Posted in Writings

The Red Clock

The whites of Maggie’s knuckles were showing as she clenched a wadded-up tissue. She used the same tissue she had groped around for in her bag on the drive home. Sniffle. Wipe. Repeat. She stared out into the street. Her husband, Brian, followed her gaze. Maddie and Taylor were riding their bikes around their cul-de-sac. The sounds of their laughter echoed into their quiet existence, like an unwanted guest. The Jensen girls ran into the house next door. Their mother, Darla, was expecting a third child.

He let out an exhausted sigh standing for a moment before taking a couple of steps and slumped in the overstuffed chair next to her. He stared up at the ceiling and glanced at the little red clock placed on a side table that divided them.

It was a canary red retro alarm clock. Maggie had picked it out a few years back at a flea market on their way home from a road trip up the Pacific Highway Coast. Beside the clock, there was a frame with a photo of the two of them standing in front of the Experience Music Project Museum in Seattle, Washington. Their forefingers and pinkies pointed into the cloudy sky with their tongues hanging out like the lead singer from Kiss.

He picked up the clock, holding it in both hands and watched as the second hand made its way around the face. He tossed it around wondering what it might feel like to chuck it through the window before setting it down. He placed his hands on either side of his temples and rested his elbows on his thighs.

            Tick. Tick. Tick.

Brian brushed his lips gently on the top of her forehead. He sat on the edge of the coffee table opposite her and reached for her shaky hand. She quickly pulled away from his grasp and fiddled with the dainty rose colored crucifix that hung just below her collarbone. It was a reminder of sweeter days, a gift he had given her on their wedding day. She tucked her legs tightly beneath her as she sat with her back erect on their leather sofa. She stared blankly out of their bay window of the Livingroom. Her long chestnut hair was an untidy mess held up in a high bun, loose strands framed her delicate features.

There was a soft knock at the front door. Brian reluctantly walked to the door and opened it wide.

 “Here.” Darla Jensen presented him with a casserole dish. It appeared to hold homemade macaroni and cheese suspended in a gelatinous mixture of cream of mushroom soup and the distinctive smell of tuna fish. “I wasn’t sure if you wanted the chips over it, so I brought a bag of them just in case. Maddie and Taylor wanted you to have these too.” She tried to hand over the casserole and the freshly baked snickerdoodles, but when he didn’t make a motion to take it, she walked passed him straight into the kitchen.

She made her way to Maggie and sat down. She scooted in close and put her arms around his wife. In a half embrace, Maggie rested her head on Darla’s shoulder. Maggie began to sob. With each wave of tears, her body shuddered.

 “Shhh. It’s okay.” Darla cradled Maggie in her arms.

The tears kept flowing, and Darla continued to hold her in silence. A growing pile of tissues had emerged on the coffee table. When the tears had momentarily stopped, Maggie began to speak. There had been a heartbeat the day before, but sometime during the night, it had stopped.

            “These things happen. There is no real explanation.” Dr. Young had said. He made some marks on her medical chart and gave the nurses the okay to begin the procedure. Her labor had been induced. After the delivery, a nurse had given them some time to be alone with their baby. Their daughter’s eyes shut, her blue lips pursed in a sort of pout, ten fingers, and ten toes. Gracie Lynn Wheeler was perfect.

            There were no words of comfort that Darla could offer. She left a short time after with a promise to come back tomorrow. Maggie nodded and went back into the same position she had been before Darla had arrived. Legs tucked underneath, but instead of tissue, she clutched a throw pillow to her stomach.

            “You call me if you need anything.” She squeezed Brian’s shoulder before she let herself out.

            Tick. Tick. Tick.

            Maggie continued to look out the window as the pink, and the orange sky turned into a deep blue then purplish hue before turning completely black. Brian turned on a side lamp. The light on Maggie’s face elongated her features and accentuated the dark circles underneath her eyes.

            She began to speak in a low whisper. “I was going to read her Goodnight Moon every night. We were going to take her to the zoo. You were going to show her how to ride a bike…”

            Was. Were. Would.

