This past Thursday, I ran my first 5K, the Virginia Run Turkey Trot.
I wanted to run on Thanksgiving both because it seemed like an excellent way of pre-burning a few of the thousands of calories I was sure to eat later in the day, and also because it was something new and different. Because unlike Christmas, which stays, by and large, the same from year to year, Thanksgiving has been something of a moving target.
For the first several years of my existence out west, Thanksgiving meant Seattle with Heather and Jon. And though the holiday morphed somewhat from year to year--the First Year, the Christopher Year, the Whole Mastromatteo Family Year, and so on--the feel of it stayed more or less the same: safe, comfortable, utterly familiar.
And then they moved back east, leaving me to find somewhere else to be on Thanksgiving. For the first year without them, I stayed in San Francisco, went hiking with Monique down on the Peninsula in the morning, made an apple pie, had dinner with a somewhat ragtag group around Monique's dining room table. It was a chill celebration, and wildly different from what I'd known.
The next year was wildly different again: to Greg and Sara's in Virginia, this time with G. in tow, for a long weekend of trying to get two worlds to come together, somehow, with varying degrees of success. And for a while, last year was shaping up to be more or less the same, until, at the last moment, it wasn't, and instead became something else altogether.
So this year I decided to run.
Out in Centreville, surrounded by hundreds of other people, I put my iPod on and ran. As I pushed myself to go as hard and fast as I could, I thought about beating the cold, and about passing as many fellow runners as possible, and about running through the burning in my lungs and the pull in my legs. And though my thoughts were largely limited to the music coming through my ears and throwing one foot in front of the other, I also thought about Thanksgivings past.
I ran for Heather and Jon, and for the pangs of missing I sometimes have both for them and for their past life out west. I ran for a clutch of friends once in SF and now (irretrievably) scattered. I ran for G., for Greg and Sara, for my parents, for Thanksgivings even farther back in which the whole family would congregate in Pennsylvania. And I ran for whatever might come next.
I crossed the finish line panting, sweat steaming off of me in the cold air, 26 minutes and 56 seconds after I started, 17th of 83 30-to-34-year-old women. Dad met up with me back at the starting point and we mingled with the crowd for a while before heading back to the car.
Then we went home to eat.
Monterey dolphins, November 2004
Last year around this time, Erfert had a half-birthday party on a whale watch boat off the coast of Monterey. I remember the day with a crazy sense of clarity, remember driving down from the city in the morning, remember listening to the tape with Rufus Wainwright's "One Man Guy" over and over and over again, remember the play of light on the water, the unmistakeable scent in the air.
And, of course, I remember feeling impossibly grateful for the chance to escape the emotional pit of hell that was late fall 2004.
We didn't actually see any whales on the cruise, but did see smatterings of other marine life, including sea lions and gobs of dolphins. For a long while, as we raced through the water, a clutch of dolphins rode along just off the sides of the boat, evidently, according to the captain, hitching the equivalent of a free ride in our wake. We humans bent ourselves over the railings to watch them, laughing in delighted disbelief as the dolphins rode and rode and rode with us.
It would be untrue in the extreme to say that the memory of watching dolphins frolic on what must've been one of the most beautiful days of the year was a salve and a sustaining force as I hacked my way through the year that unfolded. No memory on its own could get me through all that. But that mental image (and its physical counterpart) was a reminder that the world was deeper and broader and more full of wonder and possibility than I could really appreciate at the time.
And now, a year on, the memories of last November's suckiness have faded enough to become largely ignorable (if not exactly forgettable), and things seem to have settled into a new equilibrium, and I feel more at peace than I have for a long time running. Now, a year on, what floats to the top of the memory heap for that day on the water is the sense I got watching the dolphins that somehow, at some point, the emotional chop at the center of my life would subside, and there, under the calmed surface, I'd find something I hadn't known I was looking for.