On another day, in a different week, I might have slipped off my capris and tank and back into my pajamas before heading to the couch, where I would lie until the boys woke up.
But it wasn't a different day and it wasn't a different week. At 5 a.m. today, I did not need to go back to sleep. I needed to run. And so I pulled on my mismatched socks and laced up my shoes. I grabbed my house key from my fob and headed toward the door.
I paused briefly, cocking my ear toward the stairs to the second floor. It was quiet. Si, who had woken up at 4:45 with a nightmare, had settled back down. I took a breath and crossed the threshold.
Rain and storms have been forecast for weeks and the clouds seem to sweep over Fort Wayne without a single drop falling to the ground. And so, even as the sky grew louder and brighter, I pressed start on my Garmin and set off. Hoping the calm could remain for 3 miles.
The effort felt hard from my first foot fall, my breathing jagged as my arms swung boldly at my sides. Even still, I had to fight the urge to push harder, to run faster. I had to tell myself that I needed to let the search for peace lead me not the chaos and sadness that have followed me this past week.
The chaos and sadness that came with the death of my stepfather.
Stepfather. It's so formal and heavy yet, somewhere inside the letters, there's supposed to be love and support. It's a word that's supposed to mean something more than a title and yet "stepfather" was merely that – a title I used hesitantly for the sake of social convention.
Because, in truth, Gary was my mom's husband. He was hers and she was his. His relationship was with her and as they got married when I was 20, there was no need or desire, necessarily, to build one with me. What there was between us ... well, it could hardly be defined as good. He challenged me, charged me, criminalized me.
For all that our relationship wasn't, I've spent the days since his death remembering who he was to my mom. Her love. Her spouse. Her caregiver. Her tireless advocate. Maybe even, her prayer answered. The love she had lost as a teenager, he a newly discharged veteran of the Vietnam War.
His highlight reel played on repeat as I fought to find my space as I navigated the black roads as the impending storm grew stronger. I could feel it in the way the air stuck to my bare arms and the way the thunder broke the silence.
Then, just after the first mile beeped, the sky opened up and the rain that has seemingly been stored for the better part of a month came crashing over me.
The world was louder now. Brighter. Harder to navigate. The rain kept my head down, my eyes half shut.
My tank began to cling to my still-soft post-baby body. My capris were heavy, threatening to pull from my hips. My shoes were water-logged despite my best efforts to dodge the steady stream of water flowing along the berm of the road.
There was not a headlight to pierce the streets. I didn't need to wave my hand to give a friendly runner passing me. But as I began to feel the familiar tug of loneliness, I realized that I was not. I did not breathe in the scent of rain. I did not feel the damp on my skin. I did not hear the crashes.
Instead, I was with my mom.
Growing up, she and I would sit on the front porch of our modest home in Price Hill and watch storms roll in. We admired the strikes of lightning, the score of thunder, the cool relief when all became still. The memories of those nights were so singed in my psyche that it was those from which I pulled from when I delivered her eulogy seven years ago.
The rain grew in intensity as I passed through mile 2, and I wondered what Mom was trying to tell me. Was it all OK? Were they at peace together? Was there forgiveness?
Or, had I not been able to move beyond the past? Had I not done enough, tried hard enough in the years since she died to help care for him the way he cared for her? Had I been allowing emotions and not the greater good guide me? Had, in some way, I not honored her in the things I could not, would not do?
My heart sank to the my bottom of my chest. The tears welled in my eyes though I could not feel them fall. My pace slowed, my body struggling to go through the motions.I could not go through the motions any longer.
But there comes a point when you have to let it all wash away. Not necessarily give up but give in. And as my pink Saucony Guides disappeared into nearly formed streams and pools, I decided that it was time.
I took a deep breath. I let the water splash up my legs. I made my shoulders drop, push back. I opened my chest, my heart and I said a Hail Mary as I ran the last quarter-mile home. I prayed for Gary. I prayed for my mom. I prayed for grace.
I prayed for peace.