I run. I jog down alleys. I run through parks.
I run whenever things get too tense.
It’s what I do.
I started running when I was twelve, the year my father lost his job.
My father, always so big and brash and bold, began sinking. He’d go out applying in the morning, and then sit by the phone for hours. I joined the Run Club, in part, just to stay out of the house.
My mother was my best friend. She encouraged my running. Do your best, she said, and I did.
The change in my father from brash and bold to almost timid was gradual, but heartbreaking. The change in my mother, two years later, was instantaneous and much harder to bear.
It was on a Saturday morning; she picked me up after a slumber party. She was wearing a red chiffon skirt, a plaid long-sleeved blouse and a glittery black and red vest. Her face was made up with a sparkly rouge and thick, exaggerated red eye shadow. She looked like a clown. Her voice was a mirthful British.
My friends loved it. She was, admittedly, quite witty with the English idioms rolling casually off her tongue, but I was not amused.
In the car, I confronted her.
“Mom, what is this?”
“This?” she asked nonchalantly, as if it was hardly worth mentioning. “I’m just having some fun, love. Don’t you like it?”
“Oh. Well, I do.”
And she spent the rest of the week chattering away in her thick English accent, with each day’s outfit more outlandish than the one before. She’d somehow become this new, carefree, absurdly happy Englishwoman.
The following week, she was back to normal, as if nothing had happened.
With Dad’s unemployment gone, mom began waitressing. Conversations at dinner were frequently about money. Dad appeared unconcerned, always quick to say, sure, we can afford it. Mom was increasingly tight.
I worried about her. She seemed disconcerted, almost anxious, until the day she’d abruptly show up in one of her costumes. Then she was once again suddenly brightly British. She even wore her costumes to work, much to my dismay.
I ran. I ran early in the morning; I didn’t want to see what she’d be wearing. I ran into the night, to avoid spending time with them. I ran until I was fast, faster than anyone.
I tried to talk to my dad, to tell him to get her help, but he was in denial. He’d always been the unabashed leader of the family, but lately, he’d become so dependent on her. He wouldn’t accept that anything was wrong.
“She’ll get better. I promise.”
Looking back, I should have seen what was happening. Months, then years, it continued. His promises came too easy; he seemed almost willfully oblivious.
I tried helping her myself.
One night when I was nearly asleep, she leaned over to kiss me goodnight. I reached up and gently touched the bright red rouge on her cheek. For just a moment, I thought I might, somehow, break through that strange persona.
She recoiled. “Don’t touch me makeup, Dearie,” she said in her best Welsh.
“I just want things back the way they were.”
She hesitated. “So do I, love. So do I.”
I went to states that year. I ran the eight-eighty, alone, though in a pack of other runners, with my parents out in the stands.
It happened halfway through. My foot began hurting, throbbing. I kept going. I fell way behind, but I wouldn’t stop. By the end of the race, I was in agony; tears were streaming down my face, but I finished.
My mom met me on the track and held me in her arms, comforting me. “Chip off me old block,” she whispered.
A stress fracture. I was off ten wonderful weeks. Mom was normal, and Dad, well, he was all he could be.
It was soon after I’d begun running again that things fell apart. I came home early one night and heard shouting from the porch. When I opened the door, they froze in stunned, guilty silence; my father, huge, standing over her; my mother with her arms raised like toothpicks, futilely trying to shield herself.
I didn’t know these people. I didn’t know them at all.
I turned and ran. I ran down streets and alleys. I ran through parks.
I ran as our lives flashed into place.
I ran, to keep from thinking.
And I’ve never stopped.
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