Battle Scars

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I didn’t want to wear blue jeans when I went to pick up my car, for fear that the blue dye would tint the leather in the seats.

It was my first car in over 7 years — and it was my first brand new car, ever. The car I owned from ’04 to ’06 was a ’99 Chevy Cavalier, a former rental car with a subpar braking system. Nicknamed the Chevrolier, I drove that little green clunker as recklessly as any teenager would, blazing down the roads of my hometown, hugging corners like a NASCAR driver and deliberately speeding up over hills to make the car gain air.

How I survived those years without a single ding, dent, or speeding ticket, is beyond me.

But this wasn’t a 5-year-old former rental car. This was a brand new car with a brand new car smell.  No former owners — barely 20 miles on the odometer before it became mine — and a perfectly working braking system.

The car also had sentimental value: my brother-in-law sold me this car from the dealership he owned.  It was a value that grew heavily and exponentially after he sold the dealership — an act that signaled something frightening, that all the smiles and positive words were not reflecting what stage his cancer was actually in.

When he passed away a year later, the car become almost a relic of a beloved and beautiful soul.

As a brand new car, I was obsessed about keeping it pristine.  No food in the car.  Any travel mugs were securely closed and only sipped from at red lights.  Nothing was placed on top of the car, for fear it would scratch the roof.

Then, three months in, I got rear-ended.

Within three year’s time, my pristine car would become anything but.  The “no food” rule vanished and my passenger side seat became a graveyard of tupperware containers, wrappers, and crumbs.  The floors I tried not to drag dirt onto were perennially caked with sand and mud.  The cupholders have perpetual coffee stains, from all the times I was running late and took my open, at-home coffee mug to go.

Within three year’s time, I’d also watch the laundry list of damages and replacements pile up.  A tiny ding in the windshield would splinter into an unfixable crack before I could get it sealed.  I drifted into a snowbank during one blizzard, causing the rim around one of my foglights to break off.  A popped curb just before our road trip would result in a flat tire in New Orleans — as well as the discovery that almost all of my tires were on the verge of blowout, thanks to shoddy installation.

But nothing beats the last three months.  In December, a three-point turn on a narrow, dead-end street resulted in backing my car into the handle of an opened mailbox lid — with the metal handle puncturing my hatchback’s rear window, effectively shattering the entire thing.  Two months later, my car would roll into the hitch of a pickup truck, turning my front license plate into a shish kabob — and breaking off yet another foglight rim.

This past Sunday night, on our way home from the festivities of the day, we drove what we thought was out of the parking lot — but, in actuality, we were driving onto the sidewalk.

And then directly off of it, onto the ground.

The jolt of essentially popping down from the curb sent my rearview mirror flying off the windshield, hanging by the electric cord attached to the ceiling.  Upon inspection, we’d learn that the rearview mirror didn’t just come off: it took two layers of glass with it.  A completely unfixable situation, we’d later learn from the repair guys — my car would, yet again, need a windshield replacement.

I think of how I was when I had my first accident: my three-month-old car, getting rear-ended while I waited obediently at a red light.  How frustrated and upset I was, and how quick I was to get everything replaced.  How desperate I was to keep everything pristine.

There’s a dig just below the rear window, where handle of the mailbox first hit my car before shooting directly up — a dig that will probably be there until the car is retired.  The second foglight rim has yet to be replaced.  The car’s white exterior is striped with scratches, and the leather seats have become tinged with blue thanks to blue jean dye.

In many ways, I prefer this version of my car.  This is not the pristine, untouched, brand new car with its brand new car smell.  This is a car with over 100,000 miles on it.  This is a car that has seen half of the states in the continental US.  This is a car that I have driven at my lowest of lows, when my only respite was getting in my car and driving down the country roads of New Hampshire, blasting my music until it reverberated against my soul.

This car has been through a lot, and she’s got the battle scars to prove it.  And maybe I just like to see the metaphors in everything — but I cherish this car with its history and its dings and dents.

My Chevrolier was sold going into my second year of college — living in Boston proper, having zero use for a car, and no one in my family really wanting it for themselves.  I joke that my new car won’t last the length of its bank note — but I truly hope I can keep this car around for a while.  My relic, my metaphor, my means of release and reset.  A car with its components tinted from use.

A reminder to embrace what we carry away from the things we’ve experienced.  Battle scars and all.

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Return to Racing

Check-in this year is mercifully indoors.

