Monthly Archives: April 2012

Advance Excerpt from my Novel, Ripple

My writing partner, Renée Jacobson, tagged me with this snazzy (code word for shriek-inducing crazy) “meme” (code word for writing stunt?) called Lucky 7.  Like most things that get passed around, Lucky 7 has its own set of rules. Here’s what you are supposed to do:

Open your WIP (work in progress) and:

1. Go to page 77.

2. Go to line 7 on that page.

3. Copy the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs as they are written.

4. Tag 7 authors who are also have Works in Progress.

Without further ado, the following excerpt from Ripple, © April 29, 2012 E. L. Farris goes like this . . .

Helen thought back to the day she lost the baby.  Blood covered the bathroom floor and she knew she was hemorrhaging and needed to get help.  She crawled to the bedroom and grabbed the phone and called Richard’s office and no one answered.  She called his cell and it went straight to voicemail.  By this time, tears flooded her vision and mixed with the pool of blood forming beneath her and it took all of her fading strength to dial 911.   She knew she had to crawl downstairs to open the door or else the paramedics would be delayed by precious minutes waiting for the firemen to arrive and take an axe to the front door.  She slid down the stairs and got a finger on the lock and hit it and kept staring at the lock as the 911 operator yelled at her to, “Stay awake, honey,” while she waited for the ambulance to arrive.

Richard had shown up to the hospital a few hours later, all chastened and apologetic and barely sober and Helen never asked him what he’d been using.  She just asked him to leave and he had left.  He went home and took care of all the blood and paid for the carpets to be torn up and replaced and it was all done before Helen returned home three days later.  And they never spoke of it again.  Helen didn’t know why.

The only thing Helen detested more than funeral was blood.  Even so, the janitorial efficiency of Richard’s cleanup got under her skin.  It felt that with each ounce of blood and gore that vanished, so too did her last chance to bear a baby boy.  She never got a chance to say goodbye, or even touch her unborn son.  She didn’t try to explain any of this to Richard.  He had long since stopped listening.  Instead of trying to talk to him, Helen had immersed herself in her work.

She leaned over the counter and grabbed the metal-colored telephone that matched the kitchen appliances.  Fucking decorators.  Her first priority was to make sure Phoebe was accounted for, since there was no telling if Richard was up to taking care of anyone last night.  She needed to ask without it sounding obvious that she didn’t know where her daughter was or if her daughter had made it to school in the morning.  7:45.  Homeroom was at 7:35.  OK, this is like direct examining a hostile witness: ask the questions without them knowing I am asking.  She dialed the front office for McClintock and waited for a secretary to come on the line.

“McClintock Upper School.  How may I help you?”

Helen willed her voice to sound its most polished.  “Good morning Karen.  This is Mrs. Thompson, Phoebe’s mom.  I just got in from the redeye from California and realized that Phoebe may have left her science textbook home.  I wanted to leave a message for her just in case—also to let her know that I’m home and can drop by school with it if she needs me.”

Karen switched into efficient secretary mode.  “Sure thing, Mrs. Thompson.”  Helen heard papers rustling.  “Looking at her schedule, it appears that she is in math right now.  I’ll send a student down to class to let her know that you are home and can bring her book in if she needs it.”

Helen smiled into the phone.  “Thank you so much Karen.”  Helen waited for Karen to say goodbye before she dropped the phone back into its receiver.

Now she needed to figure out what to do and how to deal with Richard.  She needed a clear mind, so she grabbed the teapot and filled it with water.  She poured French Roast coffee beans in the coffee grinder and breathed in the invigorating aroma of fresh-ground coffee.  Then she poured the grounds into the French Press and, sorting through hazy thoughts as she leaned sleepily against the counter, she waited for the teapot to whistle.  It didn’t make sense to get Richard on the line when she was angry and tired.  There really wasn’t anything left to discuss anyway, and he’d be entering the courtroom in his bullshit black robes any minute and wouldn’t want to –or even be able to – take any calls.  He doesn’t want to talk to me anyway.  He’s got someone else; he’s always had someone else, and the sooner I realize he will never change, the sooner I will be able to move on and start a life without him.

•••

Here are the seven writers I hereby tag:

Astrea Baldwin

Deb Bryan

Stephanie Saye

She’s a Maineiac

Kasey Mathews

Trying God’s Patience

Sheila Burke




When Healing Makes Us More than the Sum of our Broken Parts

I glance at my ankle and rub my fingers over the protruding bones.  Two cuts divide the front of my lower tibia from the crowded bone depot where the ligaments and the tendons wrap and curl from the lower tibia to the 26 bones that make up my right foot.  Last Thursday a closet door tipped over and slammed into my ankle.  The swelling from the collision of wood and foot has gone down and the bruising has changed from blue to green and now to yellow.  I smile and rub the scar that runs between the two scrape-cuts.

