Essay: Allowing Leeway on the High Road

Corey Burdick ’02 is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Vermont Woman Newspaper, The Chronicle (Glens Falls, NY), The Other Paper (South Burlington, VT), The Burlington Free Press, and Edible Green Mountains. She also regularly guest blogs on StellaMae.

I usually spot their expressions a few feet ahead or across the street before I get close enough to hear the snickers. Occasionally, the snide comments come directly from a passing car. More frequently, the rudeness takes the form of blatant staring. I haven’t been in a car wreck or experienced a debilitating disease, I’m simply an over-pronator, my legs turned out, evoking a knock-kneed gait as my feet hit the ground.

I’ve been told it’s a result of how I was positioned in the womb and the awkward gait just became more pronounced as I entered junior high and had my final growth spurt. Initially, I didn’t realize people were imitating me, but since kids can be cruel, I soon caught on.

In high school I ran to stay in shape and when I entered my first 5K race, and a volunteer jeer, “you’re so slow!” I was not deterred. When I started college, I started to run cross country, and slowly began to build my confidence. My running buddy, Kate and I explored the beauty of western Massachusetts on our Sunday runs; looping along hills, dirt paths, and admiring apple orchards and wildlife.

Stress relief, meditation, cherished alone time, and sorting through thoughts and story ideas are only a few of the rewards I’ve come to cherish during the years I’ve been running. Yet when I laced up my sneakers a few afternoons ago, opting not to put in my ear buds and snapping on my iPod, I hadn’t anticipated the loud voice that sliced through my mid-run calm – “Your legs look weird!” shouted a woman from a passing white van.

I instinctively felt as I was in junior high school all over again, the kids making cruel jokes at my expense. The pain quickly turned to rage, urging me to give the woman a piece of my mind. But what would I say that would significantly evoke in her the appropriate sense of shame? I thought about the exact right words I would use as I kept on running. Then, it came to me, “I’m sorry you feel so bad about yourself.”

I never had the courage before to speak my mind, but now armed with my words and my rage, I picked up the pace in the hope that I could catch the white van when it stopped at a red light. But the van had seemingly vanished from the road. I searched diligently for the next couple of blocks, still seething from the woman’s comment. Luck was with me as I passed the pet food store on my right, I saw the van had turned into the parking lot, and the woman who had shouted at me sat smugly in the passenger seat.

“This is it,” I thought. At long last I would have the chance to confront my latest tormenter.

But as I as turned to enter the parking lot, I paused, then swiveled around to the back of the building and resumed my course. I wasn’t going to change her mind or the perspective of anyone who feels free to spout whatever insensitive nonsense enters their heads. Indeed, perhaps saying something would have only given her the satisfaction of knowing her words had hit their mark.

So, next time, when I inevitably feel compelled to dish out my one liner, I’ll be sticking to my pace, running mile after mile, and cussing under my breath. Taking the high road means allowing leeway for cursing the idiots.