Sunday, August 7, 2016

Change it Up

Beneath the thick canopy of late summer foliage I could hear my panting breath, feel my shoes smacking the pavement, my limbs heavy and stiff as tree trunks. ‘Never have been a morning person,’ I thought, wishing I could stop dead in my tracks and walk. The park was virtually empty. I seemed the only crazy soul out in the mid-August heat in Washington.
But the pain didn’t stop my mind from thinking, planning, ruminating, running in circles way faster than my legs could go. ‘Could I really just stop writing Mexico?’

‘Just 21 days,’ said my yoga/journalist friend Marilyn over lunch the day before. She’d planted a seed – or maybe it was a bomb. She knew I’d been toiling over my direction. I drew an image in my notebook, me at the trail head with several paths emanating outward and I was stuck there, frozen in indecision. Which story to focus on, which way to go?

‘Change things up,’ she suggested. ‘Whatever you’re doing now, drop it and do something else.’
The Mexico book had been weighing on me. ‘I’ve made promises to my backers. But I can't find my rhythm.’

‘Twenty-one days won’t kill you, the world won’t end. But it’s long enough to see where your energy is.’

At the ranger station, my half-way point, I doubled over to catch some breath. My energy was low. ‘Usually not this tired at two miles,’ my comparing mind hissed. I compared myself to myself most harshly.

Resting my hands on my slimy knees, I watched the sweat cascade to the ground.

'Change it up.' I had listened and broken my routine, hitting the trail in the morning rather than my more usual and comfortable evening hour. That was the trouble.

Suddenly a cardinal darted across my vision and into the brush. I could feel myself smile at the dazzling flash of red amidst all that green. Suddenly the creek, which had been running alongside me since the start, was audible, rushing raucously across the rocks, the thrilling sound of movement, even if relatively sluggish this late in the season.

Suddenly I was in my body, feeling the rise and fall of my back with my breath. I stood up, wiped the sweat out of my eyes, and got a notion. ‘I’m going in,’ I heard myself say. Fifteen years running this same 4-mile Rock Creek course several days a week, and I’d never, ever stopped to cool my feet. Always going someplace, on my way. An object at rest tends to stay at rest. Can't have that.

I started my legs back up, plodding across the bridge and u-turning onto the left bank toward home. ‘Don’t be silly,’ the saner me puffed, ascending the hill, pebbles crunching beneath my feet. ‘Just keep going, get home, things to do.’ That was Leo the lion, my rising sign, powerful but oftentimes a stick in the mud. My Pisces, the fish, by contrast, was more fluid, spontaneous, even playful.

As I coasted down, hopping horse dung, my steps lighter now across the bridle path, I found myself eyeing the creek for an access point: not too sunny or muddy a spot and watch-out for the poison ivy. The Fish was calling the shots now, drawing me toward the water. As I inched down the sandy back I could hear Leo (or was it my Mom) warning me: don’t you get those shoes wet.
I found a foothold on some protruding roots and, bending over, maintaining my balance, untied and slipped off my sweaty shoes and socks, one then the other, and perched them on a dry fallen limb. Stepping in I could feel the cool of the water around my calves, the soft slime of the river bed on my soles. A tiny gasp of ahhh seeped out of me as I stood inside the creek feeling its currents pushing against my skin. It was a whole new perspective, down low, watching the water flow south toward its destination, over and around boulders, logs, anything in its way.

I ran my fingers along the surface of the water, tiny salamanders darting around my toes, and rinsed my legs of the grit. A lone monarch butterfly fluttered by searching for a place to light.

Then an image of a phrase appeared across my screen of my quieted mind: ‘We had to unhitch our trailer from his.’

I climbed up the bank, repeating the phase. ‘…unhitch our trailer from Dad’s…if I could only convince Mom.’

Ever since my mother died two summers ago, images like this from my past had been popping up, especially when I ran. Moving my body set my mind free, though sometimes there are things you don’t want to see.

’21 days, it’s not gonna kill you.’

Back on the bank I found a log to perch upon. I brushed my feet of the icky dirt and leaves, pulled my socks on, one then the other, then my shoes. Tugging at the laces, I make a perfect loop around my thumb and for a brief moment there I was a kid again, what it was like when you felt a sense of quiet satisfaction over the smallest thing. A soft breeze wafted through the trees. The cicadas’ song crescendoed and diminuendoed beneath the canopy.

Hopping off the log, gazing down and my feet, I could feel the solid ground beneath me. It was time to take-off again, the muse was urging me. She’d been tugging on my skirt, tapping me on the shoulder, begging me to pay attention to her for the longest time. Now with this seed in my pocket, I felt the urgency too.

Descending out of the woods, feet slipping on the loose rock, I was eager to arrive, to sit on the front stoop, sweat dripping onto my legal pad, and let the truth come pouring out.


After the night in the family room on Friars, for the first time in my life standing up to Dad, it was a strange and unjust domino effect that led the cops back to me, and I was the guilty one. I was the one paying for the sins of the father. And it was just the beginning.

But I'd been surprised at how small my father seemed when I squared shoulders to face him, my fists clenched, ready to fight. ‘Fight me, not her,’ I yelled, standing taller than my shrimpy five feet. ‘I was the one who broke the door, I’m the guilty one,’ I set the record straight. And I watched him lean away from me.

It was just like that bully dog Cesar who constantly chased me down Wilmette, once up a tree, then jumped for my dangling legs and bit into my calf.

‘Son of a bitch.’ Blood was dripping down my leg and my sweaty hold was slipping, and eventually I had no choice but to drop to the ground and face him.

‘Cesar go home,’ I screamed and the voice came from a place deep inside me. It was ferocious. The little mutt backed down, simpering as he crossed Wilmette with his tail between his legs.

Our father had terrorized us for long enough. My mom lie whimpering on the floor of the family room. And for the first time, and for just a fleeting moment, I saw him for who he was: a weak man who could not, would never change. And in that moment I knew I was done with him.

We had to unhook our trailer from his and be free to go down our own road. He was only weighing the family down, holding us back from our lives, whatever they were going to be. I could see that so clearly. Why didn’t my mom?

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