We talked on Friday and didn’t begin speaking for a long time. As he held me in his arms, as I took in his heartbeat and the scent of his skin and my own sense of homecoming, I let go of so many words I’d thought of to say. I finally offered simply, “I was so scared, Kevin*”. We talked and held each other, and I felt at last like I was seeing him again. We neither solved things nor ended them, and when he kissed me goodbye at the airport I felt wrung by the heart.
For the next two days my heart fluttered when he texted and swelled when he called, but otherwise my nervous system has remained in total disarray. I’m exhausted and vacant, struggling to focus, depressed, sick with missing him. I watch my fear of losing him play out in my other relationships as I both long for and fear revealing my prolonged misery to friends. The distance between us grates against my fear of abandonment by everybody. I take naps in the middle of the day, so tired I can’t keep my eyes open.
When I wake in the morning I’m still tired and sad and missing him. I take my phone off airplane mode and hope, but there is no word. I consider giving up and going back to bed; I’m so tired.
I remember my training epiphany. Bolstered by the secure attachment of my relationship with Kevin* I deliberately chose a training plan that addressed my current weakness; stamina. During the disruption to that attachment, I have faltered. Struggling against my own weakness has reinforced my sense of powerlessness. I’ve changed my training plan midstream to play to my strengths. My run today includes sprinting.
I drag my feet getting ready. I feel my distress and exhaustion and fear of abandonment. I feel my loneliness and longing for connection with my favorite person in the world. I give myself permission to feel my feelings, but I keep going. My meditation is full of things I want to say to him, full of longing to touch his face and kiss him. I allow all of this, then I set off alone into the morning darkness.
When I begin to run there is a flash of joy. The morning air is crisp against my face and the wet leaves yield softly beneath my feet. My initial pace is fine with me, and I breathe well and evenly.
When my Garmin counts off the first repeat I bound eagerly into it, and finding my speedier rhythm even out, I hold up my wrist; 5:08. Cool. The 20 second repeat ends and I slow to recover.
Over the next couple repeats I cross a roadway, whipping my shirt over my head to feel the morning air chill my already steaming skin. I consider whether I can sustain this effort across 20 repeats. I feel fast and strong; I can do it. I grin to myself.
On repeat 4, I speed into the woods where the trails are flooded. As I recover I think of Kevin*. Hey, focus, I remind myself.
Garmin counts off the next repeat and I charge straight into the center of a wide, icy puddle. Muddy water dances around me, splashing up my legs and cascading back in my wake. I fly, my feet wet and agile through one puddle after another.
As I head into repeat 6 the entire trail is subsumed by a swollen creek flooded beyond its banks. I leap into the deep water, which rises calf-high and struggle for footing between big rocks and deep mud. It’s too precarious for sprinting, but I continue to run, permitting my pace to flag as I navigate the weird terrain.
Heading uphill after that I find my head full of jumbled music;
”Into the woods it’s time to go,
It may be all in vain, you know,
Into the woods—but even so,
I have to take the journey”
I hear my own voice in my head singing Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics about attachment;
”Mother cannot guide you,
Now you’re on your own,
Only me beside you,
Still you’re not alone.
No one is alone, truly,
No one is alone…”
”Nothing’s quite so clear now,
Feel you’ve lost your way?
You are not alone,
No one is alone…
Someone is on your side.”
Garmin breaks me out of my reverie and I go again, then it’s the melancholy soaring serenade of an Astor Piazzolla tango bubbling up before my next effort. I let myself feel the loneliness and the longing—but when I’m counted off again I go charging up the hill, arms and legs flying, determined to meet myself with strength and bravery.
I run repeat after repeat, pausing between rounds to check myself for post-concussive symptoms. My head is fine, my eyes are fine, I’m tired but I think I’ve got this.
I begin my ultimate sprint with ferocious intensity, climbing another hill as fast as my legs will carry me. I hear the echo of my old training partner Scott in my last track session before leaving to run the 2017 New York Marathon. As I tore away from him in my final repeat he called out in awe, “How in hell do you move your legs that fast?” I grin like a jungle cat tearing into fresh kill, demented with self-satisfaction as Garmin counts me down.
As I slow I remind myself of perils I’ve already been through. I’ve faced down a raging alcoholic twice my size. I’ve soothed a closeted trans woman threatening suicide in her final denial, loaded pistol within reach. Even in my attachment panic, I am inherently more stable than the terrifying humans I have placated under duress.
I regard myself with kindness and my fear with something akin to equanimity. I remind myself of the parable of Buddha and the Bodhi tree and invite my own darkness to run beside me;
Come along, Mara.
*Name has been changed.