I never really liked running. Never really saw the point. For exercise? Sure, but I’d much rather play a sport or go swimming or do just about anything other than feel the pounding of my flattened and worn-out feet, screaming for mercy against the hot and unforgiving pavement. Or feel my knees hurting and buckling and cracking with each breath, showing their severe weakness and obvious disapproval of this evil form of torture.
People who run claim that it’s “freeing.” I don’t know about that. To me, it feels the opposite, like a never-ending prison sentence filled with sweat, horrible cramps, and nausea. The only thing freeing about running is maybe the part where the race or the dash or the charity sprint or whatever other forced form of hell has ended, and I am now free to go and grab a drink and a burger somewhere.
Despite this, I have been running for just over 2 years now. It’s not the kind of running that requires good sneakers, or keeping hydrated, or carrying a stopwatch. No. This is much different. This is the kind of running that takes over your life, and that is caused by death.
I began running at approximately 6:30am on July 13, 2011, when I received the series of phone calls that would jar me awake, give me the worst news of my life, and change me forever. My very first sprint was the one that took me from the inside of a taxicab, into the ER section of the hospital, just down the street from where we lived in West New York, New Jersey. My run from the door of that car to the doors of that E.R., I can honestly say, was the fastest I have ever moved in my life. I don’t know what all the rushing was about. He was already dead. Then again, I didn’t know that at the time. Until, of course, I did.
And since that time, that day, that hour – every piece of my existence has been about running. Running from pain. Running from hurt. From loss. From love. Running as far away from the memories as I can, because memories sting and they stab and they reinforce what is now gone. I am not ready for memories. Memories are for 5 years, maybe 10 years from now, when I can feel them without intense sorrow, when I can “cherish them”, which so many people who have not lost their husbands keep telling me to do. Running from pictures, and triggers, and trauma. Running from my heart. My soul. My “before.”
Like the time I packed up everything I own and everything he owned, and finally made the decision to move out of the New Jersey apartment where we shared our entire engagement and marriage and life. The 7 years that we spent there began to eat away at my skin and engulf me – the walls were closing in on me after 8 months alone, facing the nothingness of a life that was now over, a time that would not come back.
So I ran away from the homemade birthday cakes at our kitchen table, the small dinner parties and hang-outs with our core group of friends that shattered into bits of glass, the friendly neighborhood store owners that all knew Don and looked at me with sad eyes each time I crossed their path, post-death. I ran from the hospital where he died, and the other hospital where he worked as an EMT, and the Pet-smart where he collapsed on that cold floor, alone, while working his second job to help support us. I ran from the familiar-looking ambulances with his hospital’s name on them, and the uniforms I would see around town, on other tall men resembling my husband. I ran from our special bench where we would sit at night, and stare at the city skyline, laughing and dreaming and being. I couldn’t get away fast enough from the local restaurants we used to eat at, the movie theatre we used to spend Sunday matinees at, the tennis courts he would play tennis at, just like he did one day before he suddenly died.
So after 8 months of sitting inside of it, tripping over the piles and the stuff that used to be our life, I ran. It was either that, or stay there and be further suffocated by things and objects and items – when the person that made them come to life, was no longer breathing air. And the person that I was now, a widowed woman with only one, small paycheck, could no longer afford to pay rent and live alone. So I left.
But it wasn’t enough. Running or walking or crawling or kicking and screaming away from all those things helped, but it wasn’t enough. The pain was still there. Lurking. Hiding. Approaching. Waiting …
So I ran some more, and started to add new things into my new life, thinking that new things would hurt less than old and familiar things, things that I did with my husband. I have added lots of things, big things and small things, important and mundane things. Like the new comedy class I now teach in NYC. Or the new writing gigs Ive picked up. Or my new apartment, and my new roommate (my 2nd new roommate, and 2nd apartment, since his death). Or my new membership with ZIpcar, instead of our car, which I was forced to sell and get another, safer car, which I was also forced to sell, due to my new “broke widow” title in life. Or performing stand-up at Camp Widow. Or eating and making new foods for myself that I dont associate with foods that he loved. Taking a new walk to a new place that he never saw or went to. Seeing a new film, hearing new songs, thinking new thoughts. Making new friends, breaking new ground, facing new fears.
But it still wasnt enough. Never enough. So then I told myself, I need to think bigger. I need to run away. What If I just left New York? Left my life altogether? Left my teaching job of 11 years, left my familiar, left my problems and my clutter and my stuff - and went somewhere new? What if I went somewhere else, where I wasn’t the widowed girl? I could run away to California or Colorado or The Moon, and just start the fuck over, right? What do I have to lose, when I have already lost it all? And really, anytime that I go anywhere, I instantly feel somewhat better. Lighter. Happier. The sadness still lives inside me, but there is more room for the joy whenever I go somewhere else. My week in San Diego at Camp Widow was so relaxing, so freeing, so healing. And I felt so close to my husband there, closer than I have felt to him in a long time. I slept through the nights, and I felt a sense of peace and comfort around me. New and beautiful surroundings created new and beautiful things.
But that’s the problem. If I am visiting San Diego, or anywhere else, they are new surroundings. It is a vacation. It is temporary. If I lived there, then the new surroundings are eventually no longer new – they are simply the background to where I live. And although moving away sounds nice, it only sounds that way because whenever I go anywhere for a short period of time, it is time away from what is the norm. It feels exotic. It suggests “better.” But it’s not. It only feels that way, because I don’t live there. If I moved somewhere else, my New York issues would just turn into San Diego issues or Moon issues or wherever I ended up issues. I would have their bills and their traffic and their stresses and their problems, instead of the ones I have now. On top of that, I would be losing the very things that help to keep me sane in my new and unwanted life – my old and lifelong friends, my NY connections, my comedy buddies and clubs, my job that is secure and mostly rewarding, my counseling sessions that fuel me with coping skills and hope, my family that is 4 hours away instead of much, much further if I were to move out West. I would be trading in problems for different problems, and Im just too exhausted to deal with that much uncertainty right now.
Like I said in my first sentence, I never really liked running. Never really saw the point.
There is no purpose to running in circles. No reason to marathon and finish where you began. No meaning to a race that cannot end.
I cannot run from the truth. I can’t run from the pain, or the hurt, or the grief. Whether I go to San Diego or Hawaii or stay right here in my new apartment, all that shit comes with me. It is inside of me, the same way that my lungs and my veins and my breath is inside of me. It is an unwanted presence, a giant scar across my face. I can keep washing it off my face, and it may appear to have gone away for awhile, but it never truly leaves. I can’t run from it. I can’t fight it. I have to live with it and through it and sit near it side by side, and learn to look myself in the mirror and not hate that ugly scar.
There is some good news though. The ugly scar and the pain and hurt and trauma and fear are inside me, yes. They go with me. They are me. But if they are a part of me, then so is the hope. So is the love. The laughter. The joy. The birthday cakes and the Christmas mornings and the walks along the Hudson.The music he played. The chords he strummed. The pets he loved and the people he touched. The lives that he altered. My life. The beautiful, epic soul that is my husband, that is now me. It is all inside me. All of it. Every single cell of it. Until the end of time, and then miles and miles beyond that …
I just need to stop running.
(pictures in order: Don and me, in the life we knew. - Me with my NYC Stand-up Comedy Students in front of Gotham Comedy Club. - Me and my dear friend Diane, from our hotel balcony at Camp Widow West - beautiful San Diego paradise.