The day’s weather hangs on a precipice.  All it takes is a slight breeze or the sun going behind some clouds and it tumbles into an arctic chill.  I’m dressed to be comfortably warm in the middle of running.  I’m certainly not dressed to be comfortable in the meanwhile.

It’s the city’s Shamrock Shuffle — a fun two-miler around the downtown area before the parade.  We check-in and get our bibs and find our group of friends.

“The cheapskate in me wouldn’t even sign up for the race,” says one of our friends, as we talk about getting our money’s worth. “I’d just run alongside everyone for free.”

“Grab some green construction paper and some safety pins and hope no one notices,” my husband adds in.

Last year, sign in was outside, when winter was mild and meek and spring had subtly slid in.  It takes a while, but eventually I realize that my last race was the race last year.

“It’s good to be back,” I think to myself, even as I shiver at the starting line.

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In some regard, I’ve been running since I was a kid — since I would barrel out of the elementary school building and to my mother’s car and my mother would call me her little track star.

Perhaps more technically, I’ve been running since I joined the track team as a JV sprinter my freshman year of high school. I’d venture away from it in college (potentially too busy walking the roads of Boston to ever run them) before returning again, using my runs as meditation, as a reset, as proof that the body I thought of as oafish and clumsy as an adolescent was actually capable of great things.

I’d return and up the mileage and find a home in the world of mid-distance running.  I’d eventually be forced take a second break from running — this time after tearing a tendon, after going too hard for that marathon glory and not properly paying attention to when I was past my limits.  It would be a year before I’d return back to any type of running, with most of my runs staying under 6 miles — my mid-distance days left behind on the trails.

I haven’t done many races in the last few years. Perhaps it was because I got too caught up in all that was happening around me, going too hard and not properly paying attention to when I was past my limits and resulting in tearing something other than just my gracilis tendon.

But I want back in it. That’s all I could think of when I was getting my bib, preparing for the race, lining up with my expected mile pace.  I want back in.

I want that bundle of nerves as you wait for the gun blast.  I want that rush of being in a group, hurdling towards something bigger than ourselves.  I want that maneuvering around the crowds in the beginning, feeling unstoppable as you find your place in the long line of runners.  I want that feeling of supreme connection followed by deep contemplative solitude, when the runners have spaced themselves out and it could be upwards of a mile before you see another person cheering on the sidelines.

I want that feeling of doubt halfway in, of wondering what in the world did you sign yourself up for.  I want that forced focus on the present moment — the reminder that it’s simply a series of moments between now and the finish line and staying purely within the moment you are in is key to making it through.  And I want that feeling of delirious gratitude when you see the finish line and all sense of time is lost.

The elements are there in any type of run — the crisp sharpness & clarity of the world after the run is done, the hypnotic rhythm of your breath and the sound of your feet against the ground, the feeling of accomplishment when you finally finish — but it’s a different feel on race day. It’s a different energy, one that can’t be replicated by just running alongside those who paid.

Why do we pay to run? We pay for this feeling. We pay to prove we can challenge ourselves and rise above. We pay to be reminded that we are a lot more alike than we think. We pay to operate as a group and move as a single unit but exist as blazingly individual souls. We pay for the moment of glory, when you cross the finish line and can do nothing more than walk forward in stupefied stupor.

And I want all of it.  I want back in.

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Five minutes into the race and I fatigue out quickly.  I’m already wondering if I’ll have to stop to walk.  In that forced and wavering focus on the present moment, I fill each second with doubt — why am I so tired, why am I fatiguing this early, why is a two-mile jaunt wreaking havoc on me, am I forever relegated to the jogs around the block, the jots down nature trails, the occasional toe into mid-distance running.

I think all of these things until I hit the first mile marker and my tracker informs me that I’ve completed it in 7:41.

I haven’t run a mile in under 8 minutes in years. The last time I did, it was on a treadmill — an endeavor completed without the uneven terrain and wind resistance of the outdoor word.

It’s enough to power me through the next mile — through the encroaching exhaustion and the deep desire to call it early and just start walking.

I finish with an official time of 15:41.

May this be a wonderful and fruitful return to racing in 2017, I tell social media. It’s one more thing to return back to. One more daisy popping up after a long and brutal winter. One more sign that, while there will be no such thing as returning to normal (as if I would even want to if I could), some things can still make their homecoming.

