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Ghosts of Christmas Past

They’ve been swishing through my mind this week, my December memories.

I was one of those lucky kids who had idyllic Christmases. I won’t drag you through a soft-focus reminisicence; you’ll have to trust me on this one. The ghosts from those Christmases are all actual dead people. They haunt me with their love. When these grandparents, aunts, uncles, and older cousins walk arm in arm with my memories, they show up just to remind me of joys received and joys yet to pass on.

No, those ghosts aren’t the ones that slow me down.

The first Christmas after my divorce (Christmas was literally three days after the judge stamped the papers) I was living in alone in the apartment of my marriage. My ex and my dog had moved to an apartment down the hall in the same building. If I looked out the kitchen window, I could see the dog’s head and paws popped up over the windowsill, watching me from across the courtyard. I was sleeping on an inflatable mattress, but in an act of incredible hope I’d set up a tree in my entryway.

No. The ghosts that give me pause are the ones who have handed me perfect days, on a platter. Who have made me laugh until I was light-headed, who have made me feel so sparkling and precious I was sure I’d had them fooled once and for all.

I have a December memory of companionsip. Running through Central Park after a deep snow, pausing along the reservoir for a kiss so tender and hopeful I barely recognized the lips. There’s another memory of an afternoon movie, a stunned two hours of precious mundaneness. To that ghost, a ghost who pops up once or twice a year to wish me well in five words or less, I repeat my prayers: be happy. Find peace. Be healthy.

So much crap has happened this year. I speak more in a general, national way rather than about my life; I grieved my fair share and limped through eleven months of injury, but really, 2012 was a great year for me. Looking around, though, I acknowledge sadness and tragedy striking. Deaths, injuries, disasters, massacres. When my ingratitude threatens to rob me of persepective, I come back to this: I am healthy, I know where to find peace, and I am happy despite the flaws, both charming and repugnant, of this life and this world.

Merry Christmas to all my ghosts, because really, Christmas Past is Christmas Present is Christmas Future, and I wouldn’t be here without you.

These Things. Some Days.

These things can calm my heart, some days:

A clutch of dahlias from my dad

A sparky laugh

A glass of wine

Potting a plant

Singing a song

Alliteration

A postcard from abroad

The breeze lifting my hair from my face

A smile, shared in secret, in a crowded room

But some days, nothing calms me. Some days, pausing only gets me another gulp of air. Have you felt so uneasy that you scratched yourself to get away from the sting? Have you been here: strung out. Have you sought reassurance from the fickelest source?

How about this: my heart twisted up, upon learning that my foe has been diagnosed with an incurable disease.

And then: I recognize my own humanity, my character defects and fatal flaws, in a friend who suffers similarly.

Some days, the only thing that will calm me down is being reminded that we’re all in it together. Some days, the best way to calm myself is to calm someone else.

These things I know to be true.

There’s No Shame in Drifting

You gotta swim
Swim in the dark
There’s no shame in drifting
Feel the tide shifting and wait for the spark
Yeah you’ve gotta swim
Don’t let yourself sink
Just find the horizon
I promise you it’s not as far as you think
The currents will drag us away from our love
Just keep your head above

–from Swim, by Jack’s Mannequin

Hey, I freely admit this song is melodramatic and saccharine. I also kind of hate it because an ex-boyfriend had some of the lyrics tattooed on his arm, shortly after we broke up.* Despite those two strikes against this song, I can’t really argue with the sentiment of the lyrics: keep on going. Find a focal point and head there, pull yourself through the distracting and painful shit. Don’t quit.

Today though, this song reminds me that I’m a swimmer. An actual swimmer. Stupid-ass, mean-spirited plantar fasciitis has forced me to switch my self-identification from “runner” to “non-running runner” (I suppose eventually I’ll be able to choke out “former-runner”) and “swimmer.”

This week I joined the Long Island City YMCA, which has a pool. Or shall I say: this week I joined the Long Island City YMCA because it has a pool. I went on Tuesday morning for a splash.

