I am mired in a room with a yellow glow. We painted the walls Lemon Twist and decorated in accents of gray, green, and brown. It sounds ugly, but it isn’t because of all the teddy bears. I sit on the floor with my son, Ryder, as he hands me toy after toy: teething rings and stuffed animal rattles and the occasional brightly-colored rubber block. He smiles with his little baby teeth, tongue twisting around the nubs. We have matching plump bellies and cankles. On him, it is adorable.
At dinner, I say to my husband, “I think it is time for a change.” My 13-year-old daughter, Kayla, snorts.
“What kind of change?” Jerry asks.
“A real one this time,” I answer. “I think I’m going to get a Fitbit.”
“What is that?” Kayla asks as Ryder slaps a hand on the tray of his high chair.
“It’s like a watch that tells you how active you are.”
“Why do you need a watch to tell you how active you are?” Jerry asks.
“It’ll keep me motivated,” I say and scoop another bite of orchard fruit medley into Ryder’s waiting mouth.
“It’s a lot of money to spend on something we don’t really need,” Jerry says. Kayla has pulled her phone out and is texting her friends. The television blares as the news comes on.
“Don’t undermine my success, Jerry,” I say.
I decide on the Fitbit Charge. I wanted the Fitbit Charge HR, which, in addition to everything else, monitors heart rate. That feels like an important thing to know. But, it is too expensive. The Charge has a clock built in along with the other displays: steps taken, miles gone, calories burned, stairs climbed. It even monitors my sleep patterns. They are so ambitious, these little blinking icons.
My Fitbit is slate blue like a larger version of the rubber band wrapped tight around the limp broccoli in our refrigerator. I snap it around my wrist and already I feel a difference.
I lift the display to my lips and wink at Kayla. “This is Bond,” I say. “James Bond. Can you read me, Miss Moneypenny?”
“Oh, give it a rest, Mom,” she says and walks away. But, I’m smiling. Q couldn’t have designed anything so clever.
I repeat the joke to Jerry when he comes out of the bathroom. “Oh. My. God,” Kayla yells from the living room, but Jerry laughs.
By the end of the day, I have already earned the Happy Hill Badge for running up and down the stairs ten times, depositing folded laundry, and carrying down the trash.
My Fitbit chafes my wrist a little. I’ve forgotten to unclick the setting in the app that reports my activity to my Facebook page. My sister, Alexis, sends me a text, “You got a Fitbit?” she writes, stressing her question with multiple unnecessary exclamation points. “I’ll friend you on the dashboard. I got a Charge HR,” she says and I think, “Well, of course you did, you bitch.”
Instead, I say, “Great,” and step outside to run up and down the driveway 20 times. My neighbors are wondering about me, I can tell, since they seem to be doing a lot of honking in my direction. But, I can’t go further than the range of the baby monitor and walking around the house isn’t getting it done.
My friends list is growing—my sister, my cousin, my other cousin’s German husband whom I’ve never met. I start watching the rankings, how my stats fluctuate by the demands of my children and husband. My sister’s stats hover just solidly above mine. The German is averaging 17,000 steps a day, and I start to wonder what he’s up to. But, I’m doing okay, at first.
A week in, I feel tired and bored of it already. Jerry gives me that look, the one I know so well. “Time for a change!” he mocks and before bed I walk back and forth across our bedroom in the dark. I hit my 10,000 steps, and he glares at me in the glow of the television.
I tell my friend, Erica, that I’ve decided to get back into shape. I’m sick of looking at magazines of celebrities claiming they’ve regained their bodies just six weeks post-baby. As if their bodies had gone somewhere foreign, slipped away into the ether for a time, but now they’ve returned, better than ever. My body has never gone anywhere exotic, before or after kids. But, I do feel the urge to find new marrow in old bones. Erica seems excited about my motivation.
“Come run with me,” she urges and I realize what a horrible mistake I’ve made in confiding in her.
“I don’t want to run with you,” I say. “It would be too embarrassing.”
Erica competes in IRONMAN races and triathlons. She does CrossFit and is a 39-year-old woman who plays on an adult kickball team. I haven’t moved faster than a steady walk in years.
“Look, there is a community fun run this weekend. Sign up for it and I’ll run with you the whole way,” she pesters. “You can run a 5K, right?”
“Of course,” I say, because her tone has implied that anyone with two working legs could run three miles. And, maybe I can. I really have no idea. I look down at my Fitbit, press the button on the side—a move that has become a habit for me. Hourly check-ins to see how my day is progressing. What is my body worth today, at this hour? I hear myself saying, “Okay.”
