I was watching Tessie run tonight.
I remember being six
. I remember running for the pure, absolute joy if it, for the feeling of being faster than everything else.
I still run. But it’s far more cumbersome
. I require comfortable clothes and highly padded shoes
and stretching beforehand and I bemoan it, but it also requires a certain amount, of…well, for lack of a better term, a certain amount of grit
I was always a runner. Like Tess, I think I progressed from walking to running over the course of about two weeks. Crawl, walk, run, and she's off! I loved that feeling – being faster than my sister, faster than the boys
, just fast. Pure joy
I ran, all the way along. I ran cross country
, then I ran track, in high school. It made me, if not popular, at least allowed me to survive as a white kid on the edge of a black neighborhood. I raced in the 800 meter, the mile and the 2 mile, thus saving the sprinters from having to race those long races. Imagine a tall, skinny, geek girl, giving a grin to the bombshell sprinter
. Lois Lane meets Flo Jo.
It saved my life.
I kept running. I ran, and I ran into the crew boss of a forest firefighting crew
. I had to be able to run a mile and a half in twelve minutes. I could run a mile in under six, so I figured out that I could probably manage for 12.
I fought fires for a season, and then another. In between fires, we trained. I wanted to smoke jump, and it required two seasons of experience, and physical fitness...including good knees.
Then an accident. I blew out my right knee – I tore two ligament
s and my meniscus
. What physical therapists call the unhappy triad
, or for you football players, Kurt Warner
knee. I asked my doc, a former boxer
, how long the reconstruction
would last. He told me five years. Five years? I was 23. The operation was pioneered five years before, when football players started playing on Astroturf
, and started blowing out knees like never before. It’ll probably last longer than that, he said, but we can’t guarantee it. Am I going to be able to ski this winter? I don’t think so, honey.
You KNOW when they call you honey you are totally screwed. 42 staples and a handful of screws later, I have the new, improved, bionic
Three months on crutches
, then physical therapy. Doc Burns said I could start running at six months.
To the day, at six months, I walked to the track on Queen Anne Hill, and went for a run.
After a lap, I sat down on the curb, and wept
That knee, which had been so fleet
, so fast, faster than all the boys, didn’t work the same way. I felt like I was running on a peg leg
- this body that had always met any demand I could make of it, no longer worked without a hitch.
I talked to the physical therapist about it the next week. Well, Chris, you might be rushing it, he said. (In hindsight I was trying to take it on too soon. I didn’t walk normally until almost a year after the accident, and I’ll always walk with a very faint limp
.) But at the time, I was totally, unutterably frustrated.
I eventually learned how to walk again, to run again, mostly by studying the physiology of the other leg. Ah, when I run, the knee bends to absorb the first shock – I have to imitate that gesture. The knee moves THIS way after I step off of it. The foot does THIS. But it was a long retraining process - my frame is no longer symmetrical
, so everything else had to adjust.
And I still love to run.
But now I watch Tess.
She isn’t wearing running shoes, she’s not breathing hard, she’s not exercising. She’s just running.
She is running in flip flops
, in her school clothes, because she is young
and because it feels wonderful
. We are walking home in the dark, just street lamps
and a perfect, balmy breeze
. She looks like if she runs exactly right, she could spread out her arms, she would take off from the ground, and soar
I want to run like I am six
For Walter, because I think this
This must be the night when I remember how to fly, when the breeze catches my weight at last
is an act of genius,
and for riverrun because of
God talk and burning children.