By the time I reached my gate at the Minneapolis airport, the shoes on my feet were no longer mine.
I found a seat and started scrolling through photos on my phone, magnifying every image that contained the shoes and comparing the boots on the screen to the ones I was wearing. I texted my sister:
“I think I mixed up my shoes with someone else’s when I went through security.”
I kept scrolling. Finally I found a photo with a clear shot of the boots. I zoomed in. Same shade of faded black, same seam down the center.
By now the sun was settling on the tarmac outside my gate, pooling on the horizon like a broken egg yolk. My cheeks felt tight from the drying of old tears, my chest heavy and still with the calm that comes after the crying.
I wasn’t ready to leave home even though I had moved away months before. These days, my heart was breaking in new ways all the time, and I felt like the only things that could cure me were my parents’ dog and the Minnesota winter, with its wind that cuts you in half and suspends your breath. This air is singular, piercing; it allows you to feel one thing only. Cold.
Once I had reacquainted myself with my shoes, I lifted my eyes and remembered where I was going and why. Women were crowded around my gate with pink hats on their heads and posters rolled up under their arms. When we landed in D.C., one person shouted “here we come!” down the aisle and the entire plane applauded.
During the cab ride to my friend’s home, I began to think about what it means to protest in the midst of personal turmoil. I was feeling guilty that my life had room for pain that wasn’t politically motivated, for problems that seemed minor in comparison to the global catastrophes that surrounded me. Is it wrong to march not only because you believe in it, but also because you want to get outside of yourself, to be reminded of your smallness? Does my pain carry echoes of my privilege?
The day of the march, we moved through the patchwork of bodies with our banner. It gave us something to hold on to when the crowds began to separate us, and I imagined what we would look like from above. A spiral opening and closing. A wave approaching the shore. With each step, I felt my body beginning to unfold like a fist releasing its grasp.
Sometimes you will go through something that feels like the whole world, and every act of kindness will feel like the whole world too. Feminism, like friendship, is beautiful in its recognition of this. It understands the value of care regardless of the scope of someone’s grief. When my friends and I showed up in D.C., we showed up for the march and for one another, to share the weight of spoken and unspoken wounds. Our togetherness became the site of our mutual healing.
I slept on a couch bookended by my friends that night. It reminded me of the road trips I took as a child, my siblings’ arms pressed against me in the back seat as the highway spun ribbons behind us. When I’m in the presence of these women, I feel my body come back to me. Remember what it’s like to be full, warm, held, enough.
I am back in Boston now, a city where the snow never sticks and I find myself aching for something to soften the edges of houses and sidewalks. I walk everywhere here, usually alone, but I’ve been trying to recreate the sensation of walking amidst a braid of linked arms. I buoy myself up with the memory.
Sometimes you need to walk to make yourself familiar again. Sometimes to know that things will move against all odds. That people are willing to walk beside you, and you them. This is what turns the walking into marching.