            Tick. Tick. Tick.

            She threw down the pillow, swung her feet from beneath her. She swiped the clock and flung it onto the travertine floor. The clock became an indistinguishable hodgepodge of plastic and metal parts. The batteries rolled under the couch. She stood there staring at the pieces and brought her hands to her face. He came towards her and wrapped his arms around her slight frame. Her face crushed into his chest and her arms gripped his sides. They began to breathe in unison. He allowed his tears to fall. They trickled onto her head. It had been the two of them for the last eight years, and together they were going to get through this, but for now, they would hold onto each other and grieve over the baby that would never come home.

Advertisements
Posted in Writings

A Preface

Katie closed her eyes taking in the sounds of the waves crashing against the shore. Her heart yearned for healing that she felt would never come. As she stepped closer into the water, the waves gently lapped against her bare ankles. Her hair whipped around her face in a frenzy mirroring the chaos she felt inside. She was running out of time. She had to tell him the truth.

Posted in Writings

Relentless Forward Motion

Relentless. Forward. Motion. Those words carried me through my first 50-mile finish. Ten years earlier, life seemed less complicated. I was younger, married and Mormon.  I thought I was strong then, but life had different plans. One thing is certain. Whatever mental or physical threshold I believed to possess, I learned in the coming years that I could always take it a step further.

With each passing year, my relationship with my husband diminished. He began working long hours at the office. We rarely spoke. My days were filled with driving the kids to and from school and taking them to various extracurricular activities. The kids and religion kept us together. We were going to get through this because divorce was not an option. Running became the way to cope with our deteriorating marriage. I took up marathons as if every passing mile could magically heal what was broken between us, but it did not.

He convinced me that a change of scenery might help. We left family and friends and moved from Washington State to Florida. Perhaps we just needed some sunshine. Instead, he retreated into a world of late night computer gaming and slept the day away only to repeat what he had done the previous night. I took care of our children and lived my life of structure within the confines of the Mormon religion. Sunday? I was at church. Monday? Family Home Evening. Tuesday? Leading Youth Activities. Thursday? Visiting other church members.

One evening, he came to me in tears. “I’m going to lose everything. I knew it was wrong, but the money was too good. I know I should have told you.”

I hugged him close and cried with him, not knowing what his confession meant.

As things began to unfold, I learned that his business partner signed hundreds of fraudulent loan modifications. The FBI had been investigating him for some time, but they had trouble finding my husband. He felt that it didn’t concern him since he only covered the marketing side of the business. He did not take into consideration that since they split profits 50/50, he was just as guilty.  His lawyer gave him three options: 1) Take your family and go to Canada and never come back to the States. 2) Lie, but know they will uncover the truth and you will be forced to spend 20 years in prison or 3) Tell the truth and face the consequences.

He chose the third option. During my birthday weekend in the middle of October, we flew up to Washington, D.C. I watched as my husband of 15 years and father of our children stood helplessly in front of a judge awaiting his sentence. He wore dark blue dress pants, a bright blue long sleeve buttoned-down shirt, and a blazer. He was clean-shaven, and his rust-colored hair took on an orange hue from the courtroom lighting. His six-foot frame hid the weight he gained through the years, and the bags under his eyes showed the internal battles he faced without me. I felt numb inside, while he read an apologetic letter to the judge, pleading to have a reduced sentence. “The real victims are my wife and my children. I am truly sorry for the pain that I have caused.” He tried his best to fight back the tears. Minutes later, he was formally sentenced to five years in Federal Prison for mortgage fraud.

A couple of months after he went away, I filed for divorce. I spent nights awake thinking about the next five years. I couldn’t handle the thought of living life in a sort of limbo waiting for him to get out. The damage he had done to our family was irreversible. I felt that if I didn’t end it now, I might live my life in regret wishing I had. I began running more. This time I ran to heal myself.

One evening my bishop called me in for a meeting. “I have seen a lot of Facebook posts of you running races, and I’m a little concerned that it’s taking you away from your children. They need their mother, especially during a time like this. You may want to consider not running as much.”

