When I was a little girl, my absolute favorite thing in the world was to go for a drive to visit my cousins. Several of my cousins lived in town and they were literally my best friends. At one house there were 3 girl cousins named Ju, Trice, and Sis. At another house was Vettie. I called them my "cuzsters" because they are my cousins but they felt like sisters who for some strange reason lived at another house. Nobody could have ever had more fun than I did with these girls back in the day.
There were also many other local places that gave me sparks of joy when I visited them with my parents—especially with my dad. Running errands with dad was one of the highlights of my childhood. And so...as a 9 year-old, Saturdays were a big deal! Everyone in the house, my big sister and 2 older brothers, as well as mom and dad was out of school and off of work. I was happy to get up early to watch cartoons in my pajamas, eat cereal, and sprawl out on the couch in the TV room. There was never an exact time when the house was going to officially wake up; when my parents would start to move around and real-life voices could actually be heard. Some mornings the awakening happened by the smell of bacon and pancakes. Other times you knew things were coming to life by the smell of Pine Sol or Pledge. On one of those mornings I heard the jingle of keys and the apparent sound of a jacket zipping. I jumped to the scene to find my dad on his way out of the door! “Can I go?” I begged. “Nah, you’re not dressed, Crys...I gotta go. I think I'm just running to the store and I should be back soon", he assured me.
I was surely disappointed, but the real devastation would come later after he returned home.
“Hey dad....where’d you go?”
“Well I went to the store but then I stopped at the bank." This was a violation for me because everyone knows the bank tellers always give me lolipops at the bank.
"Then I ran to the liquor store." My head was spinning with hurt because the man behind the counter always offered me a free pretzel rod at the liquor store!
"Oh and then I ran by the barber shop." This was just not fair! My Uncle Bill owned the Shape & Shear Barber Shoppe and as soon as he saw me coming he ALWAYS gave me his spare change for the vending machine!
Then my father sprung the ultimate disappointment on me.
"At the last minute I realized that I had to stop by your Uncle Hershel’s for a minute."
HEY—THAT’S WHERE JU, TRICE, AND SIS LIVE! I was BETRAYED. PUNISHED FOR NOT BEING READY. HOODWINKED!
I missed out on my version of 6 Flags--all because I wasn’t dressed and ready to go when I heard my dad's jacket zipping that morning. Needless to say, from that point on I began waking up on Saturdays—immediately getting dressed and putting my shoes on; lying in wait and longing to hear those keys. Even today, my boyfriend asks me why I am walking around the house with shoes on—which subliminally I realized was because I taught myself decades ago to always be ready or I would miss out.
He thinks I’m a psychopath.
He Brought Me This Far
I wasn't fine when I woke up this morning. I was ready...for what, I wasn't sure. I was thankful for another day on this Earth. I knew I needed to gather my belongings and buck up for another edition of "This is a new beginning for Crystal." Still stunned after our relationship ended just hours before, I read my scripture and I prayed. When Mark woke up next to me, he asked if I wanted to join him on a 5k. (What is this, for old time’s sake??) I guess today was only day 1 of our breakup and we weren’t interested in yelling or throwing things. It was obvious we were simply trying to wake up gracefully from the subtle nightmare that had taken place at 2am when we decided that our vision of what it means to be "all in" and love one another was not in sync.
For the past couple of years as an on and off couple we sometimes did our workouts together; sometimes not. It was an odd invitation as last night's discussion was still freshly hanging over us. The awkwardness in the room reminded me of an episode on the televison show “Friends” when Chandler dated Rachel's boss. He had no continued interest in her, yet he never knew what to say at the end of the date to end the “situationship” without being hurtful. Even after both horrible second and third dates, he clumsily ended each time with a silent yet obvious urge to run away but instead blurting out, "Well this was nice, maybe we should do it again sometime!"
It all just felt hard and acknowledged that the truth, no matter how desired and respected is heavy and hurtful when the residue is a feeling of unworthiness by someone that you wanted to be the whole world to. Mark felt he was giving 100% to me and I disagreed. He felt that I wasn't giving 100% either, and I knew this was accurrate. My heart felt hindered from giving him my all because of so much water under the bridge. What swam in that water were a variety of fishy issues related to trust, infidelity, and overrall baggage. The truth felt more to me that he didn’t value me enough to give more. And he felt the same of me. Hence the vicious cycle which brought us to this crossroad. But we loved each other, so the question that seemed to loom forever (within those few hours) as we discussed our frustration was whether to run or to stay. Not only did we decide to run from the relationship at 2am, we apparently are going to run (literally) one final time by the river.
