Running the London Marathon, or Stumbling Toward Samadhi
This week I am scheduled to run twenty-two miles. It says so, right here on my “MARATHON GOAL: TO FINISH” training chart. Twenty-two is half my age. Twenty-two miles equals 38,720 yards, equals 116,160 feet, equals… well, you get the picture. It’s a long distance. A sobering distance for most runners. For a middle-aged mother of two teenagers who not only avoided jogging in the past, but also vocally, pridefully vowed never to run in the future, the task of running twenty-two miles is nothing short of Dantean, and I don’t mean Paradiso.
How the hell did I get here?
I. The Commitment
Unlikely commitment is not unprecedented in my life. Ask my parents, who spent a fortune sending me to private schools and Harvard University, only to watch me spend the next four years chasing all over the world to train for and then teach Transcendental Meditation for a pittance. Next I entered my song-writing phase, where I bought a guitar and traveled to Los Angeles with a suitcase full of mostly dreadful songs and a whim to combine them with producing children’s television. My mother’s parting words: “When are you going to become practical? It’s not as though you’re going to meet and marry a movie star…”
I proceeded to do just that. Two children quickly followed. When I didn’t like the choice of elementary schools for my kids, I joined forces with friends and we started our own. Unlikely, see what I mean?
I am also approaching another Big Birthday, number forty-five. Funny things happen to me at such times – my psyche behaves like a dog who has gotten into the Valentine’s chocolate – erratic, slightly crazed and prone to running in panting circles.
When I hit forty, four Octobers past now, I cut off all my hair, pierced my ears, quit my job and threw myself two celebratory events. At the official public party, friends and family came to eat, dance, sing karaoke to sixties music from Liverpool and watch a slide show of my life in which George Harrison’s picture kept popping up as my life-long crush. Like tandem skiers George and I slalomed through time in our parallel incarnations as mop-tops, hippies, seekers and eventual graying entrepreneurs.
I had a blast. But then, I was already well-armed.
The weekend before, I had organized a private three-day Sierra mountain retreat, a birthday reunion along the lines of “ This is Your Life” attended by a small but choice selection of old and new women friends invited to be my fairy God-sisters. I provided the transportation, food and wine. They brought an assortment of wishes to get me through the next forty years with grace, and, I dared hope, flare. The final night I was showered with benisons and then we danced around in a sodden circle with a smoldering smudge stick wand in our midst, laughing our tipsy asses off. We dubbed ourselves the “Women’s Professional Birthday Association,” and vowed to reune at fifty.
A surprise guest was my best friend from seventh grade, Debby. In 1965, Debby alighted in my life like an exotic bird. A brunette amongst blonds, a Catholic amongst Episcopalians, a mystery amongst the familiar. Her mother was a dead ringer for Jackie Kennedy, her father resembled Bing Crosby, and she went to a weird thing called Confession every week. I loved her on sight, this riotous mixture of religious devotion, black humor, brilliance and kooky sensitivity. We were soon finishing each other’s sentences during nightly telephone marathons, and laughing ourselves sick cruising the mean streets of Cold Spring Harbor every weekend. Almost thirty years later, after a long drought, Debby showed up at my birthday retreat with poems by Rilke and reports of her own woes and wisdoms. She and I relinked as neatly as two puzzle pieces whose surfaces had changed but interlocking abilities remained constant.
This past September, I decided to return to New York for our school’s fiftieth anniversary dinner dance. I asked her to come with me.
“ I was only there for two years.” Debby was patient over the telephone. “No one will even remember me.”
“You have to come,” I replied. “I’m not facing those teachers alone.”
“Tinker,” she said, “Most of them are probably dead.”
“All the more reason for you to come with me. What if I’m the oldest graduate there? Who will I talk to?”
“God help me,” she said. And I knew I had her.
But she got me back. Twenty-six fucking miles of marathon worth, oh yes, Debby got me back.
I should have known better, of course. I should have known the minute Debby started in with the rock-climbing business.
“You can stay with me when you come,” she chirped a few days later, when I called her to confirm plans. “I know, we’ll go to the gym I just joined and you can try rock climbing. They have a wall.”
As if she’d only just thought of it.
