I cannot wait to do this again

Today was a very good day.

I woke at 6 AM to the easy strains of my cellphone’s alarm and the cool darkness of an early east coast autumn.

Rufus and Simon – my mum’s two ragdoll cats – skittered into my room, eager to investigate my pre-dawn activities. Simon jumped on the bed and looked at me, his amber eyes still. Rufus mewled, rubbing his head against my leg.

I had laid out my race gear the night before – shirt, shorts, socks, bra, all stacked neatly on the chair in my bedroom.  As I crept downstairs, I was careful to avoid the creakiest stair. I made it to the spare bathroom on tiptoe, where I brushed my teeth and washed my face. The last thing I wanted to do was wake my mum as I prepared for the day.

I am particular about my pre-race routine.

Clothing, face, hair, coffee, food, water.

It doesn’t matter how far or important the race – I find great comfort in this ritual.

Together with my cousin David – who was also running the race – I ate a bagel with peanut butter and watched as the rising sun softly kissed our backyard trees, leaving their leaves aglow in a golden green.

When mum woke she joined us, and we sat and joked about all-natural nut butters.

Before we left, she took this great photo of Dave and I:

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As we drove out to the Musquodoboit Trailway, we listened to the CBC and shared with each other our favourite programs and hosts. We’re both big fans of As It Happens, This Is That, The Current and Day Six.

When we arrived, we picked up Dave’s race bib at the registration desk. Although the start line was splashed with sunshine, a tricky wind immediately cut through any lingering warmth we had carried with us from Dave’s truck.

For half an hour we joked and laughed and sipped water and used the porta-potties for the last time.

When the starting gun sounded, my feet were halfway numb.

I am always afraid of going out to fast. Time and again my need for speed has proven to be my Achilles’ heel, but today I decided to go for it.

And I’m glad that I did.

I ran a personal best of 41:03. I was the first woman and sixth overall.

I love running.

I love running purely and truly, and have written at length about this love.

But I also love to see others learn to love to run.

I love to see someone cross the finish line for the first time. See them marvel at their strength. Their resilience.

Revel in the depth of their heart.

In a brief moment, they are unrivaled amazement and awe.

Today was Dave’s first race, and he was extraordinary. When he first signed up he made a goal of finishing in less than one hour. He smashed that, completing the course in 58:18.

He told me prior to the start that he didn’t intend on doing any more races. This was pure bucket-list.

Less than one hour later?

I believe his words were something along the lines of, “I cannot wait to do that again.”

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Before heading home to Halifax, we stopped at Martinique Beach.

Today, this stretch of the eastern shore seemed to burn extra bright.

A horizon of the sweetest blue, speckled with fat clouds. The brilliant sun.

White sand. Dunes that danced.

A fall air that burned our lungs and stung our cheeks.

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And in that moment, I forgot everything: I forgot uncertainty and fear. I forgot that life can be unfairly underpinned by sickness and a suffocating sense of helplessness.

I forgot distance and longing.

I felt the sun.

And I thought: I cannot wait to do this again.

Eyes firmly on the prize

Here’s a weird thing that I did once.

Last November I got eyelash extensions.

The impetus behind this decision?

“The Holiday Season.”

And just to try something different.

The process of getting them done was more bizarre than anything else. Beyond being uncomfortable, it was also weirdly vulnerable. Lying on a bed in some woman’s 400 square foot bachelor apartment, as she slowly separated each of my eyelashes and glued monstrously fake lashes to their roots, I was acutely aware of how little room for error there could be in this procedure, what with her disproportionately sized tweezers so close to my eyeballs.

I was sure that one rogue sneeze would see them forever lodged into the base of my optic nerve.

Halfway through I remember thinking, “THIS ISN’T WORTH IT.” This reaction is, of course, my modus operandi when it comes to all aesthetic services. At some point I always find myself wishing I hadn’t committed to whatever hair I am having removed, or roots I am having having dyed, and had instead bought a big muffin and went for a walk in the sun.

But getting back to eyelashes – as I studied myself in a small hand mirror (passed to me after the glue had hardened on the last lash) I marveled at how many of my natural lashes it seemed I had lost in the process. Eyelash extentionists (and their proponents) claim that eyelash loss during the procedure is a myth, because all they are doing is attaching a longer lash to the ones you already have. However, I am suspiciously sure that I had way more eyelashes walking into that apartment, than I did walking out.

Of course, this didn’t matter in the slightest, because what I did have in their absence were synthetic masterpieces so utterly grand that they not only took over half of my face but gave me powers of flight every time I made the mistake of blinking too hard.

