Thursday, July 10, 2003

The End

It came today. It snuck up on me and retreated, came to the fore and went back so many times over the past three months that when the end actually arrived, I don’t think I really believed there wouldn't be another start. So many shocks along the way have numbed the nerve endings a bit, but the pain is still there. Over-sensitivity and easy irritation have become hallmarks of my days. I try to fight them with heavy doses of rational thinking and gratefulness for what I have found with my family and what I am not losing of myself. I want to be grown up, but the whining rings in my heart and in my head and sometimes – often, really – I let it out.

How can I have lost my job? The rising unemployment rate should have meant job security for me, since the majority of people I served weren’t working. If they are out there, why can’t they come to me? I want to help them. I want to show my empathy for their plight and cluck my tongue and shake my head in commiseration and say, “Wow, that’s terrible.” I want to do these things out of a natural caring for people, not because I am in their sinking boat.

How come I can’t get a straight answer? How can it be that I am out of work and not getting paid, but still not able to qualify for unemployment? How can I be covered under the insurance policy, but still have to cancel a dental appointment?

How is it possible that my coworkers, who’ve been with County Schools six to 10 years longer than I have don’t have bumping rights, but I do?

How can one person's recent reclassification to a better paying position have left her without any seniority, even though she’s been with County Schools six years longer than I? Why do I get her job?

When will I finally know what I’m actually making each month? How do I get vacation if my calendar is already set for the year? What am I getting paid for July and when will the check actually come?

How will Carrie make that drive to and from the High Desert? How will Tami make that car payment without a job? Who’s going to help Gus? What are we all going to do without one another?

How can they just throw GED testing out the window? We were the fourth largest test center in the state – one of the few with any addendum sites, let alone eight of them. What about that kid in juvenile hall who was told by a judge, “You can get out as soon as you complete your GED?” Nobody will come to test him now. Imagine his hard work and preparation for a goal at hand that will provide at least two benefits: completion of a secondary education and the final payment toward a debt to society. How his heart must have sunk when he heard the news, when he asked his instructor, “What does it mean?” The teacher's reply was meant for us all, “It means you’re screwed. Welcome to life.”

Friday, July 04, 2003


I am thrilled to say that I've run a marathon, during which I somehow left my slimmer, more physically fit cohorts in the dust for most of the course. It was quite a pleasant surprise to see one come up from behind around the halfway mark; the other apparently passed me somewhere after 21 miles. (Okay, they both were recovering from knee injuries – do I have to mention that?)

Many runners identify themselves with creatures of the wild. Through my recollections of the marathon – the events leading up to it and the effort put into running since then, I have distilled the creature with which I can be most accurately identified. I am a leach.

Sure, I started running by myself. My son played in the grass at the track where I made myself run without stopping. Walkers out for physical therapy were lapping me, but I never stopped doing the bouncy step that told them and me that I was running, not walking. As I progressed, I grew bored with the track. Heading out to the street required that my son come with me. I became dependent on his entertainment to keep me from thinking too hard about the .5% uphill grade I was pushing through. I didn’t mind that he would engage in an imaginary football game, run after the invisible football, catch it and do a victory dance before I could catch up to him.

Within weeks I found myself talking about running at work: “I did two and a half miles last night, so I’m a little sore.” Tami was interested. She agreed to meet me for a run. That night I ran long enough and fast enough that my legs kept trying to run even after I stopped. When we ran together I would ask her open-ended questions and then follow up with additional questions that required more than a yes or no answer. Eventually I became able to converse while we ran.

A few months later I did a race with my son that was a total blast. It was at night; people dressed up and ran in costumes, a couple of small groups provided entertainment along the way. A few weeks later we did another 5k. It was tough, but I won third place for my age group (out of three or four people). Corey won second for his age group. Still, he was losing interest in running.

Without my son as running partner, I was starting to procrastinate. Eventually, Tami and I began to run more frequently. Around January, she started talking about the LA Marathon. I just smiled and nodded and thought she was nuts. I felt my palms break into a sweat whenever she looked at me with that gleam in her eye. It was the same gleam that got my body tattooed. I was doomed. I agreed to do the marathon with her, but I couldn’t find anybody to run with for practice. I could always find something else to do and nobody would watch my son and I was working two jobs and how could I take time out from my son to go running when he didn’t like it anyway?