“I don’t climb,” I answered. “I don’t even climb ladders.”
“You’ll love it,” she continued as if I hadn’t spoken. “I’ll sign you up for a lesson.”
Rock-climbing is another one of those “no way, as in absolutely not, as in never” experiences in my life. I’m terrified of heights. When I get past a certain altitude, maybe three feet, something shuts down in my brain and I freeze into whatever contorted position fate has placed me, like a player in the childhood game of “Statue.” Besides, I don’t see the point of climbing up rocks. Get me a gondola any time.
Yet I found myself last September six feet above the floor straddled across a surface riddled with fake fissures and multi-colored, simulated toe-holds. I was frozen like a lizard on a terrace wall, diapered in a humiliating harness, while somewhere behind and below me Debby and my rock-climbing instructor lay on their backs, the latter playing me like a spinnaker from two ropes winched to his waist.
“ I’m ready to get down now,” I whispered, thinking, I flew three thousand miles from sunny California to rock climb in a gym in Manhattan?
“You’re doing great, Tink,” Debby said.
“I’m ready to come down,” I said with more force. “Now.”
“I MEAN IT, DEBBY.”
The instructor must have noticed my growing resemblance to a person in the final throes of rigor mortis, for he suddenly snapped to attention.
“Okay, now. No problem. Just push off,” he soothed.
“What?” I must have heard wrong.
“Just push off, push away from the wall.”
“WITH MY ARMS????” This guy was a lunatic, they were all lunatics. I was never speaking to Debby again, and if I managed to peel myself off this wall in my lifetime I would tell her so.
The euphoria of survival proved so intoxicating, however, that later as we parboiled in the club’s steaming Jacuzzi, instead of renouncing Debby like a bad habit I found myself listening as she broached her next scheme.
“I want to run a marathon before I get too old,” she announced. I failed to note the sly gleam in her eyes.
“Good for you, Deb.” I said.
“Why don’t you run one with me? It would be great for you, take your mind off things.” She was referring to a revelation I had just made to her about the current rocky state of my marriage – near-death experiences tend to induce confessions of their own.
“How about it?” Debby ventured as she sank into the steam up to her beady eyes.
“I don’t run,” I said. “I don’t even run up stairs.” I could see where this was heading, so I upped the ante. “ I loathe running, all that bouncing around of scenery and boobs. Who needs it? I like to walk.”
“There’s a marathon in April. In London.”
One thing you need to know about me. I hate missing out on things. London in April seemed like something I would miss. I love London, and I especially love London in April. Fields of Wordsworthian daffodils carpeting St. James Park, masses of baby ducklings, all that British sap on the rise. Oh hell.
“What do I have to do?” I asked.
II. The Training
I lied. I did run once before in my life, in 1973, and the experience almost killed me. Harvard was sponsoring its first cross-country race, a three-mile event that took place, if memory serves, on some enormous field down by the Charles River. I decided to run it, on a whim. I was young, I assumed I was fit, and I didn’t want to miss out on that first race.
As fate would have it, I won the women’s division. Even got my name published in the “Harvard Crimson,” sports section. I won not because I was remotely fast, but because the only two other women running were septuagenarians. I also beat a man on crutches and a few dogs. The next day I was helping my sister move apartments in Boston. Crossing the street with a lamp clutched in my arms, I glanced to my right and spied a truck approaching from two blocks away. Not a problem, normally, but when your sore body is behaving like a scuttling and crippled crab, any moving vehicle heading your way represents danger, and they don’t brake for crabs in Boston. I barely made it to the sidewalk in time, whereupon I sat down on the curb and bawled.
That was from running three miles at the age of twenty.
I was in for some serious training.
But first, equipment. I like to be prepared. I make lots of pro and con lists in life, and when traveling I pack for all contingencies and most weather systems.
In this case, the obvious place to start was my feet. I called Debby.
“Talk to me about shoes,” I said.
“You need the best, and they cost a fortune,” she replied. “Get them a half size bigger than normal, so your toes don’t bleed.”
