You started on time. Out the door at 6 AM, reaching the trail head at 6:15. Stretch to 6:25, running no later than 6:30. You’d even turned down meeting some old friends over a good burger and a few shots. These were friend friends. Driving through from Wyoming to Connecticut. Friends with whom you’d walked side-by-side through marriages, jobs, divorces. It’ll be fun. It would be. Tonight.

Your pace is hard but not so hard that you couldn’t talk with someone about some thing. Anything.

But that’s why you’re running or is it the other way around? Chicken or egg issues aren’t worthy topics for a run of any length, not even if they’re word-smithed by a therapist or Instagram post into which came first ‘ Which came first: your hours of running and no personal elationships or no personal relationships and your hours? Hmmm?’

Who cares? You don’t.

But that’s normal and natural to not care while you’re out running. This is a BIG reason you run. You’re free from suburban existential issues when your running. Runner’s high, anyone? Hello-o-o-o?

A runner’s body pumps out a gold-mine of non-prescription, side-effect free chemicals that any pharmaceutical company’s Board of Director’s and Executives burdened with stock options and the need for a third vacation home bigger’n the first two would... maybe not kill for ‘cause that’s unethical, right, but they’d look close at patent rights and generous donations to members of Congress and regulators at the FDA.

You think about your co-workers, Devi and Juniper and Rachel. During the first week of working with them they’d made you laugh with their almost hourly descriptions of dating adventures. But not so much now.

It’s nothing personal, you tell yourself. Sometimes you still laugh.

You remember their faces after you offered then an honest, rational and fiscally-responsible answer to their question of ‘why do you run so much?’

It’s cheaper than therapy, you said.

They’d all cocked their heads sideways like a dog trying to interpret their master’s commands. So you added ‘And its cheaper than dating. Safer, too.’

That made it worse. As one, their heads all snapped upright and their mouths formed tight, thin-lipped grimaces of something they’d swear was a smile.

Now, you celebrate that memory with a laugh and a burst of speed that bumps your heart rate, pumping another million dollars of endorphins, adrenals and oxytocin through your bloodstream.

John Lennon joins you on your run today and together you sing ‘I’m just letting the wheels go round and round, no longer on the merry-go-rou-ound...‘ Floating together on your runner’s high, so high you don’t need headphones. Nothing personal. You ‘just had to-o-o-o let it go-oh-oh.’

Last night, the forecast called for cool and cloudy. You’d dressed in leggings and a long sleeve shirt. But it wasn’t cool and cloudy. No clouds marked the sky. The real temperatur at 6 AM already exceeded this morning’s forecasted noon-time temperatures. And being a smart runner, you changed your route to first run in the sunny side of life. Flat, open, no shade, near the highway that’s still mostly empty from this pandemic.

Sweat pops up, lingers momentarily before your wicking shirt and leggings captures it, holds it, lets it drift away. Wicking fabric, a top-10 marvel of modern civilization.

Your attention drifts off to your plans for your 2nd 31.8 mile run this October. Running in this heat and humidity will help make those cool autumn days feel delicious. You’ll run a faster race with this training and a few changes in your preparation: food, how easy it is to access it, storing water on the route, all that.

You smile, your pace quickens. Must be a synaptic connection between smiles and adrenaline you think.

Note to self, you say. Google ‘connection of smiles to adrenals.’

 How good is life, you think. Pretty freakin’ good sometimes, you say out loud and ease back and walk. You unclip your little fanny pack and pull the water bottle out. You twist its cap, raise the bottle to your lips and drink and drink and drink.

Yeah, you say, pretty freakin’ good.

You know this route like a best friend, hold the emotional baggage. It’s always there, no questions asked. Rain or shine, snow or blazing heat with a heaping dollop of stifling humidity added just for fun. Like today. And at this pace, you’re right where you want to be which is 1/4 mile away from the car, 45 minutes from excellent Pad Thai, chicken and spicy, and an IPA with enough citrus to make you smile not pucker.

It’s shady here. Your heart slows but your legs say go, go, go and then agree it’s over. After the Pad Thai and IPA and oh a double espresso you’ll lean back and let it go some more. Read a little, watch a movie.

A hundred yards ahead a couple walks side by side but not even in the same universe with the other. One’s looking left, the other’s looking right. They’ve been distancing themselves for the last 100 yards or the last 100 days.

They’d just passed something, a bush, a clump of branches shaped into what you imagined as a sitting dog, not too large and not too small. Brown leaves mat its fur. From last winter? Huh. All around you the trees are covered in green leaves, fat from the rains this week and, until today, cool temperatures. But this... sitting dog... was it there Wednesday? You ran here Wednesday right? Daytime, night time? You’da seen it, you tell yourself.

Now, the runner’s high glides into a hard landing. A bump, a bounce and the engine cuts off taking with it all that oneness of being and purpose and mind and body all working together and ain’t life grand. Gone.

