August of 2007, I was still experiencing the high of completing a 180-mile bike ride across the state of Maine earlier in the summer.
Over the course of that three-day cycling trek, anxiety and doubt about my ability to complete a physically grueling ride evolved into a deep desire to carry nothing more through life than a bowl, a spoon, and a knife, to keep moving, to stay nearly weightless. In August, I could still feel the pulse of freedom that replaced the fear of long, steep descents; I could become a nomad, I thought, a minimalist, a student of nature and the flow of time ungoverned by deadlines and unrelenting demands. Instead, I returned to the bicycle shop I owned with my husband, the rambling old house we’d dreamt of buying, the bills we couldn’t pay, the marriage we couldn’t save.
That hot, sticky, humid Maine August I’d begun to push my body, running on the treadmill in my laundry room every morning, looking over my shoulder to the left where a cheap, full-length mirror hung on the wall in order to see the spreading sweat marks under my arms, between my breasts. I’d pump my arms and punch buttons so that I would run harder, harder, harder, doing my best to run away from a body that had endured a dozen excruciating foot surgeries (beginning when I was just a baby to correct birth defects) and transform myself into an athlete. I loved running — loved the slap of my feet against the treadmill belt, the feeling of being lean, strong, hungry, unrelenting.
The following year would usher in the start of degenerative spinal injuries that could be tracked back to decades of surgery and physical dysfunction; instead of measuring my accomplishments in miles and hours run, success would be measured by the ability to walk down a flight of stairs or getting through the last hour before another dose of pain medication without sobbing. But that August I still felt like everything was under control — that I could outrun myself and make myself whatever I wanted to be.
August 2007 I was 30 years old, and my future seemed clear. I had chosen the person with whom I’d live the rest of my life, the man with whom I would have my children. I didn’t know then that I would never have children — or at least, never have a baby of my own, that my body, so resilient, so tortured, would demand my protection and my permission not to require of it even more. I didn’t know then that the person I slept next to every night would become a stranger, a ghost, someone I used to know. I didn’t know that there were years ahead of profound loneliness that would prove to me that I was not meant to be alone, but that I could surrender to it and thrive despite. I didn’t know that what lay ahead was another lover, another, more violently failed coupling — one no less anguishing for not having ever made its way onto paper. I didn’t know there was more school ahead, that I’d leave Maine, the place that felt most like home, to move to New York, which would feel like home and like heaven and hell. It was before any gray ever started threading through my auburn hair, before I would learn to rest, before I would learn that some dreams die before they’re ever born. August 2007, even though I was trying to make myself into someone new, was still years before before I started to really know who I was, or could be, or wanted to be, or would be.
Producer, writer, and acclaimed narrator of nearly 500 full-cast and multi-voice audiobooks for virtually every publisher in the industry, Tavia Gilbert is the recipient of the Best Female Narrator Audie Award, a nine-time Audie nominee, three-time nominee and one-time winner of Voice Arts Awards, and the recipient of seventeen Earphones Awards and a ListenUp Award. Tavia is a trusted and sought-after actress for work across every genre, from children’s and YA, to literary fiction, non-fiction, and genre fiction. Audible recently named her a Genre-Defining Narrator: Master of Memoir, and Library Journal said of this highly-acclaimed actress, "as close as you can get to a full cast narration with a solo voice." She is the co-founder and publisher of Animal Mineral Press, which publishes fiction and non-fiction for children and adults.
Tavia suggests you look into The Florence Project which provides free legal and social services to detained immigrants in Arizona — the site of Eloy Detention Center, the deadliest immigration detention facility in the US. Learn more at firrp.org.