We drove down to the river for some fasted cardio as neither of us had eaten breakfast. I had a cup of black coffee (which probably helped boost my energy and confidence tremendously), and a few gulps of water. It was about 60 degrees and overcast--a nice day for a run. I should clarify—I am not a runner. I am an avid workout enthusiast. I was an athlete in high school and somewhat in college; and in my 40 plus years I continue to remain fairly active whether with Zumba, long treadmill or outdoor walks, and random physical weight training activity. I’ve watched Mark run regularly—well, it’s a rigorous jog. He is a bit overweight, nevertheless what I can accomplish through agility he can conquer with a runner’s stamina. Running has always been very daunting to me. I remember several years ago I would take my (very scrappy) labradoodle on a “run” to tire her out. During those short runs I learned (remembered from high school) how to breathe in through my nose and exhale from my mouth for endurance. It really works! Still, I never continued to run for sport as it just never felt like my kind of exercise. And, yeah, I know now that because I never mapped out those runs (which meant not having a real finish line in front of me) the extra-long city blocks and trails always made me anxious. I felt justified by just stating that running wasn’t my thing; although in my gut, my competitive nature would definitely not concede to such a theory.
Today’s run was monumental for me. Because I had been improving on my 5k (3.3-ish miles) weekly attempts on the treadmill, I knew today would be a little better. Still, I have not been an outdoor runner consistently. Accompanying Mark to the river has been more an attempt for us to spend time together and for me to power walk alongside him while he runs. I typically stick to the gym's "mouse wheel" but Mark prefers being outside. Gradually these river runs became my practice where I would build up to a very slow jog next to him—trying to emulate his stride for a minute or 2. Then I would feel winded and decided that heavy breathing was a sure sign of an imminent heart attack so I needed to stop and resume a safer, brisk pedestrian mode. Mark has always been incredibly patient with my efforts; silently and all the while knowing that it was ‘in me’. Today, not only did I run the entire 5K without stopping one time, I also ran an additional 2 miles. I completed a total 5-mile run today and it felt FANTASTIC! Mark was just as excited if not more excited than I was. He encouraged me cautiously while in stride so as not to say anything that might make me feel like I needed or had earned a break (given the momentum he observed of me as we passed the halfway point of the 5K). His monotone cheering converted to emphatic encouragement--telling me how close I was to the milestones (3 miles, 3.75 miles, 3.9 miles..) then finally to the finish while assuring me that he knew I could do it. (This was a huge ego enhancer for me!) At one point however, as I approached 4 miles, I began writing what I considered my journal entry for today in my head. I knew that I was in the midst of a much bigger representation; more than simply exercise. This run symbolized the bigger picture of what I’ve been seeking to accomplish this year despite the major transformation which had just happened with Mark and me. Here is what I dictated inside my soul and planned to write in my diary after completing the run:
My pace was steady from the start. After just a few minutes on the path I felt more confident than ever before. I knew I had been putting in work at the gym as part of my new year’s resolution--practicing my rhythmic breathing, strengthening my legs, and making my workouts a priority. My outlook for reaching new heights as a writer and committing to a healthier lifestyle; for crafting/building toward expectancy of home ownership (and hopefully marriage) has me excited because I can feel myself in labor. I have certainly been placing intentional focus on knowledge, self-preservation, grind over glitter (trying to stay away from my usual indulgences) and taking drastic measures which forbid distraction. On this path adjacent to the river today, there were several potential distractions. I side-stepped a McDonalds chicken nuggets box and a dead squirrel. There was a deer watching us from the swampy wood, and a gigantic hawk perched eerily on a leave less branch. But if every quarter mile brought a tripping or mental distraction, that same marker brought an extremely freeing deep breath in my chest which indicated that my respiration was resetting and gifting me even more assured steps. Distractions will always present themselves on the road to greatness. I need to see them; recognize them. I must smile to passers-by as he/she might be a future consultant or customer. Can I pull something from either their smile, their tenacity, or from their criticism? Never give a distraction permission to distort your vision. My breathing was one thing that could not be compromised during my run, just as my focus on daily improvement via intentional mental and physical fuel is essential to everything I desire in my life right now. Sure, past experiences and nuggets of wisdom acquired academically or through mere osmosis will be valuable, too, but nothing is more rewarding than actually digging for the pearls.