The scar takes me back to a time many years ago when I fell in the rain and fractured that bone in two places.  When I fell, I dropped like a pile of bricks and I knew without a moment’s doubt that I wasn’t getting up anytime soon.  Adrenaline coursed through me and my blood pressure dropped like a falling barometer preceding a hurricane.  Fifteen minutes later, shaking from the rain and the shock, I rode in an ambulance to the county hospital and a fresh, rosy-cheeked doctor fixed me up and sent me home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The closet door didn’t break the same bone a second time.  They say that a fractured bone once healed, is stronger in the broken places, but I don’t know about that because my “ankle didn’t heal right,” as a podiatrist said a couple of years ago.  A sliver of bone is missing.  But it healed well enough I reckon.  I run marathons on that ankle.

The two lines that form this scar remind me of the scars that constitute my inner world.  When my parents brought me into this world, I was whole and perfect: tabula rasa, unless you buy into that original sin thing (and I do not).  Life’s imperfect song dealt me blows and left parts of me scattered, sometimes shattered.  Doctors and psychologists and therapists diagnosed and treated me and out of their care I wove a mosaic of healing.

To bind together my broken pieces, I had to shine a spotlight on my memories.  For years, I hunted through the debris.  It wasn’t easy.  It took courage because I was so afraid.  I don’t know what scared me more: getting hurt from what I found while searching through the wreckage or not finding the missing pieces that constituted my past.

You see, I thought that if I couldn’t locate all of my missing parts, I never could put myself back together again.  And so I searched for years through the rubble.  In my hand I held fragments of memories.  I mourned what I found; but even more, I mourned what I did not find.

I was afraid that if I did not dig from the internal devastation all of my broken parts, I would never be whole again.  But I was wrong.  There is magic inside me. To my surprise, I also came upon parts of me that sparkled and shimmered.  I don’t know exactly where I found it.  I know not for certain from whence it comes.  I don’t know who put it there, but I have a theory.  Is there anything beside God’s grace that can explain how broken fragments can make me more than the sum of my parts?

I touch the scar on my ankle a lot.  It reminds me that the missing slivers reattached to what already existed inside of me.  And for this, and to Him, I am eternally grateful.




Stormy Friendship

I made it to the lake for a ten-miler at 6 p.m., and a mile or two into the run, dark storm clouds raced like black war horses from the western side of the water.  The wind picked up and as I ran, with steady gait and an aching ankle along the dirt path, I heard a single clap of thunder and I shivered.  The path wove through a thick forest, the trees rustled, and the opening between the tall trees whipped the whistling, howling wind into a frenzy of volume.  I tried to calm my racing heart.
Stormy clouds rising over marshes

I needed this run for peace of mind, and yet the tumultuous gray clouds and thunderclaps manifested the inward conflict that raged inside me.  I could not get away from torment and angst.  But I gritted my teeth and continued running, and I tried to smile as I whispered, “Losers don’t run ten miles in the rain.”

As I ran, I reflected on the friend I had just lost and tried to sort through how I felt about her.  Of all the friends I have ever had, she was the one who most resembled the storm clouds racing over the lake: exciting, dramatic and full of risk.   When she called or wrote me, I held my breath, unsure, a little frightened, but always hopeful that after the storm, the sun would shine its brilliant rays.  I love thunderstorms most of the time, just as I loved this friend . . . until I got fried one too many times.

Yet again, things turned dark between us.  What started as a disagreement fast led into name-calling and moved quickly into a profanity-laced tirade in which she called me “a fucking fool” with a mental disorder.  This wasn’t the first time we’ve argued, but as I tossed and turned that night, I realized that lightning does strike in the same place twice.  And it was my responsibility to avoid the path of the storm she raged and wrought upon me.

Darkness falling over the lake.

Don’t get me wrong.  I bear plenty of blame for what went wrong in this friendship.  I have done plenty of stupid things with this person and I have a lot of regrets.  I wish I could go back and undo some of my mistakes.  I said too much; I was too vulnerable; and at times, I acted too needy.  So be it.  The very nature of friendship is this process of opening ourselves up to getting hurt and allowing ourselves to need and to care a little too much.  But as much as I am sorry for what I did wrong, I am more sorry that I kept trying to maintain a friendship with someone who made me feel cruddy too much of the time.

One of my dear friends, Renée Jacobson (who happens to be my writing partner) recently wrote a blog about toxic friends.  We all have had friends who bring us down or make us feel worse, rather than better, inside.  I reckon that perhaps I was as toxic for this friend as she was for me.  Maybe we triggered each other.  Maybe I brought the worst out in her.  That’s why I couldn’t sleep: I worried that I failed at friendship and that I had earned her contempt and hatred.

And yet I fought against these feelings of self-defeat.  The words she used against me felt so familiar, so right, and yet so wrong, and I knew why.  This is how my parents talked to me.  And no matter what I did to bring on their wraith, I did not deserve to be called epithets like “a goddamn slut” or “fat failure” or “little piece of shit loser.”  No one deserves that.  Maybe I sought her out because she felt familiar, like a dirty old blanket that a child wraps around herself because it smells like home.  All I know, and I don’t know much, is that it is time to bury this blanket and run free of what it represents.

