Running Realizations.

I hate running. Really hate it. It feels alien to my body and I’m always short of breath. At the same time I love it. I forget how great it makes me feel afterward. Like my husband says it feels so good when you stop. I also forget the realizations you have while running. Your body, your breath is struggling, your mind is focused on the struggle so it frees itself and all these realizations come rushing in.

I love those realizations, but fear them too, because usually they pick me up out of my complacent little slot in the world and throw me somewhere else. Inevitably after a run I’ll have to actually DO some major life-altering thing because while I was chuffing along I realized no, I actually didn’t want to have kids. So what now?

I’ll never forget that cold, foggy morning in Pittsburgh running around the reservoir near the zoo, listening to the lions roar their disapproval in the dawn and realizing that no, I didn’t want to be a teacher anymore. That Vietnam-humid summer morning when I realized I hated my job in fundraising. I wanted to write. That other morning when the first warm breath of Spring was in the air and the first green buds appeared when I realized how very much I loved my husband, my dog, my life. Tears rolled down in gratitude when I also realized I didn’t have to do anything with that realization. I just had to feel it for awhile. Then remember what it felt like when times were bad.

This afternoon as the sun set and the last of the trees hit their fire-red peak while others gently let go of their leaves without a sound, I realized much to my horror that I was living my mother’s life. All my life I’ve fought against it. When she wanted me to be a ballerina I balked. When she wanted me to keep studying violin I yelled. I hated cooking. And I absolutly HATED……….running. She ran marathons. I cheered her on from the sidelines. She urged me to run and I complained. I would NEVER run. I’m fifteen dammit! I know everything!

Now at 43, I’m learning to love running. And I’m a freelance food writer which means I cook a great deal. I bake a great deal. And I love it. The realization, the irony of it all was not lost as I tried in vain to make it up our neighborhood’s giant hill. But as I ran down the other side I also realized, if I was living Momma’s life, did that also mean I had to live all of it?

While I’ve been struggling with my identity the past year, what it means to be a writer, to finally do what I’m supposed to do, what it means to not have kids, what it means to be this person I find myself to be, I’ve also been struggling with an unknown, un-named fear. It lurks off to the side and I find myself preparing for it. I don’t know what it is, but I’ll be ready for it when it gets here. I lift weights, I run. I meditate. I pray. I write. All in an effort to get strong for whatever this fear could be.

My mother, in her 40’s, was violently attacked in her home. They never found the guy and even though we all urged her to get counseling she never did. She insisted she was strong enough. She kept running. But she also started drinking. And at 49 she crashed her car into a tree. Ten years of brain trauma followed, until at 59 she died within 3 months of being diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

Now certainly there were happy memories in those years, and I don’t mean to come off all Anne Sexton-confessional, but this was my realization today. I don’t fear living my mother’s life. But I do fear that part of it. If I’m living my mother’s life, does it mean I have to live it all? Facing that kind of mountain makes me very afraid indeed.

I can hear my mother insisting that I’m silly, this is my life. Not hers. Of course I can make different choices. All I know is this running realization rushing in to my brain today stopped me cold. It made me cry. And I swear to God if I make it to 50 with all my body parts and my mental faculties intact I’ll be very grateful indeed. Hell, I’m grateful right now. For a lot of things. But today mostly for running. Because with every step I’m letting shit go.

Running to me is “selah” meaning I stop. And I listen.


I’ve already written extensively about my Momma here, but this time of year I always get to thinking more about her. On March 27, 2007, it will have been six years since she died of esophageal cancer.

This was after spending ten years as a head trauma victim – the result of a tragic car accident late on a Monday night, January 7, 1991, on an icy road. I have to admit during our own ice storm here last week I was brought back to that night. She had called me at work to say she was going out with some girlfriends even though the weatherman promised an ice storm. I tried to convince her to stay home but couldn’t. The next phone call I got was in the wee hours of Tuesday morning from my father saying she was in intensive care at MCV. She had hit a tree less than three minutes from her house.

I hate to belabor stuff, but it sure seems hard not to in this case. In my process of “letting go” through writing in this blog, these memories are the hardest.

Between January and March each year, I seem to relive all that stuff over and over again. She had her accident in January 1991, she was diagnosed with cancer in January 2001. She came out of her coma in March 1991, she died of her cancer in March 2001. Ten years of surviving with bookends of that one life-changing accident and her final death, and what I feel was a release of pain and holding on. When she died she was finally able to just quit trying so hard and rest.

So now, every time there is bad weather or it just happens to be January, February or March, I remember. I remember my sister knocking on my door with her husband and all her kids in tow making a face-to-face visit to tell me that Momma had cancer.

I remember driving in the ice storm down to the hospital at 3 in the morning. The whap-whap of the windshield wipers.

I remember the brightness in my mother’s eyes when she first came out of her coma, like the world was all shiny and new.

I remember seeing my Momma jogging down Woodman Road in the middle of winter through the snow and the slush – she ran marathons, and trained, no matter what the weather. I was usually on my way to high school and often passed her on the road, giving a little “toot” as I drove past, but wishing she wouldn’t run so close to home – I got embarrassed when my teachers and friends would point out they saw her running too. Now I’m damn proud.

I remember Momma telling me that if I wanted to kick my bad mood I should get off my butt and exercise, that it was the best thing for depression. I would just roll my eyes and eat another potato chip or go into my room and slam the door. But now I know she was right.

I remember the smell of the Neuro-ICU, a sick, sour, smell like turned milk. With an undertone of medicine and old, unwashed laundry. The first time I had to deliver something to the ICU when I temped there that smell hit me like a tsunami, and I was taken back to that night. It was so unsettling.

I remember the fear in my Momma’s eyes as she lay dying of this horrible cancer – she looked so frail, and small, and afraid. My sister and I climbed in the bed with her, one on either side, and held her, and talked to her in soft tones.

I remember how my Momma’s breath smelled when she lay dying – like death, the worst, most horrible smell ever. I wanted to rip it out of her. It made me so sad to think that she had to go through this on top of all the other indignities she had faced.

I remember how happy my Momma looked when we put on “Rod Stewart’s Greatest Hits” her old spark came back and she looked like she wanted to dance in her bed.

I remember the joy in her face when I took her hand and told her I’d be married that fall in Florence, Italy. We were running away, eloping. “Of course you are sweetie,” she said. “That’s wonderful.” When I told her I wish she could be there, she replied, “I will be.” And she was.