Hey, Joe Jeep? Wasn’t my neon pink running shirt bright enough for you? Didn’t my bright pink shoes negotiating the treacherous roads stand out? Perhaps you dislike the color pink. The two lanes of the road where you had to drive were clear and dry, but the sides of the road and shaded areas where the snow melts and then refreezes onto the road were really tough to navigate. Trying to run-walk up my quarter-mile hilly driveway was tough enough as I began my run, but you, in your negligence or stupidity, almost forced me to hit the ditch on a sunny day when no opposing traffic was present on a long stretch of flat road. Fortunately, I did not have to drop and roll into an ice-crusted snowbank that was at least as high as a barstool. I was cranky to begin with since it was 15 degrees out, and the wind chill made it feel like zero. In my quest to cover as much of my body as possible, I wore two pairs of running pants, two layers of shirts, a hoodie, a hat, and two pairs of gloves. Joe Jeep—what is your goal? To own the road? To prove your Jeep is bigger and better than my pinkness? We will see about that.
I confess that I got used to running without tempting the grille or side mirrors of a pickup or SUV when my husband and I headed to Florida in mid-January to enjoy the sunshine and warm temperatures. Although sidewalks are the worst thing in the world to run on, I found a nice 4-mile loop along A1A to run as I tried to acclimate to heat and humidity that made me sweat before I even turned on my iPod or MapMyRun. I tried running in the bike lane when I could, but there are a lot of serious bicyclists in Florida, so it was a losing battle. Sometimes I ran laps around the parking lot at my mother-in-law’s condo. Since three times around equaled a mile, I could really get going on the flat asphalt as long as no one backed out of a parking spot or someone walking a small dog to the potty/poop area did not allow little Puffy Poodle or Snarly-Boy to bite me.
The owners of these dogs or other folks walking laps around the parking lot were quite friendly. These folks, most likely in their seventies and eighties, repeatedly told me how fast I was. Whenever someone complimented me on my blazing speed, I would turn and say, “It doesn’t matter how fast you are as long as you are out here moving.” After spouting this off a few times and sprinting past a van filled with men going bowling, I realized I had started to believe I was indeed the “Fastest Girl in Town” with apologies to Miranda Lambert. I’m fairly certain her song is not about running.
On one of my sidewalk runs along A1A, I ran past a dead possum, practically the size of a birdbath, and on my return trip towards my mother-in-law’s condo and air conditioning about thirty minutes later, three crows that looked like oddly parked Volkswagen Beetles were ripping into the ever dwindling possum’s body. I jumped across the grassy area towards the bike lane about the same time a woman in a Tennessee t-shirt coming towards me did the same thing. On my run the next morning, just a few bones and hair were all that was left of the possum. The cycle of life and death is always present when someone is running the roads it seems.
There will be consequences, Joe Jeep, if you hit something and leave it to die by the side of the road, so if you could just move over a little bit when you pass by me as I try to run cautiously over the ice and snow-covered roads, I would greatly appreciate it. When spring arrives, I am certain you will splash me as you drive through the small streams of melting snow, and I most likely will mouth naughty words or turn my arms into windmills of disgust. But as long as winter’s grasp holds the roads in turmoil, please remember that I do not want to suffer the same fate as Mr. Possum or end up frozen in a snowbank like Jack Nicholson’s character, Jack Torrance in The Shining. I wonder what it would be like to run in a labyrinth-like frozen wonderland with a crazed man chasing me, but then, the fastest girl in town wouldn’t have a problem, would she?
Running on the icy/snowy/slushy roads near my house recently, dodging the snow plow truck guy who most likely thinks I am ridiculous, I realized how dealing with my SBT (Stupid Brain Tumor) for the past two-plus years has affected every aspect of my life. The drama of the grand mal seizure during the Zombie Run in Traverse City, Michigan, in 2011, learning I had SBT, undergoing Gamma Knife surgery (radiation to blast the tumor), and dealing with memory problems, emotions (“Cry Me a River,” indeed), and language issues (*^#^*) seemed to be a story I was ready to shed or at least shred into little pieces. As I listened to Hall & Oates’ words on my iPod, “Where do you dare me to draw the line? / You’ve got the body, now you want my soul,” I thought, hey, whoa, “I can’t go for that.” I needed to rethink my running strategies, face my fears, and set goals for running another 5K, 10K, or half marathon and not worry about waking up surrounded by Zombies at the side of the road. Time for a new game plan.
