It’s the last mile of our long run training. Julie and I are pushing it. New friendship, new conversation, possibly a new time record for our 10K. One more incline to push us closer to depletion before the last speed flat, the supreme test of our hearing, our ability to pick out the whisper of our will to win amidst the screams from our bodies to stop this nonsense and eat, drink, and be merry. I’d been mostly deaf until Julie.
On intuitive cue, we glance at each other. Sweat whips off our hair. And there’s the fire, in her eyes, in mine, determination equally matched. In a flash I get a hit, feel a glow of gratitude, of Fate maybe changing its mind about me and maybe starting to deal me some good cards for a change. In just three months Julie has become the best friend and running partner of all time. The other shoe may drop as usual, but I’ve learned to ride the good wave while it’s under my feet.
We reach the top of the incline and there’s that glint of old, from childhood, mirrored back to me from her eyes. It’s the fully understood but unspoken dictum that allows for the unleashing of all-out friendly fire, matching physical challenge for challenge, wit for wit. I give her the half-smile and abbreviated nod of agreement. In unison our heads sling sweat back around, our brows knit, and we pull the last reserves of strength up and out of ourselves to open up full bore on the straightaway for the last half-mile.
I’m going all out. Julie’s right with me. I wonder if she’s holding back for my sake. I kick the thought out of my head. She’s just screwing herself if she’s not giving her all. Just worry about you, just kick ass. By the time we cross the line, my thoughts are right, and we’re together. We check our watches. 44:17. We did it! We’re ecstatic, arms up, slow-running, jumping, skip-dancing. We trot out the cool-down squirting each other with water. We bend over laughing and recovering and back up again, throwing our heads back to get the wet hair out of our faces.
Then Julie stops. Her face clouds. She squints at me, “Is that an ‘L’ on your forehead?”
Shit. I walked out the door this morning without putting on the make-up that covers it. I try and make this as easy as possible on both of us and I make light of it. I shift into backwoods, “Shur is, ma’am. Ain’t you never seen a loser before?” I laugh. Julie just looks at me, aghast. I clear my throat.
I tell her, “Ah, Julie? You know, I got a buncha marks on me—physical and mental battle scars, tattoos, scars from removed tattoos… All of that. It’s not a big thing to me. Is it to you?”
Julie dropped her gaze from my forehead to my eyes, which were begging her to get off this and onto something else, to please not ruin this runner’s high, this time-shattering victory. It’s still god-awful early to be up on a Saturday, but it feels great, and the day is shouting possibilities at us, or it was.
Her eyes registered something between disbelief and pity. I hate that. Then she spoke, “Ah no. I mean normal scars, no. What is with that ‘L’? Are you OK?”
Anger jumped up in me from the black place. The “L” was a personal thing, like all the scars and tattoos, never meant to be gawked at with slack jaws exaggerated, never meant to be scrutinized and judged with holier-than-thou eyes and minds leaping blindly to way-out conclusions.
I checked my anger before speaking, but from fight or flight, my mind had already made its time-honored choice to fly, to drop this friendship like a rock and just run rejected back to my apartment and lick my inevitably reopened wounds.
“Julie,” I said, “Look. Yeah I have a history, and no I’m not OK, but I’m not the kind of ‘not OK’ that I see reflected in your eyes. I’ve leveled off. I don’t do that anymore. I get along just fine. Listen, I need to get to the post office and the bank before they close at noon and I have to…”
Julie interrupted, “No, Nicole, you’ve got me all wrong! The not OK part of you must be misreading the not OK part of me. Nobody’s OK. Everybody’s got their shit to deal with, even the ones who look like they don’t. I like you. We click. I’m asking about your wellbeing as a friend.”
I put my arm around Julie, “I’m sorry… Thank you…” We hugged then got coffee from a park vendor. We walked to a bench overlooking the water and I told her about my teen years, about the scars I made out of self-loathing, out of the volcanic stew always red-hot and roiling, waiting for prime conditions to erupt and ravage my mental landscape again and again. This went on, but lessened each year, until thirty-two, until a too-good-to-be-true Thad.
I told her how I made the “L” out of a jumbo paperclip in abject despair after Thad dumped me, and how, right after I stuck it in the fire and then onto my forehead, I got an intuitive hit that with that “branding” I’d just changed my life for the worst forever in a way I’d never changed it for the worst before. I felt like that was the end of the line, that I’d lost all hope for myself, and in so doing had just approved an irrevocable contract with the universe to deal me losing hands for as long as I lived.
I panicked and prayed to a God I remembered praying to as a child. I tried to make another deal. I said if God would revoke the loser contract, I’d never make another mark as long as I lived, in Jesus’ name I pray. I never felt sure that He revoked it, but I wasn’t entirely sure He didn’t, either, so I held to my half of the bargain.
Julie put her arm around me. We looked at each other and knew the other half of the bargain had been kept. Julie gave me a shove and deadpanned, “It’s a miracle you didn’t stamp yourself with an expiration date.”
Runners are from Getty Images
The poster from the 2000 movie, “Loser,” was snagged from http://www.impawards.com/2000/posters/loser.jpg
Missalister’s “The ‘L’ in miracle” was spun off the Sunday Scribblings prompt “#127 – Miracle.” Click here for more on prompt #127 from other Sunday Scribblings participants.