Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Year of the Squirrel

Along the two million strides I ran this year, there were certainly unforgettable views.  From the dunes of Cape Cod, mountains of Vermont, corn fields of upstate New York, inlets around Deer Isle, parks in Atlanta, up and down Heartbreak Hill, Portland’s Back Cove, and the daily runs from my home in Kennebunkport, which is lined with farms, pastures, nature preserves, ocean views, marshes, small homes, and even a Presidential mansion; no two runs were the same. 

After a thousand miles, four 5k’s, three pairs of running shoes, two half marathons, one unforgettable run with Joan Benoit, I was humbly brought back to earth during my training for the New York Marathon with a blood clot.  While this setback was heartbreaking, the ensuing news of a blood disorder shook me and I questioned even more profoundly what it means to be a woman. 

As I run, the scenery becomes the backdrop to my thoughts and worries.  The most immediate concern is always the road and ground directly in front of me, especially with cars and trucks passing by with little concern for my body and the soul within.  I’m constantly stepping off the road onto an uneven shoulder consisting of gravel, sand, dirt, rocks, acorns, and now, snow and ice.  With my eyes focused on the earth for safety, I can’t help but notice what people discard or loose, that ends up at my footsteps. It’s more than just the occasional beer can that litters the roadside.  It’s a baby’s binky, pink bra, hot dog bun, green vinyl glove, or plastic toy, that become short-lived short stories for me. 

What’s discarded or lost as we travel is interesting to me, especially as I consider and contemplate what to keep and what to jettison as I grow into becoming a woman.  What I once thought was completely necessary; might not be an option anymore because of my blood disorder. I had spent years harming myself, both emotionally and physically, scared and afraid to admit whom I was, but also frustrated with the body I had.  Breasts, estrogen, a prettier face, and GRS (below the belt stuff), are no longer a certainty, but does all this really matter and will I still feel like a woman without them?    

Christmas Eve day started early with a 4:30am drive to the airport to drop off a friend, followed by a pleasant six mile run in the low December sun.  I worked most of the day at the art gallery.  It was a ghost town, and the only two visitors were not shoppers.  I had no plans for the evening and fortunately a friend visiting home for Christmas didn’t either. We ended up going out to dinner and returned to my house to finish our making cards with music, cocktails, and a fire.   

As I was gathering firewood, I noticed to my surprise, a squirrel in the trap.  It’s large brown eyes looked hopefully back at me.  The squirrel had recently moved into the wood pile, and I was worried it would eventually find it’s way into the walls or attic, so I set a “have a heart” trap, never thinking it would work.  I brought the wood in and lit the fire as my friend sang along to happy music.  After putting on my winter coat again, I grabbed my keys and was off to relocate the rodent.  With the trap and squirrel stowed in my trunk, I drove down the road, crossed a river and turned down a dirt road into the woods.  Near the end of the road, nearly two miles from the woodpile, I parked and took the trap out of the trunk and released the furry creature into the cold dark night, wishing it luck.  This certainly wasn’t an episode of the Sapranos, but it had an eerie felling about it. 

Back in the warmth of my living room, we sat at the kitchen table, talking about boys, girls, and everyone in between.  Suddenly the doorbell rang.  That’s strange, while I have a few neighbors, it seems like I live in the middle of nowhere.  I wonder if the music was too loud.  As I went to the door I noticed two women standing in the dark on my doorstep.  As I flicked on the light and opened the front door, I was greeted with two warm smiles and a joyous Merry Christmas!  It was a former student and her mom.  They live about a mile down the road, so I guess they’re neighbors.  The student and her older sister have always greeted me warmly in passing.   Her mother handed me a warm dessert with the holiday greeting, and urged her daughter to say something to me.  She shared with me how much it meant to her to see me at school last year, smiling, saying hi to students, as I was transitioning, but also how much the school has lost such since I was laid off. This was certainly a welcome Christmas message.  With warm tears sneaking out of the corner of my eyes, I gave her a hug and thanked her and her mom for thinking of me. Just a few hours ago, I was planning on spending Christmas Eve alone, and now I couldn’t imagine a better evening.  My friend heard the conversation and smiled as I returned to the living room. The night ended shortly later, and as his ride waited in the driveway, we danced to Kylie Minogue in front of the fire, before kissing goodnight.

While I was alone on Christmas morning, I was better prepared this year, and after the night before, my heart was still full. As I pulled back the curtains in my bedroom, I was greeted to a white Christmas.  The yard and woods look good in snow I thought, and sipped my coffee looking out my front window standing next to the Charlie Brown-like Christmas tree.  As I listened to a Pandora Christmas station, I opened a few presents I had purchased for myself and wondered if this was pathetic or not.  Don’t worry, they weren’t wrapped. 

With the desire to bake something as a thank you to my neighbor’s warm greetings, and wanting to bring something to my friends for dinner, I decided to make ginger bread.  I also was asked to bring an appetizer, so I made stuffed mushrooms.  That was a first.  I did over cook them, as I lost track of time getting dressed, but they were enjoyed anyway.  On the way to dinner, I stopped at my neighbors to return their dish and the favor.  The two sisters and their mom, all in pajamas, again wished me Merry Christmas, and thanked me for the returned treat.  The night sky was full of snowflakes and the roads were slippery.  Dinner at my friends was simple and pleasant; it was just her and her eighty-year old mother.  While they’re Jewish, we were still were having a special meal, and it felt good to be included.  I shared my stories about the visitors from the night before and the adventures with the squirrel.  My friend’s mother warned me, that despite my good intentions, the rodent would return.   The ride home was slow with several new inches of powder on the roads.  I left the mess in the kitchen for the next day and went to bed watching the movie The Fifth Element.   

As awoke, I began writing in my journal.  There’s a quote I love from the movie, and I thought about it as I feel asleep, “Time not important, only life important.” What’s important to me now, I considered in my journal, but I wasn’t finding a clear picture or path.  I wrote a list of words, but I have to admit I was still confused, but not without hope.  I’m am unsure what makes me a woman, other than that’s how I feel and being one makes me happier than I could ever imagine.  I was thinking too much, so I stopped writing and went out to the messy kitchen to refill my coffee.  The sky was getting brighter and I could see the woods covered in snow. I noticed a path of little paw prints from the woodpile, across the deck to the bird feeder by the window and back again.   I guess my friend’s mom was right, something’s do come back to you.