Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Curious Incident of the Runner in Transition

This will read more like a stream-of-consciousness essay than a running update. But if you've been curious, the cathartic writing is here to explain:

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One foot in front of the other.

Yes, it came to that. 

20 miles of running in The San Francisco Marathon 2014 and it came down to my shoes and the pavement. I knew I would be losing toenails. I could feel the fatigue on a cellular level. But as the stubborn runner knows all-too-well, I folded in, like the last 30 minutes of work on a Friday evening -- automatic and anticipatory.

"The Wall" for me in this race, however, was a different beast. I had met my big dreams goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon back in May, and by the time this July 27th race came around, I was distracted. I had just started a new job. I was thinking about Molly's hospice care, my new-found "always busy" lifestyle, one best friend moving back to St. Louis, and one best friend moving to Germany in September. I was thinking about Nani's funeral and how damn lucky I was that I could still put one foot in front of the other, 21 miles into an endlessly hilly, rigorous, beautiful race. The San Francisco Marathon and it's temptress appeal as both untamable and stunning.

The zig-zagging of the final stretches took us through the Mission District, where the sun beat down as a friendly reminder that things can always get more spicy. We pushed on. Blisters numbly forming over the majority of my toes, I finished the race feeling at once completely raw and numb.

Later that afternoon, after tears and a hot shower and a long train ride, I found myself at a celebration. There was catered food and sweltering East Bay heat and we gathered in dresses and sandals into a familiar home. I hope so dearly that most people never experience the positively jarring moment when you realize a celebration of life for a 17 year old with cancer is also a time for her to say goodbye, in whatever way she'd like, to most people in her life. To describe the day as emotional is a grave understatement.

I must also add here that, retrospectively, despite my best efforts to bring myself to reality and face some very real, harsh facts; I never imagined she wouldn't pull through. Perhaps my 20-something angst or na├»vety has something to do with that, but truly, Molly will always be the hero of an untold story. One so intricate, delicate, and tragic that words are simply inadequate for any reasonable telling. This masterpiece -- her life -- is something that had to be gazed upon and mulled over -- felt in the very fibers of your senses.

Monday morning came in blazing the next day with all of it's post-marathon aches. The marathon hangover, as I like to think of it, is a combination of emotional, physical, and mental fatigue paired with the self-satisfaction that "hell yeah, you just ran a freaking marathon!". This particular post-race Monday also came with a sense of quiet though. And so I sat.

Three days passed and I started picking up my running shoes again in preparation for The Santa Rosa Marathon, which was to run in a few short weeks. I never started that race. I didn't even consider it an option.

Michelle and her parents passed away on a Thursday. Unceremonious. Unfair. Unreal. I got the call, wordlessly packed up my backpack at work, and went home to my apartment. I didn't know what to do, so I ran fast and hard, openly wept while barreling, half-aware, through the streets of SF. It wasn't until I had used up an entire box of tissues that I realized I might be in over my head. It was August 7th.

I would be lying if I said I had wrapped my mind around Michelle's death.

We expect to bury our grandparents. We expect, begrudgingly, that we will bury our parents. We do not expect -- and angrily decline to accept at all -- that we should bury our college friends, our comrades, our confidantes. That the brightest stars among us should burn out before they go from red dwarfs to a supernova is wholly incomprehensible.

The following Tuesday was my birthday, August 12th. Marathon training looked a bit more like casual running after work with little determination. I took a walk with my boss that morning letting her know that Molly's timeline was unknown, but grim. Even then I didn't believe the words.

At my birthday dinner that evening -- the pit of my stomach in knots -- it was just me and my best friend, intentionally low-key, intentionally just the two of us. We were winding down the evening when the call came in from my mom. My mouth tasted like pennies.

It bears repeating that I refuse to take Molly's passing as truth. And, again, this may well be a byproduct of my age, but I think it's more than that. Molly's dad, Tom, passed away 4 years ago quite unexpectedly. During a breezy summer day in a different life, Tom, Molly, and I went to see George Strait and Little Big Town in concert. We were a happy little family; me feeling as though I was witnessing a how-to guide on what father-daughter love could tangibly look like. Tom went for the authentic cowboy boots and traditional Stetson western hat; belt buckle and Levi's in toe. Molly and I just tried to add a little twang to our normal outfits, not wanting to look overly invested, as 13 and 18 year olds often do. Tom was beaming. He may have been the most intelligent man I've ever known, but that night he was a ranch-hand Westerner. It was a night that is suspended in time. A few weeks ago, driving home from Molly's wake, the night before her funeral, I heard on the radio that George had played his very last live concert. It was the final performance in The Cowboy Rides Away Tour, indeed.

The thing about memories, as they stand up against time, is that they are so often shared -- keeping you honest about what happened and rewriting canonical details in the retellings. It's so jarring to be the only keeper of this memory now. To know that the image of those perfect faces -- glittering red and blue as the lights flashed from the stage -- are both living only in memories, has a profoundly disquieting affect.

For weeks I came home from work and stared at my wall; my running shoes sat patiently. I ate my feelings, I cried my feelings, I wrote letters and tore them up. I became a different person than I was before and I am blessed to have loved anything as deeply and honestly as I love the people who shaped me into the person I am today.

I've picked them up again, those dusty shoes, coming back to their solace as I have at every other milestone and crossroads in my life. I have a lot of work to do and so much love in my heart for those who have helped me along the way -- both in life and in death -- as I chase dreams and create a life that is meaningful each day.

One foot in front of the other.

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.” - Louise Erdrich


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