No matter where you go or what you do in this life, there will always be one person that you keep running into: yourself. You’ll spend every second of your life with YOU, so why not invest all that energy and effort into getting to know yourself?
About a week after Fartbuster and I separated, he came by the house one night so we could talk. It had been a rough day for me. I had spent the afternoon at a funeral for the husband of a coworker. He had died too young after a grueling dose of stomach cancer. During the service, I stared at my wedding ring (I hadn’t told anyone that we were living apart yet) and wondered what would become of my life, who would cry for me. That evening, I was overwrought and wrung out and completely used up–so what BETTER time to hash things out with my wayward husband?
So there we met, leaning against the counters in our kitchen. My kitchen. The kitchen. Whatever. And Fartbuster was telling me all about the book he was reading–Hermann Hesse’s “The Glass Bead Game.” In great detail. Greeeeeeaaaat detail. Exhaustive detail. I’m leaning against the counter and listening to him go on and on about this esoteric novel that he probably read because no one else wanted to and it’s as if I finally SEE him for who he really is–someone who thinks he’ll be OK as long as he’s smart. Someone who thinks he’s really special because he’s smart. Someone who desperately needs a pat on the head as he hears, “Gosh, you’re smart!” That had been my job for ten years.
The Glass Bead Game is about the life of a young man who has been raised to be a member of the intellectual elite who goes on a quest to understand other forms of living. So it got Fartbuster thinking about Who He Wanted to Be. (And as a sidenote: remember that Who He WAS at this juncture was a barely employed man with a pregnant girlfriend that his patient and confused wife didn’t know about.)
Finally, he finishes going on about the book. He looks over at me and asks, “What’s your biggest fear in life?’
I considered it for a few moments and reflected back on how I had spent my emotional afternoon. “I think my biggest fear is not being loved. If I woke up in the morning and couldn’t think of anyone who gave a shit about me–that would be my worst nightmare.”
He nodded without saying anything.
“What’s yours?” I asked from my side of our kitchen.
He scrunched up his mouth, rubbed his beard and proclaimed, “Being ordinary. Y’know–wife, kids, house in the suburbs and a job.”
I stared at the pattern in the linoleum to give him time to elaborate. He added, “I want to do something bigger than that, something important.”
Our suburban kitchen ticked with the quiet that hung between us. In our time together, even though I read books just as fancy as the ones he read, I had always been the more practical of the two of us. I like a good Nobel Prize winner myself, but I also believe in paying the light bill. And that part of me had about had enough of making a life with Peter Pan.
“You call that ‘ordinary,’ but I went to a funeral today for one of the most ordinary men you’d ever care to meet. Husband, father, grandfather. Truck driver. House in the country. Watched Nascar. Went to church on Sunday. He was also 15 years sober and helped a lot of other people fight that battle. He was loved deeply and irreplaceable to his wife and daughter. He was funny. He was kind. A hundred people stood out there in the sunshine this afternoon and mourned the fact that he had passed. Just an ordinary guy.”
Fartbuster shrugged and I didn’t push it.
Well, if you’ve been reading here for a while, you know how the story turned out. I don’t talk much about how and where Fartbuster is today, but let me assure you…
- House in the suburbs
Thank my lucky stars that I got out of that marriage with my self intact, if somewhat tattered. I became a person I loved, then I found someone to love. Then I did it all again and again and again. My life keeps getting bigger since that time.
I found this quote about ordinariness and love. Reading it makes me feel a bit smug, because not too many years after Fartbuster placed me in the “ordinary” column, I went to Paris on my own and I found Oscar Wilde’s tombstone. I put on my brightest red lipstick and I kissed the memorial, leaving my mark. It was one of those moments when I looked back across what my life had become, back to that night in our kitchen. Ordinary? Hardly. Loved? Certainly.
In the words of Mr. Wilde: “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.”
This is an essay I wrote after running my first half marathon in November 2009. I wrote it for the women in my boot camp group (WoW! Boot Camp) so some of the references are to our little group. I sure do miss them. The Atlanta Half is held on Thanksgiving morning and I highly recommend it if you’re thinking of trying a half…earn yer turkey!
My girlfriends at work asked for a picture from the Atlanta half marathon. The only one I had with me was a screen grab from www.marathonfoto.com, so I attached it to an email and sent it out. Jo replied, “We BELIEVE you ran it…you don’t have to stamp PROOF all over the picture!” Duh. We both got a good laugh out of that one.