Once I got used to the heaviness of the lashes during my normal day to day, and the utter wretchedness of not being able to scrub my face in the shower, I really did start to enjoy them. Of particular note were the reactions they solicited from both friends and the general populace. People seemed to think they were pretty neat.

Because the lashes were so big, I wore my glasses almost exclusively, under the belief that my large black rims would tone down some of their impact. Whether this was the case, I have no conclusive evidence either way.

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In the end, the biggest problem with my lashes was how long it took my normal set to grow back once they all fell out. The extentionist had guaranteed that as I shed my prosthetics, my regular lashes would grow in at their normal rate, and the transition back from fake to real would be seamless and unnoticeable.

This was a big old lie. For weeks I was terrified that my vanity-driven decision to try out absurdly giant eyelashes had resulted in permanent, spiky, stumps, where once my lovely, natural lashes had flourished.

I even bought some stupid tube over the internet that advertised itself as an “all-natural, pharmacist approved growth serum“. A small part of me believed that I was fighting fire with fire, sure that I was going to end up both blind and eyelash-less; but I was desperate, and succumbed to the temptation.

I used that tube until the serum ran dry.

And in the end, my eyelashes did grow back – longer and thicker than before. Now, whether this is due to the serum, the fact that I had lost them all, or just luck of the draw – I don’t know.

What I do know was that I enjoyed my one exercise in tempting ocular fate. I won’t be getting extensions again, and have almost completely stopped wearing eye makeup. I figured best to lay low on the windows to my soul, and just let the sun shine through the way it was intended.

Plus now I can just fully commit to my lips.

Because there is no way that I would ever do anything to make them bigger.

And I like lipstick more anyway.

Getting it Donne

The thing that everyone forgets, when writing long missives about how easy it is to be away from a loved one, is that it’s all complete bollocks.

This became glaringly obvious to me the moment that I found myself standing in the Halifax airport check-in hall, hung over, wearing my mother in-laws old paint spattered sweatpants, with day-old wedding hair, and a stomach churning from dodgy Thai leftovers.

I was crying my absolute eyes out because I felt as though my heart was being wrenched from my chest with a rusty ice claw.

And one would think that, having done this so many times before, that I would never forget how much this hurts, but for some reason, like child birth (I assume) and the act of running a marathon (I know), I just always forget.

Call it the John Donne syndrome. Some stodgy old British genius pens one poem about how gauche it is to show emotion about leaving your spouse for an extended period of time, and suddenly (okay, like 400 years later) we all want to pretend as though spending months away from your life-long kissing partner is easy peasy lemon squeezy.

And yes, I am aware that I am protesting a little too much. It’s been a cool sixteen hours since I bade farewell to Marc at ye good ole’ Standfield International, and my tear ducts are still a little raw. I know that once I get into the groove of things here in the city, the days and weeks and months will literally fly by and before I know it I’ll be back in his arms, cracking jokes about Elizabeth May and watching Danish cop shows.

And!

Speaking of John Donne – I really shouldn’t be so harsh, because I really do love him and many of his works of metaphysical brilliance.

One poem, in particular, will always hold a very special place in my heart: A Valediction: Forbidden Mourning.

I have a very distinct memory of first hearing it in Literature 12, when Mr. Hill, our teacher, and one of my early great loves, read it aloud for the class. He fancied himself a sort of Falstaff/Leonard Cohen figure, and I am pretty sure he knew that most of the class was completely in love with him.

To this day, I don’t know if it was my crush, or the power of the oral word, but everything that he read that year has stuck with me.

At first, I thought Donne seemed pretty uptight, what with so much of his writing purposefully contrasting that of his Elizabethan contemporaries. Donne found most modern prose too smooth, too easy, and it was his aim to experiment with the concept of “dislocation”, peppering his writing with abrupt starts and stops, metaphors and ironies.

(You know, all of the good literary stuff that keeps us lazy readers on our toes.)

Check the below portion of the poem:

So let us melt, and make no noise,

   No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;

‘Twere profanation of our joys

   To tell the laity our love.

 

Moving of the earth brings harms and fears,

   Men reckon what it did and meant;

But trepidation of the spheres,

   Though greater far, is innocent.

 

Dull sublunary lovers’ love

   (Whose soul is sense) cannot admit

Absence, because it doth remove

   Those things which elemented it.

 

But we, by a love so much refined

   That our selves know not what it is,

Inter-assured of the mind,

   Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

 

Our two souls therefore, which are one,

   Though I must go, endure not yet

A breach, but an expansion.

   Like gold to airy thinness beat.

I will never, ever tire of the metaphor of the golden thread that ties Donne and his wife Anne together, and my favourite line is: “So let us melt, and make no noise.”

