It’s an unusual training session that includes marathon pace work and then five 400m hill repeats.  Where the hell am I going to find a 400m hill?  I decide to run the marathon pace work on Duke track; my amped up anxiety and troubled sleep lately have made for some disappointing runs.  I need a win, and putting myself on the track should make it easy to keep pace.  I drive over, eyeing the topography.  I don’t want to park in the trailhead lot; the last time I parked there I was meeting Kevin for our first date.  It doesn’t look like I have a choice.  I try not to think about it stalking out of the parking lot to begin my run.  I am sullen and slow, my feet leaden with despair.

I make my way toward the track and lope around the far lane.  When it’s time to run faster I cross into lane one and take off.  Garmin nags me; I’m at 6:40.  I burst out laughing and slow; my little trick worked.  I peel my shirt over my head to feel the sun and wind against my skin.  Every so often Garmin beeps to let me know I’m going too fast.  Each time I laugh out loud; not a happy laugh, but a defiant one.  When I’m done with that segment I run from the track, across the street and down the hill.  When I’m even with that fucking parking lot I turn and storm up it probably too fast.  Fatigue sets in before the repeat is over.  Holy shit this is a long hill, but I finish it and turn around, running slow on the way down.

At the very end of the fourth repeat a black Jeep Commander comes toward me on the roadway; the same car my abuser drives.  My breath catches.  I begin to see spots, then my vision blurs and narrows to the tunnel of the vehicle I’m staring at warily.  Something red hangs from the rearview; my hair stands on end.  Garmin beeps the end of the repeat as the car comes even with me; my head swims and I stagger-turn in awkward suspended animation, eyes narrow.  There’s a monogram in the back window; it isn’t him.  My vision goes white.  I shake my head a few times.  I snort and hiss and throw a few upper cuts, resuming my run.  As I make my way down the hill I impulsively pluck a leaf from a magnolia tree.  Its surface is vital and strong.  I tuck it between my breasts and feel the leaf cool and smooth against my pounding heart.

I turn for the last repeat and dig.  I pant and drive up, glutes firing, heart continuing to pound.  There’s a deep fluttering at my solar plexus and my pelvic floor.  I watch the lampposts fly past and push all the way to the end of the repeat, then turn and run back down the hill.  I’m grim and scowling as I cross the street to the Al Buehler Trail and run through the parking lot.  I have a vision of him walking toward me from his car on that first date, his face charming and boyish as he smiled in greeting.  I bite my lip and run faster into the woods, soggy from a recent rain.  I bound through the center of an ankle-deep puddle and try to set down that memory.  I know it hurts, I tell myself.  I’m sorry, Laura.  I’m sorry.  I love you. 

I run up a hill.  I remember running here before I left my abuser; I’d carry a change of clothes in my car and add an easy run after I finished teaching for the day to put off going home a little longer.  I ran here, circle after circle, the pieces of my confusion falling into place with terrifying certainty after a conversation with Anna.  She looked in my eyes and told me the behavior I was describing to her was abusive and she was afraid for me.  Her eyes haunted me; I was inured to my own fear–but I felt hers.

My pace stays steady.  I remember how impressed I was with Kevin, how moved I felt during the conversation we had walking this stretch of trail.  I wail in exasperation and then growl and remind myself how I probably peed behind one of these trees sometime.

I head toward the bigger hills, trying to ignore how I’m passing the golf course where we sat together and talked until dark.  I cry out again in pain and frustration then set my jaw and push up the hill I’ve run repeats on in training.  I remember with satisfaction how, running with a Marine friend shortly after leaving my abuser, I pulled ahead of him on this turn.  I remember setting up a hammock between these trees once on a summer day.  These are my fucking woods.  I’m running very well today.  I’m training for the Boston Marathon.  I am enough.

Garmin makes the “workout complete” sound as I approach the little platform where we stood and talked that afternoon.  I groan with resignation feeling magnetized to that spot.  I untie my shirt from my waist and put it back on, holding myself as I walk down the boardwalk to the bird watching blind.  Leaning against the rail, I can see him standing in front of me, eyes twinkling in the summer sun.  I remember my own breathless impulse to be closer to him and the lush green of the trees around us.  I hold my hand to my mouth and try not to cry standing in the decaying winter woods, surrounded by brown bare trees, gray muddy reeds and desolation.

I’m sorry Laura.  I love you.

My chest is tight, remembering how he held me for the first time here.  My head swims with grief.  I step away from the rail, ball my fists and close my eyes, defiant against the wave of pain that swells up within me.  I stand with my weight evenly between my feet.  I drop my shoulders and take a deep breath.  My therapist sometimes has me do a visualization where I allow all of my thoughts, feelings and body sensations to flow into a container.  It used to be a small, pretty ceramic urn I would visualize.  Now it’s a big 5-gallon bucket like I fill with rocks and carry up a mountain during Spartan Race.

“Is that because you needed it to hold more things?” she asked when I informed her of the change.  I nodded gravely, tears in my eyes.  I can get everything in that bucket but my unhappiness.  The unhappiness stays like it’s permanently installed now; I can’t release it.  I don’t know how.

I stand with my eyes closed and try to imagine the whole of that relationship; all my hope and love, all our beautiful memories together falling into that bucket.  I release the month of needing and being unable to get through to him, my rage at feeling discarded, my sense of worthlessness.  I stuff my bitterness and grief, the endless horrible pain of missing him, the nightmares and visions and the regret over trusting someone who didn’t love me after all.  I weep with fear that there might not be a loving partnership possible to me in this lifetime.  I will all of this to fall away, heavy like the rocks I carry up the mountain except I’ve borne this relentless load for months.  Just for now, I let it all go.  The unhappiness remains, deep and implacable.  I stand there trembling with my eyes closed wishing I could relinquish it.  I mentally push a lid onto the bucket and open my eyes.

“You stay here,” I offer sternly to the bucket of my suffering and my love for him–and then I walk away.  There is a flash of memory–him reaching out to hold my hand.  My jaw clenches and my head lights up with pain, deep aching tension behind my eyes.  I turn my face away from where he stood, tears pouring down as I walk faster.


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