I used to love running when I was a freshman in high school. The PE teacher would say “1, 2, 3, go!” and I’d be an instant blur, dashing toward the hundred-yard line as my classmates lagged behind me. My hair haloed my head, my cheeks glowed red, I was a morning person. And even if I wasn’t genetically built to be faster than my more athletic classmates, who’d already breezed through puberty, I was always the first one across the finish line. Because running was exhilarating. It made me feel my aliveness. It made me feel like I was actually good at moving, something I’d never experienced before, given my two left feet and hands that never knew where to come to rest.

I knew I was awkward, but running made me feel lithe and free…a gazelle who could finally relax and stretch out to her full length in the absence of predators. Still, despite my prowess and the obvious pride I felt in my speed and agility, the PE teacher’s eyes seemed to glaze over when I entered his field of vision. He’d give me a cursory unimpressed stare and quickly move on to the next order of business: weight lifting (the girls got the shitty rusted weights while the boys got to use the newer equipment—a glaring disparity I recognized but didn’t have the passion to address) or running laps in the gym.

Toward the end of the semester, I overheard him encouraging one of the girls to join track and field as a runner. She was pretty and popular, naturally lean with a whip of dark hair she wore in a high ponytail…but she’d never once beat me at short-distance running. I wanted to feel surprised that the PE teacher hadn’t thought to approach me, but I was used to being underestimated, unseen. I was used to having people size me up and put me in a box that fit my ostensible dimensions. They seldom saw that I had extra arms and legs and ambitions I didn’t wear on my sleeve that would easily unfurl and splinter that fucking box to pieces. They certainly did not know that the things I most longed for required trusting where I excelled and taking risks where I did not.

I trusted my body’s refusal to be pigeonholed by people who did not understand me. I was willing to risk looking like a haptic jumble of graceless limbs as I careened across the blacktop and took my place at the other end, patiently surveying the girls who ambled indifferently toward me. It wasn’t a race, so none of this mattered to them. My triumph was what it was, only to me. It meant something only to me…which is why few people would be able to tell you that, once upon a time, I was good at running. That’s why it's my responsibility to remember.

I’m Nirmala Nataraj, a New York–based writer, editor, book midwife, theater artist, and mythmaker.

As someone who has woven in and out of a number of different word realms—nonprofit communications, advertising, theatre, publishing, and community arts, to name a few—I know that liberation is possible through the stories we choose to tell. As a first-generation South Asian American, I myself exist in the liminal spaces between cultures, art forms, and languages—and it is this multiplicity of narratives that informs my personal and professional approach.

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