But that kind of sums up the feelings I’ve had since crossing the finish line—I still need proof. Marti asked if I had bought a 13.1 sticker for my car and I said, “No, I need to run a couple more before I advertise it on my car.” I saw some cute shirts at the race expo (“I know I run like a girl—try to keep up.”) but I felt like a fraud about buying one. I wore my medal to Thanksgiving dinner, but when my father complimented me on the achievement, I said, “Well, yeah, but I finished in a blistering 2:47.” After my brother said, “I can’t believe you ran 13 miles this morning—that’s awesome!” I answered, “I didn’t run ALL of it; I had to walk up some of the bad hills.” When the finish line picture arrived, my first thought wasn’t of the joy and pride I felt at that moment. I didn’t see my smile. It was more like, “OMG, my boobs look like they are trying to hide in my bellybutton!”
Yes, ladies, this is what a lifetime of Crazy sounds like. Welcome to the inside of my head! Anything sound familiar?
I spent $100 for an hour of therapy yesterday and our main topic was the Atlanta half marathon. WHAT??? Have I honestly reached a point where I need a therapist to tell me that it’s OK to be proud of myself for doing something that was hard? She reminded me that I have a teensy weensy old habit of thinking that nothing I ever do is good enough. True. That it only counts if it’s perfect. Yeah. That even if I run 13.1 miles, I didn’t run it quite fast enough, cute enough, smart enough…. OK, maybe she was on to something. That did sound vaguely familiar, like she was channeling the voice of my first husband. It’s a very old tape, maybe even an eight-track, that gets triggered in my head whenever I should be proud of myself—“Good job, Ashley, but it could have been better.” The flip side of the tape plays when I even consider doing something that scares me—“Well, Ashley, don’t do it until you can do it perfectly. People will know you for a fool.” The greatest gift I’ve gotten from all those hours of therapy is the ability to hit the STOP button, skip tracks and play a new song. Like Beyonce.
So here’s what REALLY happened on race day.
- I ran the first mile next to a squad of Marines. Their cadence chant was about looking fine and feeling strong and I could have kissed every one of them on the mouth for getting those words into my head.
- In the second mile, I talked to a woman who had only been running for two months. It was her first race ever! I encouraged her with all the things Michael harps on about running form—chin up, chest open, drive those elbows straight back, bend forward at your ankle, hold the baby bird eggs, in through the nose…
- By mile three, so many people had passed me that I looked over my shoulder to see if anyone was still back there. I saw THOUSANDS of people and I giggled with glee.
- Mile four and the towers of downtown Atlanta still looked as far away as the Emerald City at the end of the Yellow Brick Road. But I had a target. Just keep running.
- I reached our hotel at mile five and there were G and Vivi, waiting in the middle of Peachtree Street to give me a hug. Vivi sang her little song, “Go, Mommy, Go, Mommy, GoGoGo!” I thought my heart would burst with joy.
- Mile six, I passed a woman who was running for Leukemia Society’s “Team In Training.” I thanked her for raising money for LLS and told her that I had lost my husband, Richard, to leukemia four years earlier.
- Finally, at mile seven, I was starting to get tired! I ate some of those sport jelly beans (I think the flavor was “Gag”) as I walked up that bitch of a hill in front of Piedmont Hospital. I thought about popping in to McDonald’s for a large Diet Coke but decided that would be poor form.
- Downhill for mile eight…whee!
- Mile nine I heard Tami saying, “Loosey Goosey! Loosey Goosey!” so I flapped my arms over my head like a card-toting lunatic.
- I slapped the mile marker sign on mile 10. I had never covered more than 10 miles on training runs, so this was new territory.
- In mile 11, downtown Atlanta, three women were chugging along in front of me. One moaned, “I can’t do it” and slowed to a walk. I came up beside her and said, “I think you can.” Another stranger yelled, “I think you’re already doing it!” It felt like the way we help each other believe in ourselves in boot camp. She went back to running.
- At the start of mile 12, I got really emotional. The crowds got larger and people cheered, “You’re almost there!” My quads were screaming and I had to walk up the hill by the capitol. I followed the course around a sharp left corner then looked up to see a small, dark-haired man standing on the sidewalk by himself. He was wearing a Leukemia Society Team In Training coach shirt. He looked a lot like my late husband and I started to cry right there in the middle of the street. All I could think was: “I can run. I am still here. I am alive. Running 13 miles is not the scariest thing I’ve done in this life.” I was grateful for how far I had come and I was filled with hope that I really was going to be able to do this.