This was not encouraging. First of all, I’m very fond of my toes. I don’ t want to have bleeding toes, no I do not. On the other hand, what if I passed out or even died running this marathon and the coroner checked my shoe size? I already grew a half size with each child, and was up to eight and a half. Moving up another half size would make me the owner of size nine feet, veritable canoes. No wonder that gal Tinker didn’t make it, they would say, her big feet got in the way.
Blood won over pride.
I took my entire birthday check sent by my mother and bought egregiously expensive running shoes, size nine, with bubbled heels and crisscross lacing. I bought two sports bras with matching running shorts. I bought three pairs of socks guaranteed to prevent blisters. And I bought my training bible, Jeff Galloway’s book on running, recommended by Debby. I was set.
On October 5, 1996, I drove up the hill to the Lake Hollywood Reservoir and ran my first “long run.” Since I had been briskly walking between two and four miles every day for several years, I decided to start with a distance of three miles. Makes sense, right? Briskly walked three miles versus lightly run three miles? Easy.
Wrong, wrong, and wrong again.
Whatever it was I did that morning, to call it running is an insult to the sport. I shuffled, I stumbled, I puffed and I panted. I hurt all over, from my feet in their new white shoes, glowing like headlights on high beam, to my chest, which heaved alarmingly within its spandex breastplate. This was torture.
“Thousands of runners have followed this program and successfully completed marathons” said my book, as I reviewed the MARATHON GOAL: TO FINISH bit again while soaking in a hot bath that night. Had I missed something? Like how?
I wrote Debby an e-mail entitled “Thighs and Whispers” and whined.
“Where are the endorphins?” I demanded. “Where’s the fucking bliss?”
“Make sure you’re running slowly enough to be able to talk,” she wrote back. Talk? As in open ones mouth and create sensible sounds? Gasp, maybe. Talking was in some distant unforeseeable future where my lungs no longer resembled a pair of bellows on Methamphetamine.
She was coming out to L.A. in two weeks to climb rocks in Joshua Tree, and suggested stopping by for a run.
We ran four miles. Debby was uncharacteristically quiet afterward. Some months later, she confessed to me that viewing my hunched and shuffling form, even my best friend from seventh grade was assailed with doubt. In truth, I resembled one of those “Ascent of Man” charts you find in Natural History Museum shops – but in reverse. I would start my runs upright, then gradually curl over in pain until I practically propelled myself forward on my knuckles by the final laps, more chimp than human.
This particular method of training follows the theory that our bodies will do what we ask of them, as long as we’re patient and don’t overdo. You kind of sneak up on the damn thing, by running shorter distances, say four miles, a few times every week, while every Sunday you add miles to the previous “long run,” until before you know it you’re up to ten, twelve, twenty miles. You have to run at least one twenty-six mile distance before the marathon. Once there your body, faced with the same distance again, will say, “Oh yeah, I remember this. No prob, just don’t push it any further okay?”
The first month of training was loathsome. Only pride and the cost of my shoes kept me going. Also the running chart, a series of columns listing each day and the proscribed number of miles required for the training. Each day I would carefully circle my 0-2, or 4, or eventually 12 and 14 miles on Sundays and see the progress on paper. I’m a hard copy, gold star kind of gal – I used to check off practice days on my piano lesson sheets, too. This chart was right up my alley.
Soon, like a person standing in line at Disneyland, I could feel better simply by looking back at all the little circles in a row behind me, rather than at what lay ahead. And the running got easier. One day I caught myself actually smiling as I rounded one of the reservoir bends. Sometimes my daughter-in-law Theya joined me – a young tall beauty with legs up to her neck. Running with her I resembled my Bassett Hound, Lucinda. I matched every lanky Theya stride with about four of my own. But I kept up.
For Christmas, my husband gave me a patented rubberized fanny pack which was designed to nest a canary yellow tape-player. I had sneered at this kind of equipment in the past, but when you are doing fourteen miles at the rate I run, you need distractions.
My fifteen-year-old son kicked in with two homemade tapes of all his favorite songs, and I soon found myself yodeling around the reservoir to Blues Traveler and Indigo Girls, leaving a trail of bemused walkers shaking their heads as I screamed by, auditorily speaking. Books on tape had also appeared in my stocking and I spent one long run listening to funny dog stories by James Herriot. And more funny dog stories. And more funny dog stories. After three solid hours of funny dog stories I can honestly say I never want to experience another dog story – funny or not – in this lifetime, but they did pass the time.
