Unapologetic

Laura reclined back in her cushioned work chair. Her hand on her mouse, she scrolled through the columns of the spreadsheet with expenses for the Marriott hotel, receipts from restaurants, gas, rental car, and airfare charges. 

Heat pricked at her cheeks, and her eyes stung.

Knock, knock.

Frustrated, Laura sighed.

The headache had started a couple of hours ago, and now her skin tingled from the pain. The “knocking” on the frame of her workstation only made the pounding in her head worse.

“Hey Laura,” Jan said as she grabbed the spare chair from the corner of her cubicle and rolled it close to Laura’s desk.  

Laura’s jaw tightened.  Expenses for the Sales Team must be submitted to the Chief Financial Officer by the end of the day today. She hoped whatever Jan had come for wouldn’t take long.

Jan said some words about an incident from the weekend that made headlines because of what could have happened but didn’t.

 Laura touched her swollen, warm lips.     

 Jan was mad. Angry that on the first warm spring day where birch, balsam firs, and oak trees lined the paths, the parents with children, the teenagers, and seniors that were there, well, none of them had helped a boy who nearly drowned.    

Laura offered excuses: Perhaps, some had heart conditions? Or maybe they didn’t see him? Still, others may not have known how to swim.  Other people may have been in denial about what they witnessed and didn’t have time to react.

Jan left.

Before she left, though, she pushed her caramel-colored hair back, harrumphed, and returned the chair to the corner of the cubicle. Jan shook her head and said, “How can you defend them?”

Laura shrugged her shoulders as her chest throbbed.

Jan spun on her heels and trudged off down the hallway. The clip-clop sound faded. Laura sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose as she stared at the expense sheet for Joy Thatcher.   

 The lines on the spreadsheet, the cells Laura remembered they were called, blurred together.

Concentrate, Laura. Concentrate. It’s only noon. 

***

Other people were around.  But, she wanted to remember the boy.  

Slowly, she’d limped back to her car. Her coat sagged. So, Laura peeled her black jacket off and threw it in the trunk. God, her sweater clung to her like forgotten cilantro in the fridge still in its plastic bag. Then her car chirped, the doors unlocked, she opened the car door and almost got inside.

A woman’s soothing voice said something from behind her. Laura stopped and spoke with the white-haired woman in the black hat who told her she was a retired nurse. The woman said: You should get checked out.

But Laura wanted to go home. She squeezed the woman’s hand once and reassured her that she was okay. Then she watched as the grey-eyed woman walked away.

Once Laura was in her car, she rubbed her hand to her face. Then she watched as two paramedics lifted the boy strapped onto a gurney, and loaded him into the ambulance. Not long after, the transport vehicle’s lights whirled, and the siren screamed as it left the parking lot.

***

There was the hum of vibrating beeps. Over the noise, a clinical voice said, “The time of death for Laura is . . . ,”

There’s a wish that Laura had, something she’d never said, and it’s this: She hoped the boy would be okay.

Running on Empty

I chop strawberries and drop them into a bowl. 
I glance at your bed in the corner of the room. 
I throw yogurt and honey into the round dish,
when the memory of your labored breathing comes crashing down.  
I gobble up my breakfast as quick as I can. 
Start to work, uninterrupted, while night changes to day. 
As the numbers click by on the clock, I know I have time to run, to daydream, and to work some more—
if I want.
Our days of morning walks in the woods are done.
In the backyard, your squeaky ball sits against the fence. 
The pile of stuffed toys overflows from your box, 
and they stare at me with no owner left to carry them around.

You were always there through all of life's changes:
lost jobs, some illnesses, and too many deaths. 
You offered a lick and a hug, and with a tilt of your head: 
Reminded me we'd go for a walk and eventually would be okay again.
The last few years, I've watched as you went deaf, tumbled, and fell. 
But you always struggled, with unending glee. 
Sitting on the pavement, you smiled, to lure in a passerby who might pat you on the head,
and maybe offer you a treat.
They said you were doing well . . .
I knew they were just kind.
Because we all knew what was coming—me, running on memories—
and us, with no more time.

