Posted tagged ‘Pebble Beach’

Summer 2015

November 4, 2015

It’s been a while since I have written a post. There are days when it seems like there is too much to write  after so much time has passed and summoning the energy seems impossible. Today, though, it’s time to dig in and just do it.

On July first, I am joyfully teaching my group fitness class—Forever Fit, for anyone 50 years and older. I am prompting, singing, counting, jumping, squatting, grooving to the music, thinking of nothing other than being right where I am and doing my job. The room is filled with about 25 women and one man, all following my lead as we work through Cut Chemist’s “What’s The Altitude“. The song fills me with joy and energy. We all do what I refer to as “step-out step”, a modified jack step. I alter the step to include a raised knee every other beat, switch sides, switch to kicks on alternating sides, and move the step forward for four beats, then back. It’s one of my favorites. We all look like dancers in a Michael Jackson video. It’s a beautiful thing to look up and see a room full of people smiling and moving like that. Suddenly, I both feel and hear a loud pop in my left calf. I think I’m fine, yet find myself unable to touch even my left toe to the floor. I think I am going to finish teaching the class, yet when I look up, with the music still blasting, my class has stopped moving. “Are you okay?” and of course I answer yes. But I am not.

In what feels like seconds, one woman from my class has raided the freezer in the kitchen of the building and comes back with a bag of ice. The Counsel On Aging director has flown down the stairs from her office and is talking about calling an ambulance. Someone else is grabbing a chair for me to sit down and in all the panic, somehow everything feels like it is happening in slow motion. No. I do not want an ambulance. No, I do not want the chair. Hot tears prick behind my eyes. The tears are not from pain, although there is plenty of that. Fighting to hold those tears back, I recognize fear asserting itself and racing to the front of my emotional repertoire. Immediately, I am wondering if I will ever run again. I know in these moments I should be afraid of not being able to work, of a long, painful recovery, of the potential for a bad tear in a muscle that will require surgery. Yet all I can think about is never being able to run again.

As I finally settle into the chair and place the ice on my calf, I start to make decisions. I need to go home first. I obviously won’t be able to drive, so as people ask what I need, I send someone to go pick up my partner Bill so he can drive me home in my own car. I want to change out of my sweaty clothes and wash my face.  I need to get to my car. Before I can think of anything else, Bill is standing over me, asking what I need. “Please. Just take me home.” Two women from class confer for a moment, and then they stand, one on either side of me. They cross their arms, hold each others’ hands in some Girl Scout carry configuration and slide their linked arms beneath me. I am lifted and carried out to my car by a woman in her seventies and a woman in her sixties. I am in awe of their strength and kindness. Even in such pain and fear, I pat myself on the back for doing a great job with this class. I can’t stop thanking them.

In clean clothes and with the sweat washed off (mostly), I reline on a gurney in the emergency room, I am given Valium and a manual examination. The handsome ER doc decides that I need to see an orthopedic specialist. I leave the hospital with a prescription for enough Valium to keep me for a month(!!!) as well as a comfy, handmade soft cast to wear until I see the specialist, and, of course, crutches. I whimper on the way home, clutching my prescription and wondering how bad this injury really is. And, of course, when I can run again.

The next day, I get an immediate appointment with a doctor at Sports Medicine North. After careful examination of my leg, he says I have a slightly torn gastrocnemius and a badly strained soleus, the two main calf muscles. It can take three to six months for this injury to heal. I feel sick. Bill takes me back to the drug store with prescriptions for two different pain killers.

I go home on the crutches, wearing a walking boot that comes up to my knee. I wear the boot for the whole month of July. Bill takes me to Pebble Beach, carries me over boulders to my beach chair, wipes my tears, suffers along as I attempt two and thee mile walks with the crutches. I find I am strong enough to pull myself up the stairs backwards two at a time using my triceps and my good leg. I manage to shower while balancing on one foot. It takes a little over a week before I am able to touch my left toe to the ground and not cry out. I don’t want to talk to or see anyone.

The Boot

The Boot

Pebble Beach

Pebble Beach

I cannot tolerate sitting or resting unless it’s bedtime. I am a mover. During the months of healing and rest, I color beautiful cards to mail to my youngest child in Arizona. I write poetry. I read books—some fiction, some fitness books, some cookbooks. I lose weight on the painkillers, (plus they made me cry all the time), so I ditch them during the first week. I eliminate all sugar to reduce inflammation. I eat lots of greens and naturally anti inflammatory foods. I do everything I can to heal quickly. I also sit on our deck or sun porch and watch with envy as runners pass my house all day long. I hear their footsteps through the open windows of summer as I lay in bed, trying to bring my focus back to what I have instead of what I am missing.

