With Wings, I Am Brave

The ocean wind stretches my hair out. Sea salt air brushes my cheeks with dampness. The feeling is cool against my skin; not a frigid dampness that makes me long to seek warmth by a fireplace or to sink myself into a long hot bath. Instead, it’s a refreshing sensation that washes over me: a glad-to-be-alive enthusiasm.

Arms stretched out beside me, they mimic wings of a plane. I rush forward down the sloping cobblestone path through the same medieval stone gates that Kings and troops passed through for over a thousand years.  Battles were won and lost through these gates; a plan was created in this small port city in secret tunnels not far from this castle to save hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers in WWII. This small town where water bridges two countries is where history lives.

Here, I am free to be me. Few other tourists have made the trip to see this castle. My arms still stretched out I begin to run left to right, then right to left. Repeat. I am carefree and fearless. It doesn’t bother me what other tourists or companions think of me.

I summon the spirits of the Wright brothers who bravely set to launch the first flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903.  I am Louis Blériot the first man to cross the English Channel in 1909 where an outline of his plane commemorates the achievement not far from here.  I am Amelia Earhart, the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, and who dared to dream to fly around the world.

I am over thirty years old. And today, I am free.

Anywhere

I slurp the icy Pina Colada through the straw and stringy bits become threaded between my teeth. Just then, I watch him swagger by SHIRTLESS. Every muscle in his shoulders and arms ripples as he strides by with confidence in every step. Mouth gaping, I stare at his tanned, chiseled abs.

Damn. I knew I should have gone with a one piece. I am an aquatic mammal nicknamed Ms. Beluga minus the perpetual toothy smile stretched out here on the Hawaiian beach.

Please don’t notice me. Please don’t notice me. Oh no, he’s noticed me. But I’m certain not in a good way.

Or, maybe he has?

“Hi,” he says, “are you using the copier?”

“What?” I stammer spinning around wildly to face the voice behind me.  Embarrassingly, I now know that my printing job may have finished some time ago and I’ve been busted staring blankly at the copier.

“Yes! But all done now!” I blurt out triumphantly and with a glowing smile. It’s my best effort to convince Mr. Davidson that I was NOT daydreaming.

Quickly, I reach for my papers and then with a swoosh, watch helplessly as they sail down fanning out across the worn blue carpeted floor.  “Damn,” I unconsciously mutter as my face burns from so many corporate blunders.

Mr. Davidson is one of the nicest people in our office but has no resemblance to the man I imagined on the beach: red-rimmed glasses, long wavy dark hair that’s peppered with grey, and his beard looks like it longs to be trimmed. On this particular day, Mr. Davidson is wearing a plaid shirt with green pants. Nice man that he is, he helps me gather my pages while chatting with me about a new restaurant that just opened.

I want to disappear. There must be a way to assemble these pages to form a boat so that I can sail away to Hawaii. RIGHT NOW.  Of course, my lack of an engineering degree may prove problematic in the construction. Then there’s the other issue that the paper is much too thin. I’m certain I would sink.

TRAPPED.

***

Parachute strapped on my shoulders, goggles on my eyes, cold wind pushes me backwards onto the plane. I vaguely remember some instructions about pulling some chord but can’t recall the specifics. Right now, I am too busy holding onto the edge of the plane and screaming to no one in particular, “For heaven’s sake’s! I can do this!”

Suddenly, some random clip I saw years ago floods my little brain: I’m remembering back to an incident involving an eighty-year-old woman who attempted a tandem jump and slipped out of the parachute.  Thank goodness it didn’t end badly for her but…

“Sarah, have you submitted your report?” my manager, Esmeralda, asks.  (I’m really not kidding. That’s her name.) Her voice snaps me back to my current location: and that current spot is my stagnant, dry-aired workstation with the black blinking cursor that signals the report is still a work in progress. With two lines written, it’s a barely-there report.

How does she do that? Every time I’m drifting off into fantasy land she comes in and literally “pops” my thought bubble. No fun permitted at work, should be Esmeralda’s work motto.  I could make her a bumper sticker. I’m sure she has a webcam on me. 

