Saturday, March 06, 2010
There are certain things that bring memories to the surface: music, food, old emails, journals, photo albums, etc. There are times when submerging yourself in the past is necessary, and times when prior melodramatic rantings make you laugh, make you cringe, make you relieved that in spite of what you felt at the time you are finally Grown Up. Other times, however, there is only one word that adequately summarizes the act of reveling in the past: masochism. As someone with a disease that precludes most of the activities that I enjoyed for the first nineteen years of my life, I'm generally cognizant of this and know that -- when I'm in a funk -- I should not watch a track meet on TV, or go to one of my student's cross country races, or look through pictures of myself prior to 1997. There is one aspect of this, however, that no matter how much I try, I cannot control: the weather. Track is a spring sport, and even though I was officially diagnosed with MS in the fall of 1997, there is no time of the year that hurts as badly as the first few days of spring. I have lived through twelve springs since I last ran, and you would think that with the passage of time it would get easier. At the very least, I hoped to feel less raw over time. This, unfortunately, is not the case.
There are countless things I cannot do anymore. Most of these are things that I grieve silently on a daily basis: putting my pants on in less than twenty minutes, reaching items off of a tall shelf, hanging my clothes before they are wrinkled beyond recognition, and -- though it might sound unfathomable to a healthy person -- I truly do miss vacuuming, cleaning toilets and mopping the kitchen floor. These things, though, connote a certain level of dull (though mostly manageable) pain, and the pain is generally superseded by an ugly level of guilt. Things that I no longer do are things that other people now do for me, and I cannot seem to accept -- despite continued reassurance from friends and family -- that this is okay.
Nothing, though, nothing at all compares to the grief I associate with running. My friend Eric asked me once (a few years back) if I remembered what it felt like to walk. The answer was, surprisingly, no. He and I both agreed it was probably preferable to forget. Why then, I wonder, do I still remember how it felt to run? I can still feel my heels strike the rubber of the indoor track, and feel my quads burn through the last 100 meters of an 800. I remember the moments between "Set" and the gun, when I'd take a half step forward, lean forward over my right leg and silently repeat the mantra "I can do this and I will do this". I remember my high school track coach telling me he wanted me to run so hard that as I rounded the turn towards the final stretch I wished he would shoot me to put me out of my misery. Let me be clear, I have no delusions: running hurt, and there were days (lots of days) when I whined and complained and wished I had one iota of the hand-eye coordination that other sports necessitated. But I didn't, so I ran. And though it occasionally made my muscles burn and my mouth taste like blood from the overuse of my lungs in the cold weather, it became part of my identity.
I've heard that people who lose limbs still have occasional phantom sensations: an itch, a twinge of pain, the sense of hot or cold. Running is my phantom sensation. When I face the window and close my eyes tightly, I can still feel it. I can feel the miracle of my nerves making my muscles contract when I want them to, and feel the impact of the ground beneath my feet. When I open my eyes this memory knocks the breath out of me, and it's all I can do to remind myself, in a totally different context, that I can do this and I will do this. But there are no words: it is so damn hard.