Yes, I want back in. With every fiber of my being, I want back in.

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Dark Night of the Soul

As it so happened, I learned about the dark night of the soul right as I was going through my own.

As it always happens.   And I can never really say whether it’s because we are simply seeking out what we need, or perhaps God/the Universe puts things in our path right as we need them.  But I can say I prefer the second concept way more than the first.

I learned about it from two separate places, from two different avenues, at almost the exact same time — and both on the eve of it all, right as my night had hit dusk.  Around the same time my father was rushed to the ER and curveballs had been thrown my way and precious items were starting to tumble from the shelves.  When I was desperate to run from the darkness, only to find myself running deeper into the twilight instead.

Dark night of the soul.  By definition, a complete and devastating eruption of your life.  A collapse in everything you once thought was true and infallible and unshakeable.  What was once a 16th century poem is now the term for when it all falls apart and you’re left wondering how you’ll ever redefine such key terms again.

In an obscure night
Fevered with love’s anxiety
(O hapless, happy plight!)
I went, none seeing me
Forth from my house, where all things quiet be

That’s when I learned about it.  Right when everything was collapsing.  When I was 27, right on the eve of my Saturn return, no less (of course it had to happen at the same time as a Saturn return. Why not get hit from both sides of cosmic continuum.  Perhaps it all would’ve been easier if I just believed in shitty luck, if I had adhered to just the former of the two previous concepts).

Dark night of the soul.  Nights so tough I would wake up at 2 and just know that sleep had abandoned me.  Evenings where my defense mechanisms would abandon me and I would be left sitting on the floor shaking, so hysterical that I couldn’t even make a sound, let alone cry — evenings that showed me a new level of anxiety and panic, that showed me just how debilitating both can be.

In the happy night,
In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught,
Without light or guide, save that which burned in my heart.

They don’t tell you that the night can last years — that you can spend your time in the witching hour, waiting for the sun to rise, convinced that, yes, finally, this time around, I will see the sun, only to find the time stretching on.  Your soul is left in the dark for a little while longer.

But the name still fits.  The dark night — a reminder that every night is temporary, no matter how long it draws out.  The sun also rises, given enough time.  Dawn comes if you can wait out the dark, moving forward even if you feel like stopping.

It’s a few days into spring, now.  Even in the blistering cold and sudden snowstorms, there is a theme of renewal.  In the fall, it will mark two years since my father passed.  In the same season, it will be one year since both my brother-in-law and my older siblings’ mother have passed.  My little brother now walks without a cane and has, for all intents and purposes, healed from the motorcycle accident.

The parts of my life that tumbled from the shelves — the things that shattered alongside the same timeline — have been slowly pieced back together.  Other parts have been deliberately left as fragments — done with attempting to glue them together, or denying that they weren’t broken beyond repair in the first place.

And other things I have decided to take down from the shelf, realizing I no longer have a use for them — realizing that they had lost their meaning in the midst of the tumults and tears.

Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!

I’m on the mend.  I can’t count the number of people I’ve said that to.  Those who’ve checked in, who continue to check in.  I’d surrendered to the eruption and the changes, surrendered to the annihilation.  I continue to surrender to the plan in place for me — and continue to have faith that I am on a path, destined and created by God/the Universe Himself, and that the things that were not meant to be on that path have simply been ripped from the dirt.  I have faith that I lost what I needed to lose, even if it still leaves me in a state of imbalance.

Because that’s the idea of the dark night, the Saturn return.  If you can hang tight and pull through, you will emerge on the other side transformed.  If you can utilize the destructive force, you will rebuild better and more authentically you.  It’s a trial by fire that burns away the things that never should’ve been there in the first place.  You just have to be ready to abandon what needs to be abandoned and confront what needs to be confronted.  “There is no rebirth without a dark night of the soul,” – a quote from Inayat Khan.

“Birth always feels like death from the inside,” –  I’m positive that’s a Stephen King quote, but I’ve yet to be able to find it anywhere online.

I had spent the last three years waiting for the sun to rise.  And as the dawn toes in, softening the world around me, I stare off into the horizon, appreciating the glow with a new set of eyes, and ready like hell to make use of the day.

I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.

excerpts from Dark Night of the Soul, St John of the Cross

The Anger Dissipates

Practically a decade back, I found myself at the mercy of a terrible boss.  A petty, hypocritical, volatile person.  A boss who took me in as an apprentice in the profession, only to toss me out into the deep end, so that I spent more time trying to keep my head above water than I ever did learning how to do my job well.  I was promised a trusting guide and instead was fed to the wolves.

