The first warning shot rang out. A sharp Honk! that shattered the still, cold silence. Word traveled down the line. A mild panic spread across the ice. Honks echoed all around now, "We're here, we're here. There are more of us then there are of you," they seemed to say. The nervous shuffling grew and became the anxious pitter-patter of steps skating across the thin ice: pit-pat...shhh, pit-pat...shhh.
|My Grandmother and I dancing at my wedding in 2005.|
Sensing the mild panic she'd stirred, Mattie's ears rolled back, her tongue bouncing. My collie moved her head in quick jerks from the geese now forming up in a tight circle, to the path ahead of her. The look was one of desperation, "Please let me go after them!"
I delivered my own sharp warning, "Mattie!" And she relented, falling back in step with me. We rounded the water hazard and disappeared over the steep hill that links holes 11 and 12 just as quickly as we'd started it, leaving the commotion we'd caused behind us.
When I'd set out some 3.5 miles prior, I did so with tempered expectations. Since Thanksgiving, since my grandmother died, I’d lived in shades of exhaustion.
It was an unceremonious end. My car idled two blocks off the Washington, D.C. mall. I waited for my wife to come down from her office so that we could make the two-hour drive up to Philadelphia where she’d run the marathon that weekend. The phone rang next to me. It said “Mom.” I knew.
My grandmother, the woman I’d nicknamed Mimi, was gone.
The tears didn’t come right away. In fact, they only came after I’d downed two grey goose martinis up with a twist (her drink) later that night at the hotel bar.
Normally during points of tension in my life, I've turned to running as the release valve. You can run off a bad day at work, a bad night (or week) of eating, a bad anything. But what happens when the runs become bad? That week, I was at a loss. Mimi’s death, I soon knew, had taken a bigger toll on me than I thought. That was really the first time in my life I've had to grieve, and quite frankly, I didn’t know how to do it. I thought running could save me, instead, it made things worse.
There's a Tom Petty song that goes, "This one’s for me. This one’s for me. Not for anyone else. This one’s for me." It became my mantra on that easy five miler around the golf course.
On that cold run as Mattie and I continued to pick away at the golf cart path’s rolling hills, I let the memories come. With only my dog at my side and the prickly darkness hiding me, I felt safe to remember my grandmother. I didn’t have to be strong anymore.
It could have been the sharp, winter air, but it transported me back to my first trip to New York City. I was a little kid wandering along the gray New York City streets with my grandmother and my mom. If Christmas has a look, it’s New York City in December. The city glowed through the backlit storefronts and the white lights shimmered around wreaths, lampposts, and trees. Mimi’s New York was the Plaza, the Oak Room, and 5th Avenue. Yet, she relished the hours I wanted to spend tinkering in FAO Schwartz and even shivered with a smile next to my mom as I zipped around the ice rink at Rockefeller Center.
Overtaking the last hills, Mattie galloped up next to me. We stopped and stood together for a moment, huffing and puffing, then began the slow walk across the 5th green, under the fence, and back to the house. But before we got there, I stopped for a second and closed my eyes. I had the urge to lie down and catch my breath. So...I did. I lay down, legs and arms outstretched, and took in the night sky. I started to think about my grandmother and how she used to ask about my running, but never really knew just how much work I'd put into it. Her reference point was always the New York Marathon. In her last year, she always asked, “You’re running the Boston, right?” And before I could finish my short reply, she’d move on. “What about New York? Have you run New York before?”
I never got to tell her that I’d run a qualifying time to get in to the 2011 New York Marathon, but in some way I tell her along the miles I’ve run leading up to the race.
I like to think maybe now she can watch me and know.
Most of the stars were out and I followed a plane blinking by overhead. I could feel the blood coursing through me and my heart pulsing in my head behind my eyes. When my breathing was under control, I lay for a minute longer. I could hear Mattie's jingling collar getting closer. She must have finished smelling whatever caught her nose. I stared to call to her but my face was so cold, it was hard to talk. She was on me, sniffing and licking my face. "All right," I said. "Let's go in." And we finished the walk to the back door.
Mimi didn’t die of some well-known or even obscure disease. There’s no ribbon, bracelet or car magnet. There are only the memories I have of my grandmother and how much I truly miss her now that she’s gone. I’m finally running the marathon she always asked about. So, this year I pin my bib on for her. This one’s for Mimi.