The sky is cloudless, save for the remnants of the sliver of morning moon over my shoulder. The wind stirs just a bit as I round the corner by the junior high my son recently attended, and the early temperatures are blissfully cool in contrast to the stifling heat and sweltering humidity that had been hovering like a blanket for the past few days. The parched grass has retained its dew, glistening in the sun as I retreat from the landscaping also enjoying summer vacation. The uneven slats of sidewalk are familiar to me, to the point I know where to anticipate a patch of gravel and modify my footsteps slightly, careful of their placement. Glancing up, the blue of the sky is mesmerizing, and I think that I must be approaching the 13-mile mark. Within seconds my running app confirms my thought, and I think about how far I can go today, quickly taking inventory of my body from top to bottom.
I am tired from lack of sleep the night before and anticipating the day ahead, pushing the celebration of life I will be attending out of my mind in favor of the path in front of me. The work-related responsibilities that will need my attention later are also shoved aside in favor of another glance up at the perfectly blue sky. In this moment, I am content to ignore all of those other things and simply let my fatiguing limbs guide me along, my knotted hair sagging in its ponytail at the back of my neck, no longer in its usual place at the top of my head, limp from the sweaty miles. My neuropathic chemo feet lost feeling somewhere around mile two, but otherwise I am caught up in the run, relaxed back into my hips the way I should be, shoulders and arms loose. I am running.
And then the ground beneath me is gone.
My hands arc out before me and I remember this feeling just a few weeks before, my left foot looking for stability and finding it, if only for a split second, and then disappearing. My brain processes the horrifying inevitable, and I am prepared for the pain, silently cursing myself for pushing my body beyond what it should have been doing on a handful of hours of sleep. I have enough time to think about the fracture in my left hand that may or may not have healed yet as the left side of my body hits the pavement, first at the elbow and then on the same wrist, cushioned by my cell phone. In an awkward “tuck and roll” motion, my right knee slams down on the outer corner and I feel the skin tearing away as my right flank follows suit. The warm, sticky oozing has already begun on my elbow, and I am torn between anger and fear before examining my body. Just a few feet beyond me on the pavement glitters the remnants of some sort of glass bottle and I think about how close I was to landing in it. Getting up, my right knee protests my weight. Balancing on my left leg, I rock my right shin back and forth to test the joint and decide that it can withstand the trip back home as I send a single text, “I fucking fell again.” Taking a photo of my elbow with the blood now dripping off the point, I send it to answer the question I know is coming and start to move along, thinking that standing there isn’t going to improve the situation. Adrenaline kicks in as the droplets of DNA spatter along my shirt and I am increasingly mindful of the changes in the sidewalk as I begin to run again, decreasing my running goal slightly for the day. I stop once to lift my shorts and check the damage to my right thigh, only to hear honking and decide it can wait.
Looping into my neighborhood, I run to the backside where the subdivision was never fully developed and finish out the run. Whether superstition or habit, I cannot end a run on uneven mileage, even with the dried blood crusting and the swelling evident on my joints. Slowing to a walk, I hike up the legs of my shorts and check out the right thigh and hip to see an angry red mark and the beginning of a bruise. Looking down at an incoming text on my phone, I can see the case of my phone has taken another beating as well, and I wonder how many more falls it will survive.
Entering the house, the dog immediately tends to my wounds as I make coffee and settle on the deck in the sun with her for a few minutes. Looking at the time, we head upstairs and she keeps watch as I shower, listening to me talk to her about the need to carefully clean dirt out of the scrapes. As I dress, I tell her about the plans for the rest of the day, but also that I had a few more miles left in me. Her head tilts in understanding of the double entendre as I carefully place two band-aids on my wounds, asking her if pirate band-aids will be inappropriate for a celebration of life. I look at her sweet face and answer for her. It won’t matter, as I think about what I’m about to do and why I wanted to run as long as possible this morning. Taking a deep breath, I head out.
And then the ground beneath me is gone.