The water felt like silk. The pool wasn’t crowded, and I had my own lane.

Apart from that, it was not so enjoyable. I always warm up doing my chickenshit version of the breast stroke (I don’t put my head underwater). Then I move into doing the crawl for about 20 minutes or as long as I can stand it. I give myself 30 minutes in the pool. It’s not torture, no where close, but I definitely am pep talking myself through the whole thing. I get winded going from one end of the half-Olympic pool to the other, so there’s a lot of endurance I need to build.

Here’s the thing with the swimming. IT FREAKS ME OUT. Why can’t I breathe when I want to breathe?! It’s very annoying.  This is what happens. I start out slow, my breathing’s OK. I get to the end of the pool and I take a rest. OK. But if I try and do a there-and-back without a rest? By the end of the lap I can’t breathe in enough, I can’t breathe out enough. I’m gasping and my face is tense and my brain is screaming at me WHY WOULD YOU WILLINGLY RELINQUISH YOUR FREE AND PERPETUAL ACCESS TO OXYGEN??!! (Note to self: do not make career change to be an astronaut.) Before you know it, I’m hyperventilating, coughing, and cowering against the side of the pool due to embarrassment.

To be clear: I am never in fear of drowning. It’s just, I cannot sort out how to pace my breathing so that it feels like I’m breathing hard but in synch with my strokes. You know: that sustainable hard breathing we do as runners, when we are running at “cruising” speed. That’s all I want to do as a swimmer, is be able to “cruise.” Oh and also, I’d really like to be able to outlast the 70-year-old Korean woman who is like the aquatic version of the Terminator. Her form sucks, she giggles when I say “Good morning,” but yet she outswims me every morning. I think these are modest goals, but they are really intimidating.

There’s no shame in drifting, but there is shame in spluttering and gasping.

*<opine> 1. I  don’t find tattoos appealing. 2. If you must get a word tattoo, can’t you at least come up with your own words? You really want to tattoo someone else’s pop song lyrics on your body, forever? 3. Insert other opinions here that are too petty and harsh to say out loud. </opine>

I have told you a little bit about Frances, my nana. When I was a girl I would spend weeks every summer with her. Instead of summer camp, my brother and I (and whichever cousins happened to be around) would spend every day at Jones Beach with her. She was an active woman up until her late 90′s. and would drag my brother and I with her on walks up and down the beach collecting shells, along the boardwalk to bring up the sun, to the West Bathouse where she’d swim endless laps. Everything was so far, and it took so long.

This is much of how I remembered it. Long. Far. Endless. The parking lot was vast–hotfooting it to the bathrooms was a major annoyance. The ocean was miles away from where we planted our beach chairs at the top of the beach. Walking the boardwalk from Field 6 (where Nana always parked) to Filed 2 (the end of the line) took hours and hours. 

I suppose I’ve been back to Jones Beach since I was a child. I’ve definitely been there for concerts (Rush, Dave Matthews Band, Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, Tears for Fears, The Fray, Blues Traveler, the list goes on). But when I went to Jones Beach this Labor Day to lay on Field 6, it seemd like the first time I’d been back in 25 years.

The nostalgia was so powerful, I wept.

In this new life of mine, I cry more often than I would have ever thought I would allow myself, or find acceptable. I’m not even embarrassed about it, and it doesn’t always mean I’m sad.

I drove my Nana’s car. I took the Meadowbrook State Parkway. I drove thought those aqua toll booths that were made famous in The Godfather. I remembered nights spent dancing to New Wave with my high school friends at Malibu dance club (the exit sign to Lido Beach was what reminded me). My heart swelled with joy and homecoming as I sailed over the bridge. Then, the pencil! (If you don’ tknow what the pencil is then you definitely did not grow up on Long Island.) I remembered how Nana would keep me and my brother occupied in the predawn hours as we drove to the beach, looking in the grass next to the highway for Josephs (ducks) and Marias (rabbits). Oh, the rituals. The food, the friends, the walking, swimming, poppylols*, tanning, eating, more walking, then heading home before the rush. We never sat in beach traffic, I didn’t even know what that was until I was in high school and started going to Robert Moses with my friends.

Nana would back her car right up to the sand. She got there early enough to easily park in the first row. Field 6 is special in that you can literally use your trunk as your “office” if you put your chairs and umbrella down right there. So, I did the same thing on Labor Day (except I walked down the beach to lay closer to the water). Nana used to put her car keys on her car tire for safekeeping! For a girl who loved the beach, I hated sand on me. I was constantly at the faucet to rinse off my feet, and clean out the crotch of my one-piece after jumping around in the ocean.

My nana was an early-adopter of sunblock. She was slathering it on my and my brother before anyone was fretting about skin cancer. She was a wizard with a can of Solarcaine, too, because sometimes my brother and I got lazy (and burned).

So as I walked along the boardwalk–noticing how quickly I got from the car, to the bathrooms, to the boardwalk, to Field 4–I cried. I cried for who I had been as a girl, before I was pushed around by my classmates, by my 20′s, by my 30′s. I cried for Jones Beach, which had apparently spent the last quarter century shrinking. I cried for Nana, who was so vivacious, so active and fun to me. She had such a way with children. It may be her greatest gift, the way she can engage and love children. There was a time in my life during which she must have been my one true love: she held my attention and esteem, and all I could see was her burnish and her delightful unconventionality.

It was a little awkward, all the crying. I mean, the beach wasn’t crowded (it was windy and not so hot) but there were enough people there that my solitary walk with tears was a little, shall we say, out of season. More suited for January. Despite that, it felt good to emote for a while, in a place so comforting and familiar.

Lately, I’ve been carrying this kind of pre-grief around with me. I am sad for my friend Dan, who has greatly deteriorated from his Parkinsons Disease and is now in hospice (though not the palliative care ward yet, thank god). I’ve missed him for a while, as PD has taken him from us bit by bit. I visited him a month ago. While being near him was a relief and a joy, I was heartbroken to see how greatly he was diminished. And my Nana, who can still be sharp as a tack when she is interested, is not the same either. She’s in better shape than Dan, but it’s a wrench to see this once proud woman struggle with dentures, with drool, with all of the indignities that come with extraold age.

I walked along the boardwalk, I smelled the friend food from the concessions, I stood online at the bathrooms, I cooed over the trashcans stenciled with the classic crabs. Also, I felt superior. Superior to everyone else on that beach–that’s how sure I was that I was the only woman there with this unique, poignant, significant experience of Jones Beach.

That’s a crock. The supeior part, I mean. I have no doubt that my experience of Jones Beach is truly and solely mine.

When I was born, Nana drove to Jones Beach and praised God as she watched the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean. This is one of the very, very few things she and my dad have ever agreed upon: apparently, the sunrise that day was one of the most beautiful to have ever happened in the history of the world. How’s that for some love.

When Nana leaves me to carry on her life in some other dimension, I will have to come to Jones Beach to bid her proper goodbye. Even though she hasn’t been the queen of Field Six in decades, it’s her place. More precisely: it is our place.

Today I spent 4 hours cheering for the athletes competing in the first-ever Ironman triathlon held in my city. Despite some initial reluctance, I ended up having a great time.

Keeping me company for the afternoon was MJ @BklynRunner. Before we headed uptown to cheer, we fortified ourselves with a healthy lunch and had some good girl talk. While in the restaurant, who should wander in but one of my coworkers, with her boyfriend! Apparently they were all doing the exact same thing–grabbing a bite before going to cheer a family member who was racing today. Nice.

Next MJ and I took the A train up to 175th St, and wandered over to the base of the GWB, where the athletes would be coming over at around mile 17 of the run, the third and final part of the race. We arrived as the first dozen runners were coming through, and set up camp at 180th St. and Cabrini Blvd.

