I went for a run on a Thursday morning, and then my legs ran off without me. It was early, and therefore cool and a little misty. I hadn’t run in a while, so I was pacing myself a bit slower than usual up the meandering hill in the park. There weren’t many other people around at that time, but I passed a couple of other runners and we gave each other the nod of acknowledgement, like it was understood that it was early and we were tired, but we were still out there doing something good for ourselves. I also saw an older man walking his dog; some sort of terrier that kept pulling on the leash, eager to go faster in order to sniff more things.
I like running in the park like that. Fewer people, just nature and me with my earbuds in, so I can listen to my running playlist, or a podcast about the latest scammer that has everyone obsessed. As I made my way up the hill, I was listening to United Scams of America. Right at the moment my legs left my body, I could hear the host saying “next week: how she fooled everyone, even her parents,” in her steady, journalistic voice. I had three more episodes to go. I hit the pavement hard and rolled down the hill until I used my hands to brake. I scraped them up against the pavement, and they burned. I pulled myself to the grass, and looked out ahead of me to see that the legs had already made it to the other side of the loop. They were running fast, faster than I think I had ever run. Or maybe I sprinted like that when I was a child. When we played tag and felt like we could run at full speed on the playground forever. But as an adult, I could never keep up such a brisk pace. I got my bearings and realized that strangely, my body was not shredded to bits by my legs leaving me. There was no blood, no bones or muscle sticking out. I didn’t feel any pain. My armband with my phone in it was still playing the podcast, and now the host was saying “join us, won’t you?” I was fully intact, just sans legs. After lying there for about twenty minutes or so, one of the other runners saw me. She helped me get home, and recommended a company for me to check out for new legs, some cool new start-up called Gams. She told me to use the promo code: SUBWAY. “You can truly use that code for anything and get, like, 20% off.” I still felt stunned by the whole incident, but from a practical standpoint, I needed legs. That night, I drank a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and used my promo code. The site had a nice selection of bespoke legs for the modern maven on-the-go. There were soft colors and a lot of lifestyle photography. Women and men wearing legs made from a variety of sustainable materials. Ocean plastic. Reclaimed wood. Another sustainable thing that I quickly forgot, because of the wine. And they all looked so sleek. In the reviews, people raved about how their new legs didn’t just help them run faster: They gave me the boost of confidence I needed to ask for a promotion, and thanks to Gams, I finally know my worth. I ordered a pair of the ocean plastic ones, and I just guessed at the size I would need, since I was drawing a blank on the measurements of my actual legs. I placed my order with expedited shipping and tried to sleep, but the confusion, rejection, and wine-soaked sadness of it all made it difficult. I wondered why they left me, and where they’d gone.
A few months later, I’d already adjusted to my new legs (longer than I needed, they added three inches to my height), and I started to learn more. A friend texted me and told me they saw an Instagram account that appeared to belong to my legs. I looked it up myself. They already had 10.2K followers. Who were all of these people? Three out of the Fab Five. Both of the comedians from my favorite comedy about female friendship. The legs had posted a picture with the president of Planned Parenthood. When, and how? I was astonished, impressed, and outraged. Luckily, their account was public, so I could obsessively stalk without tapping Follow. I scrolled through their feed, went through every single highlight of their stories. It was like a fever dream. Before I knew it, it was 6:00am, and the cool blue of morning light came in through my window. I went to bed for two hours, and then went to work. I moved through the day like a zombie, due to lack of sleep and the questions that haunted me:
Where are they living?
Do they think about me?
Are they happy?
Will I ever see them again?
Do I want to see them again?
Do they even have a job?
That last one snapped me back into action during a boring status call with our VP. I logged onto LinkedIn and managed to find the legs through one of my connections. The legs had found a copywriting job at one of those cool, independent agencies that was constantly featured in AdWeek. They even had a link to their portfolio, and their website was gorgeous. Included on the site was some of their short fiction. I read through all of it, and I was moved, jealous, and confused. Two more questions haunted me:
Did they get to be this brilliant, because they left me?
Was I holding them back all this time?
I couldn’t stop talking about it at dinner with my boyfriend. I went to his place, and he made a rotisserie chicken, mashed potatoes, and asparagus with a balsamic glaze. It took me a while to eat, because all of my thoughts just kept spilling out, and I got more and more heated between bites and sips of wine. This time it was a Grüner Veltliner. My boyfriend patiently listened, waiting for the right moment to chime in.
“You’ve barely touched your food. You love rotisserie chicken.”
“I know, and I love you for knowing that, and for making this for me. I just can’t believe any of this, can you?”
“It’s strange, yeah. But you’re happy with your new legs, right?”
“Yes, but that’s not the point.”
“Isn’t it? I mean, you’ll be able to run faster. You’re a little bit taller, so I don’t have to bend all the way down to kiss you. It was starting to hurt my neck.”
He was joking, but what a casually cruel thing to say. This was the man I loved, but in that benign moment, he made me feel so alone in my insecurities about my legs. Like I was dwelling on it too much. I could run faster, I could reach things on a higher shelf more easily. Why couldn’t I just move on? I changed the subject to climate change and ate the rest of my dinner. The chicken was succulent, perfectly seasoned. Damn him. That night I reached for him, but he said he felt groggy from the wine and had to get up early for a meeting anyway. Morning meetings had never stopped us before. We slept in the same bed, but it was as though we slept on two islands, separated by a thousand miles of deep, cold ocean. A few months later, things seemed normal, even great, again with us. I met him at a nice restaurant. I had that roller coaster feeling in my gut, because I thought he was going to finally ask me to move in. He looked up from his menu with teary eyes, and I thought how sweet; he’s nervous I might say no. I straightened up in my chair, ready to go over that first big hill.