Three Soldiers

I woke as one usually does—as it was early March, and I lived in a drafty apartment, cold and with a full bladder and a need to empty it.

I flopped a foot out of my bed and placed it against the frigid hardwood. Well, to be precise, it was parquet. I lived in a brown six-story building with elevators that rattled, and when I traveled in one, I feared I would become lodged between the third and fourth floors. It was a place where students living on loans lived—and it was a shared two-bedroom apartment with another student where we split the rent and other bills, occasionally a pizza, but otherwise, we seldom interacted with each other.   

I didn’t turn the light switch on in my bedroom. I don’t need to after I’ve lived somewhere for some time as I can generally navigate my way from one room, half-asleep, and in darkness to the bathroom.  

I opened my bedroom door, crossed the hallway, and placed one foot inside the bathroom. In the mirror, something caught my eye, and I wondered whether my roommate was playing some practical joke on me.

This thought was brief. There, in the plastic tub, stood a young man with grey eyes, wearing a uniform with a divisional insignia on the upper arm and a service cap on his head. His hands rested by his sides. He spoke no words. Instead, his eyes full of pride stared at me, and I stared at his reflection through the mirror.  

I shifted. My mouth was parched, and my heart raced. I blinked a few times and hoped he would disappear. Then I turned my head to look directly into the eyes of the soldier and maybe to ask him what he wanted and why he was here.

But when I turned to face the phantom in the bathtub, he was no longer there.  

I sucked in a breath and stared into the mirror again.

This time the reflection was someone I thought I knew. Maybe it was some photo I saw as a child of a man in his twenties, dressed in a WWII uniform that I recognized. But, then again, perhaps that wasn’t it—because it was his smile too, I remembered on an older face when I was much younger. His jaw was set, and a thin smile crossed his lips, an expression that reassured me everything would be alright.  

I didn’t hesitate. I spun around to face the soldier, annoyed at the hallucinations that never said anything. There was no one to ask, though. The ghost was gone.   

My eyes drifted across the cheap, grey (but in daylight, white) shower curtain and across the tiled, chipped, ceramic floor. I didn’t want to do it—still, I did it anyway.

Dark eyes stared at me. I kept my eyes on the reflection in the mirror. There was sadness that flowed from this shadow. I can’t tell you how I know this because I can’t really explain it myself. Was it the way his eyes shone? Or was it because his mouth was nothing more than a line? Or if it was just the way he stood there in a white tank top, dog tags glimmered around his neck, and in cargo pants and with a gaze that rested on me.  

I placed a hand on the light switch and flicked the light on, and then, I searched the mirror and the bathtub and hunted for ghosts. But it was only me who stood there and stared at an empty bathtub.

I rubbed a hand to my forehead. What had happened? Was I sleep-walking? Had I dreamed the whole thing? Or had I done too many late nights working on third-year papers?  Or was it stress?

I used the washroom, quick as I could, went back to my room, and switched the lights on. I slept fitfully as I rolled back and forth and wondered if I had lost my mind or if three ghosts really had visited me.

When I woke the next day, something felt off. So, I made some calls and then made one more to the only person I’d ever known to have fought in a war.  

My paternal grandfather was a soldier for Greece during WWII. As a child, grandpa told me stories about how he’d been caught by German soldiers a few times and escaped and how he’d spent time at a prisoner camp. When I placed my call, my grandfather had suffered a few strokes but had recovered, and from what I knew, he was alright.  

I called and spoke to my uncle and grandmother and claimed it was only a quick call to say, “Hi,” and asked if my grandpa was, “Okay?”

I don’t remember what was said, but when I hung up, I was relieved because there was no need to worry.

Two days later, I received an email that said grandpa was sick. I don’t recall if my uncle said he’d had another stroke or if there was something else wrong.  What I do remember is this—three weeks later, my grandfather was dead.