“Not yet,” I hesitate and continue, “but it will be ready in the next ten minutes,” I say in my most authoritative, in-control voice, and with my broadest smile. She frowns at me and she instantaneously looks ninety-nine years old as wrinkles crack throughout her face before she saunters out the same way she came in without a further word.

Clearly, she’s impressed with me.

“Yes, why don’t people start early with their bucket lists,” I grumble as I stare at the flashing cursor. I breathe out hard and then try to inhale refreshing air. But it can’t be found here. I sigh. Then I punch at the keys in front of me in an effort to write my delinquent report.

***

It’s late July and I am in Churchill, Manitoba. The temperature is around 18 degrees Celsius and it feels more like a warm spring day than the middle of summer. I am prepping my kayak! I am so excited! FINALLY! I will be kayaking with beluga whales! They are nicknamed “sea canaries” because of the constant whistling, chirping, and clicking sounds that they are famous for making. There are tens of thousands of them out there as they come up to feed, give birth, and take care of their young in the Churchill River. Or so, the “Town of Churchill” website said. It will be a beluga sing-along party.

Belugas have mushroom white faces that are long and yet, round at the same time. Also, they ALWAYS look like they’re smiling. They have the smallest teeth on any whale I’ve ever seen. I ADORE THEM. It seems impossible that they could bite you. Even if they did – their teeth are so small it would probably be like a puppy biting you. Now that I think about it a bit more, sometimes when puppies bite it hurts. They have razer-sharp teeth.

Never mind. Belugas can’t hurt anyone! JUST LOOK AT THEM!

With that, I step my right foot into the kayak and it lists heavily to the right side. I try to step in again but the whole kayak shifts under my weight. I step back. This kayak seems a little tipsy and I’ve never been kayaking before. I have gone snorkeling…

Let’s change that.  I’m standing in front of a mirror in a black, ultra-tight dry suit that I can barely breathe in; but it’s worth it to go snorkeling with the sea canaries. Advantage: it’s much more intimate. Why wouldn’t I get as close to the belugas as possible? I’ll never get this chance again.

Another benefit of snorkeling: I have full coverage on my body. While I can’t breathe, the suit does hold in all my jelly rolls. The best part – NO UNFORTUNATE INCIDENT INVOLVING A BIKINI! My mind drifts a bit and I start to wonder, can belugas accidentally bump you and kill you?

“Sarah, are you ready for lunch?” My best friend Rachel swings her head over my work station startling me. She stares at me inquisitively with her famous Han Solo lop-sided smile as she asks, “Daydreaming again, my friend?”

“Yes,” I mope.

“Where do you want to go today?” I ask her reluctantly.

“Same place as usual?”

“Of course,” I flatly respond.

***

Damp moisture invades my body and sends a small chill down my spine. The wind blows against my face sweeping my hair off my shoulders and it dances on the wind. Large soft snow flakes fall on me and this beautiful city. I am standing at the top of the Empire State building in New York City just before 1 am. With the snow it works in unison with the events that I experienced today to signal the start of the Christmas season.

I look across the city with lights that seem to wink in acknowledgement of me, the first-time traveller. It has been a perfect day: prime viewing of the Macy’s Christmas parade, Ellen’s Stardust Diner for turkey dinner, AND THE WAIT STAFF SANG TO US! I watch the new fallen snow blanket the city coating the buildings with what look like marshmallows, brightening a little more, this already bright city.

“Sarah,” Rachel turns and looks at me. She continues saying, “They’ll be closing the building soon. We need to go.”

“Alright,” I say dreamily.

Rachel stares at me for a long moment, tilting her head, and then she turns to face the New York skyline too. Finally, she turns again to me and says, “Any thoughts on where we should go for breakfast? I’m hungry!”

Still staring out at the view in front of me, I whisper, “Anywhere.”

 

The Remarkable

“What makes you special?” He asks as he pushes his eyeglasses back that are perched on his nose.

