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The Moving Walkway

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Mr. Moir lets us out of class and we walk, our feet dragging behind us, to the locker room. I never quite understood the purpose of gym. Gym consists of awful uniforms with shorts that always undoubtedly ride up, gym teachers who scream stuff like, “Come on! Keep running!” while you’re inwardly thinking about banging your head against something, anything, to end the misery, and of course, the many, many bleachers that you are required to somehow run up and down over and over again until the monotony of the whole thing kills your brain before your muscles feel the impact. So, in short, gym sucks. Best news of the day was when this counselor woman came in to my English class and reminded us that we aren’t required to take gym next year to fulfill our course requirements. Thank the Lord. Or maybe the Arlington superintendent.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. Exercise is cool, I guess. I’d just rather be doing other things. Like not exercising, for instance. I’m friends with this girl named Ariel. She does track and she keeps on telling me I should join. Keeps telling me it gets you in real good shape. Every time she asks I kind of laugh it off. Truth is, I don’t think I have the stamina or the resolve to do track. Besides, running around for like five hours doesn’t really interest me whatsoever. Maybe when we’re both seventy or something and Ariel is one of those super fit grandmas who runs marathons and appears on TV ads for Activia yogurt and I’m on some Jenny Craig diet, I’ll wish I had done track in high school. But whatever. The future is too confusing to consider at the moment.

I get out of my awful gym uniform and throw it in my locker like I always do, because I always forget that I have to wash it until after I shut the locker door and lock the dang thing with that lock we had to pay for at the beginning of freshman year, back when we were excited about high school and new shiny locks and all that jazz. And I sit on that bench right in front of my gym locker, just kind of sitting there staring at it. And I pull out my phone, just to occupy my time with something. There aren’t any messages but I keep staring at it anyway.
It’s like when you’re waiting at school after some club meeting that was really boring and worthless and ended quickly, but just in time for you to miss your bus, and your dad won’t be able to pick you up for another two hours and you’re forced to just kind of sit there on the slightly dirty laminate floor of the front entrance wishing you had someone to talk to, someone who could share in your misery. And it’s really bleak outside so you stay inside and you’re just minding your own business, looking out the windows of the front doors. And then you notice something. The silence. The silence is screaming for someone, anyone to talk, and people are all sitting around you with this bored expression that only high school could induce out of a person and suddenly, everyone is staring at each other. Not in an obvious way, of course, ‘cause that would be just plain awkward, but just in a side-glance kind of way. And then you start wondering what everyone is thinking of you. Whether they think you’re some nerd or some really preppy girl who only cares about her SAT scores and her weighted GPA. And then someone across from you in the hallway takes out an iPod or answers a phone call or pulls out a French workbook and you realize: they probably weren’t thinking about you in the first place.
So finally the bell rings and I get off the locker room bench and walk past the inspirational quote of the week (“You will learn that even when you have pain, you don’t have to become one”- apparently we cannot learn anything now but will have to wait until some indeterminate age when we will suddenly understand the world around us) and through the locker room door and out into the bustling world beyond. Off to math class.

The hallways are absolutely jam-packed. Everyone yells and bustles about like they’re the only one using the hallway, which technically is true since the rest of us can’t get through. I can hear snippets of people’s conversations as I elbow my way through the masses. Usually the quotes center on school, gossip, sports, and the desperate need for teenage rebellion through a colorful usage of curse words. And people just keep on milling by, people whose stories I will probably never hear because both of us will be on our separate paths.
It’s like the moving walkway at the airport. You get on the thing because you over packed slightly and your luggage feels like 300 tons of bricks because it almost is and you’re really too lazy to walk all that way down the hallway, and anyway, everyone else is using the walkway. So you get on, and people are moving past in the other direction and you don’t even realize it because all that’s in your mind is an annoying woman’s voice repeating, “Caution. The moving walkway is ending. Caution. The moving walkway is ending.” So you don’t look across the moving black belt to the passengers going by, and they don’t look at you in return. And what would be the point of looking, anyway, because they’ll just be gone in a second, in a blur of luggage and khaki pants, off to some plane off to some far away destination. What’s the point, really, of locking eyes with someone and saying hello if all the connection will end there? So you end up just moving silently down that moving walkway, glancing down at your all-too-heavy luggage and thinking about your own journey ahead and looking but not really looking at everyone around you.
The school hallway is exactly like the moving walkway. We’re all moving on some pristine guided track we were told to imagine for ourselves, with college and graduate school and corporate ladders and big white weddings and little kids running around with sticky peanut-butter hands. And maybe, since we are those dangerously rebellious teenagers everyone talks of, we’re angry at the moving walkway. Maybe we wish we could get off and walk for a while. Maybe the moving walkway would get us there faster, but maybe we wonder if someone passing by on the opposite side of the long black belt could have been someone interesting.
And I walk down the hallway with the same distant gaze everyone else has. And no one is smiling ‘cause it’s the end of the day and we’re all tired of locks and moving walkways and gym shorts that always ride up. And the chatter rises up to record levels and I’m stuck behind twenty other people with twenty other huge backpacks and it seems like I will never get up the last step to the fourth floor. So it’s truly a miracle that I even get to math class at all.





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This article has 5 comments. Post your own now!

Barb S. said...
Apr. 25, 2011 at 12:30 am
Really cool.  It reminds me of how I feel in the hallways at school.
 
Croth said...
Apr. 21, 2011 at 12:59 pm
Entertaining read. The author creates a vivid picture that makes it easy to feel that I was there instead of her. I love that all this happened in about ten minutes, the time near the end of gym class to the start of math. 
 
rhend said...
Apr. 21, 2011 at 8:35 am
Enjoying to read.  Nice intermingling of abstractions and distractions.  Interested in how the author would interpret walking against the flow and therefore not actually moving.   Thanks for sharing!
 
John said...
Apr. 20, 2011 at 6:39 pm
A perceptive and thought-provoking essay by a talented writer. It transports you to airport walkways, high school hallways, and beyond, to what it means to be human. First-rate writing and beautiful prose. Nice work!
 
Tina S. said...
Apr. 20, 2011 at 11:04 am
Amazing! I really loved this, especially the Moving Walkway metaphor... made me really think about my own life.
 
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