Weapon

Others love them.

They talk about the length and thickness of them. Sometimes, we’ll dress them up, dab black ink on them. Make them more defined: longer, more prominent, richer. Only when I joined the TET Club, did I find out about the secret others already knew. I’m still a new member. I joined, out of necessity, when, like everything else, they retaliated against me six years ago. It’s been a long six years. Worse yet, I know this battle will go on for decades.    

My enemy hides by tucking in amongst the others. You should know too, it also changes its color to white. This makes it hard to see. It reminds me of a polar bear that ambles across the snow-covered Arctic. Hard to know where the snow ends. And the bear begins.  Kind of makes it hard to pluck out the thing from the landscape that will kill you.

The silver glistens with the sun’s rays. Pointedly, it’s sharp. I tap a finger across the top as I bathe it with soap and rinse with warm water. It’s a requirement: the weapon must be sterilized. I’m still new to this. The older members of the TET Club, they know. Know what positions to be in, or have a contact name and number where they can hire a professional to make it, so.

Instead, here I am. My hand shakes. But I know this has to be done. If I lack the will to do it, I know I’ll spend my days blurry-eyed in slimy regret. I grab the top and bottom of the eyelids. Hold them wide open. Clasp the hairs down. The blue eyeball flutters at me. Tearful. But, my resolve is firm. It will take more than watery eyes to convince me to stand down.

With a flick of my wrist, I grab it—and tweeze the rebellious hair from my eyelid!

“Ow!!!!” I scream.

I place a hand on my eye to soothe the throbbing. Now, it’s only another eight curling, twirling, microscopic eyelash hairs that need to be plucked. Snapping the arms of my tweezers together, I ready myself. Then, I raise my weapon and point it at my new target.

Hope, don’t leave me.

I don’t need hope when everything I’ve wanted I get, every plan goes according to plan, and each step taken gives me a gold medal and cheering crowds at the end of a finish line. 

The belief that my future life might be better than my present or past, I cling to when I’ve lost so much, and then I misplace my plan. It’s those times when I’m cold, hungry, limping, bruised, and bleeding, and I cross the finish line to find no water and food, and an empty stadium.  

Hope forces me to pick myself up from those dark spaces and encourages me to take another step forward. Sometimes, the act of surviving is enough to propel me forward and to believe that sometime in the future, things might be just a little better. 

The Quicksand of Dona

In the quicksand of Dona, he waits. Saer sees nothing, though, as he tiptoes close by. Still, Saer searches the sand. He’s heard about the monster.  Today, the creature made things personal.

Saer stares up to the grey marsh tree where rope-like strings hang from it. The ropes would entice anyone to climb up its limbs, and temptation for a child is difficult to ignore.  Hands clasped into fists at Saer’s side, the marsh tree is the only one he’s ever seen. Gods, laugh, it’s almost as if the Creator placed it beside Quickie on purpose. 

Saer’s fear is trampled by rage.

He knows what his grandson wanted: Just a look at Quickie. One evening, when they’d stared up to the golden starred lights, his grandson had told him his plan to climb the marsh tree to see the monster. The child said he’d be safe from the beast. The grandfather did what any grandfather would have done—he told Ron not to do it. But as little boys are prone to do, he discarded his grandfather’s advice and did what he wanted. Or, that’s what Ron’s stricken, shaking friend Astrid said when she returned and told the people in Gerstar what happened to Ron. Still, Ron’s only six-years-old and should be allowed to make some mistakes—

No! Shaking his head, Saer won’t believe itnot yet.

“Where are you, Quicky?” Saer shouts. The old man stomps his feet on the river bank as he unpacks his forty-five-pound salamander shark from his bag. It was Saer’s prized catch, the one that would feed him and his son’s family for the next month. His son was always a quitter when he faced obstacles. So, of course, he’d begged him not to come.