The follow-up appointment on July 30 brings good news. I can ditch the boot and start physical therapy. I have already been working on range of motion, stretching, massage and strength. Despite being told to wait, I have been listening to my body and it feels right to gently start the active part of recovery. I rotate my ankle, practice inversion and eversion. I flex and extend my ankle. I gently massage the painful areas in my calf. I go easy, but I keep it up for a bit every single day. I wear the boot unless I am in bed.

My physical therapist is incredibly good at her job. Each visit shows improvement. Because the boot changed my gait, I am also struggling with hip and back pain on the right side. For a couple of months, I am in pt four times each week. Some weeks I see four different therapists. Each one is kind, honest, good at her job and adamant that I take it slow. I use the foam roller. I stretch. I strengthen. I ice. Some nights after an hour or more of exercises and pt homework, I find myself on the couch with four ice packs strategically placed to reduce pain and inflammation. I am so cold that even in August, I huddle beneath a down comforter.

Friends come and take me for walks. My friend Krissie walks so fast I can barely keep up. I keep going, though, pushing through the discomfort. Soon I start easy running—walk a few yards, jog a few. My friend Amy patiently jog-walks with me. I am grateful. My friend Charlene brings us a delicious vegan dinner.  My class sends lots of sweet emails, telling me they miss me, hoping I am healing well so I can come back to work soon. I even get a couple of cards in the mail. It is nice to be missed and to be loved. I am grateful.

On August 31, one day ahead of my self-imposed deadline, I run three miles. The next day, I run five. I am not allowed to run uphill, so I walk the hills, giving my attention to the beautiful ocean views in my neighborhood.  I note the fishing boats in the harbor, the soft sand on the Front Beach, the rolling waves lapping against the shore of Back Beach. The slow hills are okay, so I run those. By mid-September, I run up all the hills. Once again, I am grateful.

The End of the First Run

The End of the First Run

I return to work September 9. My class is thrilled to have me back. I tell them I am going to go easy for the first couple of weeks and I do, mostly. By the third week back, I am hopping, jumping and singing as I lead them through our workout. We stretch at the end, and I go home and stretch again. I still ice at night and have a fresh awareness of my left calf that I will probably hold onto for longer than need be. I am back. I am strong. And I can still run.

What did I learn? Too much to put it all down here. A couple of biggies, though. I am a runner and much more than that. I can heal my body.  I can wait when I have to wait. And I can be still.  For a while. As long as I have crayons, books and lots of love.

Bil and I at Pebble Beach

Bill and I at Pebble Beach

My Handsome Hero, Bill

My Handsome Hero, Bill


Rockin’ the Father’s Day Road Race, Mom Style

June 19, 2011

I start off this morning near the end of the line of runners.  The 10K does not seem like such a big deal this year.  Sue is out, her Achilles tendon the boss for this spring season.  My friend Victoria is missing too.  Torn meniscus.  No iPod today, either.  Just me and a bunch of strangers. The start gun goes off and the only way I know that it is that the runners in front of me take off.  I follow.

I feel great this morning.  We celebrated my husband’s birthday last night, and the belly full of homemade pizza and Red Hook Wit beer I went to bed with has turned out to be runner-friendly.  My race number is 90, and that makes me happy, too.  9 is my lucky number, so, that times 10.  I listen to the pounding of runners’ feet all around me, and again, the sound of spitting, over and over.  I barely have enough spit in my own mouth to wet my lips and wonder exactly where all that mucous comes from, as all around me I hear the sound of spit and splat hit the pavement.

I pass the first mile marker and hear the timer call, “7′ 28″ ” and can’t believe I am off to such a fast start.  Mile two flies by and I hear “15′ ” and I grin to myself.  This is it!  I have never started off this fast before, and I feel like I can keep the pace going.  I pass runner after runner, saying, “Hi!  Great job!” and inside I know this is my best race.  I don’t expect to win, but definitely expect to beat my time from last year.

As I grab water from each station, I take one big sip from the clear plastic cup, then pour the rest of it down my back.  Although the sun is out and the air is warm, today there is also a pretty strong wind.  The wet back and wind make for a wonderful coolness all through my body.

I notice I am running among a pack of men; some are younger than I am, some older.  Lots of them are wearing earbuds, but a few say hello or wave as I go by.  As I leave Pebble Beach, between mile 2 and 3, I hear someone coming up behind me on my right.  The breathing is hard, but the footsteps are strong and steady.  I wait to see which man or woman will pass me and look to my right as the footsteps get closer.  At first I don’t see anyone, but then notice a cute little head near my elbow.

