Learning to Walk

at 19

Wearing a red sundress, walking out of Grand Central into the heavy air of August, my reflection on so many glossy windows, doors, walls. Walking through millions of myself, each one flashing past. And on the sidewalk, so many male eyes—a gaze that seems it should feel better than it does. In Pantene commercials, women toss their hair, gleeful, as men stare in the street. But here, now, it is total exposure; my eyes are theirs. My reflection is not mine. It’s someone I’ve seen before but can’t quite place. Looking ahead on the gum-spotted concrete, and my knees appear in perfect clarity. The softness on the inside of each, the flash of tendon above each kneecap with every step. And above them, the tops of my thighs, the extra fat that sits at them, making little dimples, my ass bobbing with each step. All of it narrowing to my waist held stiffly by my spine. Tense from wanting to look away, but not wanting to break their gaze in weakness. Women are looking too, but sometimes at the men first. A little rush of power in the base of my stomach. A tremor of doubt in my hands.

at 22

Leggings and a big fleece now, walking in rushing November air across Grand Street. In a bulky fleece, I can be unseen, pretend to move beyond that gaze by wearing something that won’t attract it, feel safer—more myself without the intrusion of their eyes. It feels better, more righteous, to dress this way. Is ignoring the same thing as not caring? Without their gaze grabbing my attention from the stoops of loft buildings, my mind can move to my next meeting; when to leave, what to say, how to prepare. But the only way to be unseen is to disappear from their eyes and my own. I cannot look at myself unless it’s through their eyes first. The red sundress was for them. The fleece is for them too. Both were chosen for how they’d elicit, or stifle, that gaze. Without their eyes intruding on mine, my knees no longer appear in front of me, and without seeing them, I can’t love them, can’t find the joy in their movement.

at 23

Clogs clicking on the grates of East 72nd Street, the sweet dry leaves of Indian summer baking in the sun. Wearing a jean jacket and culottes that swing with each step just because they pleased me. I’ve started to take communion with my reflection. Begin to like what I see simply because it is mine, not because of how close it gets me to woman in the Pantene commercial. I feel two feet taller. Some men look now, but their eyes aren’t mine. Mine take in the gingko leaves, their white pods heavy with new life, the sunlight falling through them in so many crescents — the feeling of wooden soles flexing beneath my feet, the feeling of freedom.

“Walking” by Mussi Katz is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

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