I keep telling myself I will finish each piece of writing I begin, but today I hold a vision so clearly in my head. I hold a moment so dear that I need to write it now. Everything else will have to wait.
I ran the Hyannis half marathon this morning. It was my second year participating in this event. This was also the second time I decided against running the full twenty-six point two distance. I was over-trained and injured. Today I was running for the American Liver Foundation. I had raised over fifteen hundred dollars for the organization a few months back when I was planning to run the Disney marathon with the Connecticut American Liver Foundation team. The constant expenses of child care set against the reality of the cost of the trip, as well as assorted medical reasons, forced me to back out of the race. I wanted to still hold up my running commitment to the generous family and friends who donated to the foundation on my behalf. I also wanted to raise awareness of liver disease and the importance of being an organ donor. Today I ran the race as a team of one. If anyone could pull that off, I knew that it is me.
I drove with Elijah most of Saturday. I took off a valuable weekend shift and made the trek to my mother’s house in a town nearby to Hyannis. I declined the hotel accommodations offered to me by American Liver Foundation as I felt that this was a waste of fundraising resources. I had a free place to stay. I have previously been reluctant to collect donations from family and friends. I am more comfortable offering my own services or help, actually doing something for someone else. I have a slight lack of confidence in nonprofit organizations possibly because of my own level of poverty. This may be from feeling as though someday I may need to ask for help. I am always prepared for a life of becoming destitute. It is something I attribute to years of living out of bags and having zero security.
I arrived late afternoon and the winds on the Cape were treacherous. I felt the pit of anxiety brought on by my own self-imposed pressure as well as my obsessive nature. I had already logged 44 miles of running this week. I should have cut down. My mom felt my apprehension as she googled the following day’s weather. She assured me that they were predicting the winds to diminish after midnight.
After a restless night of sleep I awoke, and immediately heard the sound of wind gusting. I grudgingly put on my layers and headed down to the ten o'clock start time. Going to a race alone is always a different experience. Races, especially one with longer distances and larger ones have very social atmospheres. There were a collection of local woman who ran together, triathlon groups, locals and visitors alike. Families and children were holding elaborate signs, and cheering on participants. You felt the support that others had, you saw the families waiting out in the cold, becoming excited as they cheered for something that they themselves may not have understood. They recognized these runners’ decisions to conduct themselves in this crazy manner, running mile after mile under the pretext of training; out there every day, and in every kind of weather. They listened to descriptions of absurd training schedules that the runner would put him or herself through. While the spectator may understand the significance of supporting the runner, they did not have a clue why the runner did it. When running the Hyannis Half marathon last year and knowing that my family was in the area, I passed each mile wondering if one of those people standing alongside of their car, or at the finish belonged to me. I felt a deep loss, a pain, a disconnected feeling, having no one there. None of those family members saw what I did, or what I had accomplished, or what it meant to me. In all fairness to my family, I am sure that I understated the importance of the race to them. I was already assuming no one would come, and did not ask them or tell them that this was something I want them to be part of.
I sent my father an email. I told him I was in town for the race. I was direct and told him I was going to finish running 13.1 miles at around 11:50, and would be in front of a hotel in a neighboring town from his home. I told him I was alone at the race. I told him I would like him to meet me. My father is 67 years old. He is soft on the inside, but tough as nails to the world. He is angry; still angry at my mother after a twenty years of marriage and twenty years of divorce. He is not particularly affectionate; he keeps to himself about many things. We have somehow, despite busy lives, maintained a relative closeness. Over the years though, as my own parenting took precedence and as he lives nearly five hours away, we have become unavoidably distant. He suffered a massive heart attack at the age of sixty, and has ongoing health issues. He has been reaching out over the last few months, sending one sentence emails, and even including a set of pictures of his beloved dog. When I deal with my family, I feel a need to protect myself. I feel like I have been in survival mode, and my family, all of them, have been a source of anxiety. I focus on what I am not getting from them and others, rather than what I am getting.
I ran the race, starting out too fast, with the cold wind scolding my face. The wind was so bad I could not speak after a few miles. In the back of my mind I was thinking of my father. I dismissed the thought with every agonizing mile. I was all too familiar with the heartbreak, yet sometimes I still allowed it to rush over me at each couples’ embrace and families’ cheer. I was strong. I didn’t need anyone.
My dad continued to creep into my head, and at mile ten, the route veered slightly to the left and up a hill through Cape Cod year-round residents’ homes. I began simple math equations, thinking I told him 11:50. At the pace I am going I will make it, but what if I stop and walk, what if he was there and decides to go back to the car? What if I miss what I so desperately need, or worse, he sees me succumb to giving up. Perhaps he will think this is how I always am. Will he think: when things get uncomfortable, when things are difficult, I give up? I pushed along, making it to mile 13...one tenth of a mile to go, just around the corner. I headed towards the finish. Amid the spectators seven or eight deep alongside the barricades, I hear in the distance someone call my name. I look to the left and see him there among the other families. In that split second, everything slowed around me. I felt my voice deep inside, my arm waved in the air and I felt a sudden burst of energy in my tired, weak legs. I yelled: "Dad, Dad! You're here! Dad!” I had often pictured this moment at races. I would be struggling. I would pretend someone was there, someone who knew me from the inside, someone who had known me my whole life.
I hold my father so dear. At his weakest, I helped him get on his feet, watching him as he crumbled through his own life choices, his own addictions, his own darkness. I worked through the hard steps of seeing my parents as humans. In that rush, in that instant, I knew all that I wanted to know for 39 years, I knew that my dad loved me.
I crossed the finish with the time of 1:50.30. My perfectionism, my brutal self, the one that is constantly beating up on myself, it all fell by the wayside. I rush across the finish and tried to pull myself together. I ignored the reality that my legs were wobbly and my face was numb. I walked quickly towards my dad, hundreds of runners and spectators were between us. I rushed past them, mumbling a crazy runner’s chant of “my dad is here! He has never come to a race!”At last, I hugged him hard and sensed his surprise. I didn't care. I thought: this is who I am, this is the part I wanted him to be part of. I took out my phone and snapped a picture so suddenly that it captured all of this, beyond a thousand words.
He was cold, teary eyes. His shoulders were hunched up, under many New England layers of clothing. He looked older. We quickly went inside to warm up and to escape the wind. I was slightly taken back by his ease of weaving through a packed hotel lobby full of runners. I got him a cup of chicken noodle soup, as I nervously and excitedly chatted at him. We decided to venture out into a quieter part of the hotel lobby. Neither one of us were ready to depart just yet. I smelled coffee and asked my dad if he had a couple of bucks on him. I understood this didn’t seem like a big deal, but this normal sort of parental interaction did not exist for me. We shared our similar sense of humor with an older woman behind the counter and found a quiet place to sit. Upon leaving, we stopped at a corner. My dad reminded me to put on my coat so I would not get sick. He held my water bottle and waited for me to put on my coat. It was another startling parental interaction. We saw a father and two small children getting respite from the cold wind. I asked them if they were waiting for their mom to finish. They said that they were, and that they hoped she would be done soon. My dad then looked at them and said, "If she is anything like her," gesturing at me, "she will finish all right. She might need to be carried off in a stretcher after ...but she will finish.”
I got this overwhelming sense that all this time my dad did know what I was doing. He did know who I was...
He saw me in that moment.
He has seen me all along.