43

It’s the day after my 43rd birthday. I am soaking wet and thinking about percentages. I normally exercise in the morning or at lunch. I tend to dread it beforehand and feel fantastic afterward, so I try to fulfill that commitment as early in the day as possible. But work was especially busy and demanding and when lunchtime came, I decided to push off my run until the evening. The sun shone white hot most of the day but around 3 p.m., in what felt like a barometric temper tantrum, the sky suddenly turned dark and unleashed buckets of big fat raindrops, which splatted against my office window. Then it stopped as suddenly as it had begun. I left my office early to help my Dad with a few things and on the way to his apartment, the sky vacillated between, “It’s fine! I’m fine. I’m done.” and “Ehhhh, maybe a bit more rain?” By the time I left my Dad’s, the clouds had partially cleared and the air was heavy with a mesh of humidity. I pondered my odds on the drive home. I checked the weather on my phone and saw there was a 60% chance it would start raining again in the next hour. I mulled over the prediction. Sixty percent. “What’s going to happen”, I wondered. I took Mags out and hemmed & hawed about whether to run. My body and brain were exhausted from a busy week but I know how transformative exercise is, especially emotionally & spiritually. Not sure what to do (this ludicrous indecision is why I don’t normally put off exercising!), I sent up a prayer to anybody/thing listening to increase or decrease my desire in one direction or the other, so it was clear to me what I should do. Within a few minutes, I knew I needed to at least try to run. The sky was relatively clear, it wasn’t raining, and the storm seemed to have passed. “60% means it probably won’t rain,” I foolishly assured myself. I wore my North Carolina baseball cap just in case I needed cover and headed out.
The rain had cooled off everything and there was steam rising as a reminder of the once-scorching heat. My calves and knees felt sore and non-compliant. I slowed down a little, relaxed my shoulders, and tried to remember to soften my knees. I decided I would run at least 2 miles and hopefully 3. My brain fought me the entire first mile. “THIS IS TAKING FOREVER.” I caught a glimpse of my shadow. “YOU’RE HUNCHED OVER LIKE AN APE. WHAT’S THE POINT OF EVEN TRYING? OH LOOK, A SNAIL HAS JUST PASSED YOU.” But I’m familiar with these naysayers. I patted them on their heads and pressed onward. I heard my phone ding and felt certain it was a text from John saying he’d arrived home. A Katy Perry song came up on my playlist and I felt myself starting to get into a groove. I listened to the lyrics about an old flame and wondered if they were referring to Russell Brand when I noticed it was sprinkling. I didn’t want to turn around until I’d hit a mile-and-a-half, so I kept going. Within the next few minutes, the weather went from sprinkling to gentle raining to “THIS IS HAPPENING!!!” pouring. Then thunder cracked above and throbbed in the air around me and I thought about Maggie. She was a stray when we rescued her. She’s pretty scarred from her time spent unable to escape bad weather and even now, years later, is so sensitive to rain and storms. Her whole body shakes and she gets as close to you as she can, her eyes glazed over with abject fear. “Poor boo,” I thought and was glad John was home to comfort her. I checked my FitBit and saw I was only 1.2 miles in but without any kind of shelter anywhere in sight, I knew I needed to turn around to head back.
The rain was coming so quickly and copiously, giant puddles had formed in the street between the sidewalks I’d just run down. At first I could run around them but the rain was accumulating so quickly, they were soon unavoidable. My steps created satisfying tsunamis in every puddle and I reveled in the delirious pleasure of being completely soaked but headed in the right direction. “Ha, 60%,” I thought and grinned wildly. The cars whizzing by me tried to keep from contributing to my predicament but it was impossible with only a certain amount of space and so much water. You know those cartoonish scenes in movies where a car drives through a puddle and completely soaks someone walking by? That was happening to me over and over again, only it didn’t matter because I was already drenched. I suddenly became aware of how completely powerless I was over this storm. It didn’t make sense for me to stop and call John to pick me up because there was nowhere to even temporarily escape the rain. But I didn’t feel afraid. I felt certain about my best option – keep running toward home – and somehow comfortable in the knowledge I didn’t know how it would turn out. The last few years have taught me, over and over again, to settle into this type of surrender. I have so much experience trying to numb out and hide from it, it’s taken me ages to learn new coping skills. But on this day, I’m able to accept the not knowing. What are the chances I would even be running to begin with? I spent so many years disconnected from my body, fractured and suffocating under the weight of self-loathing. The odds felt against me. Still, there I was - running in a storm on the day after my 43rd birthday. I knew the only thing that matters which is to keep taking steps forward, even when the percentages aren’t in your favor.
My mind wandered to other recent odds. Like what are the chances I’d start going to a support group and end up meeting my husband? We had so much in common, including the absolutely absurd experience of losing a lot of literal and metaphorical weight. And what are the chances that the day after I married that man, I’d have to rush him to the hospital, where we’d find out he had leukemia? And what are the odds he’d have recently started a new job and didn’t have benefits yet so if we hadn’t gotten married the literal day before, he wouldn’t have had health insurance? And what are the odds that after 8 horrific rounds of chemo, he’d get pneumonia and nearly die? What even are the freaking chances someone could survive all that?? This one I know the answer to – 50%. That was the chance we were given in the ICU as a tornado of activity swirled around us. Nurses were sprinting around the room as they prepared an army of instruments and beeping machines to breathe for John. The doctor’s voice thundered into the sterile air, “You’re a very sick man, Mr. Polstra.”
My thoughts were interrupted by my phone ringing. The rain was starting to let up and I was nearly home. I answered with my headset, knowing it was John and that he’d be worried. I assured him I was close and kept running. Water sloshed comically in my shoes. My shorts were plastered to my thighs. My skin squeaked against itself in the nooks and crannies of my body as my arms and legs repeated the same familiar movements over and over. I stopped at the bottom of the driveway and checked my FitBit. 2.57 miles. John spotted me out the front window and opened the garage but I beckoned him outside. He stepped out of the house and onto the platform that starts a series of gently-sloping wooden stairs. Our friends built these stairs so he could more easily get in the house once he came home from the hospital. At the time, after nearly dying, he’d somehow fought his way from bed to wheelchair to walker to cane. And then one day, after months of fighting, he came home using the purple cane I’d gotten him, a gesture teasingly punctuated by my calling him Mr. Peanut. No one could believe the chances of him surviving and doing so well.
Today John looked at me from the wooden stairs and grinned. I asked, “Will you please take a picture of your goofy wife?” I recounted my adventure while he munched on an apple and smiled as though he was in on some secret about me. Somehow I survived another percentage. I felt content and full-hearted as I started peeling off my dripping clothes in the garage.

Originally published 2019 August 9 at 8:11 PM

43

Then & Now

Just for Today