I left the meeting, stunned that he would suggest I run less. A bishop’s “suggestions” are regarded as a command, and the more I thought about his words, the angrier I became. I stopped going to church and eventually had my name taken off church records. He knew very little about me and did not understand that running was the thing that held me together. After 20 years, the religion that governed my life was gone. Church member “friends” quickly disappeared.  I was broken, and there wasn’t anyone who could pick up the pieces.

Ultrarunning became my obsession. Participating in races beyond 26.2 miles cleared my head. My mental state became free from long harbored feelings of oppression I felt from my ex-husband and the religion we built our life around. Ultrarunning became my therapy, and the ultra-community were my family. I was no longer alone and broken. The miles shared with friends slowly put me back together. I decided this was the time to tackle something beyond my comfort zone. The goal? To finish The Keys 100-mile ultramarathon under 32 hours. Was I strong enough?

It was around 2 am, no time for a nap. Lani had been awake the same amount of time. Her long brown hair coifed in a tight bun and her clothes smelled of lavender laundry detergent. I took two steps for her one. She had the body of a ballet dancer and made running appear graceful and effortless. Her primary job at this hour was to keep me awake and moving. Kevin was in the van a few miles down the road, waiting for our arrival. They took turns running alongside me, filled my water bottles and provided ice to put around my neck. They fed me when I was hungry and made me eat when I wasn’t, changed my socks, taped up my blisters and kept me moving along. They were like my pit crew, and I was the car.

The race began at 6:30 am the previous day. Awake for nearly 24 hours, my run had turned into a stumbling walk along A1A.  Walking lulled me to sleep. My eyes would open for a few seconds, and then I was dreaming. The sound of waves hitting the shore and the pungent smell of salt water jolted me awake, followed by a heart-pounding realization that I was still walking.

I was through the worst of the race. For most of the day, I was held hostage by the sun. No relief came from the heat and humidity. The mangrove trees hovered by the water’s edge, not close enough to create any shade along the sidewalks and asphalt we ran along. I wore a long sleeve white shirt and a white hat with a flap to protect my neck and deflect the permeating heat. The spandex shorts underneath my shorts provided protection against chaffing, at least the brunt of it.  A handheld water bottle filled with fluids and ice wrapped around my neck kept me from nausea and cramping.

Lani and I walked along a sidewalk in silence, until an oncoming car stopped a few yards abruptly in front of us.  The headlights glared, and we squinted towards the light. Lani jumped in front of me, ready to defend me from a potential attacker.

A middle-aged man hopped out of his car and jogged towards us. He wore a fluorescent orange shirt with the words “Race Marshal” in black written across his chest. Race Marshals are the rule enforcers when the Race Director can’t be everywhere at once. Bob Becker, the Race Director, conducted all the affairs of the race enlisted marshals to ensure the event ran smoothly. “I’m going to have to take your chip.”

“What?! Nope.” I put my hands on my hips and shook my head. Giving up my race chip would mean the end of the race for me. It was a way to track the runners on the course. He scratched his head and looked at Lani with raised eyebrows. She shrugged her shoulders and looked at me.

“You’re not going to make it before the cut-off. I’ve got to pull you out of the race.” Mr. Race Marshall said. He folded his arms and puffed out his chest.

“Can’t you call Bob? CALL BOB!”  My shrill voice filled the night air. I did not know Bob on a personal level, but I was not about to quit now.

“He’s sleeping. He gave me the jurisdiction to take timing chips if I know they aren’t going to make it. At this rate, you’re not going to make it to the aid station in time. Your next checkpoint is five miles away.”

“Just tell me how much time I have left and I will be there.” I began walking away but turned my head slightly to hear what he had to say.

“You have an hour and a half to make it to the next aid station. If you don’t make it, I’m going to have to take your chip for sure.”