My one-year MRI in November 2012 showed that the tumor had shrunk a bit, but the edema was nasty and creating balance issues. My two-year MRI in November 2013 showed that SBT had shrunk a teeny bit more and the edema had “markedly decreased” since 2012. Since I had been feeling much better, I convinced my new neurosurgeon, Dr. Ma, to cut back on my anti-seizure medication since the dosage seemed to keep me in a perpetually stoned state and not in a good way. He scheduled me for an EEG, and on January 2nd, my son dropped me off at the hospital for my date with Angie and her electrodes. I sat in a very comfy lazy boy chair, feet up, blanket on, and waited while Angie dressed me up like some modern day Medusa, and she promised that the gel she used to stick the electrodes on my head would wash out easily. Two days later, I still felt like Cameron Diaz’s character in Something about Mary.
After a long series of tests to determine if I would have a seizure or perhaps slip into an alternate universe, Angie said she could see exactly where the radiation had zapped my head. Of course, I would have to wait for Dr. Ma to explain it all to me. I wondered if my brainwaves took a little detour around SBT as they guided me through my daily tasks. Was there still a possibility that I could have a seizure while running or watching NCIS? I anxiously awaited the results of my EEG.
My husband and I settled into the examination room and waited for Dr. Ma. Before long, he walked in wearing a very sharp suit. He informed me that I had passed all of my tests. The EEG did show electrical activities in the left frontal area of my brain that indicated the slight possibility of a seizure. Because of this, I would have to stay on my anti-seizure medication. He agreed to reduce the dosage even more than he had at our last meeting, so I felt this was a huge victory.
I asked Dr. Ma how those brainwaves work around the area where SBT is located and where the radiation burned a bit of a hole in my head, so to speak. Imagine a heart rate monitor where the blips of lines go up and down on a regular basis if your heart is in good shape. I had certainly seen enough of these as I dealt with my late father’s issues through the years of hanging out in the ER with him. Dr. Ma said that the EEG showed a distinctly different pattern when the brainwaves churned through the “damaged” zone. He then said something that made me want to stand up and cheer: “Live life. You can’t go back.” I can go for that.
I’m feeling lucky, and I am ready to get my running game on and get this body into a much sleeker shape. More miles and less beer ought to take care of that. SBT might be in charge of what my body can or cannot do, but I refuse to let it take my soul. As long as I can move this body forward, I am heading out the door into the unknown.
Twenty degrees, sunshine, blue sky, frozen lake, snow-covered roads with a hint of ice underneath: What should I do? Hibernate? Drink a hot toddy before noon? Join the snowmobilers or the cross-country skiers on the lake? I noticed that my new pink running shoes looked forlorn in the corner and seemed to be aware that I had once again considered heading to the basement to hit the treadmill. Since I had not run on the roads since my spectacularly nasty fall in November trying to leap over some road debris, I had nursed a sore hamstring with short walks outside and watching twerking videos on MTV while walking on the treadmill. I knew that when I found myself trying to analyze the difference in videos presented on MTV, VH1, and CMT that it was time to hit the road, my hamstring be damned. Since my beloved pink running shoes’ tread had begun to wear thin and had recently been attacked by a dog, I knew it was time to break in the new shoes.
I bought new shoes in November fully intending to break them in after Thanksgiving, but because I injured myself, I wore my old shoes when my husband and I decided to head to Florida to warm ourselves up for a few weeks before Christmas. While we were staying with friends in Naples, Kira, one of their Golden Retrievers, became quite affectionate with my left running shoe while we were out chasing alligators in our sandals at the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. Although Kira left the shoe intact, the shoelace had been chewed apart in two places, and she had somehow managed to pull the lace so tight that I could barely fit my toes into the shoe.
After pulling and tying the lace together with several knots, I was able to wear my shoes when Jim and I began our drive back to Michigan. As we headed north from Naples, Florida, to Cleveland, Tennessee, the temperature dropped 40 degrees. We continued our streak of staying at Hampton Inns, and after I relocated nine ladybugs from our room to the hallway, a rather tricky move that involved catching them in a paper cup, we settled in for a good night’s sleep. Scraping the frost off of our car windows the next morning reminded us that we were indeed headed in the wrong direction.
After taking turns driving, I was behind the wheel as we passed by the “Welcome to Michigan” sign. Thus began the horrible drivers’ portion of our journey. By coincidence, if there is such a thing, I had just read an article that very morning in the USA Today newspaper which is provided for free at all Hampton Inns. Ladybugs are apparently optional. According to a recent poll by CarInsuranceComparison.com, Louisiana drivers are the worst drivers in the United States. Michigan drivers did not even make the top ten. The poll basis its outcomes on “DUIs, failure to obey traffic laws, [and] fatality rates.” Louisiana may have earned their number one designation, but it seemed that Michigan drivers had their taillights in a tizzy at not making the list, because we had just entered Michigan-driver-hell.
