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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Vagabond - Homeless Journal - Running for Life

I am running for my life.
By Kerry Echo

I am running to save my life and running away from it.

I come along the straight of the oval where the breeze off the ocean feels as though it is under my feet and lifting me. I always have that sensation of riding this stretch, although one would think the wind would slow me down. I run backward on the track, or clockwise, just so that I can sail this stretch while everyone else, for no known obvious reason, runs the opposite way. I am not trying to be odd. I just like the feeling, and so far as I know, there are no rules about which direction to run a track.

Besides, running the track clockwise gives me the widest, longest view of the ocean. The other side of the track, which one suffers in counter-clockwise motion, abuts the baseball field, out-buildings, and the score board; and the breeze is at one's back when one rounds the end of the oval and enters the straight I enjoy so much.

One cannot just count the laps and expect to be happy and to want to do it again. No. My wide-hipped female body with slender ankles is in poor ratio for running, which best suits more slender women. So the rebellion in my body starts almost instantly. My hips complain loudly of being pinched and compressed on all sides from the jolts they are sustaining with every foot fall, but I move my attention to the pleasure in my feet and toes and the room they have to spread out in my shoes. I can feel the small muscles there and all throughout my calves.

I was told by a good runner a long time ago to remember that my heart is moving me when I run, not my legs. Indeed, that entire engine in my chest is the force behind the locomotion. Pumping my arms, he told me, moving them in a C shape between my chest and downward only to brush the sides of my hips, back and forth, would give me the momentum I need and remind my feet to keep up. To think I only run four laps.

My shoes help. They are the race car of running shoes, Ecco Bioms made in Denmark of yak-hide leather. It is a light-weight shoe that molds to the foot. There is very little sole in the usual sense and no bounce at all in these shoes as a consequence. They simply -- no frills -- carry your foot, much the way a sports car rides low to the ground and one can feel every bump in the road, a sacrifice of luxury for performance. At the same time, the Biom is a natural shoe, like Birkenstock, which, after a while, conforms so well to your foot you don't feel it.

These shoes take some getting used to, though, and people accustomed to the cushiness of other models will initially think it categorically impossible to run in the Bioms. The other models of running shoe give you a start, a bounce if you will, because of the wide thick heels and rounded up toes. But my feet would come to hurt, and the shoes would feel more like concrete boots after a mile around the track. I would sprout blisters on the bottom of my toes and between them, and that darn big toe would need massaging if I wanted to sleep at night.

To get started in Bioms, one has to start by creating some artificial bounce at first to be able to lift the feet and initiate a running motion; but the entire foot is engaged. I have heard, of course, how many muscles there are in the foot; but I can feel all of them with this shoe as I put myself into the rhythm of the run.

It is here on the track that I lose the demons and the overwhelming sense that my troubles are insurmountable. Throw in some nagging remorse and sorrow over whatever portion of this suffering I brought on myself, a longing for the way things used to be, and the pall of thinking maybe things won't come right, after all, and I am ready for Bellevue. Really, nothing says things will come right. The hard-stare face-down I give my reality --- my way of preventing myself from entertaining delusions, the kind that brought me to this parallel universe of homelessness in the first place --- is perhaps necessary, but painful.

Therefore, I run.

Bellevue, the longstanding, proverbial household term for nut house, is a real hospital in New York City, and it is the oldest public hospital in the United States. It was founded in 1793 and still serves people of all backgrounds, irrespective of ability to pay. However, contrary to popular myth, Bellevue has never been only a psychiatric facility. Bellevue Hospital Center had the first ambulance service and the first maternity ward, hosted Nobel Prize winners in medicine, and was the site of the development of the Polio vaccine. It has been affiliated for a long time with New York University School of Medicine and is considered to be a training ground for leaders in the field.

I needed this cool factual break, though I must add that Bellevue here is Mesa Vista, a facility I intend to visit before I ever spend another entire week crying and disabled by grief.

The secret to running is not to think about it. Even while the compression and ache around the hips is ever-present, I notice how the run feels in the buttocks, calves, thighs, and so on. The secret to living my life right now is, similarly, losing the fixation on what hurts. But what hurts in my life is . . . well, everything. My life is the remnant of a life, and I am impaired by it. I am crippled, and maybe it is this with which I must come to terms. Perhaps I must see myself differently, not as I used to be, but as infirm and afflicted. Perhaps this is where my new life and all my thinking about it must begin.

Running may be only compensatory, a way to clear my head, a means to being too tired to think and worry. Maybe the Bioms are just a toy, something to distract and ease the mind. It is so hard to tell these days in the absence of things familiar and with living irregularly. Can I live this new life without thinking about it? Like a day at the track above the ocean?

Learn more from Kerry Echo at Vagabond

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