While walking Smellie in the sweltering heat of Saturday evening, I passed the home of some friends who were in their backyard barbecuing. I heard the happy chatter of the couple with at least one of their children and perhaps one or two friends. The banter was uplifting and made me smile despite more than a tinge of sadness realizing in real time that Michael and I never have, never do, and never will have that experience with our son since he can't talk or engage with others in any kind of "normal" fashion. In fact—without exaggerating—I can probably count on ten fingers how many times Calvin has eaten a meal with us at the table. Unless friends come over, Michael and I always dine by ourselves as if empty nesters which, despite sitting constant vigil beside the baby monitor, might seem like a major bonus but in the bigger picture is a colossal loss.
Earlier in the day, I had run the Beach to Beacon 10K with about 7,000 other runners. I carpooled to the event with a neighbors' daughter, Clare, who is sweet as can be and is a serious runner. She picked up my bib and event swag for me the night before, and helped me navigate the event, which was my first-ever bona fide road race. Though it was 75 degrees with 85% humidity when the race began at 8:00 a.m., it was fun! Just before the race began I was able to hug my dear friend, Olympic Marathon Gold Medalist Joanie Benoit Samuelson, the event's founder, and she cautioned us to "please stay safe" in the heat. My goal was to finish without walking and to average a pace between 9:30 and 9:45 per mile. I came in a hair over that, which was satisfying considering the heat and the fact I had trained in earnest for just over two months. It feels good to finally be in the initial stages of getting back to my former athletic self, the one I pretty much abandoned when Calvin was born. Clare, by the way, placed fourth in the field of non-professional women with a pace of 5:59 per mile! Smokin'!
While among the stream of runners, as I smiled at the blaring, running-themed front-yard music, waved at the folks in fold-out chairs cheering and ringing cow bells, high-fived and fist-bumped the little tykes standing at the edges of yards cheering us on, I thought about what some of my friends had said to me before my race.
Just weeks prior to the race, when I was worried I hadn't trained enough distance, Joanie reassured me in a text:
"The crowds and runners will carry you in much the same way that you have carried Calvin."
The day before the race she added:
"Run like the wind!"
Her words gave me tears and chills, and I took them to heart. Other accomplished runner friends, my husband, and sibling athletes gave me advice about not overdoing it in my training, not going out too fast (I knew this from distance swimming), taking smaller strides on the hills (thanks Clare!), what to wear and what to eat and drink pre-race.
During the race, I concentrated on keeping my head up. I noted the glorious feel of the sun and wind and shade, the scenery, the tempo of my breathing. I focused on not scuffing my feet on the pavement lest I impede my own progress. And then, halfway in, I did think about Calvin and about carrying him all these years. I looked around at the close crowd of runners buoying me as if I were floating down a river out to sea. I thought about the pain of the endeavor and realized it was nothing compared to what my son endures when he seizes or suffers miserable drug side effects, or the agony he faced when he broke his hip at school. Having put it all in perspective, I was able to then forget about my little ball and chain for the rest of the race, because though I wanted to honor Calvin by doing something he might have been good at, I want running to be mine. I want at least one aspect of myself to be, for all intents and purposes, independent of Calvin since most of my life is Calvin-centric in a way altogether different from parents of neurotypical children—which is to say that my infant-toddler-teen will never grow up. I may forever be on guard, changing diapers and spoon-feeding, to say the least. And though I know parenting "ordinary" children comes with its own serious challenges, I will always lament never being able to experience the joys of things like shooting the shit with Calvin and his friends at backyard barbecues.
As I come partway off of the runner's high that I got during and after Saturday's race, and as I sit here at the top of the stairs mere feet from where Calvin is splashing in the bathtub, I realize that running—the time and space when and where I can drift and dream—is mine.
While editing this, I recalled a post I wrote over a year ago about a winning marathoner I passed often during my pandemic back-road drives with Calvin, and with whom I've since become casual friends. In the post, I wondered about his reasons for running, whether he had suffered losses, whether there was anything that grieved him, whether he might be running to escape a hardship. But as I type, I realize my ponderings were and are mere projections—a commentary on my own situation and hardships. I also realize that running for me isn't just about escaping all-things-Calvin. It's also an attempt to ground a self that is often sent emotionally reeling by the intense, frustrating and often sorrowful caring for my child and his chronic condition, and it's an effort to get reacquainted with my true, healthier, competitive and independent self.
And as I relive the Beach to Beacon 10K in my mind, the thing I remember most is not the pain, not the heat, not the hills, but the glorious feeling of running free like the wind.
|Me and Clare|