As I observed drivers passing by me on the snowy windswept roads, I wondered what the odds were of a driver crashing if he or she combined driving, smoking, and texting while cruising along at 80 miles per hour. Not using blinkers, cutting off drivers during a lane change, and releasing ice chunks from the tops and bottoms of their vehicles added to my distress. After a flying saucer-like pile of snow flew off of the truck in front of me, I reminded Jim of the time a semi-truck driver dropped an ice block off of the bottom of his truck in 2007, and I hit the ice block dead on which ripped open the bottom of my car. My insurance person actually asked me if I got the truck’s license plate number. Nope, I was preoccupied with the horrible grinding and dragging noise my car was making, and I was really bent out of shape about being late for work. Perhaps this memory, plus the fact that a rock from a truck had cracked our front windshield in Atlanta, Georgia, made me jittery. Or just pissed off.
My husband knew this was my kind of driving since I had an excuse to swear. Frequently. Loudly. After we passed Bay City, Michigan, the traffic thinned out, and we began watching the sides of the road for deer. They filled the open fields, and a few dared to stand near the edge of the roads as if tempting fate. We arrived home in time to watch the Lions on television, so we had something new to swear about. Jim doesn’t swear much, so I have to make up for both of us.
The next morning I surveyed my snow-covered surroundings. I wondered if I would ever see double digits on the outdoor thermometer again. Should we build a snow ark-mobile? Build a tunnel to the mailbox? When the snowplow and the snow-blower are getting more action than my running shoes, you know you are no longer in the land of alligators and ladybugs. Only the deer roam around happily as they make their nightly trek to our birdfeeders. I had a major case of cabin fever.
Finally, a break in the weather and the promise of 30 degrees and sunshine provided some relief. I hit the road. The main roads were plowed, but slush remained everywhere. It was a lovely day for a 3.8 mile run, although running up and down several hills I had to negotiate were best described as slip-n-slide. A little voice in my head kept shouting “Do not fall.” I figured if I did fall, the snowbanks lining the roads would at least provide some relief. As Allison Moorer sings, “I was looking for a soft place to fall.”
My new pink running shoes proved their resilience with their alligator-like treads, and I cruised down the roads expertly, dodging the local horrible Michigan drivers. Do drivers not understand the concept of splashing slush on someone running along the side of the road? The speed limit ranges from 35 to 40 mph, so it is not as if these drivers couldn’t slow down or move over, but they all seemed to be either texting, talking on the phone, or adjusting their egos. I finally decided to trot down the middle of the road and see if anyone would run over me. When I saw the snowplow driver heading towards me with his death plow, I quickly ran to the opposite side of the road. He smiled and waved at me.
As I approached the safety of my own driveway, I congratulated my new shoes on a job well done. I walked into the house and my husband looked relieved since the last time I came in from a run, I was bleeding and telling him how sore my ass was. I gave him my usual report about my road trip before yanking off two layers of running pants, my sweatshirt, base layer shirt, sports bra, socks, shoes, gloves, and hat. I longed for those days of shorts and a t-shirt. Perhaps in April?
I am looking forward to running in my new shoes in 2014. I haven’t retired my old shoes yet, because there are a lot of stories associated with those shoes. They sit in my closet, the left shoe with its strangely configured lacing system and Kira’s teeth marks, as if waiting for the next time we hit the road. In the meantime, if Kira shows up, I am hiding my shoes. All of them.
“Snow Blind Friend,” a song written by Hoyt Axton and made famous by Steppenwolf, is about a friend addicted to cocaine. As someone who lives in Northern Michigan, a feeling of being snow blind, sans drugs, is a typical February phenomenon. Recently, as I walked on the frozen lake past ice shanties with fishermen carefully tending their lines, snowmobiles occasionally buzzed across the lake. I spoke to no one. My boots made a path in the untouched snow, a reminder of where I had been. Thankfully, the sun lit up the blue sky like a promise instead of the flat gray I had grown accustomed to. Flat gray skies, the color of needles, had become a chromatic aberration trying to crash through my skull.
I imagined fish moving somewhere far below me, the ice and snow separating us from each other. During winter, their world below me, easily identifiable during spring, summer, and fall, becomes unknowable. Ennui settles in, so on my lake/ice/snow walks, I feel the loneliness of solitude, but I embrace the quiet. I need to feel the silence surround me. If I do not learn to listen when there is nothing to hear, then how will I know how to listen when there is something to hear?
On a recent walk, a small plane sliced through the sky, and the white wings blinded me as the sunshine refracted the light. The engine’s buzz disrupted the momentary silence. I thought of the sounds I missed the most: The voice of an old friend, my dog’s sharp bark when he wanted my attention, and my father saying “well, hello,” when I walked into his room. I remembered Axton’s words, “You say it was this morning when you last saw your good friend/ lying on the sidewalk with the misery on his brain.” Those last moments evolve into memories riddled with misery and longing.
I stopped for a moment, felt the sun’s warmth on my face, and turned around and saw my trail of solitude in the snow. I stepped smoothly into the unbroken snow and began the slow walk home, avoiding the path I had created earlier, remembered and listened.