Sunday, September 14, 2014

Not Your Average Trail Run

For our anniversary on Monday, Brian and I went on a trail run at our local mountain bike trail. I suppose that’s the kind of thing we outdoor activity nuts find romantic. Because our paces are so different (in other words, I run slow as molasses), we usually start at the same time then I’ll wrap up the same distance some long time after he does. He waits for me back at the car because he’s nice like that. 

Basically, that elaborate back history is what leads into the real story. On Monday, I was just getting into the fifth kilometer of my run as I saw what appeared to be a couple standing on the side of the trail. It was a man and a woman and they were talking very close together. As I approached, she turned to leave, and he chased after her. At first I thought they were just playing, that is, until I saw him grab her around the neck from behind and throw her to the ground. This was not a game.

I was within about five feet of them when I saw him raise his hand, fist clenched, over his head. She was on her back with her hands up over her face. 

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I said, stopping. “Is everything OK here?” 

“No!” She sobbed.

“Come on, let’s get up,” I responded. “Let’s just get up and walk away.”

Now, this might sound all heroic and wonderful now, but this was the moment where my adrenaline took a minor dip and I realized, in my head, how incredibly stupid I was in this moment. I looked over at the guy - her boyfriend, husband, or whoever he was. He was huge and he was pissed. But so was I. 

As I reached over to my arm band to pause my workout on my phone he said:

“What the F*%$ are you gonna do, call the f^&#ing cops?!”

“I will if I have to,” I responded. 

The girl was standing by this time and we started walking back to her car. He followed about 20 feet behind us. He didn’t come any closer, and honestly I really don’t know what I would have done if he did. No one was on the trail at this point and I knew Brian was back at the car in a different lot on the other side of the park. 

As we approached her car, the girl whispered “Thank you.” She was clearly embarrassed by the whole situation. I simply told her that I hoped she would have done the same for me if the situation was reversed and that I hoped that no matter what had happened, that she would find her way to a better situation and happiness. She got into her car and drove away. He glared at me as he got into his car and took off, presumably after her. 

I ran the last half kilometer or so back to our car, trembling as I exited the path. Brian immediately asked what was wrong - he said I was white as a ghost. I told him the story - it almost felt like an odd, out of body experience. 

Even now, I am full of thoughts and emotions about that run. I’m feeling stupid - that situation could have been so very much worse. I purposely interjected myself into a violent situation, one where clearly the guy was used to being powerful and wasn’t afraid of physical violence. Yet I feel powerful - he was easily well over six feet. Heck, even she was probably at least five foot ten. But even with my five-foot-two frame, he didn’t stand up to me. Size does not equal power. I also feel proud - proud that I do not accept domestic violence, even when it puts me in danger. I feel hopeful - hopeful that maybe that was her breaking point and that maybe she didn’t stop her car and drove to safety and a better situation. Hopeful that she can find happiness. Most of all I feel thankful - thankful that I was able to run back to an amazing man. Someone who, though he arguably gets angry with me sometimes, would never in this lifetime lay a hand on me. A man who was proud of me for standing up for another woman. 

I do not feel like a hero, I truly hope that anyone in this situation would have done the exact same thing. But I will continue to feel proud of my decision to stand up and hopeful that, whoever she is and wherever she is, she has found safety and happiness.

Friday, September 05, 2014

A Moment of Loss: Thoughts on Dealing with Death

Five years ago tonight I received a phone call. 

I was working at a small Italian restaurant in Chicago at the time and the call came in on the restaurant phone smack in the middle of the busy kitchen during a Saturday night shift. I answered, straining to hear over the clanging of pots and pans and shouts in Spanglish. It was my neighbor from back home. 

Accident. Your mom. Toledo. Hospital. 

Those are the only words I really remember hearing. The next several hours of my life are a blur. I remember hanging up the phone, shaking all over. I remember leaving the restaurant; leaving tables mid shift. I remember a coworker driving me to my apartment, throwing some things in a bag and grabbing my dog, then heading back to the restaurant. From there, I remember my neighbor’s husband picking me up and driving me the 45 minutes or so to my hometown. I remember lots of neighbors in the driveway of my childhood home, trying to figure out what was going on. And handing my dog off to my sister’s friend so we could get in the car and drive the 275 miles to Toledo, where my mom was lying in a hospital. 

The hospital called a few times with updates, but we still knew very little. Her SUV had flipped on the highway - apparently it was a single car accident. They had no idea what caused it, only that her injuries were severe. That four and a half hour drive seemed to last an eternity. Would she be dead? Would she be in a wheelchair? Would they not let me see her, like they did with my dad?

We got to the hospital sometime in the early hours of the morning of September 6. Someone - I don’t remember what his title was - led us into a tiny room. He talked about her accident, rambling on, until my sister finally interrupted and asked if my mom was alive. 

“No,” he said.

He went on to say that she had not survived her injuries, despite their best efforts. Despite surgery. Despite over 20 units of blood. There was just too much damage. 

The next few hours were again a blur. We were able to see her, her battered body in a bed behind a curtain next to a nurse’s station. Phone call after phone call from the hallway of the hotel, repeating the words I couldn’t believe over and over again: “Mom is dead. Mom had an accident, and she didn’t survive.” I thought that maybe it would sink in after calling dozens of family members and friends, but I still just couldn’t grasp it. Some days I still can’t.

Planning a funeral. That was new. I was too young when Dad died to really be involved. This time around was different. Picking rental caskets. Choosing colors and funeral hours. Signing a document stating that I understood that cremation was not reversible. That one made me laugh, only because I knew that wherever Mom was, she would find that funny. Standing in a row with my siblings next to her casket, smiling and consoling those who came to console us. I wore a bright orange dress. I think that would have made her happy. She also would have laughed that only the “real” friends understood the Twinkie we placed on her casket. She always joked that on the day of her funeral, only seven people and a Twinkie would bother to show up. There were certainly more than seven visitors, but the Twinkie made it too.

Five years have passed since that day. I’ve graduated college, married the love of my life, and moved to a new state. Life has moved forward, but in many ways it hasn’t. It feels as though Mom has been gone forever, yet I can’t believe five years has already passed since that day. 

Waves. That is the only way I can possibly imagine explaining the loss of a parent. Some days are fine. Sometimes I barely even think of her, which pains me to say. Other days I’m overwhelmed by her memory. I don’t recall shedding a tear for her on my wedding day, yet I spent a good thirty minutes on the kitchen floor sobbing the day a clumsy reach left a set of bowls she had bought me shattered on my countertop. I want to scream anytime someone pokes fun at me for being strict about seat belts or makes snide remarks about car accidents. But then I remember. I remember that not everyone has been through what I’ve been through. And that it comes in waves. And even though I may be overwhelmed in this moment by the wave of grieve crashing over me, the tide will recede and I will be able to breathe again. And I will be ok. 

Photo Friday #77: On the Road

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