Saer shakes his head. Is that fair? Jacob wept when he asked him not to risk his life because he was convinced Ron, his only child, was dead. After all, no one had ever survived a taking.  

Saer huffs, swears, and hisses between breaths. Saer is an old man, with more life behind him than in front of him. He came anyway. Old men and little boys are both the same. Stubborn. And yes, right now, fish are in short supply. Still, his grandson meant more to him than a full belly. They would find other ways to feed themselves. 

“Quicky!” the man barks.  

Red dots move in the sand. If Saer blinked, he wouldn’t have seen them. But Saer’s determined, and that makes his mind sharp. And there’s something else—something, no one else knows. He heard a word said today that he’s never heard before. The phlegm-filled gargled voice croaked one word, trade, and it was said when no one else was around. And before Saer knew his grandson had been taken.

Is it a trap? Does Quickie want to turn him into his dessert? Or does the monster really want a trade? More importantly, if the beast can talk to people, why has Saer never heard of this before? Was it even Quickie? Or is he an old man who now hears voices? “There are no guarantees,” Saer whispers to the mud. 

The hairs on Saer’s arms stand up from the northern wind. His feet sink into the mud, and sniffing once, he catches the increasing stench of rotting food.

Saer squints at the spot and watches the red dots circle. Moving in closer, Saer swings the shark across his shoulder. One black dot flutters back and forth, up and down. Then the white-bearded, white-haired man runs with the fish across his shoulder and jumps into the sand with the heels of his boots slamming down on a gel-like round form.

The serpent screeches! His thirteen tentacles rise up, and then the rippled, suction-cupped arms shake as if they’ve been jarred by a hard object. Something from ol’ Quickie is flung high into the air and lands on to the muddy, moss-laden embankment. 

“Here!” Saer says. “Take this! You wanted it!” Then Saer heaves and swings the shark at Quicky. A tentacle rises up and snaps the fish up in one sweeping motion. Saer jumps from one of Quickie’s arms to another, riding the limbs as if they were marbles on the floor. The grandfather shifts, lurches, and then finds the steadiness of his feet, only to lose them again when he leans to the right. Swaying, Saer moves closer to the quicksand’s edge, and then he jumps and dives next to whatever Quickie had thrown.

Ron lies on the embankment. Black webbed saliva drenches the child’s still body.  The six-year old’s chest rises and falls.

Saer hears a hissing from behind him. The red dotted with black pupil eye stares at the grandfather and the boy. One of the thirteen tentacles holds the shark. Then, Quicky recoils his limbs and slinks backward before he sinks beneath the sand. 

The grandfather doesn’t see this, though. His skin pricking with excitement, he runs towards Gerstar with his grandson in his arms.

The Optimist

A few months ago, when the world descended into the pandemic realm, I believed I could be a beacon of light in the COVID-19 world.

Yes, among the fear and anxiety of shuttered businesses and deaths, I would persevere and remind others and myself that people had lived in dark times before and survived, and in later years, thrived, and at some point, they found joy in life again.  With my last post, which was meant to be part of a series of positive posts in a shadowy dark world, I wanted to be the person who remained optimistic and hopeful.

How quickly I was crushed. My fingers every morning would frantically swipe through news headlines that showed mounting cases that were then followed by rapidly accumulating deaths. Obsessively, every morning, I clicked on the world data and checked each country to see if the infection rate was slowing, hoping each morning, and multiple times in the day that the numbers would descend as quickly as they had accelerated. I wished for a quick death of COVID-19—either through social distancing and self-isolation—or praying that high temperatures might kill it. (Yes, I wanted to believe that theory too, which has since been, from what I’ve read, been debunked by science.)

Here we are months later, and we’ve slowed the spread of it. But nearly every day there are new cases in most countries and the death toll climbs. And the fear, the concern about what could happen, haunts me. So, I’ll wear a mask whenever I go out to the grocery store to protect others as I scramble down aisles to collect the items on my list.  

