Running Through Concrete

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I forced myself into my running shoes yesterday for the first time since the day before my brother died. It was a beautiful spring day in Austin. I knew I should get outside. What I really wanted to do was sit inside with a gallon of ice cream and gain three more pounds. Okay, I don’t really want to gain three more pounds, but I’m not opposed to it enough to stop eating ice cream.

On a normal day, a day when three members of my family hadn’t died in quick succession, I wouldn’t have had much trouble motivating myself to get outside for a walk/run on a beautiful spring day. Or even a hot summer day. But for the past 26 days, normalcy has been far out of reach.

A friend asked if I’d be up for salsa dancing last night. Salsa dancing? The suggestion was so absurd, I laughed out loud. But I realized then that while I wasn’t up for dancing, I might be able to manage a walk.

I put on my running clothes, strapped on my Garmin, and made sure I’d selected a music playlist that wouldn’t have me crumble into a heap on the asphalt. As I went out my front door, I saw my stupid neighbor (the one who doesn’t trust anyone who doesn’t drink) pulling in. He keeps texting me about hugs. I don’t want one from him. Piss off. I stepped around the corner of my building and waited until the coast was clear.

I started walking down the sidewalk on the side of a busy street. Absolutely stunning day. Deep blue Texas sky, cool breeze, tree branches swaying, birds flying overhead. The beauty surrounding me was painful. I passed children playing. Dogs barking at their fun. My heart exploded with grief. I walked on, tears falling behind my sunglasses. After five minutes, I started to run. The air felt heavy like liquid cement. I kept going, running and crying, feeling like I was drowning in the cool spring air.

Everything in the world was too beautiful. In stark contrast with the pain buried deep in my heart. I couldn’t bear it. The images on tv this past week were easier to sit with. I felt an affinity with the grieving faces. I felt the communal heartbreak. I felt at one with humanity.

But the beauty of the day made me ache. After burying my grief for nearly a month under ice cream, wine, and television, the brilliant sunshine pierced my armor. The warmth of the sun highlighted the cold dark place inside me. The pain began to seep through the cracks and I was forced to look at it in the light of day.

I made it four miles. With every step, the ache in my chest lessened in the smallest of increments. My heartbreak didn’t ease, but I could breathe. I’m going out again today. But not with the goal of getting back to where I was a year ago. Everything is different now. My aim is to learn who I am.

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