“Hey, buddy!  You’re a strong runner!  How are you doing?”

The little boy looks over at me, panting.

“Pretty good, I guess.  This is the right way for the 5K, right?”

My heart sinks.  This little boy is way off track.  And I can tell he’s nervous.

“My name’s Elizabeth.  What’s yours?”


“Well, Ben, how old are you?”


“Wow!  You are so fast!  And a really strong runner!  I think you missed your turn a while back.”

His little face looks panicky.

“How do I get back on my race route?”

“I’m not exactly sure, honey.  I think you may have already run 5K.  But I can help you.  I’ll run with you and when we get to the next fork, I’ll show you how to get to the detail police officer.  He will help you.  He’ll either get you back on your course, or take you back to the finish.  Don’ t worry!  You’ll be fine.”

I run alongside this little boy and try to imagine how he must feel, running with a strange woman, not knowing where he is or how he’s going to find his own mom.  I talk with him a little more, then we reach Eden Road.  We slow down.

“Okay, Ben.  This is what you do.  Run straight up that hill.  At the top, turn right.  That’s where the policeman is.  Tell him you got off course, and he will take care of you.”

I turn right onto Eden Road, watching the tiny runner head up the steep hill of Penzance Road.  I turn my attention back to the race, speeding up and seeing if I can make up my time.  At the top of Eden, I see the detail policeman.  I stop.  I tell him about Ben, and the direction I sent him.  He thanks me and I start running again, hoping Ben finds his way.

I catch up to and then pass some of the runners who passed me while I was running with Ben.  I run for a while with a man from Beverly, but he drops back when we hit the big hills on Marmion Way.  I press on.  I turn onto Old Garden Road, really taking the hill on, and as I pass my house, I hear and then see my daughter in the front yard.

“Go Mom!”

She waves and my heart leaps to see her standing on the rocks with her arms raised high in the air, waving to me and cheering.

I turn the corner onto Atlantic Ave. and dig deep to prepare for the final big hill.  I kind of glide down Atlantic, then turn the corner for the last steep hill and head to the finish.

I keep my eye on the girl in front of me.  She is young, much younger that I am.  I can hear her straining, her heavy breath so loud that I wonder if she is going to make it to the finish.  She’s pushing so hard and I decide to stay right behind her.  I know I have it, this race.  I wonder how my time will be, but know that it was the right thing to stay with the little boy.  There’s always next year.

I finish right behind the girl and I finish strong.  I can feel the joy that comes with the end of a good race, that feeling of accomplishment and pride that turns the whole world and everyone in it a lovely shade of beautiful that sticks for days.  I look at my time as I cross the finish.  I read 50′ 28″, but am not sure if that’s quite when I crossed or not.  But for sure it’s better than last year!  I hear my husband cheer and call me.  I whirl around to find his face, but the volunteers wave me along the finish line ropes to the very end.

Almost at the finish!

My husband catches up to me and starts taking pictures.  I try to smile, but I know my eyes are darting around, looking for water, Ben, and the result board.  I get the water, find the boy, (and meet his grateful mom), then, at last, the results are posted.   I ran a pace of 8’08”, came in 45th overall, and first in my age group.  My husband captures my emotions so well with the camera lens— I am thrilled!

Just saw my time.

We hang around waiting for the awards and I can’t wait to collect mine for 1st place in age group.  I approach the awards table when my name is called, only to find out there has been a mistake with the printer.  They tell me I will have to have my framed prize shipped later.  By the looks of this final picture, I guess that didn’t really matter too much.  Floating along, knowing my time, and hearing my name over the loudspeaker is enough for me!

Happy just to hear my name called. Award coming later.

All Hallows Eve

November 22, 2010

It’s  All Hallows Eve— better known as Halloween—morning, a Sunday.  I am running on a full tank of energy, no particular plan in mind, other than knowing I want to run long today.   The day is surprisingly warm for this time of year.  The sun shines on my face and in my eyes, dangling low into the morning air.  I run the long route of Marmion Way, turn onto South Street an then onto Eden Road.  I look out at Thacher Island and the Twin Lights, the two slender lighthouses back lit and dark.  The ocean is gentle this morning and round, full waves roll in on the sharp, rich brown rocks.  Each wave is touched by the light and becomes a translucent pale green curl, tricking my mind into thinking of summer and swimming.

