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Twenty Pounds

EmilyNolan.ToplessApril 21, 2015-3205

I step into the elevator, and I don’t know it yet, but my life will change in 10, 9, 8 (doors shut), 7, (descending), 6, 5, 4 (doors open), 3, (man walks in), 2, 1. He looks at me and though I feel his desire to unleash a sharp tongue like a chained rabid dog, I kindly smile back. Eyes reaching his for a moment so fleeting it’s hard to recall. What happens next will paralyze or propel me.

The air is heavy as we descend together, monkeys in captivity, one with Poseidon’s temper; twenty pounds of rage, or gratefulness, harnessed uncomfortably onto the top of my shoulders. I feel remarkably dense; I’m in a dream, or bolted to the center of the Earth. The energy between us could blow lightening through the steel beam floor that’s the only support I find for what seems like an eternal ride leaving one of us carrying a karmic scarlet letter, evermore. Trade winds shift; sunbaked twigs become a forest fire, alive, whipping, relentless, unforgiving, and sometimes deadly.

My running shoes stare at me from under my writing desk, like Spunky’s deliberate begging when I owe him a long walk. I lace my shoes comfortably around my feet, tie up loose end emails, and plug my phone in to charge. I leave every piece of reconnection to the world in my office.

Running hasn’t always been my thing, in fact, it’s fairly new to me, at least enjoying it is, and I’m proud of this. It’s always been my point of contention in workouts; if there was running, you could forget that I’d show up. I’m methodically slow; my competitive spirit gets shamelessly dragged into the corner of the ring and beaten up every time I lace up my shoes and hit the pavement. It’s great for my ego, though. And my body, everything’s getting stronger, even my heart.

Nothing is unchanged today. The over-blushed Russian mother in #1609 is singing as she makes fried meatballs for her young son, through his nonsensical shrieking complaints that make my face crinkle, even from the hallway. The handsome bachelor and his French bulldog in #1615 rest several doors down; he eats lunch on his studio bed and watches a rerun of Californication. I stand in the elevator lobby waiting, and I can hear the TV show through the gap under his front door. My husband’s watched the same episode: Hank’s in a meeting to discuss his next script.

Which reminds me that I should have Matt fill in the gap under our front door; I wouldn’t want the neighbors to get their feathers in a ruffle about my proclivity for singing country music out loud.

The elevator doors ding open, the trace of pungent marijuana seeps out, carried from a floor below. Excited to be away from my phone, my computer, I step inside with a childish half-hop, because no one’s looking. I’m looking forward to a long run with only my thoughts.

The buttons on the wall light up as we pass several floors and they stop at 10. The wall dings and the doors open and jolt the elevator, dangling slightly from left to right. For a second, the doors open and no one’s there. For a second, it was ding-dong-ditch. From nowhere, he throws his foot into the elevator and the closing doors shoot back open.

I glance up at him too quick to assimilate any features. Our eyes meet for an acceptable moment, and I gaze down at my running shoes again; he’s staring back at me. I feel his judgments crawling over my skin like ants on a dying worm: It’s suffocating, even from the other side of the carriage.

He breaks the uncomfortable silence with words that choke me; his stare finally collects both of my irate, injured eyes. He unleashes his rabid dog-on-a-chain tongue and I recoil backwards. The handrail digs into my lower back, adding a dramatic arch as my shoulder blades fold against the mirror behind me. My chin drops in disbelief. My eyes grow in size, dehydrated sponges dropping into water.

He couldn’t have just said that to me. My dropped jaw still moves loosely to make out what sounds like, “Excuse me?”

“You’d be hot if you lost twenty pounds.” He whips back, lashing my Achilles heel.

My chest caves forward falling away from the mirror, my hands cup my thrashing heart. My great, vulnerable eyes shut like an iron curtain; protection.

He retorts, shooting a dying dog. “I mean it as a compliment. You would be really hot if you lost twenty pounds.”

Oh my God. I’m alone with a monster. My back completely falls away from the elevator mirror; my feet are the only thing left to support my slaughtered spirit. My face flushes red-hot and my eyes narrow in on him, prey.

I decide. The punishing winds change direction; from the deepest point in my soul, the great Divine unleashes Mother Teresa carrying a paddle with “EN” branded onto it.

“Okay well, maybe ten.” He jabs. Exasperatingly I come at him with little protection, “How rude!”

“I don’t mean to be rude!” He throws his hands up defensively. “I mean to say you’re beautiful. If you would lose a little weight.”

“I am not your Barbie doll. I am me!” I stiffen into a full five-foot-nine frame and the hairs on my arms and the back of my neck toughen. My running shoes plant into the steel beams. I’m not going anywhere. This time, I aggressively claim myself in the face of all evil, in front of all temptation to submit and agree, to run away with my tail between my legs.

Today, I come full circle from the times I’d shy away from confrontation in fear that I was not enough. Or that I was greater than anyone’s imagination, which I’m beginning to understand.

I lean in with a loud secret, “I’m perfect, just the way I am!” Ugh! I wish I had something more distinguished to say that didn’t sound so rehearsed. Something piercing that in descending 10 floors would verbally lash him. Something that paddled him against the mirror and tattooed his surprised forehead with my monogram.

“I really mean it to be nice. I think maybe ten pounds then, that’s all.” The light on the elevator wall switches from 2 to L. The elevator doors open up to the lobby like Heaven’s Gate, although with an abrupt ding, no violins or white puffy clouds greet me. I feel white-hot spirit course through my veins, my eyes hold each blink a second longer. I step out now with soldier’s boots.

The doors close behind me, and I jam my foot in the door just before they shut completely. The doors jump open and reveal his impassive face.

I gaze at him forgivingly, one running shoe still fixed in front of the other to keep the doors from closing. “Thank you, for being my greatest teacher.”

I ride that elevator every day, though I’ve never seen him since.

My childhood babysitter tells the story of a deadly car accident that she was in, where she was pinned in the back of a 15-passenger van and could not get out. She said a truck driver pulled over to the side of the road and miraculously carried her out of the car, even with her crushed legs pinned between the seats. He was much older with a long white beard, and when she looked up, laying bloodied on the side of the road to thank him, he was gone. No trace that he had ever been there. She’ll always speak of him as her guardian angel.

Teachers come in many forms: Mr. Anonymous’.

Thank you for teaching me that I’ll never fall down that dreadful rabbit hole of self-doubt again. Life is too short to not celebrate it, myself, all the time.

Twenty pounds. Of protection. Of acceptance. Of soldier. Of greater than I ever imagined.

Twenty Pounds by Emily Nolan

Photo Matt Roy

Kind Contributor Emily Nolan

Emily Nolan is a professional model, teacher and founder of nonprofit, TOPLESS yoga, a globally recognized empowerment event used as a tool for practicing radical self-acceptance. Emily hosts The Hum, a women’s fellowship retreat which emphasizes listening to our Hum within. Through her mission-based work, Emily has sparked a global conversation around body image.

Nolan is currently writing her first book, Pretty Brave.

Find Emily Nolan at @iamemilynolan // emilynolan.com.

Join Emily on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter

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this kinda rocks!
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this kinda rocks!
oh darling, indulge a little