“Nothing,” Gwen answers as she gazes out the window of the room where they sit across from each other. Her arms are clasped around her legs. She unconsciously pulls them closer to her chest as she answers his question. Gwen’s bare feet rest on the leather couch and the coldness caused from the air conditioning blasting makes her shiver. Such a cliché: her sitting on a leather sofa and him sitting over there.  It’s what you would expect.

“What makes you different? Unique?” he asks again.

A small smile crosses Gwen’s lips and she says, “One breast is larger than the other.”

Dr. Tadani nods his head and replies, “That’s not that unusual.”

“Great. Even the things that I think, make me special, aren’t.”  Her chin lifts up a little, and there’s something in her eyes. She’s challenging him, trying to prove he’s wrong, and he knows it. But she hasn’t won yet.

“I noticed a scar on your elbow. How did you get that?” he asks resting his pen on his notepad.

“Oh,” she says turning her elbow over and looking at the scar again for the first time in years.  “Fell off my mountain bike cycling down this big-ass hill,” she says smiling at the memory. Hot sun, wind, and dust flew up from the dirt path making it difficult to see. But she’d done that path and hill so many times without one scratch. On that day though, she raised one hand to brush the dirt away from her eyes at the exact moment her wheel lifted up into the air. It was the way she started coming back down. She saw that spikey rock that she should have cleared before her tire nose-dived. It was too soon. She knew it. When she crashed to the ground and skidded along the rocks it hurt. There was lots of blood. Gwen picked herself up, dabbed the wound with a finger for a little bit, laughed it off, got back on her bike, walked up the hill, and took on that downhill slope again. That time she didn’t let anything distract her: she landed perfectly.

“You like to go mountain biking?” the doctor asks.

“I did, when I was younger. I haven’t done it in years now.” Gwen’s eyes turn towards the window again, turning away from the present, and the future. She’s fixated on the past: the good ol’ days.

“So, the scar,” Dr. Tadani says, “is it special to you?”

“Yeah,” she says. “It reminds me of how brave I was and how much fun I had when I was a kid. When…” her voice trails off and a then a few moments pass. “When-n-n thin-ings were good,” she finally finishes through splintered words.

“Does anything else make you special?”

“No,” Gwen says. Her mind is blank. There’s nothing else.

“Nothing?”

“I already told you, there’s nothing.” Her lips purse together locking in words she doesn’t want to say to him. Her cheeks flame hot with rage. Why is he asking these stupid questions?

“What about your paintings?”

“What about them?” she says stubbornly. “I’m not Vincent van Gogh.”

“He was never successful in his lifetime,” Dr. Tadani says.

“I know,” she says miserably at her blunder. She needed a name and pulled the first one out that she could think of. But she knows his story.

“You don’t think you’re paintings are special?”

Gwen doesn’t want to play this game anymore. “I don’t know,” she huffs with annoyance.

“Then why do it? Why paint?”

The hair on Gwen’s arms stand up straight. Muscles around her shoulders tighten. What does he want her to say? Her work sucks? No one will ever buy it?  She’s wasting everyone’s time?

Just like a lioness with her cub, she’s protective of her work. It might not be perfect, but it’s hers. She bore it, nurtured it, and continues to work at it.

“Gwen?” Why do it?”

Gwen releases her legs and plants her feet on the carpet. Back straightens. She sits taller than she’s sat in a long time. “Because, I think maybe I can reach others through my paintings. Maybe I will awaken something in them, and they’ll see what I see. I won’t feel alone. And other people won’t either.”

“That’s the reason for your painting called, Aftermath?” Dr. Tadani asks in a soft voice.

Gwen stares at him. Mouth drops open. She’s mentioned she paints in passing. But, how does he know about that painting? Sure, it’s in a gallery, one of the few she’s sold. But she’s never mentioned it to him.

“It’s a beautiful portrait of what people leave behind,” Dr. Tadani announces. “The woman at the front of the painting seems to be sleeping. That is, until you notice the empty bottles of pills that are beside her. All around her, above her, beside her, are people crying, some shouting, and many of them dressed in black with tears streaming down their faces. It’s brilliant.” He pauses and answers her unspoken question, “I’ve seen it at the new gallery that just opened. My wife likes art.”