At the starting line, right before the gun goes off, I feel excited. There are so many people here and everyone is talking at the same time. Erica is hopping up and down to loosen her joints. I mimic her and look around. “I can beat that one,” I think to myself about the old man with the red sweatband. “And, I can beat that one,” I think about the eight-year-old girl.
In truth, I beat no one. I cannot run three miles. We are less than a half a mile in, and Erica is chattering away while all the blood in my body pools in my cheeks. “Halfway there,” she says gently and, even while I recognize the lie, I cling to the idea that I am almost done.
My body is urging me to walk or suffer the consequences but a sickly woman with labored breathing has just passed us. She has the words “Quick as a turtle” ironed onto the back of her race T-shirt. Obviously, it is an act of passive aggression against everyone behind her. What does that make me? A snail? Erica is clapping, cheering this woman on. We are now the last two people on the course. A lazy police car follows behind us.
“What an inspiration,” Erica says and I nod, although I don’t know if I’m really nodding or if my neck muscles have just stopped working. I’ve heard stories about people hitting the wall while running marathons and I wonder if I’ve hit the wall of this 5K. I peer down at my Fitbit and soldier on for another half a mile before finally giving in and walking. I am more proud of that half mile than anything, because I wanted to quit but I didn’t. Until, of course, I did quit. But I’m still moving, still tracking my shuffling steps. I’m like a shark now—if I stop moving, there is a really good chance I’ll die.
We are approaching the one big hill in the race—situated halfway because whoever planned the course is a horrible garbage sort of person. At the top of the hill, we will turn and retrace our steps in a giant “out and back” loop.
“Think you can run it?” Erica challenges me, and I don’t want to waste my breath telling her no.
“Go on ahead,” I say. “You don’t have to wait for me.”
“I want to cross the finish line together,” she says, but she does run on ahead, up the hill and looping around until meeting me less than halfway up the incline. “I’ll run it again with you,” she urges and I realize what a horrible friend Erica is. What a display of strength she’s just shown me—to run a hill twice I can barely walk once.
“No!” I tell her and I want to cry. “Just go ahead. Jesus. I’ll see you later.”
She is jogging slowly beside me, hopping foot to foot but when she realizes I’m not kidding, she stops completely. “Okay,” she says, slowly. “Okay, I’ll see you at the end.” She takes off running in the opposite direction and I know I’ve hurt her and I know this sweat pouring from my scalp is not normal. I don’t care about any of that.
I have an impossible hill to climb.
I can’t believe she actually left me.
Four weeks in, and I have not lost any weight. If anything, I think I’ve gained. But, it is most likely muscle mass. I stick a frozen lasagna in the oven and check my stats. I consider going out for a walk while Jerry tends to the baby. But, then, I get the ping from an email telling me that my Fitbit’s batteries are low. A part of me says, “Go anyways,” but what is the point if I can’t track those steps? So, instead, I plug it in and play Word Worm on my phone until the oven timer beeps.
It is Sunday, and the baby is finally napping after a steady hour of whining. Kayla is at a friend’s house. Jerry comes up behind me while I while I make our bed. He curls his large body around mine, and rubs his hands up my arms.
“Will you take it off?” he asks, his hand resting on my Fitbit.
“No,” I say, without hesitation. It hasn’t left my wrist in months, except for showers. And, if we are going to do this, I need these nine active minutes.
“I feel like I’m in a three-way,” he says. “With a robot.” But his hands don’t stop roaming.
I turn and kiss him. My legs are tired and my hips ache so I lay down on my back before he can. He and I are always jockeying for position. He settles on top of me and I try to ignore that my left butt cheek is cramping. I’ve been on three walks today already and I’m pretty proud that midway through the day, I’m already near my goal. It makes me feel good like maybe I can do this—I can care for Ryder and Kayla. I can love my husband. I can tend to our home and my body and I won’t have to crop myself out of the pictures I post on Facebook.
We are bouncing on the bed, our movements careful to minimize the squeaking of the springs. We aren’t teenagers anymore but maintenance love can be sweet, too. I don’t have the energy for wild love anymore. I feel a vibration and hear the steady thrum of my Fitbit purring, congratulating me on hitting the five-mile mark.
I can’t help it, I start to laugh. Jerry laughs, too, and we’ve both lost any momentum we had. He buries his face into my neck to quiet his laughter so Ryder doesn’t wake up in the next room.