So let us melt and make no noise.

What a perfect image. Such a perfect thought.

It’s one that I think about often as I start a little bit of a new life here in Nova Scotia.

I am melting. And making just a little bit of noise.

I am thinking about healthy ways that I can keep busy. When I spend too much time in my head, I start to think about all of the things that are wrong and bad with me. I think about how much I weigh, or how little I am doing with my life, and why I am not writing more or running faster. I go rope-a-dope with myself as hard as I can until I am left unable to stand.

So last night I wrote out a list of goals that I want to achieve during my time here on the east coast. I found a small note pad of paper and wrote them out on a single sheet, before tucking them away in a chest of drawers.

I figured this would be the closest I could possibly get to burying them in the backyard, like some kind of elementary school time capsule.

(I think about a lot of weird things sometimes. Like, for instance, do you think if someone ran over the person who one week prior ran over their husband that anyone would believe that she didn’t do it on purpose? P.S. This didn’t actually happen and I am not this woman.)

Part of my three-month plan is to go to bed each night having written out a few things that I would like to achieve over the course of the next day. So today saw me signing up for a gym membership and registering myself for two ten kilometer races – one in September and one in October. They are both races put on by MEC and I figure they’re good bets because I’ve loved running their Vancouver series. My cousin David has also started running and he has his own goals of completing a 10k race, so he’ll be joining me on the start line.

It’s always so much nicer to have someone with you on race day.

Another catalyst for these goals is that fact that I don’t have many friends here, and I figure if you don’t have friends, you might as well just get really fit (and hopefully make some friends in the process.)

But mostly I am really trying to melt.

I am trying to be nice to myself.

I am trying to melt.

And to make good noise.

Speak low if you speak of love

Marc and I started dating the summer after I graduated from high school. For the past seven months we had wooed each other with the great passion unique only to teenagers – the passion that begets the most brilliant, if tragi-comedic memories.

We did our best to keep our new relationship status under wraps for the first few weeks.

This meant that we would stop holding hands if we ran into someone we knew on the street, and kind of tried not to make out in public.

Each time he would sleep over at the apartment I shared with my sister, and emerge, disheveled and blushing from my bedroom, Kate would take me aside and ask the same thing.

“So, like, you guys are dating, right?”

I would stare at the wall two inches above her head and shake my head.

“No Kate. We’re just friends.”

“Suuuuuuure,” she would respond. “Just friends.”

I told Marc that I wanted to be with him the first week of August 2003. I don’t know the date, but I do know it was the night that he cooked me tofu stir fry at his new place. His roommate was away, and he had asked me to come and eat dinner with him.

His wording was something along the lines of: “come over and help me warm my new abode.”

I knew that this was it. I was going to tell him that I wanted to be with him.

I was living in such emotional agony that I couldn’t concentrate on anything else in my life. Everything was imbued and coloured by such a high degree of physical discomfort and extreme angst. I laugh about it now, but at the time I really felt as though I would die if I had to spend one more minute in his company without touching him.

My sophomoric mind couldn’t make sense of what I was experiencing. I didn’t think he was “the one”. Marriage didn’t even cross my mind. But I knew that something was up. There was something about him that was tearing me apart, and it wasn’t just because he had amazing calf muscles and really good taste in books.

This boy had completely turned my life upside down and, as a firmly minted feminist, it wasn’t in my nature to allow myself to feel like this.

But there I was, intellectually, emotionally, and physically hot and bothered, and all I wanted to do was read new books, kiss new lips, and tell new tales.

I wanted to give my heart in exchange for his.

When I told him, in no uncertain terms, that I wanted to kiss him, and kiss him a lot, he responded in the politest, if most Victorian way.

“Oh!” He exclaimed. “Thank you!”

“Thank you?” I asked.

“THANK. YOU.”

Marc, being the paradigm of good manners and grace, made it clear that he felt the same way.

Our official (pre-wedding) anniversary is August 16th. We picked this date, seemingly randomly, but in truth because it was the night that we first parted ways as a freshly pressed couple. We were too raw to understand that two weeks apart wouldn’t kill us, and too feverish to properly see the magic that had already begun to sprout in the corners and cracks of our new love.

We said our goodbyes at a corner intersection, at 1 AM, three blocks away from his basement home.

I choked back tears, unable to properly articulate the mess of emotions careening about my heart. Marc, stoic as hell, told me that he: “would write.”

Again, I laugh now, reliving this memory. We were such beautiful Austenian caricatures: our youth, our sincerity, our unapologetic belief in the truth of our truth. How I hold this moment close, and remember the weight of my walk home. My soul, confused and heartsick.