That next day, while I was running, and for a moment, I thought about turning back.  But there was something about the rain beating down on me, and persevering through the elements that brought me back to my better angels.  The rain struck a chord deep inside me and after a while, it washed away her words.  And as my tears fell, I ran onward, strong and proud.  I let go of the thunder and the storm and the final sentences she had written to me, and I let her go.

Water washing over the land.

Have you ever had a friendship go wrong?  Where were you when you realized it and how did you let that friendship go?




The Sound of Silence

          To kick off a new guest post series, I have asked my friend Marian to talk about a difficult time where she went through Hell, so to speak. I am overjoyed that she is kicking this off for us because her story, as you will see, is a wonderful one.  

           Marian is a happily married writer who lives in Southern California.  She married her best friend almost twelve years ago and together they have three crazy children.  Her mantra, “Just Keep Swimming” is also the title of her blog.  “I live one day (more like one hour) at a time just keeping myself and my family afloat.” With three children, ages 7, 5, and 4, this is not always an easy feat.

The Sound of Silence

          I gave birth to a healthy, beautiful baby girl. Our time in the hospital was a blur of nurses coming in and out of my room. I felt so secure and confident as a first time mom that I refused to let my daughter spend any time in the nursery. I was convinced it was my job alone to answer her calls to duty.
          I spent time awake in the middle of the night in the hospital with her. As I sat with her in the darkness, I heard the babies from the rooms around me screaming through the night. Michael and I pitied the other moms and reveled in our sweet baby. She seemed content and peaceful. In those first nights I felt blessed and I felt smug.
          Unfortunately, we left that sweet contented child at the hospital and took another baby home. This new baby spent the entire first night at home squalling for hours. I was being punished.
          I thought I was prepared. We had collected a mini-arsenal of mommy reading materials. I had taken a class about caring for newborns. But there is nothing that can prepare you for a healthy baby who screams for six hours straight every single night for 3 straight months. Nothing prepares you for a colicky baby. Nothing. Nada. And Josie had a textbook case of colic.
          At first, her colic presented an inconvenience. When we went out to eat, we would eat in shifts because Josie would cry through dinner. The screaming grew from inconvenient to annoying, frustrating, tiring, grating, and intense. I found it harder to answer these calls of duty. We tried every colic “cure” known to Eastern, Western, and Places In Between medicine. Our new normal was her screaming from 4:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. every single night.
          One evening while taking my turn eating I caught it: the sound of silence. Michael walked into the kitchen. Josie screamed. He left the kitchen. Silence ensued. Turning the corner I saw it–my sanity. Sitting on a large blue exercise ball, bouncing up and down with Josie in his arms was my savior. I don’t know what prompted him to do that, but from that night on we took shifts on that ball for as long as she needed us to. Then one day she didn’t need it.
          Michael, my three kids and I all laugh about this story now. We laugh about our bouncing and Josie’s crying that seemingly never ended. That is the beauty of our big blue ball. It served as a lode stone for peace and now as a reminder of when we made it out of Hell. I knew before Josie was born that she would not be my only child. As difficult as my first infant was, I would not to be deterred from having another. I was given a baby with colic because I could handle it, get over it, and move on, and not just as punishment for my smugness in a dark hospital room.



Social Media: A Defense of Facebook

A few friends of mine have quit Facebook in much the same way that the characters in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged departed from their corporations and all-too public lives in search of fulfillment.  I, on the other hand, have often left the brick and mortar world around me in search of meaning and connection to others via social media.  I do not question the “Hands-Free” movement; indeed, I frown too when drivers drive while distracted or diners eat while staring at their iPhones and iPads.  I don’t want to be that mother who misses out on the milestones of her own children’s lives because she gets lost inside a virtual world that she carries around in her pocket.

Rewind two years.  I glared at the phone and prayed for it to ring and it almost never did.  I was too shy to pick the receiver up and call anyone, so I felt lonely.  From the moment I traded in my Audi TT for A Volkswagen Passat and bore my first child almost nine years ago, I lived with this searing, cold, sickening loneliness born of intellectual and often physical isolation.  One day, I prowled the hallways of a downtown “BIG LAW” firm; a day later, I stared at the twinkling lights rotating around my daughter’s Winnie the Pooh mobile.  Each time the mobile stopped rotating and playing the same ditty, I would twirl it up and replay it again, until the tune felt as familiar as my social security number.

I still remember that little song and like so many other things from the last several years, it makes me feel happy and sad at the same time.  As an ex-lawyer who had never changed a diaper, the initiation into motherhood was messy, stinky and sudden.  I went from typing legal briefs and addressing judges in the formalistic language of “Your Honor” and “May it please the Court” to singing “The Noble Duke of York” out of tune to a captive audience of babes and toddlers.