Jerry picks up the pace again, but my mind is left to wander. How many mattress miles have I logged in my life? How far has my body bounced, how long might I have gone in those miles, away from this life and into something new?
My sister has dropped a pot of boiling water on her foot. I am worried she has second-degree burns. I watch as she posts blistered pictures of her red lobster clawed foot on Facebook. I send her a message through the Fitbit app, “I’m going to kill you in the rankings this week.”
She sends me a Weekend Warrior Challenge—at the end of the weekend, whoever has moved the most wins. I accept eagerly. I need this win.
I take the baby out in the jogging stroller and we walk around the neighborhood in the evenings. I do jumping jacks before bed, walk in place while brushing my teeth. When I check the stats, I am shaken. Despite not even being able to wear flip-flops, my sister has almost 10,000 steps ahead of me for the entire weekend.
I lose the Weekend Warrior Challenge and consider, for the first time, how much my Fitbit looks like a manacle around my wrist.
I get an email that I have a message on the Fitbit website. My sister has sent me a “taunt” and I respond, “Kiss my ass.”
Later, I get another message, this one from the German. Just two question marks. He is taunting me, too, I think, because I have no idea what they mean. So, I send him a question mark back. I feel good about this response. One question mark is polite but firm, two would be obnoxious.
Then, later, another email and another message from the German. Somehow, the message I’d sent to my sister was redirected to the German. A man whom I’ve never actually even had a conversation with, and now I’ve told him to kiss my ass. As if I have nothing better to do than start a fight with a German. I think the Fitbit is turning on me.
My niece, Louise, is 12 years old. My sister told me over the phone that she fears Louise is getting pudgy, which is ridiculous; the child is beautiful.
“Prepuberty,” my sister says, and I sneer because my sister has always been thin. Even in her prepubescent years. “Poor Louise,” I think, “to have a mother like that.” So, they’ve gotten Louise a Fitbit. She challenges me to a Work Week Challenge and I accept to encourage her. By Thursday, I’ve reached my 10,000 steps a day, but it is as if Louise has become untethered, not even ranked. Where is she? What is she doing? I worry about her.
Then, on Friday, she suddenly goes from being unranked to the top of the rankings—higher than that damn German. Louise is averaging 20,000 steps a day. She has not stopped moving even while in school. Even when she should be sleeping.
She is not sleepwalking. She is not jumping rope in her dreams. She is a smart girl. She is cheating, I realize. My sister lets it slip that Louise has attached her Fitbit to the dog, a chocolate lab named Kevin that never stops moving. Somehow, it has never occurred to me to cheat or manually add steps into my day. In a way, this knowledge is thrilling. Whatever steps I’ve taken have all been my own. Louise is cheating, just like her disgusting, cheating mother with her gross blistered foot.
I lose the Work Week Challenge, but I don’t mind this time.
Another 5K Fun Run is advertised in our town. Cautiously, I approach Erica with an idea. We’ll start together and both do our best. We won’t cross the finish line together, but in the end, whatever pace we set will be enough because it will be our own. She hugs me and agrees.
At the starting line, I don’t bother to look around at the people I think I can beat. I just stretch and mentally prepare myself to spend the next 30 to 40 minutes doing something painful and horrible. At the last moment, hesitating for only a beat, I slip my Fitbit from my wrist and run it over to Jerry who is waiting on the sidelines.
When the gun goes off, it takes about four minutes for me to lose sight of Erica. But, I don’t think about that. I think about putting one foot in front of the other. At one point, Erica passes me on her return and she yells out, “Go Rhonda! Move that ass!” and I clap like a seal. She is long gone and I’m still clapping. She has urged me on and I realize what a wonderful friend Erica is.
The race is hard, but not as hard as the first one. Throughout the race, I am solidly in the middle of the pack. I am not a snail this time. I’m not even a turtle.
When I cross the finish line, I immediately look for Jerry and the kids. They are standing back from the crowd in a field that runs parallel to the final stretch of the race. All of them, even the baby, are clapping. Ryder has no idea what he is clapping about, but he is happy. Kayla is smiling, not at her phone or her friends, but at me. I run over and hug Jerry’s neck, clinging to him because my legs are turning to mush.
“I ran the whole thing!” I say. “I didn’t come in last!”
Jerry hands me a banana and a bottle of water. For just a moment, I panic at the knowledge that my Fitbit has missed my most triumphant moment yet. Erica comes up behind and strangles me with hugs and we all laugh. It’s okay, I think. I’ve done well. I’ll just manually add the steps in later.