I nodded back at him in reply. We met up with Kevin a half mile down the road. He took over as pacer. His lean body was ready for the task that lay before him. He fastened on his headlamp over his short blonde hair and started up his Garmin that calculated our current running speed. He told me when I needed to pick up the pace and when to take a break and speed walk.

The miles ticked by and we arrived at the aid station with an hour to spare. We kept pushing along. I had less than 11 miles to go, and the sun was beginning its descent on us. We passed those that had “the lean.” Their minds had taken over, contorted into a hunchback struggle; their bodies had no choice but to follow.

My lady parts were burning up from the salty sweat and continual friction of spandex shorts. I had to adjust and readjust, but nothing I did could alleviate the rash burn now. I just needed to get to the finish line.  My feet stung from blisters I popped by stomping my feet hard into the asphalt as I ran and walked.

As I approached mile 96, my eyes welled up with tears. It was at this intersection that I decided to quit the year before. I was tired, hurting and crewless. The DNF (Did Not Finish), brought questions from friends and acquaintances that would ask “Why would you stop at mile 96? You only had four more miles to go!” My mind was running on empty, and when the mind decides it’s over, it is over, besides I had missed the cut-off by two hours. But this year was a different story. Today, I would finish what I had started.

A race marshal leaned against a parked car. His grin was infectious. “You’re almost there! Only three more miles. We’ll see you at the finish.” Three more miles? I felt a blister pop and the liquid oozed between my toes.

The scenic route shaped like a bell led us towards Higgs Beach. The crowds of tourists began to thicken as we approached the path leading to there. I looked up ahead and was in between a string of runners making their way to the finish. The onlookers stared in disbelief at our ragged sunburnt faces. I overheard a few say, “You’re only a few yards away!”

A man yelled out, “Runner up!” He ushered me to the left onto a different surface.

The final steps through the cushy sand took the miles of pressure off my aching body. I was only a few feet from the finish line. My knees felt wobbly in the sand, and the thought of collapsing face first crossed my mind. I trudged through the sand and raised my arms in triumph with a smile that hurt my sunburnt face and chapped lips. People beneath the finisher’s tent turned to cheer me on and clap. It was finally over. A race volunteer handed me the coveted buckle. This piece of metal signified all that I had gone through from the past few years to arrive at this moment. Pain, relief, joy, and accomplishment rushed through me.

For six solid months, I dedicated myself to training. I logged 50 or more miles per week and peaked at 100 miles three weeks before the race. Each Saturday was filled with long runs of 20 miles or more, pounding the pavement to get my body accustomed to time on my feet. I imagined the end of the race during those training runs, but all the dreaming paled in comparison to the real thing.

I felt invincible. I overcame my body when I thought that I could not take another step and forced my mind to think beyond the pain I was experiencing throughout the last 30 hours. I staggered over to an empty camping chair surrounded by other participants in a similar state. Someone handed me a hamburger wrapped in tin foil and a beer; neither one sounded appealing.  All I wanted to do was take off my shoes. I unlaced them carefully and slid them off. Then I peeled off my sweat-drenched socks spotted with a tinge of blood. Blisters developed between my toes and on the pads of my feet. A blood blister had formed underneath a toenail. It had burst leaving my toenail tender to the touch. Any small movement I made, spurred on a series of cramps in my buttocks, thighs, and calves. My stomach and shoulders cramped while taking off my shoes. I would have to deal with the blisters later. I slowly leaned back in the chair and propped my feet on a cooler. I closed my eyes and slowly drifted off to sleep to the sound of quiet chatter and waves crashing along the beach. I had finally answered my question. I was strong enough.

Posted in Writings

Solo Respira

Earlier that morning Isabel threaded her thick black ponytail through the back of her hat and coiled it in a low bun. She wore all black from running tights to her jacket with the exception of her neon pink running shoes. She greeted a park employee with an upward nod as she strode through the main entrance. At 12 minutes per mile, her powerwalk was the envy of many a running friend. Her arms brushed against her slender build with every stride. Swish, swish, swish.

