The Run Of My LifebyCarolineOh©
I drove across the bridge under a bright blue sky. The sun glistened off the glass and steel of the downtown skyscrapers and the river's choppy waves just as it had in May. I made the turn on to the island and entered the park.
Taking the big curve around Scott Fountain I remembered walking around it one balmy night with Sam, his big hand engulfing mine. The waters spouted and danced high in the air, and I remembered that it had been turned off the last time I drove by. I considered stopping to feel its mist on my face and its cool marble beneath my feet, but I knew that if I did, I would not be able to continue on to where I needed to go.
I passed the little lake with it's swaying cascades of willow, where we had held so many family picnics, past the silent stone carillon, past the graceful old conservatory and the cool, dark aquarium.
Slowing down until my wheels were barely turning, I crossed the little stone bridge on to the Strand.
I pulled to the side of the road and looked down it's length. It cut across a corner of the island park, with the edge of the woods on the left side, where you might occasionally catch a glimpse of ghostly white deer between the trees. On the right, a broad, flat field opened towards the river, while further along scattered trees stood near reed choked ponds as far as the green lagoon, a mile down, across the main road.
Taking my foot off the brake, I began to move forward. I stepped on the gas, momentarily near panic, intending to just drive by, to not stop, to not see. But I had to stop. I needed to see, to be where it had happened. I did not know why I needed to go there, but I knew I did, although the thought filled me with dread.
I braked hard, and then began once more to move slowly forward. A noisy chattering baseball game was under way in the field. Were they playing ball there in May? For a minute I could not remember, then it came to me that on that day the field had been full of people flying kites. I stopped and looked for a minute at the players, young black and brown boys, thirteen or fourteen years old, and I thought of Sam, and I felt a surge of regret that I had not seen him at that age, a lanky, awkward boy on the verge of a stately manhood. I wished he were beside me, but I knew that this was a journey I needed to take alone. He could not help or guide me. I had been alone in May, I needed to be alone now.
I drove along the road and tried to imagine how it must have appeared to him, to the driver. I tried to see what he saw, and how he could not have seen what he should have.
I imagined a woman on the road. I saw her in my mind, wearing a dark blue sweat suit, jogging along the side of the road with her ponytail bobbing through the back of her baseball cap. My hands grasped the wheel hard and I nearly cried out. I wanted to scream at her, call her name, tell her to look around, look behind her, get away from the road, away from the coming of the pain and the fear.
My mind's eye saw the car passing her by, leaving her safely behind, seeing her fade in the rear view mirror. But she caught up with me in an instant. I had arrived at my destination.
I sat still in the middle of the road, then slowly inched forward. Was this exactly the right place? There were many spots along the road that looked the same. I looked around outside the car and knew that I was right. I imagined the driver in this same spot. he had been peering off into the woods. His wife was speaking, pointing. They wanted to feed the deer. A bag of cracked corn sat on the seat between them.
I pulled over and turned off the engine. I could not get out of the car for a few minutes. I was breathing deeply, and my hands trembled slightly.
I opened the door mechanically and stepped from the car. It was hotter than it had been in May, the late summer air was heavy and still.
I kept my eyes downcast. The grass beside the road had lost it's moist greenness, growing brown and dry in the summer sun. I thought there might be a skid mark on the pavement and looked for it, but there was none. He had not braked until he was further down the road.
I shuffled my feet in the gravel and kicked a few stones. The roadbed looked the same along it's length, there was nothing to make this spot special. I realized I was avoiding looking up,so I forced my eyes to rise, and I saw the tree. I walked over to it, tentatively, and rested my hand against it's rough surface. I stepped to the side of it and my fingers found the two small broken branches. I looked closely and saw a place where the bark seemed slightly darker, and I wondered if it was from my blood.
Beyond the tree there were a dozen or so canada geese waddling across the grass towards the pond. I looked back over my shoulder and watched as a car slowly cruised by.
I backed away from the tree and tried to estimate the exact location where I had been when the car hit me. When I could not pinpoint it, I walked back down the road a dozen paces, and slowly went through the motions as if I were jogging. Still, it seemed unfamiliar, as if this were not the place. But then, I looked up and saw the geese and remembered that they had been here, by the road.