Occasionally, I recognized that my running stance was closing--my head was down (because the path seemed to go on forever), and my breathing was strained. I consciously made mild adjustments (instead of stopping) that made a huge difference from one mile to the next. My body reacted beautifully--like the machine that it was created to be. I opened my chest area mid gate, lifted my head to the air and sights ahead, and changed my footing in an attempt to lighten how my feet landed on the ground. “Open your stride a little”, Mark said several times in an easy tone. These tiny modifications cost nothing more than maturity, drive, and bravery. I have graduated over the past weeks to a new level of stamina which allowed me to move differently and more efficiently rather than halt progress in discomfort or fear. My go-to has always been to stop, take deep breaths, and basically pray that those pauses would allow me to get back to work. These physical changes I made for running helped me realize that shifting gears on my way to other life goals did not have to take the form of overhauling everything that I am; but instead changing the time or location of writing for varied inspiration, switching up my cardio routine for 30 days, or paying $75 extra on my car loan to attack the principal. Perhaps I might decide to put my Starbucks money in a jar when I feel the urge to splurge on a Venti Caramel Macchiato. I must keep my head up despite breakdowns on the way. This I know is critical as there is always an alternate road to take, or possibly a nice millionaire just standing there offering you a check for $10,000. How would I know if I'm not paying attention!!?? It's important to add, too, that Mark noticed all these and other nuances as we ran. There is a tingly goodness and fearlessness that rises up in having assiduity from a mentor or just someone who's on your side.
Our run ended with a genuine embrace of elation and victory--for both of us. Passengers in cars that witnessed this must have wondered, "Are they old friends who happened upon each other today?" or, "Geez, did he just propose?" It was that kind of hug--not at all representative of our breakup last night, but evidence that we have the ability to conquer the hurt that lingers--one way or another. Evidence, too, that victory occurs even in loss; even amidst sadness. One could argue that today’s success could indicate that I should aspire to be a true runner, and that perhaps Mark and I should be running toward instead of away from each other.~
We continued to celebrate and high five all the way back to his apartment so I could get my car. He gave me a beautiful shout out on Facebook, and we recounted the ups and ups of the run. We embraced again, and then I was ready to go back to my apartment--permanently. Definitely not happy to go and not suddenly unconfused about how to no longer be his girlfriend, but I was ready--to shower, to write, to bow momentarily at the Facebook congratulations, and to have my own little personal celebration inside my heart—with wine. Ok, there may also have been a chocolate chip cookie consumed in my honor, but thankfully I had something to temporarily distract me from the frozenness I felt when I woke up this morning. Later, crying created clarity just as running had revealed reality. For these, I am forever grateful to Him.
I am steady on the pedal and owning the center lane. My mood is easy and worryless and so is Tom Petty’s “Free Fallling” as it spills from my front speakers and fuels my miles per hour.
My golden hot fries lie in the seat to my right and I feed on the frenzy of road trippin’. I am momentarily oblivious while on cruise control. The tunes are glaring and the fries are tasting and a soccer mom’s mini van slows down in front of me--threatening to destroy my entire vibe.
All I desire is to get back to oblivion and ease, thus instinctively my left hand flicks the signal announcing to the universe that I shall be gliding to the left lane. Because I can. The mirrors are unnecessary because I am fully committed to my acceleration and my proclamation-- and my lane-changing commences...
She taps me on my left shoulder...ever so softly; in the tiniest of seconds I turn my head to her touch. Before I could frown at nothing being there, the Chevy is upon me. He is not only in full speed but nodding in right of way status, just as committed as I. That was a sure collision--canceling the free falling, the frenzy, and the fries.
Frozen, I sat, but still moving.
Dad taught me how to drive, but mom’s one piece of input to the lesson was to always check your blind spot.