Fitness, Things I Can

34. Things I Can Cross: The Finish Line

Keep running.

Keep a walking pace if you have to. Just keep running.

I’ve never signed up for a 5K before. My Mister hasn’t either. We pay the money, pin on our numbers, and show up early enough to beat the port-a-potty line. The fundraiser is for my kiddo’s school, so all that really matters is making an appearance.

For us, though, what really matters is finishing.

We’ve been battling head colds and threats of ear infections. We sleep deeply (for once) the night before and wake up rested (more or less) well past sunrise.

At the end of the 1-miler preceding our race, we watch as one kid after another powers around the corner and surges past the clock. Little machines, every one. We stretch and psych ourselves up. We make snide comments under our breath. Of course it’s easy for them. They aren’t lugging around 40 years of bad choices.

All we need to do is this:

Finish.

By the second mile, I’m not sure I’ll be able to. Head is swimming, belly is churning. I am a regular runner, but in all honestly my regular run is a plod. This is what happens when you jog several times a week for over two decades without ever checking a timer. My pace is a stroll. It works to keep my heart strong. What more do I need?

What I need now is one thing only.

Keep running.

As the ground under my feet roils, I calmly repeat the mantra. Keep running. Slow and steady. Keep running.

I ease down to a manageable pace. Two dudes I passed at the last hill are now passing me. It doesn’t matter. I’m running.

So I keep running.

The rattling noisemakers and whooping cheers are just ahead. Maybe I can make it. I sort of want to be sick. I really want to go sit on that bench.

The noisemaking, cheering ladies hold up a sign that says, “Almost there! Half mile to go!” They whoop and holler. The one who offers me water is a friend. Our boys are buddies. Right now I could punch her face.

I thought her clanging rattler was the end.

Half mile is 5/6th of the race done, I tell myself.

Half mile is a whole 1/6th of the race to go, I argue back.

Half empty. Keep running.

Half full. Keep running.

I halve the half and hear the next round of clangs and claps from ahead.

Then it is the corner.

Then it is the last pounding surge of thigh and calf and breath that shouldn’t be able to sprint, but does anyway.

Then it is finish line.

I plow into a crowd whose eyes are already done with me. I wobble to the sidewalk. Keep my head above my heart. Try not to throw up.

My legs return to me. Gravity becomes an ally again. The voice I almost forgot I had hollers out at my Mister as he pounds through the arch.

Then I am standing tall on a stump in the grass with an apple and water, and the principal is calling out names. I half listen. The sun presses into my neck and shoulders. My hands are sore from clapping. The lithe and grinning runners — real runners — collect ribbons and hugs, then pose and snap photos with their cameras.

The principal comes to my age category. Third place, second place, names I don’t recognize of women I don’t know. Then first place.

A name I recognize.

A woman I am meeting for the first time.

I wobble a bit then step up for my ribbon, my hug.

My mister lets me pose and snaps a photo with my camera. Blue ribbon on the damp, pink field of my tank top.

Sun bright.

Smile bright.

For the simple effort of maintaining a single aim, this small award.

This big reward.

Home, Music

You Know All the Rules By Now

Well the first days are the hardest days
don’t you worry anymore

When you’re sixteen and you pick up lice from camping out at a Dead show, you and your girlfriend walk by the People’s drug store on the way home from school. You set up chairs out on the porch in the afternoon sun, pop a bootleg in the boom box, and gossip as you comb nits from each other’s hair.
 
‘Cause when life looks like Easy Street
there is danger at your door

 
When you’re forty and you pick up lice from your son’s first grade classroom, you leave two dozen unchecked emails in your inbox, cut out of work early (again), speed over to the CVS, and race to catch the train then the bus. On the way, you send messages to your son’s dad about all the things he needs to do to treat his place. You ignore the afternoon sun and rush into your condo, making a mental note of all the places your boy had his head during the past five nights he spent with you.
 
You strip beds, pull coats from hooks, peel covers from the sofa, corral a menagerie of stuffed animals. You curse the dollhouse washer/dryer that reaches capacity at three pillowcases. You wheel the vacuum around the mountain of fabric and upholstery and giant fluffy penguins now climbing towards the ceiling.
 
You bag up all the pillows. You push two loads through. You boil water to sanitize the hairbrush.
 
Then you storm through the living room
 
and stop
 
Goddamn, well I declare,
have you seen the like?

 
by the sliding glass door.
 
The dog stirs and glances up. You look out for the first time at the fading light. It is daylight savings time. The day has hung on for you. Just barely, though. You have 30 minutes left to fling yourself out and grab her before her fingers slip free.
 
Anybody’s choice
I can hear your voice

 
You lash your lice-infested tresses into a lice-infested elastic, put on the lice-infested hoodie you wore last night, and go run three hard miles with the setting sun at a heel on your left flank.
 
You come panting back inside. The dog pushes up against you as overjoyed as she has been every time you’ve walked in that door for the whole eight years of her existence. She doesn’t know you have lice and wouldn’t care even she did.
 
Now, you can see.
 
Again.
 
Finally.
 
Like the morning sun you come
and like the wind you go

 
How your son is in the best hands now because his father is the same man who used to sit and brush your hair with such gentle strokes, you felt like you’d been carried off on a magic carpet ride. How your water pours hot from the new heater you just installed. How the juice surges from every outlet to lamp, dryer, vacuum, stove. How the bed is soft and the sleep is sound and the lock is solid and the mortgage is covered and the shelves in CVS and kitchen alike are stocked with everything you could ever need and more than you ever will.
 
How you and your son’s dad and called each other and spoke easily about how to tackle a shared concern.
 
How your Mister got on the horn and told you to tell your boy that Thomas Jefferson had lice.
 