As I run along Pebble Beach, I see how low the tide sits on the sand and decide to make this long, easy run the best of the year.  I take the sharp curve up to South Street, then turn again halfway up onto Tregony Bow, a tiny side road that cuts over to Thatcher Road.  I run on the sidewalk for as long a possible.  When the sidewalk disappears, I run on the side of the street, keeping a careful eye for the Sunday drivers headed to church, or maybe out for breakfast.  I gallop along the road side of Long Beach, then along the estuary, looking for the egrets who may still be waiting around for the weather to turn cold before beginning their migration.  I see none, but the sun shines on the tall golden grasses that grow along the side of the road and down into the murky water.  When I reach the fork for Long Beach, I don’t feel ready to turn.  I continue on Thatcher and soon am sprinting along the parking lot to Good Harbor Beach.  I pass a couple of people walking along the side of the road and grin at them.  I keep running.

When I reach the spot where sidewalk resumes, I cross the street and go the rest of the way to Bass Ave.  I jump up and smack the stop sign at the end of the road.  I consider continuing to Bass Rocks and Atlantic Road in Gloucester, since I’m already most of the way there, but cannot stop thinking about running on the beach while the tide is in my favor.  I wrap my hand around the stop sign and fling myself around like a little kid.  I head back along Good Harbor Beach and this time when I reach the road to Long Beach, I head down to the sand.

The beach is almost empty; the tide is so low that I can choose between soft sand, damp sand, wet sand, and chasing the waves.  I do a little of each, breathing in the fresh salty smell of the ocean.  My sneakers sink into the soft sand and I push off into that softness over and over before darting to the edge of the water.  I zigzag around the waves, the joy of the run and the ocean and the sun overtakes me and I am a purely, completely present in this moment.  When the beach ends, I sprint up the little bridge that leads to Cape Hedge Beach.

The hedge of round popple stones looms high and I carefully pick my way up and onto the top.  I can see all of the beach from this point; there is more sand now than there has been all season.  The lifeguard chair is gone, taken in until next summer.  Driftwood logs are scattered across the hedge and the beach.  I can see the little pond behind the beach, and most of Laurel Acres on my left, the vast expanse of blue sky and sea on my right.

I am able to secure my footing easily and monkey my way down to the sand.  The slope of the beach is steep at first, and I run slowly and cautiously.  As the surface levels off, I pick up speed again, watching the waves, listening to the air move along the sand and water.  Gulls circle overhead, laughing their throaty calls to each other.  The stones that have washed up on the sand shine in the bright light, their shadows long in the autumn sun.  As I run, I am acutely aware of each stone, each shadow, each breath I take and hold tightly to this moment, savoring it like the last bite of a rich, dark chocolate, bittersweet and missed almost before it is gone.

I dog-trot up the ramp off of the beach and head home.  I think of other Halloweens, ones when my children were little and excited to dress up in their homemade costumes, ready to go out into the night to trick-or-treat.  I think about how long ago that time was, how one is already out on his own, forgetting about trick-or-treating until he has little ones of his own.  My daughter is really too old to engage in the tradition, although she would have been willing, had she been able to gather a group.  No one is willing this year, so she will stand in our doorway in the costume she made, doling out granola bars to the few children who come around our neighborhood.

I take the rest of the run easy, loping along the route I took out, staggering in the front door hungry and happy.  13 miles, 1:47′.  I look forward to this All Hallows Eve— sated, feeling hallowed myself.


October 26, 2010

I am running at full speed this morning, my legs and arms pumping madly, my heart pounding like a kettle drum, for the distance between one telephone pole to the next.  I slow down and jog easy, trying to recover.  Until the next telephone pole.  I am running fartleks.  (I know, it’s a weird word, bringing to mind visuals you probably don’t want to entertain—but click on the link and look it up anyway.)  I should really leave my watch at home, because this kind of training doesn’t count for time, yet I cannot help looking to see how my time is.  It’s a hard habit to break.

I wear my favorite running shorts— the “naked” ones— and the feeling of the morning air on my legs is delicious.  For the last couple of weeks, the mornings have been downright cold.  My winter training pants do their job, but I have already been missing the feel of bare skin, wind, the freedom of wearing less.  I am still wearing the same pair of Nike Free sneakers I bought last winter and they are going strong, despite the many miles I have put on their thin soles.  I am weightless this morning.  Weightless and winded.