For a few years, I lost myself.  My day and my friendships with other mothers revolved around the playgrounds and the preschools our children frequented.  And these friendships took on no more depth than an after school TV special.  In the past, lacking real connections to other women didn’t bother me because I had a career and a life outside the home.  I had a point.  I had value, independent of the children I loved so very much.

And then it changed, gradually and then all at once.  Social media drove me out of my claustrophobic four walls and helped me rediscover myself.  How, you ask, could virtual relationships help a lonely woman?  And how can a relationship born of the Internet result in authentic connections or mean more than ones engendered by “real life?” In my case, Facebook helps me to connect to other people all over the world who share something much more important than our zip code: common interests in writing, art and running.

Facebook benefits me as a writer even more than it helps me connect with and make friends with like-minded people.  If I cannot find a word for a passage in a blog post I am creating, I can ask those kind souls who follow my Facebook Page Running from Hell with El and get a quick answer, a smile and a joke.  Some of these online connections run deep.  For example, I met my writing partner, Renée Jacobson, via Facebook and she has become both a dear friend and an incredible source of support, advice and help to me as I work on my novel, Ripple.

Most of you know that I am writing Ripple and that I hope to give birth to it by the end of the year.  I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit that I also hope that many of the Facebook Page administrators with whom I interact will help me market my finished product.  And while I understand that not every person who follows me on Running from Hell with El will buy my book, perhaps some of them will.  In other words, Facebook benefits me on a personal and potentially professional level and for this I am eternally grateful.

Facebook is the main form of social media I use, but it is not the only one.  I tweet on Twitter and I pin on Pinterest, but I am far from expert at using either social media source.  For an expert view on how to use Twitter, please see Nina Badzin’s invaluable article, “Why I follow You on Twitter (and Why I Don’t).”  To discover the many benefits offered by Twitter to writers in particular, please do check out Kristen Lamb’s Blog.  And for an amazing tutorial on the professional benefits offered to writers and artists via Pinterest please see August McLaughlin’s Blog.

In the meantime, I love to hear from you!  How do you use social media and how does it benefit you?  Would you like to escape from the endless immersion of social media to the mountains or do you see infinite frontiers of hope and opportunity when you scan the social media landscape?




Living like a Character from an Anne Tyler Novel

7:10 a.m. The alarm goes off and I stumble around in search of the phone ringing. And then a door slams and the children’s toilet makes its howling jet engine sound and I glance at the alarm clock and hit the snooze button but turn on static instead. I am not thriving just surviving on five hours of sleep. Jet planes flying overhead and a nagging concern over a public fight with a friend kept me awake until 2 a.m.

7:15 a.m. I do not hear any bickering or arguing children and the howling toilet has quieted down so I sit in front of my iMac and scan the 50 messages in my in-box and right away I find the problem child e-mail. It’s from a woman I barely know and she very politely tells me that I forgot to link to her blog on a project we collaborated on yesterday. My heart sinks. I spent over an hour assembling links but I must have missed her website . . . I write her back and apologize and promise to fix it and I do. A voice, an old voice, starts to whisper of failure and I frown and answer with a silent reproach.

7:20 a.m. I can still taste the Colgate on my teeth and then my daughter runs into my bedroom screaming, “Mom, our toothpaste is broken,” so I give her mine.  “Wake up, Ben,” I murmur and hug Jim, who is still wearing pajamas.  “Come on, Jim, put that away,” I order, and nod at his maroon Nintendo DS. He smiles, chubby cheeks still rounded like they were when he was a Baby Jim, and I grab the rank smelling overnights from the children’s blue and yellow bathroom and ignore the trail of blue toothpaste spread like Hansel and Gretel crumbs along the tile floor. Ben swallows his medicine and gives me a high-five when he keeps it down. This is Ritalin Day 6.

8:15 a.m. I check my Facebook Page and share the blog of the woman whose link I had forgotten, and this makes it easier for me to breathe. As I sip my coffee, I find a post that takes me to task for something that I said yesterday. Basically, I issued a crappy apology when I was still angry. This anonymous person said, “This particular post, with the caps and emphasis makes it seem like a totally sarcastic/ NON apology.” Tears rise to my eyes. Guilt laced with anger and confusion floods me. She or he was right, but I had already owned it. I issued a real apology and spoke to the friend and we hugged it out.

And now what can I do, aside from agree that, “yes, my first apology sucked, but I made up for it?” I consider shutting my page down. My public persona is killing me and I want to hide. Little El starts to howl as loud as the children’s broken toilet and I try not to listen because she is screaming, “I am a failure.” To that I answer, “No, no I am not.”