A simple grocery run, has turned into some epic battle with a mask and hand sanitizer odyssey. Something as simple as dropping an apple on the grocery store floor will allow me to come up with at least three different options on how to correct the problem. With each choice though, my mind will conduct a risk assessment for each decision. Some options include:

Option 1: Place the apple back with the rest of the apples. Then, I’ll realize, no, I can’t do that.  Because there’s a chance that someone may have had COVID-19 stuck to their shoe, stepped right in that exact spot, and now the little Macintosh that I’ll place back on the shelf, may get picked up and taken home by another shopper, and they will get COVID-19 because they missed a spot when they cleaned the apple. The unknown shopper in my horror movie will become sick. And I will be responsible.

Option 2: I can take the red apple with me. Except then there’s a risk of getting COVID-19 on my hands if the apple has the virus on it, and if I touch my steering wheel, and forget to clean my car…. Well, now I have a COVID-19 trail to clean that’s draped on my hands, on doorknobs, and oh god, if I touch my face, I can become an asymptomatic carrier that can kill my closest family members, not to mention, total strangers! Because now I might be the nose-dripping from the cold, one-time allergy sneezing COVID-19 girl who doesn’t know it, and I’ve left nose drips on the sidewalk that got glued to someone’s shoe and an unsuspecting neighbor will carry it into their home. 

Option 3: Leave Mr. Apple on the ground. Of course, that will make me look like a jerk to fellow shoppers and to the sleep-deprived, ten times more stressed out grocery clerks, who have had to deal with customer’s temper tantrums about not having bread flour in the store in eight weeks. (Okay, that was me. However, my poor husband, was the only person who had to deal with me snarling about hoarders. Recently, I found out at least in Canada, it’s not a hoarding problem. Oops, my bad.)

Those are my top three scenarios. If I think about it long enough, I’m sure my brain can come up with other ways how one small, free-spirited piece of fruit, can kill everyone in my neighborhood.     

I promise you, that’s how my mind plays things out.  When the virus came to Canada, I thought that if I did everything right, protected the people I loved, and everyone did the same, we could escape the virus (mostly). I thought it would be eight weeks, COVID-19 would be dead, and we would return to the life we had before.

What I didn’t expect, and didn’t anticipate, was the overwhelming grief I felt when I watched the news that showed the death toll mounting around the world. Every country was impacted, and every day, the number of cases climbed. When a Navy hospital ship arrived in New York to house the influx of patients and a convention center was converted for the same purpose, I was stunned, and my mind went blank. Numbness, consumed me.

In Canada, our long-term care facilities, that houses the most vulnerable in our population, were and continue to be the epicenter with the most casualties.  The absolute failure to protect seniors from COVID-19, and then the negligence in caring for them after they contracted the illness, highlights our systemic ineptness in caring for the elderly. 

It turns out I’m not the ray of sunshine I thought I would be for others. I’m more along the lines of:  If someone falls, I’m falling with them. It’s been a struggle. I have many days when I’m emotional and hopeless. Even as the cases diminish, I’m terrified of a second wave that might be more deadly than the first because everyone’s exhausted from the last three months of stress. And I worry about this, even as we wait to be released from the remaining restrictions that were ordered by the government in mid-March.

I accept I’m weaker than I once believed. At the same time, I’m still hopeful of a future that doesn’t include forbidden hugs, unauthorized shared drinks and meals with family and friends, and a time where I can say, “Hello,” to my neighbor, Jennifer, where I don’t have to stand six feet away from her.

As for those uplifting posts? Sorry, I just can’t do it right now. That’s okay, though. I’ll wait. Someday, maybe even sometime soon, I can write something more uplifting—perhaps, what it was like to take my mother out for dinner again.

The Sound of the Band Playing

I’m grateful for the whirl of the microwave humming that is followed by the smell of silky butter in the air. As if the microwave and air popper are creating some song, the popcorn thumps to its own beat and produces white puff balls that roll into an awaiting bowl. Once I combine the popcorn, butter, with a dash of salt, the crunchy taste of my movie meal lifts my mood, and I’m ready to settle down to binge-watch almost anything.

