You were always a runner

"You were always a runner," said my aunt to me.

We were in the kitchen of my cousin's beach house celebrating the 4th of July the way my family celebrates every holiday: with lots of appetizers. Each year, the appetizers get a little greener, which works for me because I can't eat anything anymore.

My cousins, T and K, were training for a marathon and a half-, respectively. T, a trainer, was glowing and K looked a decade younger than the last time I'd seen him.

I felt, by comparison, fine--if a little sluggish. I'd gotten up for the train to Rhode Island before 5, and had been traveling for a big chunk of the day. I did not feel like someone who had ever been a runner.

"Nah," I told my aunt. "I was more into team sports than cross-country."

"But you used to go running everyday at the old house," she insisted. "You were always on your way out the door!"

"Yeah, well, that," I said, scooping up more guacamole, "was so I could get out of the house." 

A week and a half later, I went for my first real run in years.

My legs ached at first, the kind of ache that in recent years has seemed like a sign I should go slower, but I wondered what would happen if I tried the opposite approach. I asked my muscles to help me out. "You'll like this," I promised. They obliged. 

I alternated between a moderate jog and all-out sprints.

It's been perhaps a decade since I gave myself permission to sprint, really sprint. I can't remember the last time I ran without worrying about my bad ankle or the longterm stability of my knees. I just trusted that since my body seemed to want to sprint that it needed to sprint.

I realized what I'd told my aunt was only partially true. I had never liked racing the way I liked team sports. But this--running with no purpose other than to let my body to determine its own limits, its own start and finish--this, I loved. 

I ran partially into the park, then turned back to head for home. "It takes a muscle to fall in love" in my ears. My heart, lungs, legs: muscles, all.  

I ran where my muscles wanted to go, then I stopped at the local basketball court where some middle-school kids were playing. They were so much better than I had ever been or will ever be. I didn't mind.

The announcer had a cool and buzzy voice. "NOTHING," he'd say, every time someone missed a shot.

Earlier that week, I'd walked out of a yoga class because the air was so thick I couldn't breathe. We've been working with muscle for months now, meditating on muscle, contemplating what it did and how we used it.

When my muscle was asked to speak, it thought that was a stupid idea. "NO," it said.

As it turns out, my muscles don't want to explain themselves. 

They want to move.

They always have.

When I'm awake, I mostly move in circles. But when I dream, it's of the evenings I went further. When the light had begun to fade and I kept going anyway, just picked up the pace.

I ran under trees that formed a mile-long canopy, past the courts where no one played but me, where I kissed him, and him, and him, but mostly him. That's the difference between where I live now and where I lived then. Where I used to run, it was just me and the trees, and sometimes him. Now, it's me, the trees and everything else in the world.

But it's there I became a runner.

My feet ran a groove in the ground that could tell you how long I lived there, and how old I was when I left.