This was incredibly hard to write, so I imagine might be hard (and long) to read, if you’re at all close to this situation. Just a fair warning. But I’m fine! Better than fine. All part of the purge.
First, click this on. We’ll be visiting its lyrics a few times through this, so I want you to feel it through your ear holes.
Imagine a scenario with me for a moment. It’s that cinematic device used to reveal unanswered questions to the audience in a very raw, first-person way. The moment a detective stumbles upon the secret lair of the mastermind criminal, the journals revealing how he pulled it all off, the boxed memories revealing the motive. It’s any variation on this: the confused lover/parent/friend seeking answers, and uncovering the private world of the lost lover/child/friend. Maybe it’s a bedroom, a phone, an online cult’s website, a crime scene. A search for clues, and then pieces are put together. A world materializes before their eyes, filling gaps, and answering questions.
I’d finished a book recently where a mother’s son was accused of a pretty horrible crime, and after using a bolt cutter to cut the padlock off his bedroom door, she uncovers a private world of pain. Leaving the needle where it rested on the record, she fires up the player and hears what he heard. Reads what he wrote. Slides a box out from under his bed that paints this picture, and all of a sudden she knows.
I think for me, unanswered questions were going to be the death of me. Until I was able to let go of getting those answers, or accept there maybe weren’t even any good ones, I was in a lot of pain. I’m not there anymore, but I’m also a jigsaw puzzle enthusiast. I’ll accept that, out of the 1,999 pieces on the table, there’s one that will never be found. I’ll accept it, but I don’t have to like it.
I’ve heard “Let it go.” “Just leave it.” “Get over it. You won, don’t you see?”
There’s truth in that. But it’s also like catching the killer without ever knowing how he pulled off the crime.
I’ve always been a here-and-there runner.
Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve run—to combat loneliness and boredom, to explore, to get out of my apartment, and to connect with my surroundings. Before that, I ran daily at sports practices. Before that, I ran to try and lose weight. But going even further back, I ran so running wouldn’t kill me.
The first time I took it up outside of school hours was purely preemptive. I’d grown so tired of how brutal the bi-annual Mile Run test was at school—the four laps around the lower hockey field where girls dropped like flies and cried, walking the last half in red-faced refusal—that I decided I was going to do whatever it took to not let it beat me. Determined, I told my mom, who got in her car and mapped out a perfect mile route in our neighborhood. I ran it and I got good at it, building up endurance and cutting down on my time.
The next time it came around, it was almost too easy. My gym teacher high-fived me as I trotted over the finish. In high school, I’d go on to run a 6:30/min mile, counting paces with slow inhalations through my nose, meditating on breaths and rhythm and that slow burn.
I’d run to spend time on the beach after school. I’d run because I’d hate myself if I didn’t. And I’d run to keep my dormant eating disorder at bay.
It was still always a means to an end; never purely pleasure.
Only recently has running resurfaced as something I totally enjoy and can say I’m also not terrible at. If I’m being up front, it’s 100% because I do it with my moveable feast. Like I mentioned before, it’s one of those things he’s gotten me to do with him that makes my world feel bigger. You’re together, just off the couch; you can explore more, see things close up. You can wander and not worry about how you’re going to get back. And when you’re doing it alongside (or behind, ahem) someone you pretty much want to spend every minute of the day with anyway, it’s an absolute joy.
I’ve run my whole life, but I love running for the first time in my life.
This is huge. Because for the last couple of years, I hated running—everything about it. And not because I didn’t want to do it, because it was the sinister thing that took my spouse from me for hours, that I wasn’t allowed to be a part of, and that he systematically chose over spending time with me. I’d tried to get him to run with me for years, but it never took. Then all of a sudden, it was the light, and his affiliation for it blew past mine in every way. It was the reason I woke up to an empty bed on Saturdays and Sundays. It nudged along the slowly expanding chasm of time and space between us, like an untethering that was the beginning of the end.
That I know how to love it now, on my own, is a revelation—and I’ve just swallowed a small sob typing this, my chest tight as a drum. It occurred to me yesterday as I ran along riverside trails—his stomping grounds, literally—and saw this new beauty in my city that’s been there all along and I never even knew. All that time, he was out there in this new world, finding it… and finding himself. It didn’t occur to him to share it with me.
All of a sudden, I realized this was my way of snapping the padlock on the door to his private world. The secret escape of his that I wasn’t allowed into all those years yawned open before me, right under my Nikes.
I started to get it then. I’d picked up the scent. I was following behind him now, 2 years late to the party.
Shall we beat this or celebrate it?
You’re not the one to talk things through
You checked your texts while I masturbated
Manelich*, I feel so used.
*We’ll get to who this is.
I’ve always wondered about the origins of certain emotions. Mainly jealousy, disapproval, or a gut-reaction hate of something. Where’s it come from? It’s gotta come from somewhere. Why do I get a bad feeling about one person, but not about another? Why do I implicitly trust someone, but guard myself around someone else? Why did I feel like the one person I should have feared the least had just come into my life to wrench him away from me? In the absence of a character flaw, or stubbornness, I tend to think these visceral reactions have an element of instinct to them. At least, mine did.
