A Runner's Memory, a Soccer Ball Dropped, and a Lupus Life
By and large, since I was sixteen, I’ve gone running at least once a week. I’ve never been a stellar runner—as anyone who has ever known me a hot second will tell you—but I’ve persevered on like the best of the penguins. There have been a few extended exceptions: two surgeries (on the relative minor side I would say), the time I broke my foot the day after I turned thirty, and a couple of lengthy Lupus flares. That last one . . . that is me these days. I haven’t been running in six months, and for the first time since 2009 I haven’t done a long run race (specifically, a half marathon). To take it even farther, I haven’t done an exercise class since last spring . . . yeah.
I recently made mention I hadn’t been running in six months to a couple of people who know me mostly well. The response, aside from a resounding “wow,” was stunned silence and the blurting out of “how bad is the Lupus, as you haven’t been telling all apparently.” Yeah. That being said, last weekend when I was on the edge of insanity—mostly from this pressure in my chest, shortness of breath, and wanting to go kickbox or run six long miles to only end up on my rump gasping for air before I make it out of my toy box sized abode—the person I started daily runs with at sixteen sent me a 330 am text. She woke up from a fitful sleep, and in the cycle of life we are in she’s now coaching a girls’ soccer team. At sixteen we met on a Kentucky soccer field, and then in the off season, long spring, and hot summer we ran the rolling hills of the small Eastern Kentucky town we then called home. Apparently she’s got a girl who reminds her of me, all those moons ago. If this were a country song, I’d tell her to tell that girl to think twice before spending the night with the Mediterranean lover who would only charcoal her before it was over, to seriously side-eye the shrimp taco from a roadside stand in Mexico, and to think twice before leaving Istanbul that last time. Romantic notions aside.
Twenty-four years have passed since the picture, and yet in moments that seem more romantic than not memories of running in that rural town often send a sense of solace in the waning days of exhaustion and provide a juxtaposition of time and space to my current New York City streets that only poetic license and memory can aptly capture. Back then, and now, I’m asked why I wanted to play so badly (and later run) when my body clearly flipped me the middle finger more often than not. There were days when my legs would be speckled with blue and my joints were visibly swollen. Yet, Shonte (the girl to my right) would show up at my house and we’d run our five-mile route. Somedays we walked most of it. Some days we ran like a couple of young girls with more energy than the world could contain. Since it was the nineties—before iPods and Mp3 players—we sang whatever top-forty tune came into our head and made up lyrics along the way. One set I particularly remember involved a man swimming at the bottom of the river, in search of his liver. Why yes, we were budding prolific writers . . . or just teenagers with skewed senses of humor.
Looking back on those days, I’ve often asked myself why the hell I felt the need to run and play ball. Yet, when I close my eyes I can still feel the sweat on my back, feel the exhilaration of a practice, and feel the slide of the grass when I kicked a ball and rolled down the field. Lee, the other girl of our trio, had a house with a slope in the backyard. We used to climb that steep incline and practice ball control coming down it. On a slope closer to forty-five degrees we were more practicing creative ways for our mother’s to remove grass stains from our clothing and for us to use bottles and bottles of shampoo to pry the grass, dirt, and insect skeletons from our hair and ear cannels. I think that answer might be in all of that . . . playing and running was always about more than my being stubborn and looking to prove the nay-sayers wrong. It was about me. It was about the people I met along the way. It was about crafting a space, a person, and a life that would coddle my budding soul and frame me for the curveballs of life I had no predilection would come.
When I was small I took ballet, had a solo once, and learned how to suppress my natural shy inclination. I would pirouette and prance, while refining my now knack of compartmentalizing. As a teen I sculpted those skills to ignore the pain and press on, like a good athletic advertisement. In all fairness, I should have taken things slower then (and perhaps now) but . . . I do not regret the fitful nights and pain laden days as in the darkest hours those memories, and now texts from old friends asking for input, bring me back from the edge time and time again. So, I guess to Shonte’s player I would say the mockery for appearing lackluster on days, the scorn from coaches thinking you are just lazy, and side eyes from the stands, friends, parents, lovers, and doctors pays off in the end. There will come a day—Buttercup—that the inner and outer strength you’ve built will come in handy. For me—aside from the Lupus battles—it helped with the basic things of life. Like, ya know, smashing a roach (the real undesirables of city life), shuffling from questionable people on the subway, sprinting and side-stepping away from a possibly intoxicated but absolutely insane chap on a ferry to Greece, and then in the practicalities of life pushing through a long day when you nothing seems to go your way. I never thought I was encouraging anyone but myself, and in the end that others stopped and looked on the jaded girl inside me warms a little. Touché. Perhaps.
These days I’m pushing on, and perhaps I’m mellowing with age. But . . . I’m done being sidelined. I’m sucking it up and asking for the steroids this week. Why? Even though I’m prone to cussing the back end of a six mile run there is little more to clear the soul and flush out the first world troubles of life like a little sweat, natural vitamin D, and pavement pounding. My running shoes miss me more than I miss them. I can't stand yoga--unless it's hot yoga--as standing on one foot and breathing steady isn't really stress relieving enough for me. Spring is almost here, and there's always a pick up game in the city parks. The boys still side eye the blue eyed girl playing, but after a few slide kicks and my four lettered mouth beers and burgers happen with laughs after a few hours of sweaty bliss. Besides--more pragmatically--that sixteen year is still alive in me somewhere. She’d be pretty pissed to keep watching the world roll by without engaging in it. She'd call me Buttercup, and my former self side eyeing me is probably a bigger travesty than a life of Lupus I'd think.