Every summer, I end up giving it up because my knees can't take it.
I mentioned this when I was home in April, and my brother said, "You have to start slow."
The more I thought about this, the more I realized that he might be right. Because of my fighting class in Universe City, my running has historically been limited not by my lung capacity (I can go out and run three miles if I decide I want to do so) but by my leg muscles, which get tired because running is a different motion than everything else I do. I began to wonder whether, by starting out with a three mile run, I have been introducing my muscles to running too quickly and maybe they haven't able to stabilize my knees because they are so tired.
The last time I ran without knee pain was in and immediately after Rwanda. The way I started running that time was by walking. I walked up and around the hill above my house, and then I walked down and around the peninsula behind my house, and then I walked over and around the bay where I lived. At some point, walking got to be not quite enough exercise, and I started adding running bits. It was only a few feet at first, but eventually I ran more and more, and soon I was running 45 minutes at a time.
I'm trying that again.
Last week I went and had my stride analyzed and bought a new pair of running shoes. (I had been running in a pair of trail shoes that I bought in 2005, before I went to Tanzania. This was perhaps not the best idea ever. Before that, I had been running in a pair of Nikes that were too wide for my feet and therefore had to be laced tight to keep my foot from sliding around, only that hurt my arches, so I laced them loose and then did kung fu on concrete and did something terrible to my foot and the back of my heel hurt for a year.)
Friday night, I started out in my new shoes. I walked, and then I ran, and then I walked again. I think I ran about 8 blocks. Today, I did the same. I think I ran about 10 blocks, in one or two block increments.
It was hard to stop at a block or two. The competitive side of me wants to keep going, to keep running. But I have to keep that in check, and maybe, with time, I'll be able to call myself a runner once again.
There is something about this city that inspires me to walk and take the bus and ride my bike. Maybe it is that there is so much to do in such close proximity, or maybe it is that everyone else is doing the same, or maybe it's just the annoying parking.
I set out on my bike this afternoon with plans for chai, a pedicure, and maybe Ethiopian, and 13 miles of pedaling later, I had done all three.
That might have been a little ambitious, considering that my bike rides lately have been a mile or two.
But on a day when the sun comes out unexpectedly, how could I resist?
I found the chai place by googling "best chai [Gone West]." It was a tiny little box of a place in a nearby area where I rarely find myself. I sat outside in the sunshine at a little picnic table with spicy tea in a mug whose handle was the arm of a monkey dangling on the front of the porcelain.
I had my toes painted turquoise at the salon, a friendly place back in my own neighborhood. An older woman came in as my pedicure was finishing up, and she exhausted me even in the few minutes I heard her give endless precise directions about the color of the polish and the brand of polish and cutting her ingrown toenails correctly and oh could she see a few more colors before she decides? and isn't this one maybe too old and it will be clumpy?
It was a relief to leave her behind and get on my bike to head to Ethiopian, five miles away.
My friend D. met me for Ethiopian, and I ate ravenously. Breakfast was so long ago. I kept telling myself not to eat, this afternoon, in anticipation of Ethiopian food, and it was worth the wait. We ordered three sauces between us (the four sauces last time were, we agreed, a little excessive). We were delightfully full of delicious food.
But never too full for the ice cream cart across the street.
I rode home in the failing evening light, standing up on my pedals on the hills, feeling so very happy to be alive and to be here and to be now.
I was sitting in my room, playing way too much Bejeweled on my new iPhone, if you must know, when I heard a car honk long and loud and then a thud.
It wasn't a very loud thud. I actually considered just ignoring it, but my car and my roommate's car are both parked right in front of our house, and I dragged myself away from Bejeweled (it is a serious addiction) to go check on them.
What I found was a very small woman standing outside the door of a big sedan, yelling about how the other driver had hit her while she was stopped at a stop sign.
The other driver, a tall man about the same age as her (mid-sixties) got out of his car just for a moment, and then got back in his car and drove away.
Lawyer that I am, that was when I started down the steps, because I wanted to tell him that driving off was the worst thing he could do.
I was too late, of course, to save him from himself.
I really do not like being a witness to things that might require me to testify in court. We law-like people would rather be the ones asking the questions.
Fortunately, the lady took my name and number and went to a friend's house to call the police, and I have not yet had to talk to anyone. Maybe we can keep it that way.
So I went to the doctor, because I thought I had a sinus infection, and he told me that my sinuses are full of mucus (enough that the membrane in my ear doesn't vacillate when he puffs air on it), but they aren't infected, they are just full, so good luck with that.
Then he told me that once my immune system went batty like this I should expect to develop allergies wherever I live, if I live there long enough, and I stared at him in horror as all my hopes for ever being free of this struggled to survive. (I don't believe him. I refuse to believe him. My hope lives.)
Then he told me to try zinc gluconate lozenges, because they are a local immuno-suppressant, and I am trying them, and now my mouth tastes like metal all the time, but they might actually help. (It's hard to say after only 24 hours. I will keep you posted.)
Then he told me to call for antibiotics when I feel like I"ve been hit by a truck.
Some mornings, riding the bus over the bridge, I want to close my eyes and drift, but even on the tiredest mornings I force myself to open my eyes as we go over the bridge, because I want to enjoy every moment I have back here in Gone West.