Reactions to my training for the marathon have varied. As with impending childbirth, one receives lots of dietary tips, horror stories, and unwanted suggestions of the best way to do it, often from people who never have.
“Definitely eat lots of meat,” one friend advised. I had confessed to having sudden urges for rare steak – this after avoiding red meat for years – and finding myself in restaurants behaving like Mia Farrow in “Rosemary’s Baby,” tearing at some poor cow’s uncooked flank.
“Avoid meat – eat brown rice,” said a woman in my yoga class who worked for a podiatrist to the marathon stars. “That’s what they feed the winners.”
I smiled at that. The likelihood of me being anywhere near the winners after about ten seconds of running was slim enough that I could forgo brown rice if I wanted. As God’s slowest runner, come April I’d be happy to finish behind the people who sweep up the paper cups.
Men love the idea of my training for a marathon. They eye me with new respect and never ask if I’m running for anything, like AIDS or Leukemia. They understand on some visceral level this lunacy of pushing the envelope of middle age for its own sake. Women’s responses are more mixed. While some leap at the idea like striking trout, others recoil from me, crimped by worry.
“Are you sure you should?” asks one anxious acquaintance.
“Don’t go overboard and hurt yourself,” from another.
And the hardest question of all to answer, when I tell someone I’m training to run a marathon: “Why?”
III: Stumbling toward Samadhi
Long marriages are marathons in their own right. Some years are as easy as folding a sheet of paper, while others become crumpled masses of crisis and angst.
You hit walls, you conquer new ones, and each time you pray to be able to hang in for a few more laps in order to reach the next invigorating hit of euphoria that surely waits around the bend like the tangy scent of Eucalyptus.
This year, my marriage hit a rough patch. “Rough patch,” now there’s a phrase that belongs to my former East Coast White Anglo-Saxon Protestant life, one which cohabits amicably with “Well done,” and “How simply extraordinary.” I’ve lived in Southern California for almost twenty years, so allow me to start over.
This year my marriage experienced a fucking earthquake – off the Richter scale – a massive temblor that left me reeling and seeking ever more elusive solid ground.
Without going into gory details, I found myself this past spring with my first broken heart. I do not recommend waiting until you are forty-three to experience such a thing. Frankly, I was felled. I spent months alternating between self- portraits of “Woman Weeping” and “Woman on a Rampage.” I guess the only good thing I can say is I didn’t boil anyone’s bunny.
I remember one day, while visiting my husband in Vancouver, I was walking along the sea wall with my Bassett Hound Lucinda. A Bassett Hound is the perfect dog to have while undergoing heart-break, by the way – they tend to look abjectly miserable on their good days. It was a beautiful, clear summer afternoon, after months of steady drizzle. English Bay was papered with ships so still they looked glued to the horizon, and I felt the faintest flutter of joy beat inside me, like a weak moth. I decided to turn into the woods of Stanley Park.
“I’ll survive this,” I thought. “I have to.” I looked around. Lucy was running somewhere behind me in the trees. As I called to her, she came galloping out of the woods, tongue lolling in ecstasy. (So okay, I lied again… one more funny dog story.) I started to smile at her, but my mouth stretched into a grimace of horror as I realized she had somehow found someone’s excrement in the woods and rolled in it head to toe. The possibilities for metaphor were staggering. We were both up to our dewlaps in someone else’s crap.
I have a friend, Camille, whom I long ago fondly dubbed the “Ooga-Booga Queen.” She is blond and lithe, and her Louisiana roots endowed her with a voice as honeyed and warm as a fresh beignet from the French Quarter. Camille is the person I want by my side if I ever get hit by a truck. She is certified in homeopathy and has her Emergency Medical Training certificate – I picture her sprinkling Rescue Remedy over me with one hand and stanching my wounds with the other.
Like a cosmic peddler Camille traverses life with a cart full of potions, amulets, and healings of all forms. We met while teaching meditation decades ago. Across the milestones of marriage, children, middle-aging, we have studied each other for signs of enlightenment, or Samadhi – after twenty-five years of T.M. in the a.m. and the p.m., we figure it’s only a matter of time before one of us gets there. We survived our own catastrophic interpersonal breach some years past, and are now closer than ever.
