I’m running the Dublin Marathon in October. The lottery secured my spot, the plane ticket has been bought, I have somehow convinced a friend to run it with me, and at the moment of this publication,I’ll have broadened the circle of knowledge to a point of no return. I am thoroughly engineering a scenario in which I have to follow through even though
the question of how I’m actually going to accomplish this feat...26.2 miles...seems pretty impossible to imagine.
Let me get this straight. I have never run a race. I have walked the Bolder Boulder...once? Maybe twice? And outside of a season of high school swim team when I was 15, I have never physically trained in a serious manner. I was so averse to making a real effort when it came to sports, that when my success as a guest relayer on the Varsity team resulted in my coach telling me that “next year, you’re going to be in the fast lane”, I created a new gmail, emailed her that I wouldn’t be able to balance school with the demands of swimming, and never logged into the account again. This may be more of an example of my issues with confrontation, but I’m sure you get the gist.
When I was growing up, my family would take beach vacations on the coasts of Massachusetts and Maine. We were the quirky Colorado family that opted for thick East Coast accents over warm water. We would rent a clapboard house for a week, and inevitably come across a wide selection of 1000+ piece puzzles on top of an abandoned VHS player, usually hidden in a wicker cabinet. The array was seemingly endless, and all of the boxes looked like they had been purchased before Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson began smoking. I would sit and pick one of the puzzles with names like “Patriotic Washington Landscape”or “Lighthouse by the Shore,” removing my chosen box from the haphazard stack.
These puzzles didn’t really interest my mom and brother, but my dad and I would become involved. During the day we would visit blueberry farms, tour historical homes, maybe go to the shore, but the evenings were dedicated to puzzling. While we were all in the same room, technically watching a movie as a family, my dad and I would hunch over a table on a unified mission to file the pieces into an image that made sense. The way we acted while putting these puzzles together was obnoxious. Triumphant whoops, hollers, and high fives would interrupt long stretches of near surgical silence. This revelry, usually reserved for early morning soccer games back home, would escape my dad all because a corner was found.
There are probably more photos of my father and I puzzling on these trips than anything else, and yet, we never finished one. We would swear up and down on the first day of our stay that “this one is going to be different,” but by the end of the week we would be happy enough with the half finished broken image of a sailboat or beach vista, unceremoniously dump our progress back into the box, and call it time well spent.
In retrospect, outside of the value of family bonding, I should have taken this behavior as a symptom of a much broader struggle: rampant personal procrastination. When I begin doing something for myself, and only myself, the lack of will to finish seeps in like the goo in Ghostbusters 2. I’m Sigourney Weaver, simply trying to fill up a bathtub, I look away for ONE second, and the tub is suddenly filled with laziness. When I was gifted a key chain with the phrase “consistently inconsistent” scrawled in gold this past Christmas, I felt completely seen. I turn dry January into “try” January, art projects morph far beyond what they start, and are declared finished months after their intended deadline. I’m not being hard on myself, these are the facts, and most of the time it doesn’t bother me. When others are involved I will always make my best effort to come through as promised, but I seldom exercise the same dependability for myself. My dad wasn’t exactly like this when he died. Thankfully, he wasn’t acting just like his 19 year old at 48, but the apple doesn’t far from the tree.
My father first became interested in running a marathon during his college years in Boston. Poor, depressed, and homesick for the family that was being ceremoniously dismantled by the elongated divorce of his parents, he would run by the Charles River and think. The 3-5 years prior to his death this interest was rekindled, and it eventually became a lighthearted joke in our family. Much like our puzzling, his marathon training was inconsistent at best. When passionate spurts of exercise would be interrupted by any number of logistical challenges like the holidays, travel, my brother’s soccer season, or family events, the progress he made in his training would peter or simply stop. For most of my life my father prioritized others over himself, but at the time of his passing he was making an effort to learn, grow, and finally show up for himself just as he did for the ones that he loved.
