A Long Walk to Neptune

Neptune is almost 5 months old now. He’s basically doubled in size, even with a haircut. He knows to sit and lay down, and he only occasionally pees on everything. And today he helped me realize something.

I think it started for me in eleventh grade. I just started to feel off-balance a lot, and I thought it was just how teenagers felt, so I started going for these extremely long walks.

Particulary when I was at my dad’s place, I’d just pick up and walk up to 86th, 96th, even 103rd, basically all over the West Side. (At my mom’s I played playstation into the dark.) And my dad didn’t really bother me about it so long as I did my homework, and I wasn’t going anywhere unsafe. By this point in my life, I did all my homework as early as possible - something that remains true even now in 19th grade - so I had a lot of my evenings free to just watch TV and think. I didn’t see my friends much when it wasn’t a weekend - and even then it was just movies, really - so most nights I would just go out and walk.

It never really made me feel better. But it felt like a good way to distract myself from my thoughts. So I kept doing it.

Whenever things got really bad, I got back into walking. I walked all over Princeton in college, just listening to whatever boxy iPod I had, staying out of my head.

I did it a lot after college, when I didn’t have a job, and then in Korea, when I thought the change of scenery would fix everything but only created different problems.

By 2014, I’d become a runner, and I turned all my wandering energy into running fast, no matter the weather or time of day. It did make me a good runner, this single-minded pursuit, but I still never patched the hole.

I finally started to do the hard work I (and probably a lot of you) need to do. I finally sat with my thoughts and the discomfort and the reality instead of trying not to look in the mirror.

Alissa likes to go for walks. She asked me years ago why I didn’t seem to like going for walks, and particularly wasn’t really able to stay silent while walking, and I didn’t have a good answer. I realize now that a long silent walk would just bring me back to all those nights I beat the pavement in all those different places I lived.

But now we have a dog. And dogs need walks. Neptune, with his age and breed, he really needs walks. We hired a walker, and we go to puppy class once a week (yeah, we’re those people), but he still needs long ones, especially weekends when we don’t have the walker.

I started feeling That Way this afternoon, for no real reason in particular. It just happens sometimes. And I realize, looking back, it happened on Fridays and Saturdays a lot. I think those were nights I really felt isolated, and I’d walk to be out around people.

Tonight, I decided I’d take Neptune for a walk, but I kept adding to it and adding to it as we went.

My mind started to wander, as it does when I walk alone, but every time I felt that way, I got a tug from thigh-level, and I remembered I wasn’t alone.

We walked longer than we ever have, nowhere exciting, just around Long Island City, but for all its faults, it’s our (and his) home. We stopped in Queensbridge Park at sunset, and it was getting cold (no gloves like a moron), but it was empty, aside from a guy doing laps on an electric scooter.

We ran on the soccer field and chased a pigeon for a second. I picked him up and hugged him and he bit me because he didn’t want to be hugged (jerk!). A lot of people care about me, I know, but my brain doesn’t care when I’m walking by myself, unless I’m running hard enough to think about other things.

I don’t have to walk alone anymore, though. I’m doing the work, I’m getting right, after however much time it’s been. But it’s never going to be completely easy when I’m by myself, and I can’t just force everyone to prop me up. But Neptune is happy to hang out, and happy to play, and happy to walk when I need to walk.

Sometimes I just need to walk, probably always will, but I’m not really scared anymore.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality