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It wasn’t until 9:00 p.m. last night that I finally decided to run the Lake McMurtry 25k trail race today and face the infamous LEAP O’ DOOM. (Spoiler alert: I lived to tell the tale!)

 

My life is currently a swirling vortex of chaos with Very Boring Adult Responsibilities beckoning at every turn and a WWF SmackDown on the horizon with the IRS.

Here are the two main reasons I’m so glad I chucked the responsibilities right out the window and told them I don’t wanna see their ugly mugs no more.

(1) I got to watch my friend Chrissy win first overall female in the 50k! Might I add, this came at the conclusion of her racing well over two hundred miles total in four consecutive weekends. She is an overcomer in every possible sense of the word and oozes joy out of her pores when most of the rest of us are just gushing sweat. You can’t be around her long without noticing that she is always quick to give credit to God and share the spiritual lessons He is teaching her during her many, many, MANY miles. I couldn’t be prouder of this amazing beast of a woman!

 

 

(2) In the last week, I’ve developed an utter fixation and fascination with the Barkley Marathons. If that doesn’t ring a bell with you, it’s regarded as one of the toughest races in the world (100+ miles of unmarked terrain, no aid stations, and elevation equal to climbing Mt. Everest twice) with a paltry 15 finishers in its three-decade history. Not only is it crazy hard, but it’s chock full of crazypants quirks, like an uber-secretive admission process, an unknown start time (you get a one-hour warning via conch shell), a requirement to bring a license plate from your home state and Camel cigarettes (which the race founder lights to signal the race’s beginning), and rules about finding books hidden along the trail and tearing out the page that corresponds with your bib number. What glorious madness.

Well, today I got to meet Lynn, a two-time Barkley runner! What are the odds?! Not good, I’ll tell ya, since there are only 40 participants per year. We had a long, lovely chat as I held him hostage and grilled him about the inside scoop from this bizarre little subculture. He even offered to let me in on the elusive process of how I could go about trying to get accepted to Barkley, which is the most hilarious thing ever. I can hardly find my way home from my back yard much less navigate over 100 miles with nothing but a compass, a map, and a prayer. BUT Barkley does accept one “sacrificial lamb” every year who has no right to be there and zero shot of finishing. 100% chance of failure? Shoot, I WAS BORN FOR THIS! Let me at my destiny!

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I can’t tell you how much it thrills my weary soul to cheer my friends on, make new friends, and learn the stories of my fellow runners’ personal triumphs and inspiring perseverance. It’s worth every 5:00 a.m. Saturday wake-up, every Black Toenail of Doom (current tally: seven), and yes, I daresay, the total pummeling I’ll shortly be receiving in that IRS SmackDown.

Thomas Wolfe was wrong.

 

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It’s a strange feeling to ring the doorbell of the house you feel is your own, though you last set foot in it during the Bush presidency. Stranger still to ask permission to take something even the toughest prosecutor in town wouldn’t bust you for stealing.

Word spread to me that the latest owners of the house I grew up in were chopping down the beautiful, sprawling oak tree in the front yard. The best climbing tree that the world has ever seen, with limbs forming a perfect makeshift spiral staircase. The tree I spent untold lazy hours in, playing with my friends and hiding from my parents and the silly but larger-than-life cares of an Overly Sensitive Introvert Kid. The tree gave shade, sanctuary, and solace. Nothing else could touch me when I settled into the branches’ firm embrace. Except the occasional vile insect that sent me scrambling to the ground in hopes I didn’t break my neck on the long journey downward.

The lady of the house greeted me with a curious but amicable, “Can I help you?” I told her my name and that I lived in that house from birth until after college. I told her I was hoping to take some pictures and a few remains–ugh, so morbid–of the tree. I resisted the urge to tell her she had just destroyed my childhood via a few strokes of the chainsaw.

I wanted to hate her. Really, I did. I wanted her to be like Margo of Todd and Margo from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. But she was kind and accommodating, even apologetic about the fate of the tree. We talked about the house we had in common, which room had been my bedroom, and the few neighbors we both knew.

It warmed my heart that one neighbor from my era had taken parts of the tree to transform into wooden bowls, she said. Someone else was doing something else charitable with various bits and pieces–by this point, my head was swirling with nostalgia and unable to hold onto her words. Facebook had caught wind of the goings-on; my brother, our childhood friends, and past and present residents of South Lakewood Avenue took a momentary respite from cat memes to relish the good ol’ days gone by. Though we’re scattered throughout the land now, the tree brought us all together one last time.

I loaded up the back of my car with a few remnants of once-towering majesty and drove off, casting a childlike farewell behind me. “Goodbye, sweet tree. I love you.”

They say you can’t go home again. But sometimes, to preserve the very memories of home, you have to.

Then and Now

To appease the Facebook gods and for personal catharsis, here we go. Senior year, 1998, and one of my favorite running pictures from 2015. Because inner transformations are more interesting than those on the outside, I offer you the following backstory.

My Dad took the 1998 picture and a whole series of makeshift senior photos for me since I refused to have professional ones taken. Smiling for a stranger shoving a camera in front of my face for an hour was sooooooo not an option, as it would’ve sent me into an anxiety-induced meltdown and resulted in more Terrible Angsty Poetry in my journal.

I struggled greatly with anxiety throughout high school and college without understanding there could be more going on than my need to “Stop worrying so much.” I finally got help for it my last year of college in the form of a very nice doctor and some even nicer pink pills.

Sixteen years after getting help, I still have anxiety triggers that I either avoid or power through, but I’d say there’s about seven of them rather than an army of seventy billion lurking around every corner ready to gobble me up. It’s difficult to explain the gradual changes that took place resulting in my no longer needing those pink pills and my existing as a reasonably functional–you’re free to disagree–member of society today. 😛 But I can say with certainty that there’s nothing that has done more to increase my confidence and happiness while simultaneously stripping away my fears than running. The confidence has spilled into other areas of my life and made me take risks I never would have taken otherwise.

It was terrifying at first, to be sure. People will see me! Worse, they’ll see me jiggling and sweating buttersticks and panting like I’m in labor and flapping my arms like a chicken! They will laugh and point and throw a putrid assortment of produce my way!

Ah, well. I finally had to come to my “Screw it” moment when the weight of not trying was more oppressive than the potential sweat-soaked embarrassment. Let them see. Let them see me trying something that terrifies me and overcoming the screeching sirens of panic going off in my head. Let them see me stick with this source of dread and woe until one logic-defying day, I discover that the loathing has metamorphosed into love and that only by pushing through the fear was I able to find the very thing that would free me.

Unspoken

Several people I know are facing their first holiday season after the loss of a loved one, wading through a mess of emotions and trying to deal with the expectations placed on them by others and by themselves. As someone just a few years further down the path than they are, I feel such compassion and a responsibility to come alongside them in their sorrow and with a dose of encouragement. I dedicate this piece not only to the man described herein but also to all those whose hearts are heavy this time of year.

***

II Corinthians 1:3-5

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.

***

Before he sauntered in for his 10:30 appointment, I checked his chart to make sure that my memory was correct, my barely legible scrawl confirming,”7-29-08: Patient’s wife passed away earlier this month.” Of their life together, I knew only that they enjoyed leisurely neighborhood walks with their dog, whose eye problems necessitated the wearing of sunglasses. Based solely on that image, I could envision the rest of their story unfolding in Sunday morning banana pancakes, Scrabble quarrels that ended with a warm squeeze of the hand, a quiet love that outlived the naysaying skeptics.

As he unbundled from the wintry chill and asked about my Thanksgiving, I told him of my family’s visit, of my being relieved from baking responsibilities due to the already gluttonous overabundance of food.

“Did you do any traveling?” I asked, hand selecting each word, careful to avoid such stupidity as asking whether he had a good Thanksgiving. I wanted to tell him that I know it wasn’t good, and I’m sorry. That the first holiday season after is something to be survived, gutted out, not enjoyed. That it’s okay to want to shove a twelve pound fruitcake down the throats of all the Fa La La La La-ers to drown out their cheer. Or to long for cryogenic freezing from mid-November til the second of January.

I wanted him to unburden himself of every expectation he has — of how he should feel, of the traditions he should partake in, of the solace he should find in the lesser blessings of life, of the joy that should bubble up in doing unto the least of these. Lay all those things down. You can pick them up later, dust them off and piece together a new place of belonging for them. But for now, for right now, the shoulds can rest on someone else’s shoulders.

I wanted him to know that coming years will bring pain less raw but with a certain dull persistence best handled with whatever emotional anesthesia he prefers — a marathon of M*A*S*H episodes, poker night at a buddy’s house. He may enter into the holiday rituals again but move through them numbly with his heart in absentia — because she was the entirety of his heart.

But someday, according to a calendar of his own devising, my hope is that he’ll be picking up a bulk package of Purina at Wal-Mart and find himself absentmindedly humming carols against a backdrop of jangling Salvation Army bells. Or burning his tongue on Swiss Miss and laughing at how she always cautioned him, “You idiot, you’re gonna scald yourself!” Or simultaneously smiling and pretending not to tear up at Linus’ tender recitation of the Christmas story. He’ll be completely caught off guard, wrestling against these snatches of joy as he wonders whether it’s right to feel anything again but stone-hearted sorrow. And he’ll picture a warm squeeze of the hand coming from the other side of the solitary couch, telling him that yes, it’s okay.

But instead…

Instead of telling him all these things, I listened to his tale of a Delta Cafe Thanksgiving meal, remembering our own cafeteria turkey dinner the first Thanksgiving after, and I said, “Their sweet potato casserole sure is good.”

Filling it up

Twix. Reese’s. Almond Joy. Milky Way. I never know what sugary pick-me-up I’m going to find in the ginormous candy bowl that one of the court clerks so faithfully keeps filled for the courthouse personnel to enjoy. It’s all the buzz when she replenishes it with a new kind. “Did you hear? The bowl is brimming with Special Darks!” Sometimes that quick fix of heroin–I mean Hershey’s–is the only thing maintaining my thinly stretched sanity on a felony Tuesday. I have no doubt that the pillars of justice nearly crumbled the week she took a staycation and the bowl grew empty.

When she returned, with her came news of her husband’s cancer diagnosis. As I gathered my needed felony files near her desk, wondering what words of comfort I could conjure for her, a Pavlovian response overtook me upon hearing the familiar clinking sounds of candy being poured into the bowl. The ground beneath her had just shifted violently 24 hours prior, and there she was still finding simple ways to spread kindness and joy. And carbs.

I want to be like her–to expand my tunnel vision, see beyond the confines of my narrow experience, and encourage others even when I don’t feel that I have any encouragement to speak. How to execute that eludes me, but I know there are moments sprinkled throughout the day that are waiting for hope to be poured into them, moments when I could be the one to fill up the candy bowl of my small world.

Nostalgia, almost

This Saturday, I will be running in the Golden Driller 10K.  Here’s why that race is important to me.

(written March 21, 2006)

I’ve called him Big Man for as long as I can remember—the imposing, 76-
foot-tall Golden Driller, the largest freestanding statue in the world and a
distinctive Tulsa landmark. Through all my childhood trips to Bell’s
Amusement Park and Big Splash Water Park, there he stood, strong,
unwavering, and weathering countless sweltering Oklahoma summers with fierce
endurance.

golden driller

But he was so much more than a roadside attraction. He claimed a special
spot in my heart, you see, because he talked to me. Every time our baby blue
Cadillac whizzed past him, I’d twist around in my limited, belted-in range
of motion to get the fullest view of him, wave, and exclaim, “Hi, Big Man!”
And, without fail, in a deep, booming bass very reminiscent of my father’s,
he’d call back, “Hi, Laura!”

It was a little bit we did, me and “Big Man,” that became such a cherished
staple of my childhood that as I grew older, I never let go of it, never
decided I was so wise and mature that I needed to abandon my make-believe
world wherein a 43,500 pound inanimate object cared to engage me in
conversation. Now, my dad contends that I really believed it was Big Man
talking to me. I suspect that I knew the truth but never cared to argue the
point too much with him. It’s more endearing and innocent that way. Even in
my teenage, newly-licensed freedom when I’d cruise past him by myself in
Betty, my beloved Buick Regal, I’d assume both our roles and tell myself hi
in a deep, booming bass very reminiscent of my father’s.

When my dad’s health problems began last April, I became his ride to and
from several medical appointments. Each time, we drove past Big Man. Each
time, I fought the urge to call out to Big Man, since my dad was in such
pain and doped up on so many horse tranquilizers that I doubted he’d be up
to his part. Coming home one day, I could contain myself no longer.

“Hi, Big Man!”

“Hi, Laura!”

He didn’t miss a beat. I felt that familiar surge of warmth and happiness,
the thrill that he would indulge his little, not-so-little girl despite
health problems much more serious than any of us knew at that point.

I remember swallowing hard and my eyes starting to mist over as I thought of
better times and happier trips past our iron friend. My father, still
adamant that he really had the wool pulled over my eyes all those years,
snapped me out of my reverie in a hurry:

“You always were a particularly stupid child.”

Thanks for the laugh, Dad. We both needed it.

Terrible Beauty

Last night, I came across a short story I wrote in college (Honorable Mention in Scrib, baby! I never had a shot at anything better as long as Liz Jones and Chris Jones were around) that features underage drinking, drug use, profanity, and salacious relationships because I WAS BEING EDGY.  I remember terror seizing me that I’d be kicked out of my very Baptist college, disinherited by my parents, and forced to cobble together a mattress out of leaves and discarded issues of Guns & Ammo magazine.

What’s hilarious and tragic is the degree to which I filter myself to this day because I still care excessively about other people’s opinions of my writing, especially words that are vulnerable, raw, or (laughably) edgy. Stories that don’t tie everything together with a big pretty bow and smiley face emoji because I’m still living the ugly, messy, frowny face emoji part of them.  But I suspect somewhere underneath that mess, healing and redemption may be lurkingalong with discarded issues of Guns & Ammoand I hope there are those who might stick around while I grab a shovel and feebly try to unearth terrible beauty long buried.