Come on along or go alone
 
You notice how very rare and undeserved this abundance of resource for this small a problem.
 
He’s come to take his children home.
 
When you’re here today and you pick up lice from a spot on this teeming planet, you strip down to your skivvies, squirt eye-watering insecticide shampoo into your hair, crank up Daddy Yankee and boogie as you comb the nits from your hair.
 

Butchered lyrics are from the Grateful Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band.”
 

Home

Home Run

Seventy-five days of radio silence. Not a word. Nada.
 
My realtor and I spoke exactly once during that time. Right around the New Year, I started to panic. “Is there anything I should be doing?”
 
“Nothing at all. The bank has the documents.” She paused. “There are no guarantees here. We won’t stop looking at other properties. You should your eyes open.”
 
Short sales are an exercise in forbearance. Trust, too. Both have been running thin. How long can the mind and muscles wait at the starting line in a state of perpetual readiness, stretching and gulping air? Every day, inventory in my price range shrinks. Every day, prices in the area go up. The market sizzles and the bank is silent. Where’s that starting gun? Is it minutes? Hours? Or did the race move over to some other track without me realizing it?
 
As for my realtor’s advice to keep my eyes open (as if they could be any other way), no properties popping up in MLS over the past two and a half months have come close to the fit of the one I chose. The one that chose me. What if one had? It’s a high-stakes gamble. Moving on another place would mean pulling the plug on this one.
 
My place. The one that is a bit too much and a bit too little but still exactly right for Bug and me. The day before Thanksgiving, the offer came together. Here is the story.
 
Seventy-five days later, the counter-offer landed.
 
Bang!
 
We are off and running! The bank’s new plan is palatable to me. They upped the overall price of the place in exchange for a ridiculously expensive special assessment I can’t afford ($6900! For staircases!) A few other tweaks and details accompanied the counter. My realtor has my okay. She sent the acceptance back over this morning.
 
Next, inspection. Appraisal. HOA documents. Shifting money. Any bump could send us tumbling. Nothing is certain, except this: we’re covering ground. A home is on the horizon. We haven’t closed yet but we are closing in.
 

Uncategorized

Happy 100 Days: 92

Eleven and a half hours. That is how long he sleeps without stirring once. I wake at dawn and head out into the damp dark to run with only the glow of the waning moon to show the way. I return, stretch in the dew, walk the dog, pack lunch, shower, and bring the water to boil for oatmeal. He sleeps on and on.
 
This is what happens the night after the day the kid rides his bike to the school and back all by himself. Not all by himself, actually — training wheels notwithstanding, he is still skittish about hills. When we come to the top of a slope, he slows to a crawl and asks, “Mommy, can you hold on, please?” I touch the handlebars the way I remember learning to hold the barre in ballet. This lightest of grips is poised and at the ready. When he hears a car, he tenses and turns back three or four times to look. He veers in a wide arc away from the curb. I tell him the story about hitting the telephone pole when I was learning to ride a bike even though I was staring right at it. “You tend to go wherever you are looking, so keep looking at the place you want to go, not the thing you are trying to avoid.”
 
“I am going to run over that black spot,” he says. He peers with great intensity at a tar patch on the street ahead and steers his front tire over it. “Now, I am going to go over that one.” The cars pass on by.
 
At the playground behind the school, we run and run and run and run. It is dusk and the storm clouds are rolling in. I chase him up the slide and down the ladder, up the fire pole and down the parallel bars. We do not speak. This game demands no negotiation of rules. He bends and peers at me from between poles across the yard, eyes flashing and skin on fire. He breathes hard and braces himself. I charge and he shrieks, mulch flying. He tears off over the jungle gym and under the bridge, ducking, faking left then right. His wild laughter echoes off the school’s brick walls. We run until he notices the sky.
 
“Those clouds are very low,” he says.
 
“Yes. They are.”
 
“We should go home.”
 
He is back on the bike and I drop my fingers onto the handlebar. He nudges my hand away. “No, Mommy, you don’t need to hold me.” He weaves in and out and around the pillars at the front of the school building, tires churning up the chalk murals of peace signs and rainbows. On the way home, we meet the slope going the other way. He lifts his hands from the bars and gazes at the red, puffy spots on his palm.
 
“We can put ice on your hands when we get home,” I tell him.
 
He makes a fist, releases it, then pushes on.
 
“They make special gloves for biking,” I say. “They have padding and no fingers. We can get you some.”
 
“I’ve seen them,” he says.
 
And now he is climbing. Up in the seat, he stands as he pedals up the hill, grinding against gravity. I grin and tell him he’s got it. He climbs all the way to the top hill and then drops into the seat, pauses, and looks at his hands again. The red spots are angry now.
 
“We’ll use that soft ice pack,” I say.
 
“Okay.”
 
He turns right at the stop sign and continues all the way home. He never asks for my help, never complains. He makes it to the driveway and then lets me maneuver the bike into the garage. Inside, we root around in the fridge for the ice pack. He presses his hands to the blue pockets of relief.
 
When I put him to bed an hour earlier than usual, he does not protest. We read our three books and sing our three songs, cuddle and nuzzle and have butterfly kisses.
 
It is no surprise he sleeps on and on this October morning. When he wakes and comes padding into my room, he tucks himself under the already made folds of my comforter, grinning with sleepy bliss.
 
“Can you come cuddle me, Mommy?”
 
“I can cuddle you for exactly one minute. We have to get ready for school.”
 
I lay down next to him and put my face against his. He turns and presses his nose into my cheek.
 
“How about exactly two minutes?” He puts his hand on my arm. The red blister has faded to a pink whisper.
 
“Okay,” I say. “Exactly two minutes.”
 
He hums into my neck, closes his eyes, and pulls my arm across his belly.