RUNNING FOR MY LIFE
BY RACHEL HARRIS
Sample my writing and get a sense of who I am here.
Running for My Life
I’m overwhelmed. My thoughts, emotions, feelings, and sensations need to be released before they consume me. If left within, they will become a poison to my brain. They will infect my words and my actions. Clarity will come from the road, running to my heart’s content. There’s a race horse in my veins. Hooves fly through me until I feel the rumble, the pounding, the power in every recess of my body. My nerves feel everything. They flicker in anticipation. We’ve been here before. We’ve done this thousands of times. I know that I will crave the wind against my skin. I will feel heat in my fingers and toes. I will count the seconds until my blood is rushing through me at a pace that matches my stride. My breath is intentional, strong, fast, and measured. It will feel as if my lungs are on fire. I silence them by breathing deeply and slowly. My heart will be in my ears and trying to escape my chest. It will be sweet music; a symphony of efficiency. Sweat flies off of me and with it goes worry, tension, stress, and anxiety. My muscles flex, pull, and tighten. They're doing what I’ve asked of them. For this moment at least, this part of my life is working as it should. I feel pain, but it’s the kind of pain that acknowledges my life and existence. This pain is pure. It’s valuable. It’s cleansing. It’s my choice. It’s in my control. It gives me calm in this crazy life of mine.
The baby is screaming-again. He’s not officially a baby, but he’s the youngest of four boys, so he will always be my baby. At three and a half years old, he hates when I call him “baby”. He’s screaming because his bigger brother’s shadow is touching him. “How is this even a thing?” I wonder to myself. Now big brother is yelling at the top of his lungs because the baby is growling like a savage beast in retaliation for the shadow incident. It feels like there is nothing I can do to teach them to behave like civilized human beings. Yelling at them stresses us all out and I might as well be screaming into the wind. My voice seems to disappear, hushed by the storm as soon as it has left my lips. Corporal punishment works some of the time, but growling, touching shadows, and the myriad of other minor infractions don’t justify the rod. In these moments, under the crushing weight of responsibilities with no right answers, I want to run. Some days I want to run away from it all. But I know that I’d miss my crazy, wild kids within about two hours. So I run like I’m free; free for a few miles instead of hundreds or thousands.
At work I see my patient pacing her room. She’s young, she’s fit, she’s beautiful. Her eyes though are empty. They flicker with confusion, with fright, with searching, and with pain. She doesn’t recognize her favorite cousin. She doesn’t know where she is. She thinks she’s in love with the male nurse assigned to keep her safe as she wanders the ward. One happy day last week, she was riding on the back of her boyfriend's motorcycle when they were in an accident. She wasn’t wearing a helmet and suffered a head injury which has left her with a traumatic brain injury. Her family members force smiles and try to laugh at her ramblings. They're glad she’s walking and talking. Maybe she’ll be able to feed herself soon. The little steps of healing give them hope that someday her brain will heal and that she will be back with them. At this moment I want to run. I want to be reminded that I CAN run and to not take it for granted. I want to be forever grateful that my brain and my body do what I ask of them. For now at least.
It’s unbelievably hot. The kind of scorching heat you’ve only read about. My family asks me to describe it, describe the heat in the deserts of Iraq. I tell them “Turn your oven on to its highest setting, then open the door and lean into it.” They ask if the wind cools us down. I laugh spitefully. “No.” I replied. “That would be like standing behind a semi truck when it’s running on a hot July day. Plus, the wind kicks up the sand. That sand will make you want to claw out your eyes and your throat. I hate the wind.” The smells, the sights, the sounds of this country, they're all so foreign. It makes me feel lonely and out of place. Skype is finicky and the internet is unpredictable. The screen freezes on the faces of my family members. Thousands of miles away in what feels like a different world. My four year old doesn’t really want to sit still in front of the computer when he can hear his friends outside. He doesn't have much to tell mommy anyway. My ten month old has no idea who I am and is in need of a nap. My husband types out a message “I’m sorry. I’m going to go take care of them. Be safe, I love you.” I’m frustrated, but it’s nothing new. I need to pack for a mission anyway. My friends, the ones who are my family, the ones who I’d die for, are relying on me having all the medical supplies necessary to care for them in case of the worst. I’ve memorized their blood types. I know their age, weight and height. Just in case. I know the names of my driver’s kids. I’m friends with his wife. A switch flips in my mind. I go from wife and mother to soldier and medic. I’ll deal with the pain when I get home next year. I can’t afford to face it here. Not now. Now I need to focus, to train, to fight, and to survive. And I run. I run from the demons who are always over my shoulder, nipping at my heels. I run so that I can cry alone without fear of judgement. I run to stay lean, fit and strong. I run so that I’ll be better equipped to run from a very tangible, very real enemy on two legs.
I’ve heard it all. “Oh no. I HATE running.”, “Ugggg. Running is so boring. I don’t get it.”, “The only time I’ll be running is if someone is chasing me.” I get it. It’s not for everyone. But it is for me. It’s in every fiber of my being. It’s a salve to my soul. I crave it like the air I breathe. It’s one of the few things that’s mine alone. It’s just me, listening to the functions of my body as the miles pass by. It’s as if the sweat leaving my body is the literal stress and worry leaving my mind. When I’m done, a peace washes over me. At the same moment I’m tired and energized, I’m elated and calm. After years of running it still amazes me that something so simple can be such a powerful force in my life. It’s beautiful.