I run along Marmion Way, dreading the long uphill end of the street, where I know the sprinting will be a challenge.  I know it will also affect the rest of this training session, but this is what fartleks are all about— pushing to the edge again and again.  I am lucky today.  I increase the distance to two telephone poles fast, then two to recover, and I only have to sprint up part of the very steep end of the hill.  The recovery poles take me almost to the corner and I round it picking up speed.  I burst onto South Street where the road is nice and flat and challenge myself to run three in a row, then recover for two.  I make it all the way to Eden Road.

I fly down the hill past Lynne’s house.  She is backing out of her driveway and I hope she doesn’t see me.  I don’t look back to check.   I continue to the third pole on her street.  I slow down again, then reach the next pole near the bend.  I don’t consider looking up and across to the Twin Lights, but rather put every single ounce of energy into the next sprint.  By the time I reach the third pole I can barely breathe.  I stop for a minute and bend over, resting my hands on my thighs.  I am panting hard and a little nauseous, wishing I had skipped that quarter of a bagel my daughter left in the kitchen this morning.   A woman I know is walking toward me, and I welcome the break as we chat for a couple of minutes.  When I take off again, all my energy has returned.  I run full-tilt for three poles, recover for two, and continue this way to the end of Eden.  My running friend Susie passes me in her car and I think  I must look crazy, speeding up and slowing down like this.  I laugh at myself, then decide to take the entire road between the marshes at full speed.  The road here is flat and smooth, so I let myself run right down the middle like a maniac— legs flailing, elbows pumping wildly, sweat running into my eyes.  At the end of that stretch, I allow the recovery to be a walk for one pole distance, then a light jog for one more before picking up speed again.

Pebble Beach is cool this morning.  The tide is low.  The smell is clean and sweet, the seaweed damp, freshly washed in to the shoreline. There are no telephone poles to use here, so I mentally break up the dirt road into quarters, leaving the sharp, steep curve at the end to split in two. I steal a few glances to see where the swans are as I push myself along the firmly packed sand, turning my head quickly so I don’t lose my footing.   I spy them on the beach this morning, poking around in the sand.  It both breaks my heart and brings me joy to witness their swan one-ness.  I press on.   I am so exhausted after the sharp hill that I just jog up the long hill of upper South Street to the corner before resuming this speed workout.

The rest of South Street is easy.  I go back to the two and two distance, really pushing hard, still hoping no one is watching me.  I feel ridiculous doing these intervals.  It’s just that after last week’s session, I ran two and a half miles at sprint speed the next day and it was the easiest run I have ever done.  I would like to run that speed for a full 10K.  This urge for speed came on suddenly– I think maybe I’m bored with my usual running schedule, and a bit disappointed not to have run a seven minute mile for a couple of months.  Five or six days a week, about 40 miles, split into four or five easy runs with one long day should be enough, but I feel the need for a change.

I turn onto Dean Road, run a couple of more high speed lengths, then ease up for a three minute cool down.  I check my watch and see I have been at it for almost an hour.  My legs ache; the muscles strain and protest even at this relaxed pace.  I think about how good a cool glass of water will taste, followed by a big mug of my favorite recovery drink: coffee with steamed soy milk, sprinkled with cocoa and cinnamon.  It’s enough to get me to my front door without falling down.  That, and the pleasure of knowing I just ran six miles of fartleks in my “naked” shorts one last time this year.


September 28, 2010

Complete darkness surrounds me when I step outside this morning at 5:30.  I take a few tentative steps, then begin a slow trot, trying to adjust to running by feel.  It has been almost 30 years since I have gone for a run in the dark.  A streetlamp casts a pool of light when I reach the corner and I look down automatically to see the surface of the road.  My shoes are worn almost to the bare soles and so I can feel the pavement underfoot. Trusting the sensory capabilities of my feet gives me a sense of safety as I move forward into the coming dawn.

As I run down the hill onto Old Garden Road, I look up and see a million stars twinkling in the sky.  I imagine I am treading on stardust, which pleases the poet in me.  I run past another streetlamp and again look down to see where I am stepping but before I can register what lies ahead, I am beyond the light and on my own again.

I run without music this morning,  listening for the soft growl or step of a coyote.  This time of day belongs to that grey, prowling hunter, this time before the streets fill with cars and trucks and bikes, runners and dog-walkers and school children waiting for their buses.  There is an abundance of coyotes in this area of town.  I’m not usually afraid of them, but I feel vulnerable today— out so early and alone.  A small can of pepper spray clips onto the waistband of my shorts and my hand flutters close to it—  ready just in case.