Gwen’s head bobs up and down.  Her throat fills with mucus.  She takes a deep breath in, and drops her chin so she doesn’t have to look at her doctor. Muffled words come from her as she sniffles and says, “My mom – she left us a note, said we’d be better off without her. She was wrong.”

Gwen hears the doctor reach for something. A Kleenex box appears before her still downward cast eyes. She glimpses up at him and takes a tissue.

Dr. Tadani smiles at Gwen as gently as he can. Gwen never mentioned her mom’s suicide before. But now a lot of the other conversations they’ve had make sense.

“Have you ever read, Hector and the Search for Happiness?”

Gwen giggles and says, “I saw the movie.”

“The movie was similar. Message was the same. As you probably remember, the basic premise is that we’re always looking for happiness. Hector goes off to find it in the usual places. Studies have been done that show data that you’ll be happy if you exercise, if you’re rich, if you’re not rich, if you do what you love, if you have a family, etc., etc…the list is really quiet endless. Sure, many of those things may work. But everyone’s different. Having a family may not make some people happy, and running marathons every weekend may not work either. After all, no two people are the same. But the book and the movie both say that you need the bad stuff, as well as the good stuff, to be happy and that those terrible experiences allow us to better recognize happiness. That sadness is a necessary emotion too. Not that anyone deserves to be miserable,” he finishes with one eyebrow raised and with one of his rare chuckles.

Gwen smiles back at her spectacle-eyed doctor with the frizzy curly hair and the eight o’clock shadow. She’s still uncertain how the book/movie ties into how she’s special.

Dr. Tadani places his book on the coffee table. “I would go further and say that it’s the sum of all our different parts of who we are that make us special.  Sure, physiological differences in pairs of body parts make you unique. But that, in combination with the scar-clad, mountain biking woman, who paints to raise awareness about difficult issues and tries to connect people through her paintings, well – that’s what makes you special, Gwen.”

REMEMBERING AUNT BECKY

Dear Aunt Becky,

Mom and I are both writing letters to you. Mom thinks it might help us. I hope so.

I want to say how grateful I am for all those times you took me to practice for basketball, volleyball, and ice hockey when mom wasn’t able to. Too busy she says now, inching her way up that corporate ladder. She’s sorry she bailed on you last time for lunch. Stupid, useless meeting, she said. It will probably be in her letter.

I’m thinking back Auntie Becky to when I was five years old and at soccer. Do you remember that?  You drove me to practice that day and I got kicked in the face by a soccer ball.  I tried so hard not to cry.  But I did cry. Blake’s mom called me a baby not just once, but over and over again. She said:  You shouldn’t play if you can’t handle getting hurt. 

Aunt Becky, you heard her. I know you did, even though you always denied it. I saw you walk away and left me standing there by myself as Blake’s mom rubbed her eyes, whined like a baby would, and stuck her lower lip out. I was so mad at you at the time because you abandoned me like that. Then a soccer ball thundered across the field from the sidelines and crashed into her glasses. Her spectacles became slanted on her face.

Blake’s mom looked around, not sure where the ball came from. You strode across the grass, arms swinging by your side, nose elevated and said: Sorry about that. I was just checking the balls to make sure they weren’t too low. We have to make sure they’re inflated enough for the team.

Blake’s mom was angry with and you and screamed, you did that on purpose! And you said, who me? Don’t be so paranoid. But I guess you shouldn’t come out to cheer your kid on if you can’t handle a little punch in the face by a stray soccer ball.

Blake’s mom scowled at you.

We went for ice cream afterwards.

I always knew you were there for me. That’s why a couple of years ago I called you when the first guy I ever liked Eric, brought me to my the Spring dance and dumped me there. Eric was all nice and sweet at our house buying me a corsage, pinning it to me, and then us chatting together when we were in the backseat of his mom’s car. But when we got there he wanted to dance the first song with Felicity. He asked if it was alright with me. I wanted to be a “cool” girlfriend and thought it’s only one song, so I said, sure. Felicity was taller than me, with bigger breasts, and juicier lips. They kissed during that song. I ran out of the gym in tears and called you.

