They say that half of all Americans will be obese by the year 2030 if the trends we’ve seen in the last few decades are not reversed. Think about that: Fifty percent! Take a look at the person sitting across from you right now. If they’re not the one who’s obese, then it means that YOU are.
With this dark future looming ahead, I made the decision to get my family involved in some sort of physical fitness. The girls have phys-ed at school twice a week, and I go walking with a buddy every day; but we rarely ever do any physical activity as a family. This Saturday, I invited my brood to join me on a walk. To my pleasant surprise, Marshall was eager to come along as well.
So we piled the kids into both our cars (because neither of us wants to trade our cars for a minivan) and drove to Roswell park. We parked on the west side of the park, far away from the playground, because I was not in the mood to hear it.
“Mommy can we play? Mommy can we swing on the swings?” they would plead.
“No!” I’d roar in irritation, “We’re here to exercise, not PLAY! Arrrgghhh!”
No playground, no confrontation.
The walk started off promisingly. The world was awash with color. Pewter sunrays filtered between the leaves of lush forest canopy and all four kids were happy to be somewhere other than our home. Nadjah and Aya ran ahead, squealing “hi!!!!” to every walker, runner and biker that crossed their path. Liya was babbling happily from her seat in the stroller and Stone commanded Marshall and I to ‘wook’ at the squirrels, rocks, moss and dead leaves in the trail. Not too long after we started our walk, we came upon a marker that read: 2.75 miles.
“If we make it to 3.75 miles, we can walk back and know that we’ve walked one mile each way,” I noted.
“Okay,” said Marshall. “That should be long enough for the kids.”
We carried on gaily, and I was proud that we had taken the collective step to be in control of our fitness. As I was considering my families health, we found ourselves in front of a map that showed at least six different trails around the park.
“Which way should we go?”
“That way!” shrieked the girls.
I looked in the direction that they were pointing in. “That way” the trail was uneven and un-tarred, but it didn’t look impassable.
“Okay. We’ll go that way.”
A hundred yards into the trail, I heard Marshall gasp in pain.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“There. There’s some barbed wire in the trail. It cut me.”
I glanced at his leg and then back at the rogue wire in the ‘road’ (if you wanted to call it that). It was burnt orange and rusty. He could have been contracting tetanus at that very moment, but we had our fitness to think about!
“You can put a band aid on it when we get home,” I said glibly.
I picked up my pace and continued pushing our bulky double stroller down the uneven path. As time went on, the track became more and more rutted and less and less dependable. At one point it just turned to mud. It eventually led us to a crawdad infested pool of water, where Aya announced she had to pee.
“Welp, it’s a good thing you just came back from South Africa,” I said. “There’s a tree. Aim for it.”
She dropped trou and prepared to squat piss, but from her angle I knew she’s soon have pee all over her jeans. I lifted her up in a seated position and watched her fragrance the forest floor with her urine. It too was burnt orange. She needed to drink more water.
Marshall was beginning to limp along at this point. Above the rim of his sneaker, I saw the crimson gash get wider and wider. I conceded that we needed to get home so we could treat his wound. I thought about the distance we had covered so far, and wished there was a shortcut. As if reading my thoughts, Marshall pointed to another clearing in the woods.
“That path runs parallel to the river. It should take us right back to the car.”
“Let’s hoof it then,” I agreed.
The girls were far less amenable to the idea.
“Ummm…are you guys sure we should go that way?” said Nadjah.
“Yeah…it looks creepy and dark,” echoed Aya.
“Come on! Your daddy needs to get home and treat his leg!” I barked.
I had already started to push our massive, obsolete double stroller (which again, was constructed solely for terrain no harsher than the mall floor) onto the muddy footpath. Once we were on track, the forest immediately closed in around us. There was no way to turn around and go back, because to do so meant either falling into the water on the left of us, or pushing the babies into the unfamiliar foliage in an effort to make an about-turn. Something large flew by my ear. Was it a bat? Did bats come out in the day time? Was that a griffin making a swan dive?? What WAS that??? The eerie silence, broken only by the sounds of scurrying woodland life, helped me to immediately understand why Black women hate the woods so much. I am convinced that we have a genetic disposition compelling us to despise thick foliage, rotting bark and wood, and the absence of concrete. The last time a Black woman was this deep in nature, she was running from bounty hunters and bloodhounds heading north of the Mason-Dixie. The woods were oppressive, and I suddenly wanted OUT.
Everything conspired against us, as if trying to keep us there. The footpath eventually disappeared altogether, its end marked by two fallen trees and a mass of moist yellow leaves. At this point, Marshall had hoisted Stone onto his shoulders and I was pushing Liya alone in our motor less truck. After we cleared the first hurdle, two Black men approached us with “fishing gear”.
Oh God. They’re gonna kill us all right here by the river. Why are they out here?! This is no place for human beings!
“Good morning family!” they said cheerily, stepping to the side so Nadjah (who had opted to wear a lace skirt and pink flip flops to our workout) and Aya could slide by.
“Morning,” I muttered. Sweat was pouring into my eyes and blinding me. I squinted at them, determined to at least get a visual of my potential attackers, no matter how blurry.
Fortunately, they let us go unscathed. I kept an eye out for deer in the dense brush. If there were any out there, I was certain they were carnivorous. We walked on in fear and misery for an eternity until the road finally came into sight.
“Oh thank you Jesus!”
I began sprinting in the direction of the car. The girls were already far ahead, ecstatic to be out of the “creepy dark woods.” 10 minutes later we found the 2.75 mile marker that we had seen when we initiated the walk over an hour before.
“I’d say we walked at least a mile….wouldn’t you?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“If you include the stress put on our hearts from the sheer terror of going through ‘Freedom from Massa Woods’, maybe even two.”
Marshall laughed, and then bled his way to his car.
And it is precisely because of that terror –BECAUSE of that strain on my heart – that I chose to stay at home and eat a pack of Oreo Cakesters on the couch instead of working out today. If I’ve got a choice in the way I’m going to die, it’s not going to be screwing around in the woods while re-enacting ‘the-black-woman-always-dies-first-in-the-forest’ with my kids!