If I could give one piece of advice, it’s to chase those wary instincts down the rabbit hole. The endless texts. The feeling that I was always in the backseat, never shotgun—I should have trusted the way I felt, not explained it away. Because I knew. I always knew.
So I hated the running thing. It wasn’t disapproval, it was a wariness. And isn’t that another common theme in movies? The one spouse finds a sudden new interest and it drives a wedge. It’s implied that this new thing is filling a hole neither, one, or both knew was there. Something is missing, so this new thing creates a diversion, and satisfies an emptiness. And someone is always inevitably left behind.
In the end, my instinct for hating the running was so spot on, it’s scary. I sensed it being chosen over me, over and over again, and a general pulling away that I had no right to point out, no defense against, and no jurisdiction to fight.
I was never invited. Never regaled with tales of the views, this beautiful part of our city I knew nothing about. Never asked to even just come walk them one evening to see what I was missing. I was completely left out. I cringe to think of myself sleeping through it all on a Saturday morning, or having coffee alone, totally unaware.
It was a symptom of something else, though, right? I’m only embarrassed I missed the point by focusing only on the effect, not the cause. But as least I was paying attention. And all those evenings and weekends spent alone conditioned me for rejection, only on a much bigger scale.
Found myself on Spencer’s Butte
Traced your shadow with my shoe
Empty outline changed my view
Now all of me thinks less of you.
There’s a certain poetry in all of this that keeps my face from getting screwed up when the painful bits put needles in my eyeballs. I feel serene about it most of the time. It was ok. It was supposed to happen. It was meant to be. It was all for the best, every part of it. Even though I didn’t take up a massive new hobby, I had empty peg holes, too. I’ll acknowledge that. I wasn’t perfect. I felt hollow and wasn’t sure how to fill myself back up. But I’ve been given the chance to—and I’m happier than I’ve ever been, in new ways.
Choosing to make running my own thing, while reinventing its meaning, was the most thankless, take-the-bull-by-the-horns task I’ve managed so far, so I’m most proud of it. Like something I had to prove to myself. Like meeting the new love of someone who left you and pretending to like her. Only, I do like it.
Another throat tightening here, and a thought: Without anyone to blame for what happened, at the very least I know I’ll never do that to anyone. There’s nothing wrong with new hobbies, and new passions. Being independent and having an independent mate is very valuable to me. Only, you have to include them when you can. You have to give them a chance to be a part of your new chapters.
And if that’s not your instinct, you have to let them go.
On the sheet I see your horizon
All of me pressed onto you
But in this light you look like Poseidon
I’m just a ghost you walk right through.
I know exactly what it’s like to be a ghost. If I could sum up how I felt for the curious onlookers, that’d be it: you’re a ghost, invisible. I know what it’s like to feel like you could do anything, or say anything—like stomping the foot of someone with no nerves there. It wouldn’t matter because that other person is only there in body. They’re not even there.
But to see someone who doesn’t have energy for you turn around and have the unrelenting energy to run for hours on end, away from you—I took those blows on the chin day after day.
So getting through this all and coming out alive on the other end is one thing, but then deciding I was going to go after this thing that was his thing—that hateful wedge—was entirely something else. I’m chasing his ghost down muddy trails. Like before, it feels like he was just there, and I just missed him. But no matter how fast I run to try and catch up, thinking maybe I’ll see him around the next turn, I won’t. He never wanted me to catch him. He’s got somewhere else to be. And I think that’s ok, or at least, it’s going to be ok.
Because right there next to me is someone who isn’t trying to lose me around the bend. The opposite—he looks over his shoulder to make sure I’m still there.
Saw myself on Spencer’s Butte (All of me wants all of you)
Landscape changed my point of view (All of me wants all of you)
Revelation may come true (All of me wants all of you)
Now all of me thinks less of you (All of me wants all of you).
Manelich is a character from a play called Terra Baixa, or Marta of the Lowlands, penned in 1896. It’s also the heavily debated reference in the first part of Sufjan Stevens’ song, “All of Me Wants All of You.”
Manelich is a goat shepherd who lives happily on a mountainside. Just a peaceful dude living a peaceful happy life until someone suggests he come down off his mountain and marry this beautiful girl in town. Step up and take your place, Manelich. So he does, and he’s just this idealist. He flings himself into it with innocence and zero self consciousness. Marriage is pure and wonderful, and he puts himself into it 100%. That’s Act 1. In Act 2, the poor chump is crushed when he realizes it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Fuck this being in town bullshit, with this lady who doesn’t even like me and won’t let me into our marriage bed—my summation. At night, he sleeps outside the door, totally baffled and confused by her behavior. That innocence and idealism become the charred remains of a man, just pissed and realizing it was all a farce.
There are other forces at work in this story, but at the end, he’s left pondering what he’s going to do next. Back to the mountain? Stick it out? “Shall we beat this or celebrate it?”
Frankly, I’ve beaten it like a dead horse. I won’t compare myself to Manelich, but I’ll learn from him. Go back to the mountain if you have to, but take someone great with you.
I’ll celebrate its ending, and what it means for my future.
Like, eat my dust.