Tami talked about the upcoming marathon. I thought about it, but said little. I delayed sending in my entrance fee. I knew I wasn’t ready. Four days before the race, she let me off the hook. She and her daughter, Mandy went out and did it. For the first time in my life, I got up early and watched the LA Marathon on television. It was a sad, rainy day and I wished I’d pulled it together and gotten myself out there. When she returned with her medal and her stories of Mandy’s injury and of finishing together anyway, I regretted my inaction all the more. It wasn’t the medal I wanted, it was the story.

We learned of the Rock N Roll Marathon in San Diego; it was happening in June and early registration was required. If the first thing that motivated me was company, the second was definitely money. After sending in $80 and ordering an “in training” t-shirt, I was committed. I ran regularly. I ran farther. Nine days before the marathon, I set a personal record: 9.5 miles in just over two hours. Half of those miles went up to the base of Mt. Baldy. I pulled my hamstrings and walked about half a mile at the end, but I was elated. I was unable to run again before the marathon.

We arrived in San Diego Saturday afternoon, checked into our room and picked up our bib numbers and goody bags. A nice dinner at one of my favorite restaurants was followed by an hour or so in the Jacuzzi with four other runners and a family on vacation. We returned to our room and settled in for the night. The neighbors had their TV blaring. Mandy and Tami slept like babies. I put the pillow over my head, but laid awake most of the night. We arose very early and headed out. I ate half a banana before the race and washed it down with a bit of Frappacino. It’s a good thing we were in the last “truck” of runners because we were in line for the restrooms when the race started.

In every other race I’d run (yeah, all four), I’d tried to start in front. The rush of bodies swarming past was surreal and daunting. With the marathon, I started last. My nervousness and the caffeine worked to push me past others. I had to run on the sidewalk to get around the slow crowd. I ran faster and better than I’d ever run in my entire life. I’d only set two goals for myself, one of which was to keep running until halfway up the The Hill, which went up for about two miles and rose several hundred feet.

Running, Continued

While running the only marathon I’m convinced I’ll ever run, I spent much of my time behind a man who wore a neon pink hat with the encouraging words “I may be a snail, but I’m ahead of you” embroidered around the opening in the back. I also faced a man who completed the entire marathon while running backward – we were passed around the 8 mile mark by another, faster backward runner. Halfway up The Hill, I met William, a fundraiser from Ireland. He was the first person I’d seen in a while who was walking. I’m not entirely sure what possessed me, but as I ran past, I hit his arm and said, “Come on, if I can do it, you can do it.” He gave me a look of irritation and horror (I think I startled him) and kept walking while I bounded up the hill. About 10 minutes later he came up and slapped me on the back as he ran past. After that we were friends and I had someone to chat with. It took about 10 miles to understand his accent and a bit longer to understand his jokes. Over the span of about 19 miles, we talked about our families, jobs, reasons for running. William the Great was running to bring peace to his country. I was running to get a medal for proof of my tale. William knew he’d finish; it was his 32nd marathon. I knew that if I didn’t get across the finish line in less than seven hours, I’d have no marathon medal.

Near the 20-mile mark there was a simulated wall. I’d heard about the mental wall people hit, but when I saw the painted brick mural attached to the overpass, I found it quaint, a nice gesture. When I was under the bridge and saw that the actual 20-mile marker was about 50 yards away, I was devastated. Tears burned behind my eyes. My throat constricted as I strained for breath. A cheerleader saw me and said, “You’re doing fine. It’s gonna be okay.” As I coughed to force air into my lungs, William again looked at me in horror. Each breath literally pulled my neck in around my windpipe (I didn’t realize that until the race photos were posted online.)

As we entered MCRD and headed toward the finish line, William told me that one of two things would occur: either I would get a burst of energy and run the last 200 meters or I’d die. He was wrong. I did manage to run the last 50 yards or so. William tried to let me finish ahead of him, but I wouldn’t hear of it. In retrospect, I wish I had. I’m still waiting to regret not purchasing the marathon photos, but it hasn’t happened. Sure, his legs were as white as mine, but they were mere twigs, almost cartoonishly thin. On the other hand, mine have never been thin. We were Jack and Mrs. Sprat.

After the marathon was over, William and I stayed in touch for about six months. Tami and I haven’t run together outside of the gym since then. Although I meant to, I never really ran much after that. About four months later I convinced my friend Norm to run with me and it led to us to the Light the Night race again. That was enough for him and apparently enough for me. I have no one to run with and I no longer talk about running with friends or strangers as if it’s something I do.
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