A quarter of a mile in, a cyclist breezed passed her on his way down. She broke into a run, gaining momentum with every footfall. She used her forefoot until she made it up to a lookout made popular for its spectacular sunset views. The morning light coupled with the smog blanketed the city with a grayish tint.

She frowned as she walked passed the Japanese Gardens. The vegetation was dormant right now, but the ducks made up for the lack of tourists who frequented this area in the spring and summer. Quack, quack. Quack. QUACK. They could tell she had nothing of worth to them and continued to splash around the little pond. A couple of hopeful ones kept their beady-eyed gaze as she passed by. Maybe I’ll bring you guys a whole loaf of bread next week. Yes, next week, but first…

A few angry tears filled her eyes, and the sting from her throat prevented the overflow of tears from turning this into a full-blown crying fest. The ugly cry was not going to happen. She quickly wiped the tears away.

Nope.She said under her breath and nodded her head from side to side, focusing on the ground beneath her. She gulped down hard and straightened herself. She had no one to blame. It was my own damn fault for wearing the ring in the first place. In her haste to get in her daily run, she forgot to take it off.

She sprinted up the last few steps that led to the small gray stone chapel. If she had continued on the main steps to her left, she would be at the highest point of the hill. There stood the statue of the Virgin Mary, greeting visitors near and far with open arms. The statue was lit up each night. She instinctively wiped away the sweat that trickled down the side of her cheek. She took off her hat, shook out her hair and unzipped her jacket. A couple of women were on their way out. She smiled at them both, and they returned the gesture and whispered, “Ciao.” in succession.

She sat down in one of the pews in the back. The bench creaked as she settled in. She took a deep meditative breath and then another. Breathe in positivity. Exhale the negativity. She prayed that the pain of losing her mom would lessen, even though it had been three years. Most of all she prayed that she’d find that ring. It was a simple silver wedding band, but it held the one tangible sign of the life her mother had lived. She wanted to pass it on to her daughter at some point in the future, but until then she was the bearer of the ring. Some ring keeper I am. Her mom had only lived to see Victoria’s first birthday. Oh no, not the tears again. She allowed the tears to flow. They rolled down her cheeks pooling momentarily at the corners of her mouth and on past her chin before dropping to the cold stone floor.

She sat for a few more minutes, taking in the peace. Solo respira. She came out of the chapel with a sense of calm. Whether or not she found it, it was going to be okay. She realized that the people who left their journey in the physical were still very much there. She could feel her mother’s presence with her now. She followed a path that led to the playground.

She had stopped to linger there yesterday. She ran her fingers along the grooves of her favorite tree and along the various carvings and initials that marked it like a tattoo. It was a perfect place to sit as a child and an even better tree for climbing. She sat there now and recalled a time when she was about five.

“Mira, Mami!” She looked to see if she was watching, but when she turned she had lost her hold on a branch. She braced herself for the fall, but her mother had been right there to catch her.

“Isabelita, te tengo. Siempre te tengo, mi amor.” Her mother gave her a long hug and kissed her on the cheek. She was always there to catch her.

The clouds and smog had disappeared. She looked to her right, and there in a clump of dead grass lay her mother’s ring, glistening in the mid-morning sun. Gracias a Dios. Gracias. Tears of joy filled her tired eyes. Not only did she gain back what she had lost, but she also found the peace she had longed to feel. Mami, te amo. She pressed the ring to her lips before placing it back on her ring finger. Voy a estar bien. Yes, I’m going to be okay. Everything is going to be okay.

Posted in Uncategorized

Thoughts of a Journal Hoarder

0924EB1C-3BB9-499E-9C64-AD72753743F0.jpegI surround myself with notebook after notebook. None seem to stick. I enjoy the newness of the pages. The cover of the journal and a hope that this time I’ll finish writing in every last page, but then another catches my attention.  All of those blank pages, inviting me, telling me, pleading with me to come and write my story among its pages. This time it will be satisfying. This time I will tell all my truths. This time someone will read my musings and see and feel the things that I said and did and make my journey a part of theirs.