I didn’t call mom and dad. Because you were my best friend and the one I could always depend on. When you got there, you said that you were going to go onto the dance floor and pull Eric out by his ear. I begged you not to. Instead, we went shopping. You bought me a new pair of jeans and a shirt that I could wear that night. Then we had dinner and saw a movie.  After dinner you said, I need a cigarette.

I shouldn’t have bothered you about smoking. I just wanted you to stay forever.

Aunt Becky, I’m furious for a lot of reasons. One reason is because you drove me to basketball practice on Tuesday night, stayed, drove me home, and that I forgot my bag in your car.

I’m also angry that the last thing you said to me was: I’ll see you on Saturday. Well, I saw you on that Saturday. But you weren’t you.

Someone decided that your hair should be curled; your face was white-white with red blush marks streaked across your cheeks that made you look like a clown. There was red lipstick on your lips.  Your eyes were closed and your fingers were weaved together. They sat on top of your chest.

It wasn’t you.

Why did they do that? Why didn’t they put you in that black cocktail dress that you loved so much? You know the one. It was the one you wore to every occasion. And they should have used your light bronze gloss instead. You hated red lipstick.

I’m sorry Aunt Becky I didn’t get too close to you the last time I saw you. I couldn’t.

After you dropped me off on Tuesday you should have gone home and had a glass of red wine from Australia with Uncle Pat. Then you probably would have had another cigarette in the garage. Uncle Pat always disliked your silly habit. He banned you from smoking inside for his health and the health of others.

You should know that Uncle Pat insisted that he help with the wooden box. His wife, he said. He looked like he was being crushed by the weight of the coffin; shoulders were hunched forward, and his eyes were red-rimmed.  Uncle Pat looked as if he prematurely aged ten years that day.

Not that you were heavy. I remember the way Uncle Pat picked you up, twirled you around, and threw you over his shoulder. Auntie, your head bobbed up and down and you snorted with laughter and said: I’m not your cavewoman! Uncle Pat always said: caveman-meet-feminist-smoking-hot-woman. Caveman-win-woman-with-caveman-charm.  

I forgot my bag in your car. I had a report that was due the next day.

When I called you on your cell phone, you turned your car around.

I told Mom, it’s my fault. Stupid bag. Stupid report.

Mom says it’s not my fault: That man was drunk. He ran that light. It was poor judgement on his part. The rest of it: Becky being at that intersection, at that time – just bad luck.

I dreamt last night that we were laughing and walking on a beach in Australia, (Remember? You said you would take me when I turned 18?) sun setting, salty waves crashing on the beach lulling me into a sense of blissful peace. For no reason, you stopped all of a sudden, smiled at me, and gently kissed me on both cheeks and walked away towards the ocean.

I started to scream and cry: Aunt Becky, where are you going? You can’t leave me here by myself! You brought me thousands of miles away from home, and I have no idea how to get back! I stomped my feet in the sand and asked you: How could you do this to me?

You turned around and said: Call your mom and dad, or Uncle Pat. I would love to stay, but I can’t.

You gave me one last wave and a smile. Then I watched you wade into the water. I watched right until your head disappeared over the waves.

I waited on the shoreline for a little while longer, hoping you would come back.

When I finally turned around and looked behind me, mom was there. I ran towards mom crying so hard while screaming something towards her; but I slurped on my words and they were a jumbled mess of: Becky, not here, ocean. I made absolutely no sense. Mom immediately took off in a sprint towards me. As we got closer, I could see that Mom was crying just like me, and her arms were outstretched. When we reached each other, she didn’t even hesitate – she wrapped her arms around me tightly.

It’s been a few months and mom and I are closer now. But, I still miss you. I felt bad telling mom that, but I did. And she said: Of course you do. Great people are missed.

We’re both writing letters to you and burning them. Not because we’re trying to purge the thought of you. That will never happen. But this gives us a chance to say the things we didn’t. Mom also thinks that if we burn the pages they will float to heaven and it will be as if we’ve mailed our letters to you. I don’t know if it’s true, but the thought makes me smile.