- I could see the 13 mile marker and I dug deep, shuffling my way up that long uphill bridge to Turner Field. I. Would. Not. Walk. I crested the hill under the Olympic rings. The finish line was a few hundred yards away! For the first time, I saw the clock and it read 2:59:11. If I busted it, I could finish under three hours! I took off like I had been shot out of a cannon. I was running like Tami being chased by April. My arms were pumping and I may have shoved a couple of people. I streaked across the finish line at 2:59:21. I had outrun crazy!
Jovita reminded me later in the recovery area that I had actually run faster than that. I forgot about subtracting my start differential! I finished in 2:46:37, 7697th overall, 3647th for the women’s division and 449th in my age group!!!!!
Now I have satisfied my homework assignment from therapy—I wrote this story. I hereby own my accomplishment and say I AM PROUD OF MYSELF. The shirt I should have bought at the expo said, “The miracle is not that I finished, but that I had the courage to start.” I’m going to go out and buy myself a 13.1 sticker and I WILL put it on my car!
May we all own our victories and talk about them as much as we talk about our mistakes.
It’s OK to succeed, it’s OK to try and it’s OK to do it imperfectly. It’s OK to come in 7697th.
It’s Fartbuster week here on Baddest Mother Ever, folks! Today’s story is about the weekend after I found out my husband had a pregnant girlfriend. I fled to the coast to get a hug from my friend, Brantley. We’ve been friends since 1985. He took me to the SCAD Sidewalk Chalk festival for diversion and to meet his new love, Luis. That was 11 years ago and they’re still together. I’m on marriage #3, but those two crazy kids still are not allowed to get married because they might threaten the sanctity of marriage…but anywho, back to my husband and his pregnant girlfriend, AHEM.
People knew that Fartbuster and I were separated, but Brantley was the first person who heard the real reason, face to face. Telling him the truth was me taking the first step back into my own life. As we were wandering around the festival–each artist is given a square of sidewalk, a few sticks of chalk and a couple of hours to make magic–I spotted a drawing done by a child. I wish I still had a photo of it, but that has been lost in the shuffle. The sidewalk square was filled with red chalk background. In the foreground, two dark gray mirror image profiles faced each other, smiling. The words said, “I LOOK LIKE MYSELF!”
I can’t remember any of the winning artistry from that weekend. I can’t remember Luis’ third place drawing. But I remember that little kid’s square because it rang true with me. I look like myself. I am me. I am here. I am OK. I spoke the truth to my friend and life went on. This next few months might be painful, but I was going to make it out the other side.
The second person I told was my friend, Mike, another kindred spirit from that magical summer of 1985. After we talked and sang some Trisha Yearwood songs, I said, “I feel like a new woman!” He chuckled and said, “Nooooo, honey, you seem like your old self again. I’ve missed you.” He was right. I had spent 10 uncomfortable years auditioning for the role of wife. Trying to measure up to whatever it was Fartbuster judged lacking in me. Once I stepped aside from that, I found space for myself again. I looked like myself.
The Sidewalk Chalk Festival is this weekend in Savannah. I’m taking my little girl to meet Luis because I think they are kindred spirits. My daughter, who never could have been born if I hadn’t lived that broken-hearted life a decade ago. She’s here now and she looks like me, and she looks like her father, and she looks like herself.
This story of the sidewalk chalk came back to me tonight when my friend, Katie, shared a poem by Derek Walcott:
Love After Love
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome, and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Thank you to Katie, to Brantley, to Mike, to Luis, to Derek Walcott, to the little girl who drew on the sidewalk. Even a little to Fartbuster for finally hurting me enough to get me to let go. I am so glad to be this person, in this place, on this day. I am grateful to be able to say, “I look like myself.”
This video has been blowing up all over Facebook this week. My friend, Emily, sent it to me yesterday because my post about prejudice reminded her of this video. I finally watched it after her recommendation and all I can say is WOW. If you haven’t watched it yet, it really is worth three minutes. I’ll spend at least three minutes today mentally criticizing myself, so I clearly have the spare time!
I had an awesome girls’ lunch at Marti’s at Midday yesterday with Nicole and Libby. We were talking about how we think of ourselves and what we think is important about describing ourselves. I said that the first word that pops into my head when asked to describe myself is “overweight.” AS IF that conveys any real information about me and who I truly am. BAH! Back to the therapy couch!