadmill, tuned into the show I hadn’t watched in many seasons. You can do it, you can do it, you can do it—rubber to the road, stepping in time to the mantra, the little engine that could trucking up the road of resistance.
Photo Cred: gotta-dance.com (featuring Amy Yakima)
You can watch So You Think You Can Dance.
It was Our Show, one of many, tv being one of the few things left that we could still do together, leaving the house having become more and more impossible what with the paralysis and absence of mobility van to fit the electric chair inside of. The Wonder Years, Gossip Girl, Seventh Heaven, America’s Got Talent, the phenomenal Friday Night Lights series of the early aughts—we watched them all, a mother-daughter career spanning decades, a history replete with plot twists and betrayals, star-crossed lovers and forbidden affairs, scandalous high schoolers and one particularly over-analytical child narrator exploring the meaning of life. We watched, rewatched, debriefed and reminisced; sometimes we laughed and sometimes we cried, but we always, without a doubt, enjoyed each other’s company in those windows of time, which were in later years crunched between feeding hours and caregiver shifts and trips to the toilet. Television was our safe space, and we used the time wisely.
What I hadn’t factored into this season of the show was that Amy Yakima would appear. The Season 10 winner, which must be four years ago right? Only it wasn’t, Season 10 was 7 years ago, this here today being Season 17, which means time and space are getting away from me—the years rolling on too quickly, the memories increasingly difficult to organize. It was 7 years ago we sat in my sister’s living room and watched Amy win, 7 years ago we cheered and whooped and hollered because the champion of a long-running, Emmy-winning television dance show was the cousin of our friend, a friend from this little suburb known as Allen Park, Michigan, the cousin of a friend who had been trained at the Noretta Dunworth School of Dance in Dearborn, where my very best friend since the age of three had danced for over a decade. And even though we had never met Amy and likely never would, in this moment we felt we knew her intimately, cheering her on through her interview with the glittering host, Cat Deeley, chattering on about how proud Noretta and company must be.
I start to run and a sudden panic sets in. Is this really how the scene unfolded? Was I physically at my sister’s house, side by side with my dear mother, or was I in Chicago at the time? Did we watch the finale together, or did I call her during or maybe afterwards? Was I an admirable daughter, planted beside her electric mobility chair in the middle of the living room, or a selfish one, gallivanting about on my own adventures through the windy city, wining and dining to my heart’s content?
What actually happened, and which story do I want to believe?
I run faster. 6.5 mph, 6.7, 7.0. It’s Season 17 and Amy has returned as an All Star, partnering with a doe-eyed dancer who wants nothing more than to be in her shoes. 7.2. 7.4. Faster, faster. And she’s spinning, and I’m spinning and she’s falling, and I’m falling…
The safety button stops me as I fall forward, misty-eyed. The treadmill whirs to a sad, startled stop. Were treadmill safety buttons designed to save grieving children trying to run away from their past? How many people go through this very thing—the running, the thinking, the tv-watching, the remembering—the tired legs, the utter exhaustion?
I have a choice. I can continue on with this avoidance strategy, tiptoeing around edgy emotional situations the rest of my life, opting out of watching shows and attending events and placing myself in situations that might present joy, but might also present heartbreak. I can live in fear and sadness, or I can celebrate the moments I’ve been fortunate enough to experience and set my sights on the horizon.
The treadmill restarts at a snail’s pace, giving the user time to regain their balance. I put one foot in front of the other, focusing not on speed or caloric burn or leaderboard rank. I put one foot in front of the other, focusing only on the distance traveled, on the numbers ticking slowly by, celebrating forward motion, cheering on progress.