The crowds were pretty sparse, and no one had a sign, so I felt a little self-conscious about taking out the one I made. It was a little edgy, see:

But, after a few minutes I unfurled it in all its profane glory. The athletes started catching on, and I got a variety of great responses. I absolutely loved when they would look at me and say back, “Fuck yeah!” Lots of people gave thumbs up, or the rock and roll waggle. MJ started counting how many runners would point at me, I lost count around 25. No less that 5 other spectators took a picture of me with the sign, and so many athletes got a chuckle or a smile out of it. The sign was a hit, and I was glad I was able to give the runners a boost at such a tough part in the race.

MJ and I also bumped into MK @mpkann and EI @herroyaltallnes, who were volunteering as cheerers with the Hell Gate Harriers. It was fun to chat with them, too.

We could not stop marveling at the spirit and endurance of these athletes. They were coming down the hill towards us with smiles, totally pumped up. I was amazed at how they could be so perky after 8, 9, 10 or even more hours straight of strenuous, exercise. I can’t say I was necessarily inspired, because I know my distance limit is the marathon, but I was most certainly impressed. I also couldn’t stop thinking about my brother, who has competed successfully at the Half-Ironman distance. I know he wanted to do a full Ironman but has backburnered that plan due to his complicated and fragile digestive system. I hope one day he’s able to, if he still wishes to.

Because there are only 2500 competitors, and they are much more spread out on the course, it’s supereasy to spot your runner in an Ironman. MJ and I had no problem seeing CB @Lord_Baker go by, a dashing devil in his red tri suit. We also spotted SC @cutlarock, who after having crushed the swim and bike, hobbled through his run due to godawful plantar fasciitis (I feel his pain). He stopped and chatted with us for a bit. Finally, we saw NZ @experiri much earlier than we expected, which was so cool! He looked strong and happy, we were so proud. In fact he ran by just as I was trying to track his location on the Blackberry.

I think it’s the coolest thing to have such athletic friends! I like being around people who make fitness such a priority, and who challenge themselves be accomplishing such daring athletic goals. Also, it does not hurt that literally every single person who ran by MJ and I on that course was unbelievable gorgeous. I mean, these men were HOT. All kinds of faces, but let me tell you, those bodies were like from outer space, in a good way. I can imagine how hard they worked to be so fit, and they deserve all the admiration they get for their efforts and for their appearance.

All in all, it was a great day. I am wiped out! My arm’s sore from holding up my sign for four hours, and my plantar fasciitis is throbbing in both feet. My whining is ridiculous in the face of what the athletes accomplished today, which is exactly why I point it out: it’s good for a laugh.

Congratulations @Lord_Baker, @experiri and @cutlarock–YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!

Lest you misinterpret the aforementioned Pu Pu platter approach to a movement program I’ve cooked up for myself–a little bit of swimming, a little bit of stationary biking, a little bit of PTing–I feel the need to list the reasons why it is NOT my bid to become a triathlete.

  1. I deliberately chose the word “movement” instead of “fitness.” I’m not expecting 45 minutes of biking thrice a week and 30 minutes of swimming twice a week to approximate the glorious endurance I had in January.
  2. There is no way I will ever bike on the city streets or in Central Park. I am not afraid of death, but there’s no reason to stand in front of it and make faces.
  3. Gear. I hate gear, and I even dislike acquiring non-gear items, a.k.a stuff, property, space-takers and dust-collectors. I do not want to own tri gear. Period.
  4. Race fees. Ridik!
  5. Multisport training seems like a logistical nightmare that would cut into time I allot to other things, like making ice cream, drinking wine, sleeping, and drinking wine.
  6. I still can’t run, eliminating a critical part of the triathlon’s athletic, um, triumvirate.

I haven’t told you about my exciting and romantic bike crash! I will tell you, as it will illuminate Why-I-Won’t-Tri (take that pun or leave it, I don’t really care) Reason #2.