Truck accidents come in many forms. When I limped back home from the Vancouver summer from hell, I wheeled myself to Camille’s door like the accident victim I was. I needed fixing.
“I know this man in Minneapolis. His name is M.P. You should give him a call,” said Camille, as she mixed me an elixir in a little brown bottle and handed it to me along with a small plastic tube of little white homeopathic pills for stress. “Here, put four of these under your tongue every hour- your case is acute.”
“What’s he do?” Acute or not, I was still capable of skepticism.
“Oh, you know, this and that. He’s kind of like a Vedic Astrologer.”
My husband’s show had just moved to Minneapolis. The coincidence seemed auspicious.
I found myself at seven the next morning dialing a number in Minneapolis.
“Hel-lowww.” The voice was high-pitched. Indian.
“Hello, M.P.? This is Camille’s friend,Tinker.”
“Could you call back in five minutes please?”
Weird. Apparently he was seeing if I was worth salvaging based on my voice. I sat, heart thudding. What if I failed this test? How hopeless did that make me?
“Hello? This is Tinker again.”
“Yes.” Silence followed.
Now what? The gap stretched thin like a rubber band, constricting my throat with each passing moment.
“ Um.” I floundered, hot with embarrassment. “Um. I’m not really sure what to do here, um, I mean say here. . .” Just great. I could have saved the cost of the call and self-flagellated in private.
“What is the problem?” His voice was unperturbed, and kind.
Ten minutes later, when I paused to take a breath, he spoke a second time.
“What do you want?” he asked.
What did I want? I was flooded with wants. I wanted him to create waxen figures, male and female both, and stick pins into them until they looked like lamentable porcupines. No, I didn’t. I wanted to have some young Adonis start following me around in public like an imprinted gosling. No, I didn’t. I wanted my marriage to go back to the way it was before. No, I didn’t.
I wanted bunnies and more bunnies to boil.
“I want to feel like myself again,” I said.
“All right. I can help.”
He did my astrological chart, and that of my husband. His insights into our personalities, our strengths and weaknesses were uncanny. He predicted various upcoming spasms and twists in the coiled innards which had become my marriage with a precision which bordered on spooky, but at least prepared me. How he did these things, I had no idea. In my imagination he uttered incantations through the night as incense coiled overhead and planets tipped slightly on their axles. I didn’t really care. My M.P. talks became a lifeline, long-distance telephone therapy with just the right mix of sensitivity and ooga-booga. On the one hand he told me I was emotionally immature, like a child, which I knew already – I’ve raised enough kids to know acting out when I encounter it – but on the other he told me how fine and good a person I was, how special to the universe. He sent me powders for midnight freak-outs, and talismans for strength, and threw me a rope each time I swallowed too much brine. One morning, after a long night of solitary misery imbibing a bottle plus of Chardonnay, I sat at my desk staring at my empty computer screen and berating my hung-over personage. The telephone rang.
“ Hel-lowww. Teenk-er? This is M.P.”
My friend Camille had told me M.P. never makes calls himself. I was startled.
“M.P.? As in M.P.? ”
“How are you?’
I burst into tears.
“I’m a mess, I can’t crawl out of this pit, and I’m drinking way too much.”
“Ah,” said M.P.
“I keep thinking I’m fine and then I fall apart again.”
“Hmm.” said M.P.
“How can I stop drinking?” I asked.
“Pray three times a day for what you want,” he said. “ Rest of time, drink.”
“Rest of time, drink!” We were both chuckling when I hung up.
“My kind of therapist,” Debby later commented as I gave her my monthly state of the soul report. Yet how did he know that permission to indulge was all I needed to decide I didn’t need wine as desperately as I thought?
From what I can glean from Camille, usually M.P. acts like a heat-seeking missile with clients, attacking a particular problem quickly and precisely, then moving on. I, however, was what you would call a high-maintenance consumer, a Humpty-Dumpty who’d emotionally plummeted off the wall. In his world of sprinting, I was M.P.’s marathon.