10:30 a.m. I look up directions to my new therapist’s office and enter into a full-on neurotic pout. I don’t want to go. She sounded dead on the phone when I talked to her: lifeless, with no inflection in her voice and not even a hint of a smile. And their disclaimer is all lawyerly and cold and it warns that they “They are not a crisis center” and that clients should “not call during non-business hours.” And to top it all off, we must provide our credit card information on the intake forms. If we don’t pay our bills in a timely fashion, they will charge the full amount and the whole thing makes me feel like the plastic digits on my Visa card. Hard. Unfeeling. As if I do not matter.

10:55 a.m. I call a friend and leave a neurotic message whining about my new therapist’s disclaimer. As I am hanging up, the land line rings.  It is a phone number I memorized long ago: 703 … This is the phone number to my children’s elementary school. “Mrs. Farris? I have Ben sitting next to me. He chewed on a bead and got it stuck in his tooth.”

“A what? A bead?” I splutter.

“ You must come pick him up and take him to the dentist.” I groan. My new, no-good therapist works in Vienna, a solid 25-minute drive from Burke. My husband almost shouts when I call him: “They need to take care of this crap and stop calling us!” And I roll my eyes, grab the forceps and run up to school to remove the damn bead myself.  If you want to know why we own forceps, really want to know, ask me about Jim and the time he ate the pine needles off the damn Christmas tree.

12:05 p.m. I drive up to a residential house and I realize I cut and pasted the wrong address into Google Maps, but when I call the new, no-good therapist to ask for better directions, she does not answer. Over and over again, I rehearse saying, “I am never late! I am so sorry,” but it sounds lame and even though I navigate to her office via Interstate 66 and Nutley Road, I know deep in my soul that the universe has conspired to keep me from seeing the new therapist. Trust your gut, El, I keep thinking; instead, I pull up in front of her office 15 minutes late.

12:15 p.m. I grab the aluminum handle and twist it until the door to Suite 4 in a tiny brown office building creaks and opens. I enter a narrow, dark, dim-lit vestibule and look for direction. There is a door in front of me and a door to my left. In front of me is a sign: “please flick the switch until the light comes on for the person you are visiting.” I lean over and try not to touch the light switch too close because everything in the office feels dirty and tainted. I wait, and try to take a breath but I don’t want to breathe in any of the air in the office.

I try to tell myself something funny and to look cocky and brilliant and sure of myself but my hand, the one holding the disclaimer, is shaking and the papers make this rustling sound like a breeze tapping against dry maple leaves and I cannot imagine where the hell the therapist is because she does not enter the narrow, dark, dim-lit vestibule. She must not want to be there either, so I nudge toward the door. As long as no one spots me before I turn the handle, then I will make it. I will be safe, and free, and tucked into the black leather seats of my Mazda CX-9 with the seat heaters running on full blast.

A minute later, I pull out of the parking lot and laugh. My day can only get better, and if it doesn’t, I’m okay with that too. After all, as my friend said last night, “superheroing is sweaty business,” and so is living like a character from an Anne Tyler novel.




Better Living Through Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups: Shimmering Water, Tanks, Wheels and Little Boys

It sits on a blue and white china saucer and I contemplate its corrugated grooves.  Each groove forms a perfect line that intersects a circle.  The grooves look like the wheels on old light blue BMW one of my friends once drove back in the late ‘80’s.  She named that old light blue BMW with the nifty wheels “Hamlet” because it could never make up its mind if it was going to start, and once it did start, keep running.  It had a strange habit of lurching like a tottering old man when you missed a gear on a downshift.

My eyes go back to the blue and white china saucer and I think some more.  Perhaps it is not so much like Hamlet; after all, once the factory churns out the hockey-puck like piece of chocolate, it appears uniform and undifferentiated, like one more robotized modern creation.  I pick it up and hold it in my hand and grimace when it begins to melt in my small, tanned from running so many miles in the winter sun fingers.  Melted chocolate makes my insides churn with disgusted anticipation, so I set the three-dimensional almost-crenelated cylinder back down and wipe my fingertips on a lace napkin.

As I rest my chin on my left hand, I survey what looks like the track on a tank. It might even resemble an accordion without the blood-curdling noise rendered by that atonal instrument.  Does an accordion belong at a wedding I wonder?  This tasty slice of modern Americana does not fit in with tuxedos and silky white wedding dresses.  I would rather eat this modern concoction than listen to accordions or dress in a fancy, itchy constraining evening dress.

But again, I digress.  What else does this fine chocolate remind me of?

The ridges and grooves resemble the orderly ripples created by wind blowing on the lake water where I run almost every night.  Somehow nature follows factory, or is it the other way around?  Does a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup imitate the water shimmering and pinching together in the most orderly of tiny waves?  Does a blue heron landing on the middle of the rippled water ruin nature’s perfection?

I shrug and then I grin. Will Jim and Ben ruin the medium brown chocolate peanut butter’s symmetry when they take bites of the Reese’s Cups?  Blue herons are elegant, and in a way, so too are Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, for they represent the dramatic collision of chocolate and peanut butter . . . gah! I got distracted! The boys have stolen my Cups!