Love Always,

Cassie

Losing It All

When things begin to deteriorate it sometimes strikes swiftly and with a fierceness of a single white dazzling electric thunderstorm bolt. But sometimes it also moves like red lava that slowly seeps down from the mountain, creeping towards everything you love devouring grass and trees in its path until it swallows your home.  And there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Miles away with hands clasped over your mouth, and tears in your eyes, you watch as everything that belonged to you is swallowed up by the lava.

The Better Man

“How many times did she ask you that?” Brett asks while his fingers tug on the Budweiser label. It shreds a little more and another part of the label falls to the counter.

“Man, it was only a couple of times. But it was like she didn’t believe a word I said: like I was building a different life behind her back while she was at home making mac n’ cheese for Brianna and David.” My fingers slide down the cold Labatt Blue bottle as I shake my head. Tina Turner’s, What’s Love Got To Do With It, plays in the background of Jackson’s.

This bar, Jackson’s, is a dingy joint with dark lighting. The women here walk by us with dresses too short, and wear pants and shirts that are too tight.  My eyes casually pass over a blonde woman as she walks past us wearing a black dress and stilettos.

My thumb pokes at the label of the bottle. I’ve been fighting this fight for a decade. I’m sick of it.

“Maybe you should buy her some flowers, or something? Make sure she feels appreciated for the stuff she does. Puts up with your belly-aching and all?” Brett says as he throws his head back and takes another slug of his beer hiding his smile.

“Who are you, Dr. Phil?” I snicker at Brett. I swivel around on my bar stool adding in, “and, who’s side are you on anyways?” I ask as I peer over at my best friend. I’ve known him since eighth grade when we went to school together and played hockey. We lost contact for a couple of years when he went off to College. But now he’s back. Brett was also the best man at my wedding. I’ve had lots of good times with him. I can tell him almost anything.

My phone buzzes. I flip it over from the bar counter.

The text reads:

Kaitlyn: Where are you?

“Look,” I say while shaking my head. “I can’t even go out for a drink with a friend before the warden’s checking in on me.”

Brett’s eyes quickly pass over the text message. He half nods in my direction when he finishes reading the message.

“Well,” he says standing up, “I’ve got to get home. Jessica needs me home by 8:30 to watch the kids. It’s her book club night.”

I snort at him saying, “What the hell, man? Who’s in charge of your relationship?” My mouth twitches into a half smile.

He looks past me, smiles, and says, “Make no mistake. It’s her.”

“Fine,” I say as I pull out two twenty bills and shout at Mike, “hey, is that enough?”

Mike moves towards us, flicks his eyes over the money, and says, “Yeah. That’s good. Want change?”

“Nope, we’re good.”

Brett and I walk out the door together and I pull out the package of cigarettes in the pocket of my jacket and light a smoke. While holding the cigarette between my lips I mumble, “Want one?”

“Nope,” Brett says with a wave of his hand. “I’m trying to quit.”

My phone buzzes again. “Who’s that now?” My cheeks twitch in response to the annoyance. I wave my hand at Brett that holds the cigarette and say, “Go ahead! It’s probably Kaitlyn again.”

Brett gives a laugh, nods and says, “Okay, we’ll see you later.” Then he turns and runs through the snow to his car.

My phone shows this:

457-892-3675: Are you coming over tonight?

I type: Yeah. Leaving Jackson’s now. Be there in 10 minutes.

My fingers punch at the keys. After I’ve sent the message I delete both of them. Then I take a slow drag on my cigarette.

 

 

 

Crossing the NY Finish Line

20180727_070411My feet hit the pavement in slow motion as a red-pink sunrise greets me. Each one of my foot strikes is slower than I want it to be. Like the sun rising above me, I take my time in getting started.

But that’s not always a bad thing. What other creature wakes up to a screeching alarm clock and hits the ground running right from the start? I know my brown, furry, four-legged friend begins each day like this: with his bum in the air and paws outstretched, he’ll effortlessly complete a perfect Downward-Facing dog pose. Then he yawns. No one can rush him.

Why can’t I be more like him?

