Written many years ago, when I was in my 20s and when running ruled my life.
I do not have a driver’s license. I am 22 years old.
Normally, I rely on friends and relatives to drive me places. Lately, I’ve remained in my house for weeks, feeling guilty and ashamed. I hadn’t even stepped out the door to check the weather. I have paced my one-bedroom apartment and listened to nothing but the hum of my refrigerator, the tick of my clock and the sound of a man’s heavy boots clopping against the floor above my head.
Last Wednesday, while cleaning out my jewelry box, I found a necklace I’d bought a few months earlier—a silver-plated chain with three tiny charms: a blue feather, a gold bird, and a silver birdcage. When I held it out in front of me, the little bird swung outside the cage like a hypnotist’s pendulum. It had to be a sign.
That afternoon, around 2:30, I slipped my sweatshirt over my head, put on my sneakers, and slid two few pieces of mint gum between my lips. I glanced at the postcard taped to my door—the black and white one I’d bought in Grand Central Station. On the front, a train conductor holds a sign that reads, “I don’t know where I’m goin’, but I’m on my way.” I nodded, opened the door, walked out and let it slam.
The corridor of my hallway is covered with a thick brown rug, dimmed by the light bulbs specked with dead gnats. The smell of mothballs and marsala wine fills the narrow airway. I took one last inhale before turning the knob to step outside. My eyes and ears burned with the first gush of cold.
My deep purple shadow followed me down the steps between the two white pillars of the brick building. To my right, a row of green dumpsters marked a dead end, and to the far left, a street, scattered with gnarled bare branches, swooped around the corner. I turned left, skipping over black puddles. Miniature islands of sand-caked snow began to melt and trickle into the sewers. I ran faster, my head up, chewing my gum and slicing my arms through the air. The wind carried a slight sulfury smell, the one you get when you strike a match; when you light birthday candles. I felt reborn, giddy—free.
I followed the road and turned left onto Edward Street. I sped past the gamut of houses–short capes decorated with Americana—stars, stripes and rustic wicker patio furniture—triple-tiered Victorians with scalloped roofs crowned with wrought iron weather vanes, raised ranches with wraparound porches, all seemingly vacant save for a hunched woman who sat up and smiled when I sped by. I felt instant warmth in my gut despite the cold blaze of air that turned my fingers into fat sausage links, numb and barely bendable.
I developed a certain reverence during the run; I bowed as I passed St. Paul’s Episcopal church on the side of the road, the town’s Vietnam War memorial by the green and the historic cemetery scattered with coppery gray tombstones. All was sacred.
A woman whose black pants were seemingly painted onto her sinewy legs, hurdled an oak branch in the center of the cracked asphalt, then nodded as if to silently welcome me into the secret society of street runners: the place outside my comfort zone where I belonged.