I’d eventually burn out and quit the job and quit the entire field.  I would point to her behavior, her decisions, her antics, as a major contributing factor.  I would walk away carrying a heavy anger – a venom I’d channel into a novel about a highly dysfunctional workplace.  While the book provided catharsis, it was a story written out of malice, and, as a result, was a slog and a chore to read.

That book has not and probably will never see the light of day.  At least not without a proper gutting.

I spent years wondering if I’d ever stop feeling such negative feelings about her, if I’d ever stop wishing for some type of karmic justice, for something to tip the scales back in my favor.  I spent years with that anger in my heart, even as I enrolled in new training and started a new career – a career path that fit me way better than the first ever did.

I thought it was impossible to, but eventually the anger dissipated.  Slowly, incrementally, but continuously, until it was clear that the anger was gone and I had moved on.

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I had a friend, once, someone I knew since junior high.  A friendship that was marked and marred by an intangible force, as if we were destined to never really be on the same wavelength.  As we got older, there was an undeniable undercurrent, an energy that made me look at an innocent interaction one Halloween night and go, “Someday we’ll have a falling out.”

The falling out would be more like a crashing down.  Eventually everything came to a head, leaving me scrambling weeks before my wedding and scratching my head the day after it.

I got so angry and so furious.  I thought about how I — and my husband — had given and given and how she had taken and taken.  I thought about how she could do that and somehow still carry the narrative of her as the victim, as her as the wounded, struggling one.  How dare she behave that way, to walk away calling me every name in the book when I had been constantly morphing myself into whatever worked for her.

I spent a solid year in a state of suffocating anger, even after I ceased contact with her.  A solid year, feeling that deep, destructive venom.  I remember those days, of feeling like two separate people, of feeling like I had become a hostage to my own hatred.  I could not forgive, I could not forget, and I certainly could not move on.

But eventually the anger dissipated.  Eventually I let go and even forgave.  She’s still out of my life, but now so is the hatred.

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“If you’re writing the memoir in order to hurt someone: don’t write the memoir,” an author said at a recent event. “At least, don’t write a public memoir.  If you’re writing the memoir because you feel you have a story to tell, then dive right in, and don’t worry too much about the ‘so what’s and the ‘what will people think’s.”

It was a running mantra for me during the upheavals of the past few years: this will make a great memoir someday.  It was what kept my head above water during the more turbulent moments.  It was what I thought about when things got so comically bad I had no choice but to laugh.

It was what I thought about when I kept silent on the things that I once felt I had to keep silent on — when I was suffering in silence and desperate to have those closest to me hear the whole story, to understand just exactly why these last few years had been hell.

I haven’t begun this memoir, partly because I feel like there are other pieces of the puzzle to find first, other parts of this story that still need to make themselves be known.  Partly because the avenues are so complex and layered that I need more time to sort them out.  Partly because I wrote two fiction manuscripts in the span of 6 months and I’ve temporarily exhausted my ability to do long-term writing pieces.

And partly because I know I can’t write angry.  I’ve done that before.  I wrote a whole book angry.  And the book is rubbish.  I cared more about my feelings and emotions than I did the story, and the story suffered.  Any proper writer will tell you what happens if you don’t prioritize the story above everything else.  I know the only way I can write this story is if I write it because I want to give out a piece of my experience, to find redemption in revealing, to resonate with people in the way we seem to only be able to with memoirs.

I can’t write because I’m angry.

You can write poetry angry.  You can write journal entries angry.  But you can’t write a longer, proper story out of anger.

That doesn’t mean to deny the anger.  Telling yourself you’re not upset when you actually are does not change your emotions.  It just shoves what needs to be processed out of the conscious and into the subconscious – and the subconscious is as good at navigating the tough waters as a young child at the helm of a ship.

It means to dive into that anger.  To recognize and highlight the things that infuriated you – that continue to infuriate you.  To be frustrated and pissed off and to just want justice, to just want the scales tipped back in your favor.  To repeat the cycle, over and over again, sometimes feeling like a hostage to your own complex and contradictory set of emotions.

Because the only way out is through.  To sit with what is and honor it and be honest with it.

Because eventually the anger dissipates.

And then the writing can begin.

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