For more on Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, please visit the following pages:
Peg-O-Leg’s Ramblings

The Good Greatsby

Unlikely Explanations

The Big Sheep Blog

Childhood Relived

Go Guilty Pleasures

The Monster in your Closet

Fix it or Deal

Play 101

K8edid

Lenore’s Thoughts Exactly

Life in the Boomer Lane

Fifty Four and a Half

The Byronic Man Blog

Thoughts Appear

The Ramblings

She’s A Maineiac

Spilled Ink

And I leave you with one final thought: you mixed my chocolate in your peanut butter!!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJLDF6qZUX0




Pride Matters: Chasing Miles and Time

I squinted into the darkness and tried to read my Nike sports band and my Droid 2.  3.02 miles.  69.78 miles in five days.  11:53 p.m.  It was time.  In one minute I would open the thick laundry room door.  In my mind, I rehearsed kicking off my shoes, dashing upstairs, and uploading my miles into the second slot on the back of my computer, which was the most reliable one. If all went right, the three miles would register in the Team Bash challenge, resulting in a narrow victory of 0.1 mile.

At 11:54 p.m., I tapped my mouse, plugged the portable zip drive from my watch into my iMac, and Firefox connected me to the Nike running site.  I was in.   Or was I?  We trailed by almost three miles.  I texted by dear friend and virtual running friend and she wrote back, “I’ve been watching the computer screen ever since I uploaded my 7 miles at 11:45 p.m.  Nothing has registered.  Are you sure you uploaded?”

11:57 p.m.  My head burned and my heart started to race.  Where were the missing miles?  We were losing by 2.92 miles.  “Damn you Nike,” I howled.  Please send my miles to the team challenge.  I could do nothing else.  The miles had left my zip drive and transported via the Internet to the main Nike Server.  Proof of my run showed on my Nike profile but not in the challenge.  The seconds ticked at frantic pace, and then for an instant, time stopped.  My mind drifted back a few hours, when we still had time.

6:30 p.m.  After Easter Dinner, I smiled at my husband.  “I am going to do whatever it takes to win this thing,” and he grinned back at me in silent agreement and respect.  We’ve been married a long time, and when he met me, I was, as I am now, a runner.  The passage of my life is measured as much in miles as it is in minutes.  In fact, I have the uncanny ability to know what time it is when I am running.  The synapses in my brain that measure miles and minutes have been finely honed by years of calculating the one based on the other.

8:30 p.m. I limped upstairs and uploaded six more miles, which brought Sunday’s total to 17 miles.  My hip throbbed.  Both Achilles Tendons were swollen and painful to the touch.  I sat down in front of my computer and opened the Nike site via Google Chrome.  All day long, we had traded the lead with the Speed Zombies.  Now the lead stood at 7 miles.  I need to stop fighting and take care of myself.

“Hey.” I texted one of my non-running besties. “I need you to hide my sports watches.”  This is a drill we go through every once in a while after I’ve logged too many miles in a Captain Ahab-like pursuit of another runner in a virtual challenge.  I don’t care if my friends think I’m nuts; I don’t care if I am in fact nuts.  All I really care about is the silence that enters my mind as my feet tap the pavement.  I run so that I can feel still.

After I ripped off my sweaty running gear, I stood under a hot shower and ran shampoo and conditioner through my long, straggly dark blond hair and luxuriated in the smell of the Dove soap and Noxzema facial cleanser coating my light skin.  Clean again, I kissed my three children goodnight and curled up with ice packs and a bowl of ice cream and watched ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.  I wonder if Sara is running yet.  “Josh Hamilton steps to the plate.”  Is Joe from the other team running right now?  “If Josh can get his off-the-field habits under control . . . “ I want to win this thing.  I dropped my bowl into the sink and glanced at the clock.  It’s 10:25 p.m.  I hate waiting for the results.

The announcers droned on and I texted my friend, “Do you mind when I run crazy like this?”

She wrote back immediately. “I don’t know, why do you do this again?”

“Depends.”

“SO it depends on the context.  On why you do this.”

This was an easy question and I exclaimed, eyes flashing with excitement, “Pride.  I race for pride.  No more, no less.”

“In that case, no, I don’t mind.  It is noble.”

I typed in a grinning emoki.  “Can I have my watches back?”

“No.”

“Please?”

“No.  What will happen if you lose?”

“I will be lost if I cannot try and I lose.  And thus miserable.”

“That’s no good.”

“If you give me my watches, I will do your taxes tomorrow,” I pleaded.

“Done!”

“Done?”

10:45 p.m.  Sara had already walked 3 miles.  “I can’t believe we’re doing this,” she wrote.  I laughed.  We were too tired to run, so we were walking and texting as we walked.  We knew the other team was also walking in the pitch-black neighborhoods in the sundry suburbs where they resided.

11:04 p.m.  I ran into my neighbor, a retired soldier and wise ass.  He and I walked around the block and reminisced about road races.

