Dearest Rachel –
I can’t seem to find a letter to you that tells you when I bought these running shoes, so you’ll have to take it on faith that I did, probably late in April or early in May. Scott and I went to that Runners’ High shop just outside the ‘alfresco’ section of downtown.
I recall seeing a mural behind the counter, with a number of signatures on it, which I assume to have been various well-known runners, because I recognized at least one name: Zola Budd, who’d run the 10,000 meter race against Mary Decker Tabb in the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles (which didn’t turn out so good for either of them, as they’d gotten tangled up in each others’ legs during the race; Tabb fell, and didn’t finish, while Budd finished eighth after having been inadvertently – and badly – spiked with Tabb’s cleats). The weird thing about seeing her signature in such a place was that she was known for running barefoot at the time. What’s her signature doing a mural in a shoe store?
Be that as it may, the clerk had me demonstrate my running style – what they called a gait analysis – and based on how I ran, she could determine what shoe was best suited for me. The selected shoe was snug almost to the point of being uncomfortable, but I could feel the cushioning within, around and underneath my foot supporting it. And due to the support, the idea was that it would preclude further shin splints and other such injuries attendant upon running for long stretches of time.
The shoes weren’t cheap, but compared to Air Jordans or Lil Nas’ latest creation (heaven help us), they were quite reasonable. And if they performed as advertised, all the better. Of course, I eventually gave up the idea of running a marathon completely, but I figured they would still serve whenever I decided to walk across town to the ‘office,’ or traveled any other extended distance on foot.
And they were meant specifically for that walk; once I got there, I was likely as not to take them off and sit around in my stocking feet. Those shoes were just not meant for sitting around in, and made themselves abundantly clear they weren’t by their tight embrace on my feet.
It eventually occurred to me that these would be ideal shoes to travel in, as traveling involved plenty of walking in and of itself, whether at the destination or just at the airport, even. So, I took them with me last weekend – and only them among my shoes.
And I won’t lie – they were comfortable every step of the way, even though as I was climbing the trail up to Loch Vale; for all that I was tired, winded and sore, none of that came from my feet. Props to Saucony for their expertly-made footwear.
However, by the time I returned home, I realized something: I was actually comfortable in them. Not as a walking shoe, but just sitting around wearing them. They weren’t gripping my feet quite as snugly as they had been, but rather just enough to be actually comfortable. I could, all of a sudden, simply sit around wearing them without feeling the need – or desire – to put on a different pair of gym shoes.
They had been ‘broken in,’ as the phrase goes. And while they would still be better as walking shoes than anything else I own, they no longer supported my feet at that optimal level that they had when I had first purchased them.
So what does that have to do with me, you might ask? Well, I’m starting to wonder if I haven’t been ‘broken in’ a bit, myself. Things that used to make me go to pieces, things that used to remind me so much of you, now hardly seem to faze me. I can listen to ‘our’ songs, and more often than not, shed not even the first tear. I can talk about you without getting reduced to a weepy mess. I’m getting comfortable with the situation at hand.
I don’t know if this is a sign that I’m recovering, or that I’m losing a bit of my humanity. I shouldn’t be comfortable about your absence, should I?
Although, I suppose I should make it clear that it’s too soon to definitely say that I’ve reached this as a permanent plateau. After all, there were a number of times last weekend when, in describing my situation or relating certain memories to these fellows that I’ve never met, I would find myself breaking down. I appreciate the fact that they were so supportive, despite not knowing me from Adam. I suppose that comes from both the brotherhood of man, and the brotherhood in Christ, but these gentlemen (and boys) surrounded me as brothers.
But at the same time, I’m noticing a slow drift toward… what? It doesn’t feel like healing, at least, not yet. Numbness? Perhaps, although I’ve been having episodes of that almost ever since day one, when I was answering the phone at two or three in the morning from the organ donation people. Maybe acclimatization would be the better word for it. I’ve grown used to waking up in an empty bed, walking around in an empty house, and talking to my phone as a substitute for you. I’ve even been able to tell you certain jokes and stories, suggesting that my sense of humor (which you compared to that of your dad’s, and insisted it was one of the reasons you fell for me in the first place) is making its way back to me. I can smile, and laugh, and even forget from time to time that I’m now on my own.
However, it’s that forgetting that I’ve been trying to stave off by reaching out to you this way. As much as I think I need to leave you behind in order to move on with my life, to do so would be to practically carve out and destroy that time that we had together from my life. And I shouldn’t be doing that, should I?
It’s a terrible balancing act, but I think I’m getting used to sitting on that tightrope, rather than wishing I could fall into your arms.
And since I can’t go backwards to when you were still with me, all I can do is to keep taking steps forward, one by one… and hope these shoes continue to support me as I do.