I am always running. Once in a while, I catch up with myself.
It was late August. I laced up my Asics, adjusted my headphones, and selected the playlist called “running” on my iPod. (I know, not very imaginative for someone who fancies herself a writer.) The first few beats raced into my ears and I stepped into the sun. I could feel the heat rising from the asphalt, moving through my feet, up through my body, oozing out of my skin. A smile widened across my face. I started stretching. This is one of my favorite parts of the run: The anticipation of the miles ahead, the small victory to come.
I stepped out onto Waycroft Drive. One last stretch, and I surveyed the road ahead. My mind began to clear and then it happened just as it always does: My legs become automatic machines, pistons of flesh and bone.
I am no marathoner. I am not fast by most standards. But I do not run for statistics or against clocks. Not anymore. I have said my good-byes to my days of exercise psychosis, those days of my na´ve youth in which I always pushed for stronger, faster, better, harder … believing I was only good enough when I bested myself.
At the end of Waycroft, I took a right onto Berwyn Circle. Combined, these two roads comprise my old neighborhood. I knew the faces in the cars that passed me on my way around this worn path. I waved to the neighbors getting their mail or cutting their grass. Each house is familiar; most of the names have remained the same — Beauchamps, Disharoons, Fischers, Doyles, Shakleys. Some of my happiest days were spent in this place. My mind is a mangle of memories every time I run here.
As I rounded the corner, the afternoon sun played on the leaves of the trees, shades of brilliant green set against a bright blue sky. I felt the early evening breeze dance around my shoulders, neck, tossing my hair. I tried to memorize the colors, the shapes, the movement. A gust of wind. The leaves rolled and the branches swayed. Then it happened.
I stopped running. I pulled the headphones from my ears. And I closed my eyes.
I have walked this road a hundred times before. It is the back of my hand, a wrinkle in my skin. My breathing was sharp. My feet were rooted. I was just still. I could feel the haze of words and memories settling down, nestling into the recesses of my mind. Sentences, fragments of thoughts and things I should write down were swimming behind my eyes. I have always been like this.
Another gust of wind. I opened my eyes. There was something mesmerizing about the colors of green in the leaves and the hypnotic dance of the wind rushing through them. I stared into the intricate maze of branches, vines, and leaves. My eyes traced their shapes, where they touched and separated and converged again. Green. Brown. Intertwined.
I felt lucky. I felt alive.
I thought of the years I spent on these roads and among these trees. I wonder if they remember. I cannot forget. Images flashed across the movie screen in my mind and I reflexively smiled at them. In every scene, I am young and impetuous, a daredevil in blue jeans with grass-stained knees. And the next thought was one that I can never shake: What would that little girl think of me now?
Would she be proud?
Suddenly, I felt restless. Like I could feel her staring at me. I looked around, hoping to find something else to focus on. The woods felt alive. There was a small child’s voice inside my head that dared me to go in the woods. To find our old treehouse. To climb. To laugh. I smiled because I know the little voice means well. As I grow older, I am learning not to wince every time that inner child wants to speak to me. Listening is a blessing of its own.
I have long struggled with reconciling all the different parts of me. I turned to running as a means of bringing these scattered pieces together. But most of the time, I cannot tell whether I am running away from something or running to it. In my moments of bravery, I believe I am running for peace of mind and for relaxation. I am running to be in control of my mind and body and spirit. But then there are moments in which I know I am running because there is always something chasing me. Long ago I accepted that I am hard-wired for remembering things that should be forgotten.
As I stood there, rooted into the pavement, facing the woods of the old neighborhood, I began to understand that no matter how far I run, at the end, there will always be a little girl wearing blue jeans and a devilish grin, waiting for me. There is no escaping yourself, and there shouldn’t ever be.