There have been many times over the course of our thirteen years that Marc and I have spent time apart. Summers when I lived and worked in Halifax, and autumns when he built Olympian sites.

We’ve traveled separately, visited foreign lands; made memories of our own.

On June 28th of this year, we rang in eight years of marriage.

We were nine hours, and 7,500 kilometers apart.

I, in Tallinn, Estonia, and he, in our little home in New Westminster, BC.

I have been thinking so much about my time in that city, and how I immediately fell in love with this exquisite piece of the Baltic world.

That Tallinn is a piece of magic, there is no question. But knowing that I was there on a day so important to my personal narrative – well, I cannot pretend that this did not catalyze my immediate love affair with the city.

As I write this, I stand on the cusp of a three-month absence from Marc. Like that night, so long ago, standing paralyzed on that street corner, I am ruminating on time spent away from each other. Me, on the east coast and he, here on the west.

Only this time I am less confused. Less angsty. Less heartsick and heartbroken.

I am sad, but I am alive. Afire.

We are life. We are love. Simply. That is our truth.

And those calf muscles?

Yep. Still there.

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Parting is such sweet sorrow

And thus, we have reached the end of our journey.

I, wrapped in blankets; my mother, asleep in the bed next to mine.

We are party animals, but only in the hours betwixt 7 AM and 9 PM.

Tonight, a large glass of red wine has left me slightly light headed and doubly giddy, but mostly content.

Copasetic.

The past ten days have been so filled with magic and adventure, with brilliance and awe. I am beyond stuffed with memories and am bursting with dreams.

We arrived in Stockholm yesterday morning.

After dropping off our luggage at the hotel, my mum and I spent the morning walking all around the city, beginning in the Norrmalm district, before moving on to Galma Stan.

We visited the parliament and the royal palace and the king’s garden esplanade. The Stockholm triathlon was taking place, and we had a chance to cheer on the athletes as they completed the running portion of their races.

I love being able to play bystander to athletic events: watching competitors is always so incredibly inspiring, and it reminds me about the amazing travel opportunities afforded to athletes who compete in different events around the globe.

I really need to start looking into the international half-marathon circuit, stat.

From the race we strolled along the many waterfronts, marvelling at all of the beautiful streets and outdoor restaurants.

Stockholm truly is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. I have such a hard time describing the effect it has on me and the way it makes my heart quiver and quake.

The sunlight on the Riddarfjorden is like a million tiny fireworks exploding in unison.

The apartments and hotels that border the waterways are all unique and breathtaking in their architecture and colour; they are small but timeless castles, cloaked in history. One might imagine that their inhabitants do not age, they only grow cleverer with each passing day.

The people are tall and beautiful.

The men have amazing beards. Then women have amazing hair.

Everyone rides bicycles in suits.

After eating lunch outside of the city library, we slowly strolled back to the hotel, and I purchased a dress and a skirt.

This morning, I woke early and strapped on my running shoes. The moment I caught my first glimpse of Stockholm’s waterfront, I knew that I would regret if I left never having had the chance to run throughout the city.

My route took me twelve kilometers, across the downtown core, along waterways, and through parks. The entire time I was out, I had to keep reminding myself that my life was real; that I was here in this glorious city, doing one of my most treasured loves.

I wish sometimes that I ran with a phone, even though I know I never will. I want those moments to exist exactly as they should: transient and fleeting, gone in a flash and yet exquisitely burned in my memory and heart.

Today my mum and I walked the entire length of Djurgarden, an amazing public garden the boasts canals, amusements parks, palace residences, sprawling greenspace, running trails, and much more. After walking for over four hours, we replenished our spirits and energy stores with cookies, cake, and tea.

Afterwards, I dropped my mother off at the hotel, and I continued on walking the length of the city.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the entire trip. All of the places we visited, all of the things that we did, all of the ideas we shared, all of the laughs we laughed, and most importantly all of the memories we made.

I thought about how we are made up of infinitesimal moments, seemingly too small to comprehend, and yet more powerful than we could ever know.

Life can seem arbitrary, or meaningless. I sometimes struggle with the systems and processes we have set up to govern society, and the enduring institutions that control those systems.

But to be so privileged to travel. To see the world. To open my heart to new places and people, to expand my mind and breathe new life into the spaces when existential cobwebs have grown sticky and dull.

What is such a life.

And to be able to do all of this with my mother – a woman of strength, intelligence, and bravery; who is a little bonkers, and a lot brilliant, and who says things like, “They must have a lot of big furniture here – like long beds and stuff. There’s definitely a demand for it” after seeing a particularly tall Swede walk by.

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I will never take this time for granted.

I am the luckiest girl in the world.