Superwoman’s Trashed Cape

Personal upheaval is something that happens. It can come as a drizzle of raindrops, or it will come as a deluge of water that will send rivers rising, roads, and highways flooding until homes are submerged in water and are swept away by the current.

The year of 2018 was a year of personal change that came all at once. Some of it was planned: my mother’s move to Ottawa that neither went smoothly or swiftly. I longed to quickly place a checkmark in that box on my to-do list, but it lingered incomplete for several months. Part of the reason for this was that unknown to me at the time, Ottawa was in the midst of a housing crisis that continues to this day.

Today in Ottawa, a small bachelor apartment will cost nine hundred dollars. When I graduated from University over a decade ago, a bachelor cost me close to six hundred dollars. I struggled at the time to pay my rent on a salary that was a little above the poverty line. I don’t know how a person who makes a similar income today can live in this city. Nevertheless, I know our housing crisis isn’t limited to Ottawa; nationally, for years, Toronto and Vancouver have both struggled with the same issue. As well, from reading various news articles, I know it’s become a wide-reaching problem across Canada; and in many other countries such as the United States and in the United Kingdom.

These two obstacles (the move and the housing shortage in Ottawa) were not insurmountable hurdles to overcome. But there was also the new monumental experience of selling my mother’s house.  The endeavor left me terrified, anxious, and frustrated in a sweeping sandstorm of emotions. As well, while I’d coordinated office moves early in my career, the relocation of my mother across hundreds of kilometers left me wide-eyed at night with terror.  I attempted to reassure myself the office moves I’d coordinated had ended, well—relatively smoothly. Surely, if I’d managed those, I could blow the cobwebs out of my brain and figure out how to move my momma to a different city.

Easy-peasy.  

It wasn’t easy-peasy though—it was damn hard.

Adding to this flux of tasks, I’d also committed to run a half-marathon at the end of September of that same year. A long time ago, I was a woman that would run, run, and run, and I wouldn’t let anything stop me. Pain in my knee? The solution was physiotherapy. Not enough sleep? Don’t care. I’ve got a training schedule to do! Busy week at work? Fine, I’ll get up extra early and punch out seven kilometers before I jump in the shower and get ready to go to work. Snowstorm? I’ll slip and slide along the packed snow, jump over three-foot snowbanks, and if I encounter a snow wall at an intersection, I’ll climb over it.

I was so dedicated that when my father died in February 2009, I still planned to complete a scheduled half-marathon in May of that year. My last long run of nineteen kilometers occurred on a Tuesday night less than two weeks before the half-marathon.  (Ahem, that is not when your last long run should happen.) I remember the next day well because one of my co-workers looked at me from across the room as she engaged in a conversation with a colleague, stopped mid-sentence, and blurted out in my direction as only telepathic grandmothers have done in the past with these words: “You look tired?”

Yes, I was. But nothing was going to stop me from running that race. Who cares if I missed most of February’s training, due to frequent trips across hundreds of kilometers by car to my hometown, because my dad was hospitalized due to complications from lung cancer? That was no excuse. Or, that’s what I told myself.

Then my adorable, fluffy, chocolate lab tore some ligaments in my shoulder when we were playing ball-ball eight days before my race. It wasn’t his fault, but mine. I didn’t trust him. When I threw the ball, and he bumped it with his chubby black snout, the nose-bump caused the ball-ball to roll a little further away from him. He did what a good Labrador does—he chased it. I hung on to the retractable leash as my thirteen-month fluff-bum Pup tugged and launched me into the air. A second later, I crashed to the ground and landed with a thud on my shoulder. This was followed by a yelp of, “*insert common expletive here that starts with F!*” as an explosive pain swept through my shoulder that caused me to become nauseous and dizzy.