I was riding a borrowed Schwinn 3-speed along the meandering Marvin Braude Bike Trail that runs along the Los Angeles beaches. It was the first hour of my vacation. I was set up in a friend’s beachfront apartment, the sun was shining, it was a Saturday afternoon and the beaches were teeming with happy, relaxed people. I was one of them, grinning from ear to ear as I took it all in, feeling free and easy (#twss). I rode all the way to the Manhattan Beach Pier and was nearly back at my friend’s apartment when I broke entirely too hard. The bike stopped and fell to the right, while I kept going.

I landed hard, and ended up with huge bleeding scrapes on my right palm and inner elbow. My right leg and hip, and the inside of my left knee, were pretty banged up and bleeding, too.

Immediately two guys who were playing soccer came dashing over to help me up and make sure I wasn’t badly hurt. Aw. Once they saw I was well enough to walk myself home they sent me on my way.

The chain had been knocked off the gears, so I wheeled the bike into a bike rental joint that was luckily right nearby. They not only fixed the chain but were so alarmed at my gashes they sent me straight over to the lifeguards to get bandaged.

That’s right: LIFEGUARDS.

Did you know* that in Los Angeles the lifeguards are part of the fire department?

That’s right: FIREMEN.

I would have much preferred to have had a one-on-one encounter with a lifeguard/fireman while wearing heels and a maneater dress rather than showing up with bloody palms and knees, but hey, sometimes we take what we can get. In this case, I was mostly grateful that there was someone to give me basic first aid (if not mouth-to-mouth). Mostly. I would have been 100% grateful if he hadn’t been wearing that windbreaker. Abs are nice, she said.

Anywhoo. More than a week later and the wounds on my hand and arm still haven’t healed enough for me to get back into the pool. The bummers are: 1) I had to miss last night’s swim lesson, 2) my cheap one-month pool pass is now an expensive two-week pool pass, and 3) I showed up for a date that Monday with black and blue legs and bandages on my arm.

So kids, what have we learned here today? 1) Everyone wins when there is neither facial nor cranial damage in a bike crash. 2) I will never bike in the city, or even in the country on a fancy bike that goes fast. 3) Lifeguards are always better without their windbreakers on. 4) TK needs to break her habit of objectifying men.

¡Viva la bicicleta estática!

*And if you knew, why didn’t you tell me this amazing fact?

So what if it’s been six and a half months since I could run? So what if it’s been six and a half months since my favorite dresses and pants fit me properly? So fucking what, indeed.* It’s not like I’m a cripple, or a cow. I’m still mobile and beautiful. (Also smart, funny, helpful–and did I mention humble?)

Honestly, this tale of woe about my plantar fasciits and “inability” to exercise has gotten pretty [insert profanity of your choice here] boring. Whah whah whah? It’s more, “Blah blah blah.” STFU, TK. Get over your shit and do something.

It’s not like you can’t. Not knowing what or how is no reason to ignore the problem. Heck, you didn’t know how to get a divorce or change a destructive pattern of behavior but you figured those things out and are happier for it.

I get it, TK. I remember what you’re like. Nothing happens until you are completely and utterly done with whatever the bullshit is.

So finally you have given up on the stubborn insistence that you have no viable options over your pernicious case of plantar fasciitis. Good! It only took six and a half months, that’s nothing compared with how long you used to put up with asshead boyfriends, two-faced friends, and your numb reliance on all sorts of vices to escape from imperfection.

Since no one’s perfect, you’re off the hook TK. The days of all or nothing are far behind you, which means: a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

We like that lawn a whole lot better, now don’t we.

So: swim a little, PT a little, use the bike at the gym a little. Who cares if you’re not good at anything? At least you’re moving. Have a little less wine, and your little bit of dairy can come in the form of your homemade ice cream.

Now get after it, before I kick your ass.

*If I use “fucking,” do you think the “indeed” is redundant?

IT’S ALL NOW TO YOU/THERE AIN’T NO BEFORE. — Elliott Smith

 

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