11:15 p.m.  I checked my Facebook Feed.  Joe had loaded five more miles.  I cursed and told Sara.  And a minute later, I wrote, “We can still win.”  She replied, “Yup.”  I smiled.  She wanted to win as badly as I did, so I was not alone.

11:20 p.m.  I set my Droid on top of the washer and jogged upstairs to check the standings.  A lump in my throat formed when I saw we trailed by ten miles.  It wasn’t possible to catch up, was it?  No matter.  I had to try.  I tiptoed around while I switched into shorts and a light t-shirt.  I got outside and texted Sara: “I am running now,” and she said she was too.

Exhaustion peeled away, replaced by adrenaline.  My Achilles did not ache.  My hip did not throb except on hills.  Land midfoot, stand tall and move fast, El.  Land gentle, and keep moving.  I needed to complete 3 miles in less than 35 minutes, and as I raced the clock, I tracked my progress and kept moving and in between steps I thought about running ultras and the idea felt harmonious to me.  The moon rose and appeared through the clouds and in the moment I was in the lightness of my being.

11:40 p.m.  I was at the 1.7-mile mark.  I had enough time to complete the three miles.  Sara told me she had 6.2 miles and I typed back, “You need seven.”  Five minutes later, she replied, “Got it.”  And then it came down to me: the last runner on the board.  I ran alone, pursued by a shadow and a ticking clock.  The miles measured the dwindling minutes and the dwindling minutes limited the miles I could run.

Twenty minutes later, Sara and I sat, separated by 3,000 miles, and watched the clocks on our computers hit 12 a.m. EST and 9 p.m. Pacific, respectively.  The standings remained stuck; the miles not yet transferred into the challenge.  Several hours later, the missing miles showed up but it was too late.  The rules allow for no exceptions and we were okay with that.  Every runner lives and dies by the clock.  We can move the miles and we can chase time but we cannot change time.

Vince Lombardi once said that “Winning isn’t everything; it is the only thing,” but I disagree.  We ran for our team and we ran for pride.  Pride matters.  It always matters.




Hanging from a Ledge: A Decision to Medicate

3:33 p.m. The phone rings. I grimace. My mother-in-law blurts out that she is “running just a few minutes late.” Our appointment with my son’s pediatrician, the aging but still brilliant Dr. Marple, is at 4:30 p.m. and we have to drive through the thick of DC traffic with its never-ending interstate construction project to get there on time.

“Madeline get in the truck now!” She is sitting at the kitchen table, nose buried in her fifth book of the day. She ignores me, and I grit my teeth and hear the seconds passing. I can’t take another week of phone calls from school, but this isn’t my daughter’s fault. After several seconds tick past, she glances at me, “What? Where are we going?” As she shuffles past me, one foot bare, the other clothed in a bright-colored sock, I giggle and remember how much I adore her. “I’ve told you several times where we’re going,” I grumble.

3:47 p.m. Her garage door is closed. “If she isn’t here in two minutes we gotta leave,” I mutter tersely. My husband swings out of the Mazda and walks toward the faux white columns in front of his parents’ taupe colonial and just then, the cell phone rings.  “Damn traffic.” She exclaims. “Be there in a minute.” I roll my eyes. Traffic in Northern Virginia is exactly the same every day and yet every single time we need to drop children off, she is late. She is family. It’s complicated.

4:09 p.m. We pull into the parking lot early. My husband reminisces about the new houses and office buildings that have shot up around our doctor’s office since the first time we took a newborn daughter to see Dr. Marple. The cascade of time leaves me gasping but I set the feeling aside.

Ben unclicks his seat belt and jumps out of the backseat. I clutch his long-fingered still-tiny hand and the three of us walk toward the playground a block away to while away the time. Ben hops every few steps and once we reach the dirt path, he scampers ahead to a fort-like brown playhouse and exclaims, “Woo! I like this!” My husband stands, arms akimbo, in a blue golf shirt and khaki shorts and in that instant I see him the way I saw him the first time we met. I don’t say anything. Instead, I walk away and pace around the park and think about the miles I will run later that night.

We push pass a crowd of newborn babies in the waiting room and from 4:30 to 4:50, we wait. Nurse Izzy asks Ben how he is, and he replies, “I am bad at school,” and my chest feels tight. “No, you are not bad at school. You’re doing your best.” I try to explain that we’re there to make it easier for him to do his best, but my man-boy is bored and a little nervous, so I let it go. I hear Dr. Marple’s cheerful as a morning whippoorwill voice ring out down the hallway, and I relax.

For another two minutes, we wait, but the door is open just enough to hear her rattle off a string of instructions to Nurse Izzy. “Vitamin D . . . liver function test . . . . thyroid test normal . . . oh, that mom is . . . yes, fax it . . .recheck in three months . . .” the proof of her professionalism floats in and out of earshot and I feel safe. We’re in good hands.

