Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ghosts on the treadmill

I went running yesterday. Like most Americans, I was trying to burn off too much turkey and pumpkin pie. I had another goal, too. I wanted to rid myself of all the stress and heartache that had come with Thanksgiving.

As soon as I got on the treadmill, I knew it wasn't going to be an easy workout. My legs felt like lead. My tummy sloshed. Even the little TV attached to the cardio machine was broken. But I knew I needed to work out. I knew it would help.

I started at a slow walk, nice and easy at 3.0. Even if you just walk, it's OK, I reassured myself. A few minutes later, I increased to 3.5. See? You can totally do this.

Five minutes later, I upped it to 4.2 and began to jog. I can't do this. Maybe I'll just call it quits and take a nice long shower. My calves burned. My body felt so weak. I just can't do this. It's too hard. It's too hard. I knew it wasn't just the running; it was life. Life just felt too hard and too lonely without her.

Finally, desperate, I began a sort of delirious prayer-mantra: Mom, give me strength. Mom, give me strength. Mom, give me strength.

I looked at the empty treadmill beside me. In my mind, I imagined her jogging easily alongside me, the same way we used to jog together at the gym. Her hair was swept up in a ponytail. She wore black swishy pants and an over-sized gray T-shirt. She wasn't even huffing and puffing. She looked great.

You can do this, Missy, she told me. Come on.

I increased to 5.0 and began to run.

She continued: When you spoke to Aunt Ruthy at Thanksgiving, that was me talking to you. I thought back to my conversation with my great aunt. We were on the computer, and I was showing her my blog. With weepy eyes, she told me: "Life is such a fragile thing. You never know what's going to happen." I thought she sounded sad until she said, "It's an adventure." At 89, she's one of the wisest women I know. And it did sound like advice my mom would give. (Left: Aunt Ruthy and me at the Thanksgiving dinner table.)

I upped the treadmill to 5.2. Then 5.5. And then 6.0. My breathing was loud and hard. Sweat ran into my eyes. People here must think I'm crazy.

My boyfriend, Mark, appeared on the treadmill beside me. "How are you doing?"

"I'm running really fast," I panted, then cursed myself for stating the obvious. But what was I going to say? I'm communicating with the dead?

"I see that!" he grinned. "I'm going for a swim now. See ya at 5." I watched him bound away in the mirror.

I increased to 6.2 and tried to conjure my mother again. I wanted to ask her something. When I felt her presence, I asked timidly, Mom, is it OK that I started Sally's Circle? Lately, I had begun to second-guess sharing such intimate feelings in such a public arena. Yes, she answered with absolute certainty. I sighed with relief. I knew I could stop running.

As I lowered my speed from heart-racing 6.2 down to a steady walk at 3.5, I heard her say over and over again: Share me. Share me. Share me. Share me. Share me.

Have you ever had a moment like this, where someone who has passed away seems to speak to you? Do you think it's really that person talking to you, or you just hearing what you want to hear?


  1. Great post. I like to think it's my aunt guiding me. Whether it's my subconscious version of her that still lives with me or whether she's watching over me or if it's God... it makes me feel loved and cared about and no matter what it will be ok.

  2. Marisa- Luckily I have a secluded office, because this post made me tear up! I know what it's like to be overcome with the kind of grief you described, especially around the holidays. My father died suddenly on Christmas Day, 1994. What is supposed to be a happy time of year has since had a dark cloud casting a shadow on it. Luckily, though - and I'm sure you'll find this as the time passes - the cloud begins to shrink. It's not that my mom, brother and I don't think of my dad anymore at the holidays; rather than dwelling on the fact that he's gone, we can enjoy all the great things about Thanksgiving and Christmas and remember the great times we had with him.

    On a lighter note, your boyfriend is cute. ;)

    Christine Mattheis

  3. Marisa- thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. My mom was diagnosed with cancer 2 years ago, and has not responded to any treatment. Watching her suffer has taken such a toll on my family. However the hardest part has been the fear of how I will survive when she is gone. Some days I am able to not think about this, but others it just consumes me. I think about how she won't be there to watch me get married. She won’t be there to help me raise my children. And sometimes I just don’t see how I will ever be able to go on. I'm sure that these are thoughts that everybody in this situation has had, and reading your blog gives me a drop of hope that I will be able to go on, even when she isn’t here....

  4. I'm telling you it was HER on my train. Cereal.

    It was like I was looking at that photo in your apartment. But the photo was hanging onto the high handrail and got off at Chambers St.


    It was pretty awesome.