I hear footsteps and strain to see who is out here with me.  I see a flash of pink that, as I get closer,  becomes two elbows pumping up and down and then, as she runs beneath a light, the figure of another runner.  I am approaching fast and cannot decide if I should speak.  I don’t want to scare her, and my footsteps are so quiet in my soft, worn sneakers that I’m anxious she won’t hear mine over her own.  As I come upon her left side, I clear my throat and she quickly turns her head.  I see relief in her postural silhouette and I say good morning.  She returns my greeting, then says she is glad to see me.

“It’s kind of creepy out here in the dark.”

“Yeah, a little, but also lovely.  Look at the stars!”

I pass her and look up again myself, but dawn is breaking and the stars have all but faded back into the early morning sky.

As I turn onto Eden Road, I find myself slowing, hoping for a little more light before I reach the part of the road that is patched, pocked, and gravelly.  The sky above the Twin Lights on Thacher Island glows a faint peachy-white, but the surface beneath my feet remains nearly invisible.  Each footfall seems a risk to plummet off of the edge of the earth.  I try to stop thinking about falling and trust my feet and balance to help me along.  I look ahead and see another runner.  It’s my friend Susie, bright and fresh at the start of her run.  She is stunned to see me out this early.  Like the coyotes, this is her time and I am an intruder.  I usually see her when she is well on her way, or even on her return loop.  We barely chat— I want to grant her privacy as she begins her warm up.

As I turn onto Penzance and down the hill by Loblolly Cove, I focus on the sounds around me.  I can hear the peepers in the marsh, their low, soft song like a thousand heartbeats.  I hear frogs croaking their rubber band tune in the shallow water; the timothy grasses whisper their secrets in my ear.  I take my hand, brush it against the long, bent reeds that reach out over the pavement and bring the moisture from their tips to my mouth.  The cool drops taste of earth and salt and peace.

I can see a bit more as I move along the wooded section of Penzance.  I have seen the coyotes on this stretch before, even in broad daylight.  I reach to my hip and grasp the can of pepper spray.  I hold it in my hand until I reach Pebble Beach.  Safe, I put it back and look out to the sea.  The waves roll in gently; white foam licks the edge of the sand.  Cambourne Pond is still in the early morning light; the ducks must still be tucked into their nests, hugging their beds until the sun peeks up across the road.  The sky is blooming like a rose, peach and pink, opening its petals to the day.  The rosa rugosa nestled into the sand beside the road have all but stopped their blooming; the round orange rose hips hang dry and tired from showing off on the hot summer days.

I return by the long loop of Marmion Way.   The street is now clearly visible beneath me; all my stardust has swept away by the light of this new day.  Each stride has an urgency rooted in the desire for speed.  I decide to finish the run with sprint intervals and I focus on the long, slow hill.  I attack it brutally, panting and sweating, pushing harder and harder until I can feel my legs begin to tremble.  I back off and trot when I reach the top and turn toward home.  There is deep pleasure in today’s ragged breath, in the secrets of the timothy grass, and in the delicate, twinkling residue on the soles of my shoes.

Dad’s Back

September 27, 2010

It’s 6 o’clock Wednesday morning. I’m listening to music, smelling the not-so-fresh-but still good smell of the seaweed washed up on the beaches, and finding a nice pace for my warm up at the beginning of my run.  I pass an elderly man who is walking along the side of the road.  He has a scraggly beard, bright eyes, and a kind smile.  He reminds me of my dad, and that gets me thinking about how my dad will probably never be able to go out for a seaside walk again.  As I run the long loop of Marmion Way, I think about all the time my dad has been in pain— since before he fell on my mom in July.  I turn onto Eden Road and feel tears start to come.  I try to stop them, to will them away, but it is impossible.  As I run past the twin lights on Thacher Island, I am sobbing so hard that when I reach up to wipe my face, I know there are more tears than sweat.

Last week, the visiting nurse decided that before she completed her care of my dad, she would try once more to determine the true source of his pain.  She called my father’s doctor and asked him to order an x-ray of his back.  The doctor did not call my parents with the result, but when the nurse returned for her final visit with my dad, she brought the results.  The test showed that my father had multiple compression fractures in his spine.

I draw one jagged breath after another along Pebble Beach.  I cannot not stop thinking about my father.  Before he fell on my mother in July, he had been suffering from undiagnosed pain.  He had fallen a few times before, but not hard enough to merit a trip to the hospital; he had been to the doctor to be checked.  The source of Mom’s pain was obvious— the x-rays taken right after dad fell on her  revealed spinal fractures.  She was popping two extra strength Tylenol every six hours, watching the clock to see when she could have her next dose.   We had so much trouble remembering the exact time for the next round of pills that we finally began a log to keep track.  Two OTC pain killers aren’t much in the way of relief.  I know.  I have had my own bouts with pain.  It really just takes the edge off.  And for days we cried, she and I, about the demise of our summer and the even larger one of her life.  She hurt when she sat or lay down.  She hurt when she stood.  Showering was a major effort, as was using the toilet.  And because her back hurt, she walked differently, which made her legs hurt.  And her hips.  Even the simple act of opening a window or a cabinet increased her pain.

