Sunday, March 8, 2015

Birthday memorial run

Yesterday was my dead sister's birthday.

I used to set out food for her each year, since she died of complications of an eating disorder and I figured that her ghost must be hungry, but a few years ago I began running instead.

My sister, Cathie, and her dog Barney.

This year I'm in Tucson, the last place that we lived in the same city together, years and years ago, and I'm also finishing up a memoir about her life, and mine, and the ways in which her stuff fed my stuff and my stuff fed her stuff.

I thought I'd wake up sad on her birth memorial day. Yet I didn't. I work up energized and alert. I felt unexpectedly happy all day. I cleaned the house. I wrote. Mid-afternoon, I picked up a rental car and drove out to Sabino Canyon for a run.

I ran up the Phoneline Trail, which is one of my favorites and includes a grueling and rocky incline for the first couple of miles, and then the path runs alongside of the mountain ridge. The views are amazing, and since I had already gotten in my miles for the week, I took it slow. I savored.

And I felt so happy the whole time the I couldn't stop smiling. I talked to my sister, too, and maybe it was my imagination or maybe I was able to pick up on tiny leftover bits of her energy, but it's as if I could feel her there beside me and it all came back, all of those years we used to run through the pastures out on the farm. We were always together back then. We were inseparable.

I ran until sunset, when the light reflected off the canyon walls turned the most marvelous reddish tint. I can't remember when I've felt so alive, so free and happy. I stopped a couple of times and just wept from happiness. And it doesn't make sense and yet it makes all of the sense in the world, how I could feel so happy and alive on my dead sister's birthday.

I miscalculated the time and the last half mile off the mountain was in the near darkness. I didn't turn on my headlamp, though. I liked the idea of stumbling my way through the dark. It seemed an adequate metaphor.

By the time I hit the paved trail, it was pitch dark and raining. The rain came suddenly, like a gift, and the wind picked up and the tree branches swirled and danced. The last half mile is over a sandy path and as I ran I could smell the sharp, oily scent off the chaparral shrubs, and I slowed down, breathed deep. There was something almost mystical about running alone through the dark on a sandy path as rain beat down upon my head and the air smelled fresh and new and wild.

When I pulled up in the driveway of the house I'm renting, an 80s song was playing on the radio. I sat there, all sweaty and tired, and I felt so happy that I began to laugh and cry at the same time, and soon I was crying, sobbing the type of unabashed tears that come from deep, deep inside. It's not that I was particularly sad but only that on the other side of happiness always, always lies grief.

 What I'm reading: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?  by Jeanette Winterson. A wonderful, beautifully written memoir of a woman growing up in an odd and destructive household.


  1. Ah, sad but also very sweet. Glad you have some good memories of an inseparable sister. I'm looking forward to your memoir.

    1. Thanks, Mary! I'm horribly stuck in said memoir right now--I'll bet you know how that goes, lol. Cheers and happy hiking/writing.

  2. What a gorgeous place. I grew up inseparable with my sister, and even though we aren't as close as we once were, when we're together, it's like we're those little kids again. I'm glad you such a good run with your sister today. :)

    1. Thanks, Karen! Sisters are the best, though they can also drive one quite crazy, no? It is difficult to be close when adults, though it all comes back pretty quickly. Cheers and happy running.

  3. What a beautiful run and inspiring post.

    1. Thanks, EB. I'm temporarily running in a warm climate, as you do. Love, love, love it. Cheers and congrats on your high mileage week.