My husband’s show moved to Los Angeles in November. Our situation deteriorated. But I was running. Circling my miles as if my very life depended on the slow but steady progression along the charted lines. Running provided respite from my obsessive mind-trips, and proof that in one way, at least, I was moving ahead. Still, more seemed called for. Shortly after a miserable Thanksgiving, I sent out another S. O. S. Camille dipped into her arsenal and pulled out Trinh Le.
“I’ve made an appointment for you with Trinh.”
“You remember, Tinker, I’ve told you about her. Viet Namese. Fabulous – has a degree in acupuncture.”
“I don’t do needles, Camille. I don’t even sew.”
Why do I even bother?
Trinh’s house off Venice Boulevard was prim and neat. The plants on her front porch looked glossy with health. We walked into a cool white foyer with a sofa against the wall and a desk positioned exactly in the middle of the room. Behind it was a large poster of Sylvester Stallone’s movie “Cliffhanger,” bearing the scrawled inscription: “To Trinh, who keeps me young. Love, Sly.” He looked glossy with health, too.
I sat down on the sofa, my hands clammy.
A tiny woman in a white coat with a smooth face the color of acorn juice scurried in.
“Hi hi hi,” she said to Camille. She appeared to be in her fifties, but it was hard to tell. No wrinkles.
“Trinh, this is my friend Tinker I was telling you about.” Camille gestured to me, and a pair of bright brown sparrow eyes observed me as they would a rare specimen of worm. The eyes narrowed. Trinh began to shake her head in a most alarming manner.
“No no no. You wick,” she said, backing away as if I bore deadly spores in my cuffs. “Wick wick wick. Cannot help.”
I turned to Camille in alarm. Her eyes were wide.
“What’s she saying?” I whispered.
“She says your system’s weak, Tinker.”
Trinh was now zeroing in on my stomach area.
“Why you so wick there?” she asked, jabbing her finger in the direction of my groin. “No strong, only wick, why?”
Was this part of some new-age conspiracy, a requisite initiation rite to make you feel worse than before so you’ll do anything to be treated? I was dying. I wanted to leave, but Trinh’s eyes pinned me to the sofa. I sat up straighter. If Sly Stallone could survive this, so could I.
I leaned over to Camille and whispered, “Should I tell her I’m on the pill?”
“You are?” Camille looked at me in shock. “I didn’t know anyone our age was still on the pill. For how long?”
“Um, years,” I ventured. Always prepared, that’s me, and after conceiving both children on the first try, I thought I was behaving with remarkable prudence.
“What she saying? She on pill?” Trinh pounced on my whispered words. Sparrow became merciless hawk, dive-bombing a tiny wriggling mouse. She pointed at me again.
“Cannot treat, unless you go off pill.”
Again, I turned to Camille. My voice grew shrill.
“Camille,” I squeaked. “I will get pregnant.”
Camille’s mouth was tugging upward suspiciously at the corners. She was enjoying this way too much.
“Trinh,” she cajoled. “I’m sure Tinker will do what you ask.”
Trinh relented, and gestured us both into her treatment room in the back. Soon Camille and I were lying buck naked side by side on two snowy white cots, and Trinh was tearing open packets of needles, all the while muttering about me being “wick” and “empty inside.” I tried to tell her of my heartbreak, hoping to stir up some sympathy.
“You Americans,” she said dismissively. “Why you always so messy? Everything messy all the time.” As she talked she inserted needles smoothly into my face, head and legs. I closed my eyes, regretting my previous fantasies of waxen revenge. I had become my own voodoo doll.
“You spoiled brat, Tinker,” she next stated. “Spoiled rotten brat.” Zip, a needle went into my thigh. Zip, another lower down in my shin. A curious lassitude crept over me.
“But cute,” she added.
Well, that was something, anyway. Still, she probably told all her clients that. She probably told Sly he was cute all the time.
I opened my eyes.
“I can’t believe I’m paying you sixty dollars an hour to call me a spoiled brat,” I said lazily. Trinh giggled, and I relaxed even more.