A tingle runs up the back of your neck, rattles inside your head. Your heart flip-flops once, twice. It’s the same feeling you had this week when your boss promised you a ‘bonus or a raise.’ Smiling her Big Smile, teeth so white they stun recipients into head-nodding subservience. But the smile never reached her eyes.

Now, your lizard brain, the amygdala, has awokened. It’s whispering ‘flee you fool. run and never look back.’ But you’re frontal lobes are still driving. 

Hang on a minute, it says. We got this. Let’s... analyze this situation. Why are we afraid of a bag of sticks left by the side of the trail. Hmmm? Maybe you forgot them from your Wednesday run. Let’s... talk about this.

In these modern days amygdalas are easily overrun from lack of use. Not this time. It starts yelling. ‘Danger. Threat. Time to go. NOW!’ It signals your sympathetic nervous system that ‘there’s a threat. Move to DefCon 5, launch all chemicals now. Flight, flight, flight.’ 

Your heart rate skyrockets, adrenaline pours through your body, your lungs start breathing fast and deep. With no warning your lungs gulp a long deep breath, just like the one you take before you launch into one of those high intensity intervals - arms reaching out, legs kicking back. Your muscles clench and ...

No! Your frontal lobe shouts. Stand down!

Your entire body churns in a toxic soup of conflicting signals, breaking down mind-body coordination. But so middle-class and civilized. Polite. Amygdalas aren’t made for dinner parties and long business meetings. On the other hand, a few more calls of ‘bullshit’ and walkouts during some of these useless meetings would save corporate America a lot of money.

Your frontal lobe tightens its hold with a cheap shot that comes in the form of a fond memory.

Look at that shape. Remember Geoffrey’s Bull Mastiff...Pictures and memories float out and all your amygdala can do is sit and watch. And wait. 

You stare at this shape-shifting, organic Transformer as its shoulders hunch and clench, as if it’s awakening from its own slumber. A terrifying update to Rip Van Winkle. Remember him? 7th grade or 8th grade? He fell asleep for 20 years. Well, if this current version shares a genetic code you can’t see it. From the looks of its armored scales, not fragile fallen leaves, you can only guess how long it’s hidden among the untouched timber. A millenia or five?

For a brief, shining moment... you can still see the parking lot over rising hunched back and hind quarters. You see the last two runners getting in their Infinity QX80 with its V8 engine and a bumper sticker saying “When the power of love is greater’n the love of power.” them for having it, maybe it was irony... who am I to judge you ask yourself now. That question dies an early death as see their matched running attire. She’s wearing blue leggings and a gold sleeveless Under Armour top. He’s wearing the same except his leggings are gold, his top is royal blue. Must be Michigan fans. They’re clueless.

 Doesn’t matter, you shout inside your head. I love Michigan, I could anyway if you’ll just look in your rear view mirror. They don’t.

Add it up... Karma’s a bitch. Earlier, you’d tsk-tsked them for the car AND the bumpersticker and the cute matching outfits. You’d wondered if she’d made him sit down to pee. You the lonely, only girl... You make a promise to befriend them the next time if there is one.

 You want to wave. But your arms refuse to move. An act of rebellion signalling your surrender to your rational desire for security, safety, self-preservation.

Safety first, hon. Your mom had been preaching that to you since you fell off your trike taking a curve around the sidewalk too fast.

Honey, just be safe. Carry some pepper spray when you go running. Dad said that last Sunday.

Yeah, your mom piped up, and let us know your route.

I’m a big girl now, you retorted. I’m not calling you every time I leave the house.

Honey, that’s not what we’re saying...

Just when you go out running at night.

But this is your day, Saturday, and on your day you run in the day, day as in daylight. Safe and healthy. Loads of vitamin D, fresh air and people. You’ll tell them that tomorrow.

Focus, you tell yourself.

Its rolling its shoulders and stretchingits neck. Like you do when you wake up in the morning on a ... Saturday. All the time in the world. There are no appointments on its calendar today, either. No reminders set, no bells to go off except the one in its massive head if it turns and sees you.


That’s when that sitting-dog shaped bundle of branches, now eight feet tall, turns its head. You see two eyes, rheumy and watery. An old man’s eyes or that of a newborn, not used to light and focusing. But a squint in their eyelids, you think they’re eyelids, tells you it’s a fast learner. It’s eyes have locked on you. It knows you know. You’re not a threat. You’re a meal.

Heat spreads across your face, its focus is so intense. Now you know what a broken winged bird feels when a kitten walks up and stares at it. The kitten will have all day to play with that bird just like this thing will have all day with you.

The frontal lobe sneaks in a question: The questions we have to answer is where’s its mom? And how long will It, They, play with me? 

Slave to you own biological master you start to answer. But before your first word forms your lizard brain rises up, skips the nanner-nanner taunt and screams Get. The. F. OUTTAHERE. Your front lobe concurs.

