My wife passed away on Valentine’s Day. We had been sitting together on our couch six days earlier. Spanky, our beloved Chihuahua wedged himself lengthwise between us and we rested our clasped hands on him. We were watching videos on YouTube when she straightened up suddenly. Her head tilted back and her eyes went dull. My first impulse was to call out to her. She didn’t respond. Seconds passed before I began CPR. My grandson, living upstairs, called 911. The paramedics arrived in four minutes. They worked on her furiously, trying to restore her heartbeat. Time expands at moments like these, but I’m sure she was without a heartbeat for a minimum of fifteen minutes. They got her heart beating, it stopped again, and they restored it a second time. I rode to the hospital while the ambulance driver tried to give me hope. She held my hand. She did her very best. But, I knew there was no hope. I knew my wife was gone.
I take care of my late father-in-law’s cockatiel. It isn’t something I’m obsessed with. Unlike how I relate to my chihuahua, I don’t assign much human emotions to the bird. He must have some thoughts, though. Maybe he doesn’t think them. Maybe he feels his thoughts instead.
When my father-in-law was alive he would take Dudley out of the cage every day. Dudley had a tabletop playground. He would climb the ladders, ring the bell and flirt with the gorgeous bird in the metal mirror. It was a great, fulfilling life for the little guy.
I never take him out of his cage. I say all the time that I want to but I never take him out. I feed him. I keep his water bowl full. I give him spray millet every other day. But, I don’t relate to him in the way that he needs. I don’t take him out to play. That’s all in the past now, a memory perhaps. Some sort of physical familiarity for sure. His body must remember even if his mine cannot.
Running is that for me. Running is my tabletop playground. I used to run quite a lot. I often strung together 80 mile weeks. It was exhilarating. There was a time when I would change from my business suit on the ferry after a full day of work and run the 14.5 miles home from the ferry. It was effortless. It was freeing. It gave me wings. It allowed me to flirt with the runner I saw in the metal mirror.
Today, I almost tried some slow motion version of running. I’m looking for a way to be free. I need to fly again. But, I can’t. Age, weight gain and an artificial hip have made running a memory for me. I live so close to the beautiful Clove Lake Park that I find myself looking at all the runners passing by. I hear their chatter. I want to join them but I’m stuck on my perch.
I need to run again and feel the emotional release that running gives. I need to escape the cage of despair and depression that has closed its wire doors on me. I want more than just the flight. I want to hurt myself. I want to put down stride after stride and run deeper into pain. I want to run hills so hard that my breath is stolen from me and I have to gasp to breathe. I want to taste the bloody taste of adrenalin in my mouth. The copper penny beneath my tongue taste. I want to flop face first onto the Clove Lake lawn and sweat into the grass. I want to nourish the grass with the pain that drips out as I perspire. I want to sweat the sweat of pain.
I want to forget my sadness and listen to my footfalls as I run deeper into the park, farther from my home. I want to run to some place. I want to run to that place that allowed me to hope and believe. I want to escape to that place I’ve been before. Before death consumed my life. Before unanswered prayer made me a cynic.