I lumbered towards an unknown neighbor who happened to be on her phone at the time, gave her my husband’s number with instructions to tell him he needed to pick up me, and Mr. I Broke Mommy. Even as I collapsed on the grass and continued to clasp that retractable leash tightly in agony with MIBM’s butt in my face, I already began to plot my next move and reassured myself with: I can still run.

I didn’t run that race though because when I walked, rolled over in bed, tried to reach for anything, the pain would tear through my shoulder and across my back as if someone had stabbed me with a nine-inch blade. That was the first race I ever missed.

Skip to a few years later, when I dropped out of races as a regular occurrence. My top five reasons might include:

  • We really can’t afford to go to Toronto so that I can run (another) half-marathon because one of us is out of a job, and the other person is now under the threat that their position has a ninety percent probability of going the way of the dodo. Pass
  • I can do a Ten Kilometer Race in my sleep. Pass
  • Here in Ottawa, on a frigid February day, it’s snowing. Again. Pass
  • Someone’s dead: mother-in-law, brother, friend… Pass
  • Not feeling it today. Pass

Family and friends called me out on my commitment to sign up for races, and then my non-commitment to actually run them. In response to a few comments made to me, I put my common sense aside and started to run again. This time I would swing back in the other direction. Nothing would stop me from running a race.

When the mercury soared in May 2016 on the day of a scheduled half-marathon, and I’d barely done any training because I’d lost a friend in April, (Hey, what do you want? It’s a daily battle when you lose someone you love.) I laced up my shoes. My husband bounced around me and said, “Maybe, it’s not a good idea? Maybe, you should sit this one out?” With my head held high and a laugh, I pinned my race bib number on my shirt, grabbed my car keys, and headed out the door for my race.

At two kilometers, I was surprised I was already tired. I rationalized with myself it was only another nineteen kilometers and change to go.

Ugh.

At the ten kilometer mark, a bitter taste swept through my mouth as I felt the blood drain from my face. The heat and humidity scorched me that day. I rubbed my hands over my temples in a miserable attempt to smooth out a headache. I brushed the salty sweat from my cheeks. I remember two volunteers stared at me with a smile of pity on their faces as they said, “How are you doing?”

I rolled my shoulders back, straightened my spine, and pushed my legs forward as I hobbled briskly past them with a huff of, “I’m doing fine!” I ran as fast as I could (I believe the tortoise past me) before the volunteers had a chance to call the paramedics and yank me from the course.

I did not die that day. You would think I would have learned something. I did not.

I should have dropped out of that scheduled race in September 2018. Truth is, the echoed words of the Quitter Ghost I was, haunted me. As well, I never completed a “sanity check” on tackling a new goal because my mind was already too busy problem-solving while I folded laundry, drove, bought groceries, and—on training runs.

The first day I ran and fell on my face (literally), it was post-appointment with my Cardiologist in May 2018. I was angry with him because I’d spent six months worried about my heart, received a couple of conflicting test results that he explained as “inaccurate,” and then he announced, “Enjoy your summer.”  The implied meaning: Stop worrying. You’re all good.

I decided on that run the Cardiologist was partly right: because I had low blood pressure and normal cholesterol levels, I wasn’t a candidate for heart disease. However, I also realized that if he’d missed something, I needed to fix my eating and exercise habits.  At that very moment, I decided running was no longer an “optional” hobby—it was a requirement for my health.

Then after I made that decision, I stumbled over my feet at my six-hour marathon pace. My body leaned forward. I wobbled. In a final, brave attempt to protect myself, I stretched both hands out as this thought surged through my brain: Holy sh*t! This is going to hurt!

I hit the paved road and skidded. My sunglasses flew off my face and fell ten feet from where the rest of me landed. Finally, the right side of my forehead smacked against the concrete. Pain ricocheted to my neck. Blood poured from both knees and elbows. Chunks of gravel that were mixed in on the road tore a piece of skin off my palm, and it flopped around. I did what any reasonable adult would do—I pushed on the loose skin. It bled. It also—hurt like hell.

