My second marathon was the hardest race I ever did. I’d trained for months, only the have my butt kicked a few days before by bronchitis. With only a few exhausted, sweaty hours sleep, I stepped up the Newport Marathon starting line hoping that the training would somehow magically be stronger than the illness and sleep deprivation. By the time I got to mile 16, the hopes were dashed and walked pathetically for miles, to tired and dehydrated to cry. My phone battery got close to empty. Each mile seemed to last for an hour. And I wondered if I was going to spend the rest of my life walking alongside a highway in on the Oregon Coast.
After about an hour, my legs and lungs were strong enough to run from one light pole to the next. I walked again for a while. I was able to run two light poles, and then three. The progress was still slow, but the little bits of shuffle helped make the finish line seem like more than an evil illusion. When I came within sight of the city, I was mostly running. I turned left down the last large hill and crossed the street to the finish line in a parking lot, where my mom was standing proudly with a camera and Diet Coke in hand.
What had felt like an eternity was actually around 7 hours. After changing clothes in a Starbucks bathroom and drinking a chocolate milkshake, the journey didn’t seem as bad and I could imagine trying again.
As I neared the end of my time at Concordia University, it felt like standing on tracks, waiting for the train to hit. The institution’s closure was announced in February, and my end date was in May. In between those times a pandemic grew that resulted in my community sheltering-in-place and the United States economy to crash down to levels worse than the Great Depression. That season of waiting for the end felt like forever. New documents came in, new edits went out, and new meetings happened to try and help everyone stay connected via cyberspace. Every day, as I worked at home editing and collaborating with students, I knew that I was a day closure to this chapter ending and then…
The train finally hit on May 29th. I turned in my laptop. They turned off my email. And over the weekend I filled out unemployment paperwork.
I cried. A lot. I slept. A lot. I walked from one room of my apartment to another. A lot.
Everything hurt, which makes perfect sense. I had a plan to stay at Concordia, to build on the roots I’d just felt starting to pierce through the dirt. And now I had a plan to eat a lot of macaroni and cheese. The pain, the tears, and confusion about what next felt like they all were supposed to happen. They were (are) part of the recovery process. Getting to feel this grief is in many ways better than the anticipation of the grief. I knew what was coming for weeks but did not have the time to process any of the emotions, or even feel like I could have the emotions because I still had a full inbox to take care of. I saw the unemployment numbers increase on the news, and felt connected to them but was still employed so I could not actually be connected. Now I am one of them and they are part of me.
My boyfriend took the photo that begins this post during my second week of unemployment. We were out on a walk in the sunshine. I had on a Super Grover tank top; earned through a virtual race this spring. He found the flower on a neighborhood bush and had me look toward my favorite corner (the one with a gazebo and small pond). It was a good moment. There have been many good moments since the train hit. And bad ones too, like when I apply for a job with over 200 applicants already or when reopening steps are delayed in the state due to infection spikes or when I the news highlights the death of another unarmed Black man by the police (#BLM).
Overall, this side is better. This side gets to be about writing #NextNextChapter. This side is recovery from the train and rebuilding into something new. This side is what strength looks like.