She walks into the room and I try to figure out why I feel so much affection for her. As I explain to her later on when she wonders aloud why so many nurses find her intimidating, “You could come across as intimidating, and surely you seem impressive, but the first time we met you was when you held our daughter and whispered, ‘Hello Peanut,’ and we saw your warmth. And since then, we’ve seen you vulnerable. I was there when you got the news about your mom, and you cried. And all of this made you seem no less brilliant and a lot more human.”

Before I deliver that pep talk, I note the ravages inflicted by time on our beloved pediatrician.  She wears a sleeveless scarlet, silk blouse and as hard as she works to maintain her body, she can do nothing about the accordion-like wrinkles that fold her neck or the liver spots mottling her bony hands. She was young once, and now she is old and the thought of it shouldn’t make me feel so sad but it does.

Dr. Marple is a native New Yorker and she talks almost as fast as I do, so we cover the latest developments in Ben’s behavior in ten minutes or less. Words fly and emotions remain guarded and that suits me. This isn’t about me; this isn’t about my husband. We’re the stewards for our son’s future but he is the pilot. So we hold his wings gently and try to teach him how to navigate.

As Dr. Marple listens, she rereads sections from Ben’s chart and repeats the phrase, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality,” and I groan and would take it back if I could but I cannot. My son often changes from angel to dark shadow, but would that I could draw a mental picture of how sweet and how pure of a heart he has. No matter. To help him, we must be honest about what is wrong, but sometimes hearing the litany of wrongs nauseates me. Ben is more than his good acts and bad deeds . . . and yet. And yet Dr. Marple listens to me describe my son’s behavior until her brown eyes flash and she frowns and snaps, “Enough. It is time to proceed.”

I breathe and I feel my husband breathe, but I don’t look over at him. I try to listen to Dr. Marple but my brain buzzes and I cannot focus on her waterfall of words. Ritalin and off-brand medications for ADHD and insurance companies and starting dosages and side effects and more forms and cardio workups and I know my husband is listening. I am not. In my mind’s eye I catch a glimpse of my son hanging by a thread to a ledge somewhere and yet I know, deep inside where it matters, that I will catch him before he hits the ground.




Spring Break is a Misnomer

Monday morning. 7 a.m.  EST.  Sparrows chirp outside my window.  It’s too early for damn chirping birds.

“Mom, you gotta wake up. Ben and I had a food fight,” Jim urges in his shatter-glass voice.

“Huh? What? Why? You what?”

“Threw Frosted Flakes on each others’ heads.”

“Huh? What? Why?” I groan, shifting my weight off my throbbing hip, “Why?”

“I don’t know. Sorry mom.”

Spring Break?  Spring Break is a misnomer.  I break out the vacuum cleaner and gripe until Ben wraps his arms around he and with a soulful look in his eyes exclaims, “I love you Mama! I’m sorry!” My mouth turns up, first on the left side, and then on the right. I grin and hug him back.

2:53 p.m. “For the seventh time, get in the truck NOW.” I holler, exasperated. I do not answer Jim’s question about our trip to the dentist. I am too busy avoiding the colorful line of bicycles parked in the middle of the driveway. Damn. One of these days I am going to take out the mailbox. I contemplate if taking three kids to the dentist on a azure-blue sky Spring day is such a sane idea.

4:37 p.m. My husband stands in front of the kitchen sink with paper towels and a plastic container.  “Did you know what they were doing outside, El?” I make my face look innocent and mumble, “No?” Madeline runs into the kitchen yelling, “Ew, get the boys away from me! They reek of suntan lotion.” Travis sets his suit jacket down and shakes his head. “Um, they sprayed suntan lotion all over one another and all over your truck. So now they’re going to clean it.” I say very little.

7:30 p.m. We walk the children until they drop, or so we threaten. It only takes an hour of walking and as we patter along, we reminisce about the time a couple of years ago the boys broke out the Ben-Gay. Unfortunately they did not wash their hands before they used the bathroom and then raced, yowling like cats into the bathtub.

11 p.m. It’s quiet. I thank God for the small things. But wait! This is too peaceful.

Tuesday morning. 7 a.m. “Mama! You gotta wake up. The bottom of the bucket broke and . . .” My head jerks up. I remember the time Ben and Jim sunk the titanic in the downstairs bathroom sink and the water exploded into a maelstrom of suds and mess and spilled on the floor. And then I smile, relieved. My daughter is talking about the blue bucket hanging from the maple tree, which contains a potion of some sorts. I grumble, “Come wake me in an hour. It’s too early.”

8:05 a.m. The garage door slams. My eyes flip wide open. I hear the sound of children laughing and yelling. I walk to the windowMy Jim, smirking and peer through the blinds and try to make sense of what I see. Three children run up and down the sidewalk in front of my home pulling suitcases. And then I look more closely. I recognize those children. They look a hell of a lot like me. And then one of them spots me and smirks at me. He is of course one of my children.

Spring Break is indeed a misnomer.

© April 3, 2012




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