During my freshman year of college, he declared it “Our Year of Firsts.” It was an adorable effort to spin the adjustment of me leaving the nest into a bonding activity. While I was learning how to live in the dorms, navigate a new city, and adapt to a conservatory theatre program, he was learning how to balance a heavier global travel schedule with a full home life, and looking at a bright future of freedom with my mom in the years that would follow my younger brother’s eventual graduation from high school. He would send me selfies abroad, and little quips about his day. I would share long stories of Chicago sad boys and lament the hangovers brought on by discount vodka. It tickled him endlessly. The parallel we didn’t talk about, though more emotionally pressing, was that these highs of discovery were equally offset with a desperate homesickness. After I left home my mom later told me that my dad kept my bedroom door closed because it made him too sad to see the room without me. We missed the magic of our dinner table with all four of us sitting around it. Kevin, Rebecca, Kiera and Jack. Looking back, the business trip he planned 5 weeks into my college life wasn’t just a business trip, but an intentional respite from the heartache growing up can yield for both parent and kid.
Specifically, “Kevin’s Year of Firsts” created an unparalleled motivation to finally run an “EFFING marathon.” With me leaving, and my brother following closely behind, I think he realized if he was going to change it had to be in this period of time, as the next transition would have been his retirement. It was a side of him that was fueled by a comedically stubborn nature I chalk up to his Irish roots and Capricorn qualities. When I was home from college in the Summer of 2016, he got off of a red eye from Sydney, and the following morning ran a half marathon jet lagged and nauseous. I woke up, and he not only was home from Australia, but had completed a 13.1 mile race. He was dumb giddy.
Despite all of this progress, the increased travel began to wear on him in the Fall of 2016. It manifested not only in the form of shoulder pain, but in flus and colds. Despite the progress he was making in crossing that finish line, he couldn’t argue with his fevers, chills, and my mom’s logical insistence that he take a moment to get well. This led to his eventual deferment of the 2016 Chicago Marathon to 2017. A race he didn’t live to see.
Being a fixer he wanted the lives of the people he loved to be easier. Post grad is really hard. There are times that I want his advice for professional growth and coping mechanisms for general existential panic so badly I think I’ll fall into a million pieces. Experiencing this makes the empty space in my family feel overwhelming in the face of trivial hiccups, but within the folds of grief that scream “if he was here he would have done this for me,” are the lessons of how to really care for someone, even if it’s yourself. He was actively learning how to do the latter. I’m coming to understand the end of his life as not only tragic and unfair, but bittersweet in light of these discoveries.
I was recently sitting in a coffee shop with a close friend and the song “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac came on. I don’t become emotional easily, but sitting in this comforting silence with Grace, soaking in the words that I know too well, the tears began rolling down my cheeks.
I was obsessed with Stevie Nicks in high school. This was not a casual obsession. This was a feathered bangs, bell bottom wearing, witchy, twirling fascination. Her voice was my constant companion filtered through my headphones or aux cord. When I left for college, I remember standing on a median at O’Hare with my mom waiting for my Dad to drive up with the rental car. I felt so small, surrounded by the bags prepared for the big move into the dorm. All I could think of were the lyrics to “Landslide”:
Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changin' ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Well, I've been 'fraid of changin'
'Cause I've built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I'm gettin' older, too
Was I prepared? Could I handle the seasons of my life? These are questions that I'll continue to ask myself.
For months I have had this gut feeling that I can’t shake. A constant hum in the back of my head that whispers “run. run. run. run. do it for him. do it for yourself. run.” It has taken something bigger than myself to be pushed into a mode of action. Graduation and an impending move across the country certainly provided. 2020 I’m heralding as another “Year of Firsts,” and I’m going to learn how to run a FUCKING marathon. I am doing this in memory of my father. I’m doing this in memory of the girl I was able to be at the dinner table set for the four of us. I’m doing this for the woman I’m becoming. Time makes you bolder.
Stay tuned. This isn’t going to be a smooth ride, but it’ll be interesting.