As my mother continued to take her pills and to rest, waiting to heal and get on with her life, my father continued to sleep in his recliner chair in their den.  He napped and watched television in that chair all day; night came, the lights went out, and still he stayed in the chair.  He was unable to sleep in his bed.  He could not lay on his side, nor on his back.  He was vague about where he felt pain, but insisted he was unable to walk, get into a bed, or even come to the table to eat.

I think back to that time, just weeks ago, and can see him struggling to gain a comfortable position in that chair.  He would use the remote to raise himself to almost standing, push his body back, then return the chair to recline, over and over again.  I could hear him from the bed where I slept in down the hall, the sound of the chair’s motor engaged and moving him up and down, all night long.  That whirring, grinding sound insinuated itself into my dreams, my mind taking hold of it and trying to make sense of it by creating disturbing night visions of steamships docking over and over again, of planes landing outside my bedroom window, or of tremendous construction trucks idling in the driveway, waiting to carry me off to some insidious dream-place.  My mother heard it all night, too, from her room at the end of the hall.

His source of pain was at that point undetermined; the doctor had not noticed anything significant during his office visit or in the results of the CAT scan the visiting nurse asked him to order at the beginning of August.  During that time, the same nurse, Alex, discovered a yeast infection the doctor had missed.  It festered under a skinfold on my father’s abdomen.  I had never seen a yeast infection like that— raw and red, inflamed— spanning the distance from one hip to the other.  I assumed that must have been the source of his pain.  Yet after the infection cleared, my father still claimed a sedentary pain level of 4 or 5, which rose to an 8 when he stood up and tried to walk.

His physical therapist restarted his program of mild exercises and walking, but some days he was not able even to make it out the front door and down the driveway.  We were all puzzled— the visiting nurse, the physical therapist, my mom and I— because there did not seem to be a reason for the pain.  His doctor reported some digestive issues, and we figured that milk of magnesia would clear things up.  But it didn’t stop the pain.

One day in particular, after his shower, my mom and I were trying to apply anti-fungal ointment to his belly for the yeast infection.  We made him lay down on his back upon his bed.  Never had I seen such a look of pain on anyone’s face.  His sparkling green eyes opened wide in panic; the grimace on his face made him look like someone else.  He bared his teeth and cried out, grasping for my mother’s arm to help him sit up.  Although we were not mean to him, we were impatient and annoyed with his lack of pain tolerance.  There was nothing wrong with him.  The doctor had said so.

As I push myself up South Street’s long, slow hill, I am struck by a blinding truth that makes me run and cry even harder.  Although I cared for him as best I could, I resented having to take care of him when I felt it was his own fault— for all the choices he has made in his life to bring himself to where he is today.  I love my father and I know I should not judge him for making those choices.   My heart clamps down on itself  for not clearly seeing how much he needed my love, support, and kindness himself while my mom was recuperating.  I feel a physical ache of my own for all the pain he has been in all this time.  For knowing in my heart that it should not matter whether he had broken bones too in order for me to give him my sympathy.  That I should be loving, kind, and gentle whether he is in pain or n0t.  That I should not have to be given a concrete reason for why he hurt in order to give him the same care I gave my mother.

A simple x-ray showed that my dad’s back was in much the same condition as my mom’s.  While she had been in the hospital, then at home resting, taking Tylenol for the pain, and I had been catering to her every need, my poor father was in the same pain for the same reason.  With no pain medicine.  Trying to please the physical therapist and do exercises.  Asking and expecting me to bring him his meals on a tray.  And me, pleasant but not very sympathetic, waiting on him and wondering why he couldn’t get up and do anything at all for himself.

By the time I reach the return loop of Marmion Way, the tears have subsided.  I am exhausted from this run but want to complete the nine miles I planned.  I pass my house and decide not to stop for a drink but to keep going.  I shift into tempo pace as I take the hill toward downtown. I head to the small roadside beaches and I run hard, trying to wipe all thoughts from my mind.  I want to run off the rest of these feelings so I can focus on how to help my parents get my father the health care he needs.  As I make the final the loop toward home, I count my blessings— how lucky I am to have a wonderful, tender husband and good, kind children, that my dear parents are both alive and close enough to see regularly,  that I am able to run and clear my mind, and that I live here on the very edge of this earth, surrounded by sea and sky.

