Just before east shoved back at the west, at dawn, clouds bubbled and billowed like smoke. Ghosts of the sky fronting each other, I thought. When I run, I like to think in word pictures, like to play with poetry in my head. I record memories of the same landscapes and skyscapes shifting. A penny on the ground where one wasn’t yesterday. Orion lower than last week. Today, when the dawn should shoot through the dark, an orange firebrand, the west fought back.
The west sent an onslaught of darkness, flying saucer shaped, or like greys and dark swilled on the painters palette. Take-backsies, I chuckled. Not poetry but pun. Defiance in him. No, Dawn, I return. I calculated my trajectory along the main drag in town, the highway that becomes Washington Street, where East and West would rumble. I would run the line. There the West flashed his grill a few times. Running in a storm, in lightning would make my dad nervous. Forty and I’m still worried what he thinks. Bull-headed, I run on. Only a few strikes flash.
I run the front line. One step right, dry. Drift left, damp. My calculations indicate I could turn towards the storm cell and run under its bilious belly during my next mile. I would run as the guts spilled open: all the stomach juices, cold, wet, would soak my shirt, my shorts, my shoes. It’s the shoes that undo me. I hate wet feet and smelly shoes in my room. So I argued with myself to distract myself. You should quit early. Most days, quitting before ten miles would make me laugh.More often these days, I entertain the thought, should I give in at eight miles? It snowballs. You are so tired, so many late nights. And last night, you stood in front of the ice cream freezer at Kroger frozen. Burnt like the generic block of vanilla. Frost coated. Those tears you blinked back. Your nose strawberry. Your lipstick a bit smeared. Why can’t I? Five foods. It’s not a life worth trying to sustain. One fat raindrop smacked my eye. I feel the old breaks, protesting the damp and discomfort. The right pelvic fracture, the right femur, the knot in my spine, the new fracture in my left rib.
Last night, like all nights, I lose hope. Darkness and despair go with death by chocolate. Why use the grocery pharmacy when I will just wander, hungry and thirsting as I wait for bone medicine.
I ended up serving myself a pity party sundae. I hate my rebellious belly. Once I eat my first meal of a day, my gut grumbles, loses its grip. If I graze out of my carefully monitored diet, the rest of my body fails, one system after another. Incontinence. Too many embarrassing colon events to count. Headaches, acne. Then serious stuff: anemia, throwing up, palpitations, another broken bone. Osteoporosis. I’m only forty. I know what happens if I quit running and if I open the freezer door to drown my sorrow in ice cream.
Last night, battling self-pity, I silently begged the pharmacy to page me. I wanted someone to see the tears. Rather than look away, to ask. Are you okay? I stared until the flavors swam together: mangoturtledeathbycookiedough. Somehow, I veered off down aisles muttering the list of
items I said I’l pick up while there: kosher salt, distilled water, soap, melon. My feet felt heavy as I tried to find the aisles I should know by heart. In front of spices, I felt doom, seeds and ground. Hmmm. What do I need here?
To think I’m not fat.My brain answered aloud in my head, what I longed for.
I feel a bruise forming where my jeans button. I feel gasses back up and strain my waist. I calculated the day’s calories. I calculate possible calories burned for the daily dozen miles I pound out. I am angry that I am hungry and lonely and distended. I crave something, as if under-nourished. I feel shaky. I feel sluggish, rolling, lugging my body around the store. In every aisle, I stand there until I nearly curl into a heap on the ground. Then I force myself to remember what I wanted but it’s not in this aisle. Somehow I walk out without much more than a shiny, red face with a ghost of grey under my eyes. I have some of what I came for and I have the bone meds.
When I got home I wanted to lay on my cool blue sheets and have my husband write his name on my arms. I wanted him to draw staff and measure, notes and lyrics in curls on the small of my back. I wanted tiny tight thighs, sinuous, on which he can strum until I quiver. I wanted an hour where I don’t worry that if I turn over, my kidneys, small as beans, will leak and where my gut doesn’t swell over my panties, where I will not pee a little from the pressure on my abdomen. I want to taste a bit everything without engorgement. I want to be beautiful.
After the store, I go home, eat a salad, drink wine, shower, peck my husband’s cheek and go to sleep. I sleep heavy with sad dreams of climbing mountains to get to see a friend dying of kidney disease. I have to pass through an abandoned apartment of our seminary days, full of old clothes from when I was skinny and junk I bought when I was scared and desperate. Silly blue jean shirts and cooking gadgets. Finally I found my way out the back door to my friend’s front door. A room full faces, some familiar, some strange stared at me. What are you doing here kinds of expressions? Was she already dead? Was I as late as Jesus to Lazarus’ death watch? They led me to her, frail in a chair, dying.
After that I almost cannot shake myself out of sleep and into morning prayer. But I do. I pray hazy Psalms and pleas. I mumbled names of people with cancer and anxiety and job loss and unwanted pregnancy. I get up on mornings like this one and let Scripture and NPR erase my demons. I dress. I check the weather on my phone. I go.
I end up in this flood, being washed over, running between one darkness and another, the interstices of day and night, of storm cloud and storm break. I let myself wallow. I squander hope. I don’t tell myself this run is burning calories. I can eat as I please. I tell myself that my flesh will always betray me. I will grow rounder as I age. I am losing beauty. Thus, once I’ve come home, soaked. I clean up for work but I do not peck my husband’s sleep-sweaty forehead so he will wake to an act of love. Instead, I head to work, work hard, barely peck his lips at the end of the day. I don’t feel lovely, but because I finished the run and faced the storm, I don’t spend portions of the day doubled against pain or hunched in the bathroom. I end the day ready to lay there next to my husband. I wish I could lay there, feeling like he says I am, pretty and funny and smart and full of prayer and a kind mother and a worthy writer. But I’m paralyzed by this body and all its thorns. ‘
And he will not come to bed for hours.