I figured I’d struggle to hold it together when I had to say goodbye to Trow. My training partner, a fighter pilot, deployed to Saudi Arabia shortly after I returned from Boston. I was still recovering and we went for one last run on a weekday morning. We met really early at the Carolina North trailhead. We couldn’t even share a meal afterward. I know I told him how important it had been to me, having him to train with. I think I told him I loved him. I hugged my friend, my training partner; I said goodbye and walked away shocked to feel calm about it.
Months have passed and Trow has returned for a whirlwind week in the states before returning to his deployment. He’s spent most of it with his wife and seeing as many friends as possible, but I get one good morning run with him–hill repeats at Al Buehler. It’s impossible to get a dropped pin to direct anyone correctly to the trailhead, so I’m there and he’s at a nearby lot. We exchange a few texts, I leave my phone in the car and take off running uphill to meet my friend. I come crashing out of the wood, panting, and there he is across the roadway like he never left, smiling. I feel relief when he hugs me–and then we’re off running again like a conversation we just resumed.
We talk about the Air Force and the deployment and our various efforts at disrupting structures of oppression. We affirm and validate each other. When I tell him about a friend upsetting me he echoes my indignation and disgust. When he tells me about overseas contractors being chauvinistic I sputter with incredulity.
Eventually we get to the gnarly hill I promised. I remind him that I know he’s been training at altitude and can do the repeats much faster than I can. I prepare to be shown up.
We press the lap buttons on our running watches and I tear up the hill after him. On each repeat he gets away from me. On each repeat, we meet panting and heaving with the effort and amble back down together. I catch myself trying to stay on him, but he loses me easily. Still I keep digging for as much speed as I can deliver and each time I finish he’s standing at the top smiling.
On our final climb, Trow storms up the hill around a couple women walking and they immediately shout after him–loudly. I don’t understand at first. I feel alarm for a moment and then I draw even with them. They shout louder–
“Go, girl, go!”
“Get it! Get up that hill!
“Yes, girl, do it! Do it, baby!”
I’m tired, but I grin and dig in as my energy swells from the external validation. The hill is monstrously steep, rutted and rocky. Trow stands bent, heaving, waiting and I run to him as fast as I can until Garmin beeps.
“Lord, give us what those two have,” calls one of the women behind us panting, working hard to get up the incline. Trow starts clapping and I turn, wheezing and gasping, smiling at our champions. We can’t, either of us, yell quite like they could but we try.
“Woo! Come on, ladies!” I manage before a few more great, wheezing gulps of air.
“Yeah, get that hill!” calls Trow. Our volume is pathetic but our enthusiasm is real. I fling sweat from my hands and then high-five our cheerleaders. We congratulate each other and thank each other for the encouragement–and then proceed in opposite directions, chortling over how miraculously motivating it was to have friends suddenly appear during the final repeat. We’re both gassed and unambitious running out our cool down time, and then we continue on to breakfast jut like we used to nearly every Saturday. I am happy and comfortable in the company of my friend. We make plans for the next time he’s back–for Thanksgiving, which I’ll be hosting this year. Finally, we say goodbye. I tell him how happy I am that I got to see him. How I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving. How I love him. We hug each other repeatedly, and then we part ways.
In my car at a stoplight, I burst into tears with no warning–ambushed by how much I’ve missed my friend and how much he means to me.