I stepped back again, and jogged forward a few steps. There was an area where the grass was matted down and I realized that in May it was wet and slick from the geese's defecation.
with a flood of recognition, I stopped cold and stared at the road next to the soiled spot. My eyes traced the few yards from there to the tree and I saw it all happen as it would have looked from that vantage point. I watched in my mind as I sidestepped into the road to avoid the slick grass, and the car swerved unaccountably to meet me. I saw myself propelled forward, arms akimbo, ponytail flying,staggering, and crashing into the tree. I looked down the road, suddenly self conscious. There was no one around but the ballplayers down the road. I stepped into the road and reenacted my steps as best I could, One big step forward, nearly a leap, coming down on my left foot. That was when my knee popped, my foot twisting in the gravel. Another leap, on to my right foot, and the tree was only inches in front of me. I leaned forward and aligned my shoulder against the trunk. I could see how the two broken branches aligned with the scars on my throat and temple.
I hugged the tree like a hurtful lover and began to cry. For months I had fought back waves of self pity. I had struggled for strength, and I had shown strength to others, but in my heart I was not strong, not whole, not yet. I had left part of me here, beneath this tree, lying broken in the dirt.
Turned from the tree and slowly spinning, I re-enacted my fall. I lowered myself to the ground and sat where I had landed. I looked up into the canopy. The light was strong between the leaves. I remembered the spring light being so much weaker, but I did not know if it had been, or if that was an effect of my vision fading as my eye swelled shut. My tears flowed down my cheeks as the memory of lying there washed over me. The taste of my blood returned to my mouth, and I recalled how my breath grew labored and that it had reminded me of the sound my father made in the last days, as cancer stole his life's breath and I thought, "Daddy, I need you.", but I didn't want him because I thought wanting him would make me join him and I wasn't ready to go. And I remembered how he had turned his head away when I entered his hospital room, not wanting me to see his weakened ravaged face. I tried to turn my face when I heard voices approaching, but I could not make my head move. Faces appeared above me, scared, pitying young black faces, and I thought they were glorious ebony angels, and I thought what a delight it would be to get to heaven and find that all the angel's wore my beloved Sam's countenance. But what I thought were wings were their softly flapping kites.
My mind had faded in and out, I could remember only fragments. I remembered someone holding my hand, and I remembered thinking that my clothes were ruined, smeared with blood and goose shit.
I had a clear recollection of the EMS crew putting me in the ambulance, and of seeing the old man and his wife. She was weeping, in deep ragged sighs, while he talked excitedly to the ambulance attendants in a language I could not make out. It may have been Russian or Romanian, but for a moment I thought it was Polish and he reminded me of my grandfather and I wanted to sit up and apologize for scaring him and his poor crying wife.
I stood up and brushed pieces of dry grass from my jeans. I felt despair tugging at the edge of my consciousness. I had thought coming here would cleanse me of the dark force that had been pulling at me since that morning in May. But instead I felt like I had opened a door for it to surge in and wield it'd power over me. I stepped back to the edge of the road and suddenly I knew what I had to do.
I turned to look down the road, and slowly, deliberately, took one step forward. I took several deep breaths, and unceremoniously wiped my runny nose on my sleeve. I took a few more steps, drew in another breath, and I began to run.
I wanted my life back, in whole, without the blackness that had moved into it's corners, and I knew that to get it I had one task before me. I had set out one May morning to run to the end of the Strand, and I needed to complete my run.
Setting an easy pace, I covered a hundred yards without thinking, just feeling what it was like to be able to go through the motions again. But as I ran, I was overcome with a sense of urgency and I picked up my pace. I needed to move faster, further, I needed to run until I could not run anymore. I went faster yet, moving frantically, and I realized that I was sobbing, and I thought again of my father and how I missed him and that I did not know how much until I had been near death and wanted him beside me. And I thought of Sam, and how much he would grieve if I left him and how desperately I wanted to see him and touch him again, and live with him, and for him, and I ran. I ran from the car, and I ran from the tree, and I ran from the cold ground. I ran from the memory of pain and I ran from the fear of loss.
I staggered and nearly fell, but I ran on, weeping, my body and mind both beyond conscious control. My thoughts were a jumble, of the light through the leaves, of the old man's foreign voice, of Sam, of the smell of the hospital and of Daddy's fading voice.
I saw the main road ahead and tried to slow down, stumbling, barely maintaining my balance. There were no cars near, so I summoned one last burst of speed and crossed the road. As I reached the other side I felt an enormous sense of relief. I slowed to a jog and came to a stop at the marshy edge of the lagoon. I panted for breath, and I realized that bolts of pain were shooting through my hip and shoulder, but they seemed of little importance. I stood near the lagoon, stretching my back, and I feeling the warm sun on my face, and I smiled. I fell to my knees on the damp ground, and I began to laugh.I felt a joy and a calmness that I had feared was lost to me forever. I walked along the edge of the lagoon a little ways. The light on the water was brilliant. A pair of swans floated on the still water. I shaded my eyes with my hand and watched them for a long time, admiring their grace and beauty, and then I turned away to walk back to my car.