When I arrive at home, I stride straight to the phone and dial.  He answers on the second ring.

“Hey, Dad.”

“Hello, Elizabeth.”

“How are you today?  How’s your back?”

“I’m doin’ well.  Feeling a little bit better.”

That’s what he always says.  I take a deep breath.

“Dad, I’m sorry.  I’m sorry about your back.  I’m sorry that I wasn’t kinder to you.  I should have been nicer to you when I was down there taking care of you and Mom.”

“You weren’t nice?  I thought you were nice.”

“Well, I know I could have been a lot nicer than I was.  I’m really sorry, Dad.”

“That’s okay. Don’t feel bad.  And I appreciate all that stuff you did.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

“You know I love you.”

“Yeah.  I love you, too, Dad.”

The forgiveness in his voice brings the tears back.  When my mother comes on the line, I know she can hear me crying.   She joins me; our reasons overlap and bind us closer than ever before.  I am weary of the ache carved in me from always learning life lessons the hard way.  We vow to get this one down right once and for all.  We affirm it, each taking our turn:  be good and kind to the people you love, no matter what.  Do your best.  Treat the people in your life as if this were the last chance you had to let them know you love them.  Live each moment in that moment; let there be no reason for regret.

Scattered— Part 2

September 21, 2010

The two brothers stand at the stern of the boat and hold the plastic bag containing what is left of their parents.  None of us has prepared any sage words to say.  We have no prayer at the ready.  We are silent, thinking our own thoughts.  The two men open the mouth of the bag and turn it over toward the sea.  The ashes fly out and down into the water.  Some fly onto the lip of the deck.  The brothers’ arms reach out as far as they can and scatter their parents’ ashes together.  I do feel sad.  And, honestly, a little spooked.  This is a strange thing to be doing.  I come from a family of burial people, not cremation people, and even though I plan to be cremated myself, this is completely unfamiliar.  I had never actually seen cremains before the day we mixed the ashes, and seeing them for the second time is no easier or less strange to me.  Although this is just, somehow it does not seem fair, this scattering.  Even though it is what people do.  I look at my family.  My husband and his brother do not meet each others’ gaze.  My children don’t say anything; they watch the ashes flow from the bag with sad eyes and when it is over, they turned their heads.  It is done.

View of the Sea From the Black Pearl

We have also brought Uncle Roger along.  His ashes have been gathering dust since early summer when the crematorium in Florida insisted that no arrangements had been made for him.  He was my mother-in-law’s uncle, and she died while completing the execution of his estate, and before we were notified about his cremains.   He arrived in a brown paper-wrapped metal box during the month of June.  He spent some time in our front hall while we considered scattering him in the garden, but that just didn’t seem right.  We moved him next door to a shelf while we thought about what to do with him.  We had no idea where or if his wife was buried.  Maybe she had been cremated, too.  Then we decided he should be scattered with all that was left of his own family.  So after crumpling up the big plastic bag, my husband opens another smaller one.  He scatters Uncle Roger near where he and his brother had scattered their parents.  My husband is wearing dark sunglasses, so I cannot see his face, but I think this must be hard, too, and he’s doing it alone.  I don’t offer to help, and neither does anyone else.  It is done in only a moment.  His shoulders seem to sag as he crumples that bag, too, then turns to our captain.

Richard stands in the doorway leading to the galley, his slight frame back-lit by the setting sun.  His kind face looks to us, waiting for a signal to know we are finished.  He pivots when he sees we have completed our task, and I wonder what he thinks of us, this tiny family, not visibly grieving, but somber and quiet.  He shifts the boat back into gear and turns it toward the shore, taking us home.

On Sunday morning, I awaken from a long, hard sleep.  Before I know it, I am running along Pebble Beach.  The anxiety from the previous day has slipped away during the night and I am happy.  I feel a lightness in my heart and a sense of relief at having helped honor and complete the wishes of my husband’s parents.  I had not been aware of the weight of the task until it was completed.  One parent has been gone for three years, the other for four months.  There is a gap where they used to be in our lives and in the world, but a sweet space is filled in our hearts where they will remain forever.  This is life.  I run and run, and I watch those perfect waves curl and break onto the sand.  I wonder if any of their ashes have been carried in by these waves and come to rest on this rocky shore Ted and Charlotte loved so much.  I hope so.  And I hope Uncle Roger found his way, too.