57. T-Shirt Tales

57. T-Shirt Tales

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

T-Shirt Tales

Be presidents of each other’s fan clubs.
~Tony Heath

The sky turned muted shades of pink as I jog-walked home from Sheri’s. What a glorious way to begin the day. I desperately needed a break from the daily grind of job, family, and fixer-upper house projects. Running, my first serious athletic endeavor, would be that break.

I’d suggested that Hal and I run together evenings while our ten-year-old daughter watched the younger boys, begged even, but he wasn’t interested. I was disappointed, hoping to recapture some of the closeness we’d had early in our marriage. But I called Sheri. Girlfriends will try anything.

“Tell me again why we’re running?” she asked that first day as I coaxed her up a hill in our southwest Portland neighborhood.

“Because we want to be thin, healthy, and energetic.”

“Why don’t we just turn vegan? It’s dark out here.”

It was hard getting myself down our driveway or Sheri out her door some mornings. But we kept at it, blocks building into miles.

The day we ran three miles I bragged to Hal. “See? I am a runner. Want to join me now?”

“Runners always look like they’re in pain.”

I had to laugh, though I wished he’d said yes. I was in pain sometimes, but the slimmer, happier me was worth it.

“Ready for a new adventure?” I asked Sheri one morning. “There’s a 10K out east of Gresham — the Turkey Trot.”

“That’s more than six miles.”

“Think fall colors, free food, cool T-shirts. We’re already up to four miles.”

Sheri finally agreed when I offered a week of caramel mochas.

Hal was getting ready for work when I got home. “I want to do a race out in Gresham a week from Saturday,” I told him.

“You’re kidding, right?”

I could see his face in the bathroom mirror as he shaved. He looked surprised. What did he think I’d been doing all those mornings? “Maybe you and the kids could come cheer me on.”

Hal kept right on shaving. “Sorry, Babe. Too much to do here.”

I turned and left the bathroom, my excitement fading. Once he’d supported me in everything I did. Now he’d drawn some kind of line around his heart with me on the outside.

I channeled my disappointment into rigorous training, and the day of the Turkey Trot Sheri and I joined at least two hundred runners shedding sweat suits and stretching quads. I ran the first half of the race well, people lining the route cheering and clapping, my legs pumping like pistons, my spirits as high as the maples along the road. I wished Hal could see me. The next three miles I just kept moving, arms and legs aching, chest heaving. Sheri trotted beside me, red-faced and silent, except when she said she’d never run again. We were the last two runners on the course to cross the finish line.

“We did it!” I gave Sheri a sweaty hug.

When I got home I found Hal installing some shelves in the garage. “I finished,” I bragged.

“That’s great.” He didn’t even look up as he screwed down another shelf.

That line around his heart seriously hurt me. I didn’t recover my good mood until I put on my Turkey Trot T-shirt. I wore that shirt proudly for days.

I ran through the winter, alone now because Sheri really had quit. My runs were my meditation, renewing mind and body.

I didn’t ask Hal to join me, not wanting more rejection, but when the first crocus bloomed I got a yen to do another 10K, found out about the Rock Creek Run in farmlands west of Portland, and asked him to come with me to that. There would be baby calves and lambs. The kids would love it.

“I need to get the soil ready for the garden,” he said. He was, in fact, thumbing through Organic Gardening magazine.

“I’ll help when we get home. Please. It would be fun.”

“For you, maybe.”

“Could you do something, just once, because it’s important to me?” Tears of frustration burned my eyes.

“Running’s your thing, not mine.” That line again.

My mind churned the morning I drove alone to Rock Creek. Was it just the running issue, or was my marriage on the rocks? But my spirits lifted as I ran past a herd of Holsteins, a tall, chestnut mare nose to nose with a shorter paint, and two bleating pygmy goats. Country smells filled the air.

I wished Hal and the kids could see it all.

When my thoughts turned to home, my steps slowed. My legs grew heavier. A runner passed me, and then another.

“Think of all the people sitting home reading their Sunday paper,” an older man said as he jogged up alongside me. “They probably couldn’t run a block.”

“That’s right. Thank you.” My achievement and self-esteem were as tightly intertwined as my shoelaces. I picked up my pace and was still smiling when I crossed the finish line.

When I arrived home, Hal was rototilling the garden. I wanted to say, “Hey, I finished. And I wasn’t last.” But I just went in the house and drew a warm bath, not up to being hurt again. Afterward I put on my Rock Creek 10K T-shirt. I even wore it to bed.

I felt ready for a bigger challenge. “I want to do the Cascade Runoff,” I told Hal one evening just before bed. “It’s a 15K. Will you watch the kids?” I didn’t ask him to go, and of course he didn’t offer.

“You seriously think you can go the distance?” he asked.

I bristled. “You haven’t even seen me run.”

“Just trying to have a conversation.” He climbed in bed and took a book from his nightstand.

A conversation? When had he shown any interest in my running? I missed the partner I’d married.

I channeled my heartache into training and felt confident the morning of the race, although sadness welled in me when I saw some of the runners at the start surrounded by their families.

We started out along the Willamette River, warm sunlight dancing on the water. High on endorphins, I ran mile after mile, gulping water at the way stations, and raising my arms in thanks when a group of volunteers offered to splash us with hoses. In the eighth mile, pain began shooting through my right knee, and my breath came in gasps. But in the ninth mile, when I turned a corner, I saw, ahead just another two blocks, a banner emblazoned with the words “Finish Line.” I’d nearly done it.

Then, one block from the banner, I stopped and bent double, hands on knees, chest constricted, legs cramping. I couldn’t run another step. Not for any amount of money, not to prove anything to Hal or myself, not even for chocolate. Had anyone before run the first nine miles of the Cascade Runoff, and then simply quit? Forget the half marathon. Forget the marathon. Forget personal bests, country sights, and weight loss. This must be what it felt like to die.

As I pushed damp hair from my eyes, I glanced across the street. Hal and my three children waved madly. “You can do it,” Hal shouted.

He’d come! A burst of adrenaline pumped through my veins. I shot across the finish line and into the arms of my family. I knew Hal had crossed his own line the way our eyes met and held. None of my fantasies about running had included Hal and me locked in this moment of mutual appreciation, perhaps entering a better phase of our relationship. Where could I find a T-shirt that said, “My husband rocks?”

~Samantha Ducloux Waltz

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