Say Anything is a movie playing in your head, directed and produced and starred in by your monkey brain and frontal lobes in total meltdown, screaming at each other. Arms and legs twitching, stopping, shaking...

One of them’s in denial asking you: It’s daylight, right. Monsters. They only come out at night. Then it goes off the rails asking Isn’t that an album?’ 

Yes it is, you answer.

You should be planning your next move. Should it be a sudden 180-degree turn and a sprint down the trail or just straight into the thick piney woods. Trail’s faster, but it’s straight and flat and It will laugh at you. Does It laugh? Shhhh...

But then you remember your neon pink wicking tights with the bright yellow reflective stripes, front and center. And the big white baseball cap. Might as well wear the GPS tracking device Dad suggested and you’d laughed.

Or you could make a slow, seamless move. Hope It doesn’t notice a meal leaving It. Gotta be hungry after all that sleep or hibernation or whatever It’s been doing. Monkey Brain reminds you that you’re easily agitated in the mornings before breakfast, coffee.

Either way... yeah, you’re doomed. ‘Fucked’ is the word that slips out before you can purse your lips. You’d promised yourself to stop using this overworked term. The word transforms into a verbal cigarette. Calming, soothing, something to do with your mind. A simple focus. You whisper the word over and over. Might be your last pleasure.

While you’ve been trying to quell this internal rebellion, The Thing’s hips have risen up to what looks shoulder height for you. Femur bone, is that a femur bone, yes that’s a femur bone runs from the waistband of your running shorts to the bottoms of your minimalist running shoes. New ones, too. $150 but delivered the next-day...

Shut Up!

Your legs are twitching, itching, waiting for their go signal. You envision, quickly, how you’re going to pivot and launch a full sprint for the first 30 yards and then turn hard right and on to that deer trail you’ve always wondered where it led. Well, good news, now you’ll find out. If you reach it and your live isn’t served up like a slice of pate’ at the end of a long talon. You shiver at that thought and almost collapse at the vision of a bird and kitten.

You conduct a quick systems check. Legs, good. Arms, loose and at your side. Shoelaces, tied. Heart rate, ready and waiting. So’re your lungs. Both of them. Never having smoked. 

A breeze caresses your face. Good news, bad news. Good news is you’re upwind. Bad news is the breeze has carried a foul, rotten stench, worse than that of a CAFO you drive by sometimes. You start to gag. You want to put your hands on your knees and retch. You want to go back to bed and start this day over. You want to make dinner tomorrow night and promise your parents you’ll buy a treadmill.

It’s really time to go. Little jiggles through your legs and hips. You don’t want to cramp in the first 10 yards. You roll your own shoulders, shake out your arms.

All systems go. And dammit, you’re reminded of your VP of Innovation and how she ends every meeting saying “ C-o-o-o-LABorating, y’know... all working together. A well-trained team where the T in Trust is the T in Team.’ Now, it’s the same T in Terror and Threat.

You countdown from 5. 4.... 3... 2... and as you hit 1 It reaches its full height, taller’n a basketball hoop, and stares straight ahead. You pivot and with the practiced ease of a former high school sprinter you throw your arms forward, left-right-left-right, grabbing at the air for any leverage, your first steps are short like a car’s first gear... then with lenthening strides you move through your 2nd, 3rd and 4th gear.

Your heart’s pumping, your lungs are huffing. S’all good. Your arms, thin and toned from all those Zoom workouts reach forward and pull you along. Your hammies stretch and pull, glutes and quads pound away and those often tender achilles’ heels, oh lord, they cooperate and stretch. Every part of you collaborates in your escape so that your feet barely touch the pea-graveled trail. Trees on either side form a blur, flash past. You’re alive. You’re winning. You’ll make it home tonight. Tonight you’ll tell Edie, your roommate, over a glass of wine. Something cheap, Bota Box. She’ll snort and hiccup. Then your eyes will pop wide and you’ll both laugh louder.

At the deer trail you turn hard right and keep trucking. You push pine branches to the side and race past before they can boomerang and slash and cut your arms and legs and face.

Ten steps in and you see a clearing, a muddy pond, a house on the other side. You step out into the sun, start to wave at the woman on the far side. She rises up from her garden, little hand hoe in one hand, another at her eyebrow to shade her eyes. She sees you.

The thunder of your heartbeat and breathing, the sounds of crashing branches hasnt stopped even now when you’re walking, out in an open field. The noise is behind you. Coming closer, louder. The wind comes roaring out of the trees carrying the same that filled your nose 2 minutes ago. It’s deeper, thicker. You gag, you spit. You’re processing that message in the background because your safety stands in front of you.

 You wave at the woman. She doesn’t wave. She looks in horror at you, a scream dies in her mouth as she drops her tool and runs towards her garage.

There’s no need to look behind you.

Instead you tilt your head back and look up the sky - still perfect and blue and full of possibilities. An ice cold IPA tonight would have been better.

June 26, 2020 20:34

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