I used to run. Did you know that?
Not fast or anything. I kind of plod. But I took a running class once in college. I probably need some precise amount of credits to get my student loans that term, or something, and I know gym classes were always one credit.
I remember the very first day of class, trying to find my way around the physical education building and somehow opening the door to the men’s locker room.
And right then I knew, I was going to like running.
And I did. Even though I’ve never been fast, or graceful. I’ve never been one of those women you see gliding down the sidewalk in cute athletic garb. But I remember leaving that running class in bike shorts and a purple tie-dyed shirt–because 1989–and going to my work study job at the museum (our offices were in the museum’s warehouse), knowing I looked sort of good. My legs got nice right away.
“How far did you run today?” people at work would ask me. I’d always feel accomplished when I told them. “RIGHTEOUS!” I remember my museum boss saying once, when I told her how long I’d run.
I ended up living in London that summer. I had this English professor I was obsessed with because I admired him so much. He was brilliant and caustic and original, and he returned one of my papers with “See me about a small scholarship to London” across the top. It was one of the best moments of my life.
I saw him about that scholarship. Then I called the bar I’d snootily quit months before, proud of not needing it because of my fancy $7.45 an hour work study bike shorts job at the museum, to ask for some shifts back. They gave them to me, and in a month or two I’d raised enough to get to London to live all summer.
When I think of that summer, I think of reading The Bell Jar in a pub while church bells rang nearby, and I think of my morning runs.
My dorm was in the same park as the London Zoo. I’d run all the way down to that zoo. Once the wolves ran with me, all the way to the end of their cage. And I heard pink flamingoes chattering. I didn’t even know they made any noise. I guess it was because it was just me and them that they felt okay to squawk.
I think it was when I got back that I stopped running that time. If I recall, my new apartment complex had free aerobics or something very early ’90s.
Ten years later, I was in Los Angeles, getting a pedicure at one of my two pedicure hotspots. I went to either RedNailMayIHelpYou near work (that’s how they always answered the phone, with the enthusiasm of warm lettuce) or Nail Station near my house.
I was at Nail Station that time, waiting for my feet to dry, when I saw a pamphlet for AIDS Project Los Angeles’s marathon fundraiser. They’d take six months to train you, and you raised a few thousand dollars for them, and then you’d be flown to Chicago for the marathon in October.
“That seems like pretty much the last thing I’d ever do,” I thought. So I did it.
What I remember about running for that stretch of time was how I’d eat breakfast and then by 10 a.m. get the receptionist at work to get us grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches from the restaurant across the street. Then two hours later I’d have lunch. I looked magnificent.
I remember waking up early and driving down to the park for our training, and seeing nothing but hundreds of those light necklaces people wear around their necks when they run in the dark.
I remember running 23 miles along the beach. I remember how close my group got, and times we’d have to stop running because we were bent over laughing so hard.
After we’d run the marathon, one big tough guy emailed us all to say we kept him off heroin, that group did. He said he missed us so much it made him cry just typing us.
I wonder how that guy is now. He had gang tattoos, I remember.
On Friday, I pulled on a sports bra and my old running shoes and I got a leash and Edsel and I headed out for a run.
I thought it would be awful, but my old plodding body knew what to do. I knew the first 10 minutes are always the worst. Your lungs hurt, and you feel everything jiggling at you in protest, and you feel like there’s no way you can keep going.
But then you can. Then you do.
I could hear my breath coming in a rhythm I’d forgotten, and my feet pounding on the sidewalk. And as we reached the first mile, I realized why I was running.
I was running because I’m furious. I’m furious that I’m not married at 52. I’m furious that Ned didn’t turn out to be who I wanted him to be, and that Marvin disappointed me too. I feel marginalized at work, and a lot of my friends have moved away, or got married and don’t talk to me (note to self: Stop being friends with people you used to sleep with).
I don’t look the way I did when I was 25, and meeting new people isn’t as easy as a result.
I thought I’d be more financially settled than this by now.
I thought I’d be important, somehow.
Instead, I seem to be shrinking in every way but physically.
So I ran. I ran because I didn’t know what else to do.
And as I did, I thought, Well, maybe you really do have no interest in men now. Maybe it’s not just something you’re saying to get through this lean time. Maybe it’s true. So, have no interest in men.
And maybe you do feel bad about work. It’s still six minutes away, you know how to do it and there are a lot of people there you feel very affectionate about. Still, if you feel bad about it, feel bad about it.
Maybe there aren’t so many friends right now. And maybe you have no interest in making new ones. So, just don’t have so many friends right now.
I could hear my feet. Pound, pound, pound.
I started to notice how pink the trails of planes were as they flew overhead. I smelled the magnolias and smiled at the puppy behind a neighbor’s fence.
I made it the whole way, stopping just once after a hill. Edsel ran next to me like a police dog or something. If you just give that creature something to do, he’s pretty obedient. He smiled the whole time.
Back when I used to run in London, I didn’t have any way to listen to music, so I’d THINK songs. For some reason the song that ran through my head the most was River by Joni Mitchell.
Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on, it goes.
If you lived here, on Friday evening, you may have seen a slightly chubby middle-aged woman running with a goofy smiling dog. Maybe you were wondering why she bothered.
She did it because she found a river she could skate away on.