The other day I was running around the neighborhood before work (yes, one of those people) and I saw this CHAIR someone had put out on the street, leaving it for the taking, and I found myself starting to make a mental note of where it was swearing that if it was there on the way back we would come back for it. I don’t actually remember what the chair looked like, or if it was even a chair honestly, but I do remember thinking we should come back for it and then realizing all at once that I totally understood this whole other, human person aspect of my mother that I never got before: running. This was it.
See, my mom was always that mom that was telling us about some great chair in some person’s trash pile, and we were always laughing about it. She would regularly take detours on the way to other places, all of us in the car groaning while she got one more look. She’d circle the block and if we were lucky, swear that she and Dad would go back once it got dark. We’d say nooo and act embarrassed but we must have admired her resourcefulness. I say we must have because I feel that same giddy excitement she probably did then, and now understand that conspiratorial tone she would lay under all of it, like we were getting away with something, or getting the better side of some deal. Like winning. But now, running under tree branches and around people walking their dogs, staring at all the trash lined up at the curb, I started to really know my mother and her geography of houses and old chairs and dogwood trees and for sale signs. This was how she knew — she ran past all of it, before any of us were even out of bed.
We’d wake up to notes on the counter, cereal left out. She would be back and stretching on the carpet by the time we were on the couch watching cartoons, the dog rolling around near her, licking sweat off of her forehead. I remember the way she smelled when she was all sweaty: like dirt. I remember her lacing up her shoes and saying she’d be back and how it would take so much effort to peel our eyes away from the TV to look at her and nod. She would be gone but still around somehow. We’d have her notes and the knowledge that she would be back. Sometimes she’d be gone longer than we thought and I would privately worry. My dad would say, “Where the hell’s your mother?” and my heart would beat fast. I’d play out the scenario of her death and practice going through the different emotions. How would be find out. What would we do that night, the next day, and so on. At what point do we say, Okay, she’s been gone too long, where is she? And I never did figure that out — how to hear, “Where the hell’s your mother?” and think, “Oh she’s probably fine.”
So now I go out in the mornings, much later than she did, carving out concentric circles around our little apartment. Sometimes with him, sometimes alone. I am away but still around. No one knows where I am exactly but I am also at a finite distance, one that I will have to travel back myself. It is a distance the nuances of which I study three times a week. What side has more shade, which intersection is less busy, which buildings creepy guys hang out in front of, which sidewalks slope downward or feel like too much of an expanse. I look at everyone’s trash. I think about what is waiting for me at home. When he would start to wonder. I start to think about all the ways he could be lying dead in our apartment while I am out running for no real reason other than physical fitness. I keep running anyway, just faster and back in the direction of home. “He was dead and she was going for a run.”He has never run without me but if he did we would be in trouble because while I run with a cellphone velcro-ed to my chubby bicep, he runs without one. He is the one who carries the keys. Someone is probablynot pointing a gun at me right now, ready to shoot and kill me, but they could be. I don’t allow myself to turn around and look back. I know if I start I won’t stop.
She always showed up a few minutes later.