“You very fertile,” she said abruptly, pressing down on my abdomen, and I felt myself tense up again. “You able to have babies until you fifty-one.” Jesus, that’s all I needed. I opened my eyes again, trying unsuccessfully to look Trinh in the eye while avoiding the reality of my body as human pin cushion.
“Trinh,” I warned, “If I get pregnant I’m calling the baby Camille Trinh Fuck-you Beatty.” I could feel Camille’s cot shaking with laughter. Trinh snorted.
“That okay – you just use initial F. and nobody know the difference. That wonderful.”
After this first session, Camille took me to the Hare Krishna Temple store down the street to buy some presents for Christmas. That’s not as weird as it sounds. They have wonderful jewelry and silk scarves and fine wool shawls, all imports from Bali at Filene’s Basement prices. I thought I was absolutely back to normal from the acupuncture, until I impulsively bought several impractical items including a pair of silver sequin studded slippers to wear, I later realized, with my going-out-to-dinner sari which needless to say I didn’t own. After trying on the shoes, I put my boots back on. They felt funny, and when I looked down I saw that I’d put them on the wrong feet, like a kid in Preschool after dress-ups.
Trinh began treating me once a week. My reputation as acute case continued unchallenged – she usually boots people out after four sessions or so. I wondered, had she and M.P. talked? Still, each week she grudgingly allowed that I was a little better knit together, and my foaming at the mouth emotional eruptions abated very quickly once I did as she said and went off the pill. I anticipated her treatments with a kind of perverse pleasure, as one anticipates the long runs, for example. Trinh promised to supply me with a special kind of Ginseng draught when I ran the marathon.
I kept running. My clothes began to hang a little looser, and I found to my delight I could eat whatever I wanted without consequence. My family began to brag about my lengthening distances.
For her final salvo, in February Camille introduced me to a course on breathing, one which dovetails beautifully with my meditation practice. I didn’t even trouble to protest – I couldn’t very well say I don’t do breathing, now could I? Instead, I showed up to learn the Kriya technique when and where she told me to, as meek as milk. The technique was wonderful. For the first time in almost a year I was able to step off the mental wheel of random and spiteful thought, a treadmill which had held me prisoner. As my daughter once stated, the problem with treadmills is you never get there.
Suddenly I could function. I sailed through my work, and began to like myself and my husband again.
“You more mature now,” Trinh conceded grudgingly.
“Teenk-er, instead of attachment to the man, you’ve learned attachment to the love,” M.P. declared. “You are home.”
Well, maybe not quite, but the finish line did look closer.
I received confirmation of my acceptance to the marathon. Congratulations!, it stated in bold print. “You have been successful in this year’s International Lottery for the Flora London Marathon which takes place on April 13th, 1997.”
I was in.
Come April 13, thighs willing, I will have run twenty-six miles at least once. I will arrive in London enough days in advance to beat jet lag into submission, and I will have packed for any and all contingencies and weather systems.
I doubt I’ll be much faster than my current sloth’s pace, but I comfort myself with the thought that factoring in the time difference between California and England, even a ten hour marathon in London puts my L.A. finish up there with all those brown-rice-eating winners.
I try to imagine how it will feel, bunched at the start with hundreds of other runners bedecked with numbers and nervous as jockeys. I try to imagine starting the run on Charleton Road south of the Thames and winding through London on a route that twists and turns like a Chinese kite. I try, but the actual event still seems impossibly unreal.
What I do know is this. As I run the London Marathon, Blues Traveler blasting in my ear, expensive though now greying shoes on my feet, my route will be strewn with helpmates, visible and not. Over here, startling as the first Spring daffodil in St. James Park, Camille’s blond head will bloom like a golden apparition in the crowd as she showers me with ghostly drops of Rescue Remedy. There, by London Bridge, M.P. will stand, chuckling and pointing toward the imperceptible planets wheeling overhead. Swigging my Ginseng as I pass St. Paul’s Cathedral, I will contemplate my spoiled rottenness, my inherent cuteness, and Trinh will call out from the sidelines, “You strong now, you very strong,” and at the finish my family’s spirits will nod and beam with pride. My breath will be clean and steady, my eyes on the goal I never thought I could reach, and right next to me, matching me stride for stride, will be my best friend from seventh grade.
Sounds like Samadhi to me.