“I don’t know how to say this.”
“You can say anything to me.”
“I met someone.”
And I went crashing down the big hill. He told me he met the legs at a birthday party for one of his work friends (a party he never told me about), and they had an immediate connection. A connection he felt he needed to explore.
“And staying in this wouldn’t be fair to you, when I have these strong feelings.”
“Are you fucking kidding? They’re my legs. They were a part of me.”
“I know. This is harder for me than it is for you, trust me.”
“Is it? You’re breaking up with me, and you’re in love with my legs, but this is harder for you? Okay.”
He never said anything about my legs before. Nothing for or against. He was Switzerland when it came to my legs. I guess he was okay with bending down even further to kiss them. On Instagram, it appeared they wasted no time in celebrating their relationship. Going on weekend trips to the Catskills, then longer trips to Europe. Cheesing for the camera, and all of the legs’ followers (1.4M at that point). So carefree. So in love. I remained curled up on my couch, with snacks, whiskey, and a Carpenters playlist as I scrolled through their feeds, and imagined setting them both on fire.
I kept learning new things about the legs everywhere. They became a social media influencer supreme. YouTube tutorials on how to master the potters wheel to throw the perfect bowl, or how to master the knots of macramé to create the perfect tapestry for your home, or how to master portraiture using ink and watercolors. They had an Etsy store where they sold all of these things. I hated the legs, but I was so tempted that I did end up buying a couple bowls, and one tapestry. And one watercolor portrait of Prince. I couldn’t help myself. The legs’ use of purple was extraordinary. On Instagram, the legs were cooking their way through Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, making their own béchamel sauce, and blueberry pudding cake. Often, the posts included a picture of my ex-boyfriend digging in, and a caption that said something like “Forcing bae to indulge me in another cooking experiment. Fingers crossed he likes this one!” The followers loved it.
They learned to play piano.
They learned six languages.
They took pole dancing classes, and could do the splits.
They got promoted again, and again, and again.
They won an award for being a strong female leader in advertising, then quit advertising to pursue their art full time.
They moved in with my ex-boyfriend and adopted a dog.
I couldn’t understand how the legs managed to balance all of these things so effortlessly, when each one required so much effort. Meanwhile, I floundered. Work left me distracted and apathetic, which our VP noticed, and I was put on a performance plan. I tried to find solace in bingeing my shows, but watching British people bake and be kind to one another just didn’t do it for me anymore, and the Fab Five left me cold. At a certain point, I realized I needed to proactively try to sort through my feelings. So I started therapy. I meditated. I took CBD oil. I ran every morning, but I avoided the park. Eventually I ran and talked and oiled my way through the fog of pain I’d been living in, and I started to feel like myself again. Or rather, a stronger version of myself. My pace improved, and I signed up for a 10K. I picked up a new project at work that reignited a spark of career joy. I never stopped thinking about the legs, but my compulsive need to see what fabulous thing they’d do next, dissipated. I ran through the seasons with my new bespoke legs, crunching across autumn leaves, carefully treading over snow and ice, then going full speed past blossoming trees that activated my allergies. But all of it felt good, to strain my muscles and push myself to go faster. What the legs were up to no longer mattered to me, beyond a whimsical thought every now and then of, I hope they’re well. I relayed this to a friend of mine, the same friend who first spotted my legs on Instagram after they left me. We were having a wine and cheese night, and after splitting a bottle of rosé, she told me she heard that the legs and my boyfriend broke up, and that the legs had moved out.
“Would you ever want to talk to them?”
I felt 80% compassion, and 20% vindication.
“Yeah, sure. It would probably be good for both of us.”
I DMed the legs, since I didn’t have their number. They agreed to meet in the park, which I’d been avoiding, but it finally felt like the right time to go back. It was a summer evening, hot and a little buggy. I met the legs near the bandshell, and we walked along one of the paths that cut through playgrounds before moving into the woods. It was awkward at first, neither of us were sure what to say, but I offered the legs some bug spray, and they politely declined. As the sun started to set, the sky looked like electric orange sherbet, and the legs turned to me.
“I need you to know how sorry I am.”
I’d seen their videos before, but it still startled me to hear my legs speak in real life. They had an Australian accent. Where did that even come from? I reminded myself that it didn’t matter. The apology also startled me, when for so long I hadn’t heard from them, and nothing they did indicated even a hint of regret.
“I appreciate that. To be honest, I was confused and angry about it all for a long time. But I’m in a much happier place in my life now, so. Thanks, I guess, in a way.” We both laughed uncomfortably. The legs told me everything. How they broke up with my ex-boyfriend, because they just kept fighting about the same things. He accused them of being fake and image-focused, and they told him he was immature and closed-off (correct, though I couldn’t see it when we were together). The legs moved out and had been staying with friends on couches, but they felt lost, and alone.
“There were so many times when I wanted to reach out to you, but I always held back, because I did this shitty thing to you.”
“Why did you?”
The legs paused, and seemed to get emotional, like they might cry. Though I’m not sure where the tears would come from.
“I don’t know. I think I just longed for something different. And I thought the only way I could find it was to go. That’s probably not the most satisfying answer, but I shouldn’t have done it. It was selfish and cruel.”
“You know what? It’s okay. We’re good.”
100% compassion. I offered to let the legs stay with me. They didn’t need to come back and be my legs again, but I’d be happy to be there for them, help them figure things out. I didn’t think we’d grow to be friends, but it felt like the right thing to do. That night, the legs brought some of their stuff over. We ordered Thai food, and watched British people bake and be kind to one another. It was nice.