I berate myself on a daily, if not an hourly basis. Why am I not a faster runner?  Why can’t I put the fork down? I probably wouldn’t need to hit the gym and the road nearly as often if I didn’t eat so much yesterday, the day before that, or on weekends.  Clearly, I have a problem with food.

Why don’t I dress better? Why don’t I learn how to speak French? Or, why not learn Italian? Why don’t I spend more time with my friends? Why don’t I share more with friends?  Why? Then with all the unrelenting questions spinning in my mind, I find myself hating me and running. Definitely – hating me running.   

Finally, I turn a bend. I’m being followed.  Who’s there?

Oh, it’s only you. Memories of what’s already happened: Dad’s death at sixty-three years old from lung cancer.  Damn it. I’ve been here before.  I know this road. I’m running down a dead end street with no other options to change direction.

I breathe hard. Here it comes: those terrible news clips that are replayed about losses that I’ve suffered. I hear myself hyperventilating.  Excellent.  Now, I can’t breathe. I stop to walk it out. In my brain I rationalize, I’m just having laboured breathing because of unknown allergens in the air. That’s it. Or, so I tell myself.  What’s that I feel on my face?  My eyes fill up with tears and burst along the sides of my cheeks like a waterfall. I feel my lower lip quiver. I can’t stop it from happening.

What will my neighbours think? Today, I have poorly chosen to run in my neighbourhood. It seemed like a good idea when I started.  If someone sees me that I know, they will think I’ve left my mind two blocks back. I pause for a moment and wonder:  maybe I should go back and get it? Nope, my inner voice reminds me.  I lost it a long time ago.

I rage against my history, fighting, to pick up the pace. With every footprint left on the road, I am dragged down by the quicksand in my mind. Here it comes: my brother’s accident. STOP IT. A random accident that could have turned out worse: but I can’t help but question, why not better?

I slow down, slithering back to my house, defeated. I am sobbing and hyperventilating. I hold my hand over my tummy clutching it in an effort to try to force myself to stay in an upright position.  Please, let me make it home.  Don’t let me end up lying in the fetal position at the side of the road, only to be found by a kind-hearted passerby who will immediately call 911 because they believe I am injured. The next day’s headlines would read:

LOCAL WOMAN FOUND IN DITCH UNHARMED:

SUFFERS MENTAL BREAKDOWN TWO BLOCKS FROM HOME

Why do I try to run?  Why don’t I just give up?

***

November 6th, 2011

The sun is breaking over the horizon in New York. The air is crisp and cold and it awakens my senses. But it’s not just the air that has my adrenaline pumping: it’s also because today is RACE DAY.

The sun rises a little more over the horizon, and my mind uses the light in front of me to review what I’ve done. Or maybe, dwells more on what I haven’t done.

SHIT. HILLS. How did I not realize there were hills in New York?  But there are no hills in New York. Right. They have bridges. A dedicated marathon friend of mine informed me just days before the NY Marathon. See, he prepares, and knows what to expect. I, on the other hand,  prepar-ish.   I think to myself, should I have done hill training?

Oh well, nothing can be done now. You did most of the work. Run. Ice bath. Physiotherapy. Massage. Repeat.  You’ve done the work. Just enjoy the race.

As our bus arrives at Staten Island the bus finally stops and we step outside. The air is brisk. But the weather forecast predicts a high of 21 degrees and that’s quite warm for New York in early November.  And it’s nice weather to run in. I’ll take it.

After more than four hours of waiting, walking, stretching, chatting, and sitting (oh and taking those last minute bathroom breaks!) we are finally in our corrals. The announcer enthusiastically states it is the largest New York City Marathon, with 47,000 runners. A little later, Frank Sinatra’s, “New York, New York” echoes everywhere. Sometime later, my corral is finally released and we set off on the marathon route.

I start to run, running, then, I’M FLYING.  Well, flying while taking intermittent walk breaks. I do things at my own pace.  But the advantage is by doing my run slowly, I get to take it all in. The crowds of people cheer, and clap, and line the streets waiting for us. Music rumbles through the roads. They encourage us, hand out food, and remind us that we’re one percent of the population that will ever complete a marathon. And they’re there, for us. Even the slow pokes like me. The back-of-the-packers who have the slimmest of hopes of finishing the five Burroughs run in less than six hours. When we enter Brooklyn, a big man, with a gruff Brooklyn accent says to us, “Welcome to Brooklyn!