It's different this time.
Last time I moved to Gone West, I was just back from South Sudan. I think I was stunned for at least the first year. I'd been going back and forth between Africa and North America for five years, and I didn't know who I was without that.
I felt stuck when I lived here before. I loved the city, but I was working a temporary job. I hadn't made a good group of friends. I lived alone.
Now I feel free. I have a job that I love and I do well and I could do for the rest of my life if I wanted. I have yet to have a Saturday without plans. Or a Sunday, for that matter. I live with other people, so even when I stay home, I am not alone.
All of that, yes, but also the part of me that never quite felt like it fit in here in the States has faded. I grew up a third culture kid, and that will never go away, but the brilliance of one's 30s, if lived deliberately, is that you learn to like yourself. I think I would be happier now in New York, or in South Sudan, or anywhere, than I was five years ago.
Not long after I moved back to Gone West, I made the mistake of putting my earrings and watch into the front pocket of my sweatshirt before I went to bed, and in the morning I found one earring and my watch lying next to me on the bed, but the other earring was nowhere to be found.
I looked under the bed.
I looked through the covers.
I looked along the edge of the bed frame.
I looked through mthe sheets when I took them off to wash them.
On Sunday, I washed my sheets and they were not quite dry as of bedtime, so I put on my second best sheets. I don't think I've used them since I moved in, since if the favorite ones are dry I will just put them right back on.
This morning I woke up with my lost earring sticking in my back.
I just... I don't even get it. Where did this earring come from?
I have never had dark circles under my eyes on a regular basis, not until I moved back to Gone West.
It isn't Gone West itself that is causing the dark circles (this really is my favorite place ever), but it's a whole combination of things: a trip to the Mitten followed immediately by an interview and an acceptance of a new job and a month of packing and a move and a new job and another trip to the Mitten and saying yes to everything and and and...
I also have roommates now, who get up later than I do, and we tend to start a conversation right as I should be going to bed.
But! Last week I forced myself to go to bed in time to get something in the general 8 hour range (although never quite eight hours) and lo! the dark circles are not a permanent fixture.
I'm fighting my way back to regular appearances here. It's just that sleep is pretty much my number one priority. Sleep and having a social life.
I'm not really sure why Gone West feels so much more walkable to me than Universe City ever did. For about the same distance as my usual walk to shopping here, I could have gotten to a reasonable shopping center with some restaurants with outdoor seating in Universe City. And yet, I drove. I always drove. I think I walked there once.
It never occurred to me in Universe City to do what I did tonight: to leave my house at 7 pm, walk 45 minutes up to my usual stroll-shop district, have some ice cream, and walk 45 minutes back.
I think it occurs to me here because I started here with no car. For the 2.6667 years that I lived here before, I just walked and walked and walked.
On my way home today, I tried to walk a new route to see the pretty houses. (I love the houses. They are a whole 'nother post, the houses.)
I literally do not think there is a block that I have not walked in this neighborhood, in a rectangle about 15 blocks wide and 20 blocks long. I keep thinking I've found a street that I didn't used to walk down much, and then I remember how very much I've always liked that house, or that yard, or that fence.
The only change is that the houses are even more beautiful than before, because the housing prices continue to go up in this neighborhood. I cross the street to look at a window or the trellis over the porch, and I worry that someone is going to think I'm scoping them out for a burglary or something, but the fact is that I am white and middle class and not obviously drug addicted, and the combined privilege of those things exempts me from a lot. I get smiles instead of suspicious looks.
I wrote the previous paragraphs last night, before I fell asleep with the computer still on my lap.
T. used to say that I was a turtle, and this is still true. Sometimes. I will absolutely stand up and insist when a thing matters, to me or someone else, but when it comes to things that don't matter much, usually food, I can't bring myself to make a scene.*
Case in point: T. and I went out to lunch once c. 2000 at a restaurant overlooking the river in her hometown near Chicago. I ordered a mint chocolate chip milkshake, but it came out as a chocolate chip milkshake. I think we got it corrected, but only because T. either flagged the waitress down herself or badgered me into doing it. I would have left it unmentioned forever so the waitress wouldn't feel bad. (Even though the waitress probably cared not one little bit. Hey, I was 20.)
Today I got a Thai iced tea from a different stand than usual because it was late and my usual stand appeared to be out of salad rolls, but when I got it, it was awful. It was undrinkably sweet and really watery. Rather than request new - what is the point, anyway, if the sweet is what she has? - I walked behind a tree, dumped out the iced tea into the tree's roots, took my reusable cup to my usual place, and paid all over again.
And then I laughed and thought how T. would call this turtle behavior. It probably is.
(Or I could blame it on the combination of growing up 1. in the Dutch-American context where you take what you get and are grateful for it, 2. in the missionary context of eating what our host feeds us so we don't embarrass anyone, and 3. in the Liberian context of that's what is available today, so eat it.)
* I stand up and insist for a living, after all. I will also do it when meat is involved.
Now Gone West. Also featuring: Liberia (1980-1990, 2000, 2006), Honduras (2000), Rwanda (2002-2004), New York (2004-2007 - unfortunate choice for law school), Tanzania (2005), South Sudan (2007), Michigan (the rest of the time).