That was the first time I fell down on a training run. It was mid-May.

Not long after, my hubby and I faced new problems. We went to have dinner one night with my husband’s father and noticed a yellow tinge coated his skin and the whites of his eyes. My husband and I blinked at him. He was jaundice and had failed to see it. A few months later, my father-in-law would be diagnosed with bile duct cancer—an aggressive and rare form of the disease.

Around the end of July, while my brain worked on moving around all the pieces of my puzzling life, I stumbled again on a training run. I managed not to hit my head on the pavement. But those barely healed elbows and knees dripped with crimson again. As I peeled myself off the road at a three-way intersection and limped away, I muttered for a bit, before I threw my head back and erupted into snorts of laughter. I decided at that moment that if there were a third fall, I might not be so lucky. Once I was home, and after I tended to my bleeding bits, I transferred to the Ten Kilometer Race.

It took two falls for me to realize that I may have over-committed myself to that half-marathon. Yet, throughout the final part of 2018 and the beginning of 2019, I still missed the bigger picture.

My pace sped up to supersonic speed as I attempted to help my mother settle into a new city; support my husband after my father-in-law passed away following an operation meant to extend his life a little, ended up taking it instead; walk that same tendon-pulling lab on at least two walks a day; keep our house tidy so luggage-packing vermin don’t make it their new “home”; work on my writing; meet with my friends so they know they’re important to me; maintain some level of exercise, and on, and on it went….

I tried to keep the pace up by multitasking more often, by doing three or four things at once as opposed to just two, by getting less sleep—by using every second of the day as efficiently as I could. My body in response to this non-stop to-do list responded: I would get chest pains and tightness in my throat when I thought about being late for work; my left eye twitched at random times; when I forgot to do something I would (or wanted to) cry; when I sat down to write, my stories were littered with run-on and incomplete sentences, common spelling mistakes, and I struggled to remember how to spell simple words. One evening when I attempted to write a query letter to a literary agent, I blinked at my monitor after I typed the word quankered.  I shook my head in frustration. I googled the word, but it took some time because I didn’t even have the first letter right.

The word I meant to type was—CONQUERED.

I realized something in the summer of 2019: I couldn’t do it all.

I know some people will say they can do more than me, and they don’t understand what my issue is. Some will also say, “I need to employ better time-management skills.”

Those people are correct. 

What I also know is that I need to make choices. Decisions, that are neither easy or ones without consequences. Some of the changes in my life revolve around applying better “time-management skills”; others require me to be more assertive and say, “Sorry, I just can’t do it.”

In the fall of 2019, the most significant decision I made was to leave my full-time position. For me, I realized that after eight years of working full-time and writing on the side, I couldn’t do both anymore. If I wanted to improve in my craft I needed to take courses, commit more time to edits, market my blog, attend writing conferences, create more short stories, and build other manuscripts. I already didn’t have the time to do the things I had to do. Where would I find the hours needed to do all the other tasks that would allow me the smallest chance of success in a very competitive industry?

There’s no guarantee of success. I know that. But, dropping down to one full-time job was the right decision for me at this point in my life. I’m one hundred percent certain of my choice for this reason: This Superwoman’s tired—and that’s why I’ve decided—to trash my cape.

Perspective

When you see me, what do you see?

On a snowy, icy path, on a frigid day, a white-haired woman with her back curled forward leans heavily on her walker up a hill in the direction of Sam’s Grocery Store.

He takes a drag from his cigarette, sucking on it a little too long. His tearful eyes shift as he leans against the wall. Searching his jacket, he fumbles for his phone. When he pulls it out, he dials. The phone rings. There’s a click and he says, “Sorry, can you help me?”

She drops a plate. “That’s coming out of your paycheque!” the man at the counter shouts with a raised hand in Lucy’s direction. Nodding her head, she slowly walks away. Then, a piece of bacon slips from the plate she’s still carrying.  “And clean that up!” he barks at her as she heads towards the kitchen.

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