WELCOME, INDEED.

Throngs of people line the streets through Manhattan and as we turn a bend we enter Central Park.  I secretly wonder, how long have these people been out here? Did the mayor of New York create a schedule for the people of New York instructing each person as to when they should appear to ensure there was always sufficient support along the marathon route?

No, it couldn’t be.  The enthusiasm was genuine. The energy given off by the crowds could not be scheduled or rehearsed. It was a five Burroughs block party.

As I pushed onwards towards the finish line, I went down that haunted road that follows me. It starts off innocently enough with me reminiscing about 2008. As luck would have it, 2008 would be the first year that I didn’t make it in to the New York City Marathon. See, if you’re slow like me, there’s only one way to gain entry and that’s by applying and hoping, to be randomly selected through the lottery system. Of course, if I applied three years in a row, I was guaranteed entrance in the fourth year. Who says perseverance doesn’t pay?

But other things happened in the fall of 2008.  It’s a trigger you see. The year matters. In the fall of 2008, my husband was laid off. Two weeks later doctors found the “shadow” on my father’s lung, and a couple of months later my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer.  Of course, in Feb 2009 my father succumbed to pneumonia.

Then, I’m back in January 2010. Hubby and I are at a local pub called, D’Arcy McGee’s. It was a spontaneous suggestion on my part brought on by a wish for fish and chips. In between mouthfuls of deep fried haddock and French fries, I declare to my husband with utmost confidence, “I think I’m turning a corner.” The overwhelming, penetrating, grief of my father’s death was starting to lessen. Finally, I thought, I think I’ll be alright.

THIS IS A WELL DOCUMENTED RULE: NEVER ANNOUNCE SUCH THINGS TO THE UNIVERSE.  IT WILL CLUB YOU OVER THE HEAD.

The next day I was clubbed.  My mother called in the early morning on Saturday to say my brother had an accident and he had surgery overnight. He was recovering in the Intensive Care Unit of the Hospital.  He had an accident while working on a construction job that changed his life forever.

I snap myself back to the present day.  Am I hyperventilating a few hundred meters from the finish line?  Now, I’m walking.

No, this is not happening. Not here. Not now. I’ve worked too hard.

With new found determination I push forward, forcing back the memories with each footprint. Timing is everything. I know that. I wouldn’t have been ready in those three years. Stumbling, one foot in front of the other, in a sloth-mode-walk each day to work was challenging enough.

I feel my arms reach towards the sky as I cross the line where above me is written the word – FINISH.  A picture taken shortly after the race shows me proudly wearing my medal. My eyes glisten. I wear a smile so wide that on the right side of my forehead a blood vessel protrudes above my eyebrow.

Sometimes it’s best to let fate take its course. You can cry as much as you want about the unfairness of life, but life may have other plans for you. And sometimes, something you want so desperately isn’t meant to be, at least, not right now. So, you wait, for another day, when you have warm weather, sunny skies, and long lines of crowds cheering you on.

***

The Time It Takes

Four days, three hours and ten seconds was all the time I needed.

I bite my lower lip opening the crack. A red stream of blood runs along the lines of my swollen mouth mapping every part of it. Scarlet water drips down my chin in an attempt to escape its host: ME.

I’m unrecognizable. Five days earlier I was a different woman who was proud, strong, and fearless. I lean forward into the mirror and wonder, where’s that girl now? 

In The Rain

Water drips from my hair, my cheek, and the end of my nose. Where’s my umbrella?

“Why do you walk so far?” Marie asks. Then she blurts out, “Parking’s available closer to the office.”

Should I tell her? Or will it create a moment of: I can hear a paper clip hit the carpeting on the other side of the floor?

My friend slipped off a stool. It wasn’t a bungee jumping incident or skydiving accident. She’s short, and wanted to get oregano from the top shelf.

“It’s a good form of exercise,” I say.