I wake when the alarm goes off at 6 am. This time I don’t struggle to get out of bed. It is Saturday and I have a training partner meeting me in an hour; the promise of a long run with companionship lets my morning grief recede. I prepare quietly, pulling on warm clothes and blending supplements in the dark kitchen.
I meet Trow in the bitter cold at the trailhead as light emerges in the dawn sky. We chatter while he pulls gloves on and I tuck my hands into my sleeves. I start my Garmin and we take off.
We start out briskly, eager to warm up. Garmin chirps at us and I explain the sounds it makes and what intervals we’re supposed to run. We slow to the pace window I’ve programmed and then split the trail to avoid a wide patch of ice. I squeal plunging into reeds and then shriek, cursing loudly and repeatedly when my left foot disappears into an icy, muddy puddle. We laugh together about my misfortune and the way I’ve likely woken everyone living along the trail.
We gaze straight ahead, occasionally exchanging glances at each other as we tell stories. We discuss running and resumes, racism and misogyny and how I came to Unitarian Universalism. When Garmin beeps again we go faster, and we’re both happier running at marathon pace.
We’ve run to South Durham when it’s time to slow down. He reminds me near Southpoint Mall that we’re about halfway through our mileage. I’m glad to be running at the slower pace to climb back uphill.
After 4 miles at recovery pace we pick it up again, and not long after we return to marathon pacing a trio of preteen boys crosses our path carrying Nerf guns. We exchange glances and I ask under my breath if I saw that right. Trow smirks and I howl with laughter, choking for breath and straining to remain upright as we keep pace. It’s the hardest I’ve laughed since I can’t remember when. The tears burn emerging from my eyes.
We talk about dancing and relationships and communication. I long for the sensitive attunement he describes in partnered dancing. He tells me the sweet, charming story of how he met his wife. I’m touched by their love and happiness and also jealous of a couple who treat each other with such reciprocity and respect and who have grown together over time in loving partnership. I confess to him that after such painfully failed relationships I’m really struggling to believe it’s possible to find trust and intimacy with anyone. He says he understands it can be painful not to be treated with sufficient value by a partner. My face crumples and I break down crying in an instant.
We keep pace while I gasp for air between mortifying sobs. Trow, to his credit, is clearly not alarmed. He runs calmly at my side and says nothing. Still, some impulse toward keeping others comfortable makes my first words a joke at my own expense. He doesn’t laugh; he’s quiet a moment, and then he says, “Do you want to talk about it?”
I calm down. Trow cares and he is listening. I fight to speak evenly and clearly; “I know I have worth,” I begin and then deepen my breathing to keep myself steady, “But when every man I’ve trusted for years has hurt me so badly…sometimes it doesn’t feel like I do. And when life has been this painful for so long, it’s really hard to believe it might get better, and it’s really hard to keep going like this.”
I weep softly and fight to breathe. He tells me he thinks I’m very strong to keep going. I don’t feel strong, but I thank him. I feel thankful to be running with my friend who sees me strong when I feel pathetic. I feel grateful to be listened to and supported.
We run all the way back to downtown Durham where we started, 15 miles in total. When we’ve finished we eat hot biscuits together in his car and make plans for next weekend. Maybe I do feel a little stronger after all.