I’ve been procrastinating. I’ve been doing everything but finish the post I had started about my second round of chemo. I had planned on finishing the story. Instead, I’ve done everything but write about it. In all honesty, I’ve forgotten a lot of what happened. Whether from the chemo drugs or selective memory, I don’t remember as much as I thought I did. I made notes during that time, and we have video and photos, but I haven’t wanted to look at them.
The main reason I’ve been procrastinating, though, is nothing other than pure dread of reliving the experience. Now that I’ve put a little distance between what happened and my return to “normal” living, I much prefer the way things have turned out. It’s hard to leave the bright lights of survivorship and go back to that dark, scary place.
And so I keep putting it off. I write about knitting. Or I don’t write at all. I have enjoyed getting my life back on track and feeling good again. I do yoga. I run. I go for a walk. Last weekend I ran my first 9 mile loop around the lake since last May, with walk breaks, and I’m starting to feel as good as I used to. Running is still very, very hard. It’s taken me much longer than I thought it would to get my conditioning and stamina back. I still have to walk a lot, and after every run I am bone tired. But I realize every step, no matter how fast, is an accomplishment. Thankfully, I have good friends who still want to run with me, despite the walk breaks.
I have been very emotional lately. All those salute to mothers commercials during the Olympics always made me cry. Any athlete’s story that was highlighted made me cry. Even seeing the winning athletes stand on the podium made me cry! I seem to feel things more deeply now that I know how tenuous life can be.
Reading other cancer patients’ blogs makes me feel so sad for them. I love reading them, but I feel frustrated that I can’t help. I saw a bald woman walking her dog at the lake the other day and I instantly teared up. I wanted to run over to her and tell her how beautiful and brave she was for walking in the open without a scarf. I didn’t, and I wish I had. I was never brave enough to walk around without a cap, even at the cancer center.
I dreaded going back to the hospital for blood work a few weeks ago for my three month check up. I thought that sitting in the waiting room amongst the people going through chemo was going to make me want to cry. It didn’t, and instead I looked around at all the amazing, strong, upbeat people who were waiting for chemo. They all had hope, and it made me proud to know I was once one of them. Instead of feeling sad, I felt powerful for having made it through. I got to see the chemo nurses. Seeing my oncologist and her nurses felt like going to see my family. And my CA-125 cancer antigen number was a 9, the lowest it’s ever been.
I celebrated a birthday this month. It was, of course, a very special birthday, one I might not have seen if we hadn’t caught the cancer as early as we did. A year ago Saturday was the last marathon I ran before I got sick. There are lots of milestones ahead in the coming months, and I plan on celebrating them all.
The kids are all gone again and the house is a lot more quiet. We’re starting a large vegetable garden in the backyard and I’ve been eating a lot healthier than I was before. I love being able to enjoy and savor the taste of good, simple food again. Losing my taste buds and not eating were by far the worst parts of chemo. That, and losing my hair, which has grown out to about an inch now–with a lot more gray, dammit. My body looks different after being sliced open and having tubes inserted for chemo ports, one of which still remains in my chest.
I’ve changed. There’s no way around it. The first few months after chemo were joyful. Everything was shiny and new. I had my life back. I had dodged a bullet. That was so close! Nothing could touch me now. I was like teflon; all the small aggravations and worries seemed inconsequential and insignificant.
Now that things have settled down again, and I physically feel almost as good as I did before I was diagnosed, I’ve had more time to think about all that I went through. I’m a little more somber. The shiny, happy feeling is a little more tarnished. The fog cleared and I understood for the first time how serious everything had truly been. I could have died. Chemo was hell. How did I get through all that? Every slight twinge of pain anywhere in my body now makes me instantly worried. What if it comes back? is always in the back of my mind.
But I survived. Hopefully the cancer will never come back. If it does, I know I’ll be able to deal with it, like so many others have done and continue to do every day that they’re given. I’m only one of many who have gone through this. Some days I’ll feel sad about what I went through, but most days I won’t. There’s no reason to. I’m alive, I’m healthy again, and life is very, very good.
And one day I will finish the story I started, all in good time.
As you might have noticed, I went missing for a while. I started a story and left everyone hanging, right in the middle.
How rude of me, and probably somewhat thoughtless to those who don’t see me outside the words of these posts. My only excuse, and the real reason I went missing, is that it was hard.
Life became a daily cycle of feeling like crap and not wanting to bring anyone down to where I was. I didn’t want to talk about it, think about it, or put into words how hard it was. It was too close. I needed a break from cancer, so I took it.
Chemo is the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through, in every way you can imagine. I never doubted that I would survive, but I have no idea why I ever felt that way. Maybe I was naive, or in denial, or just plain stupidly stubborn And it wasn’t bravery or strength, and I’m certainly no hero just for having survived cancer. Braver, stronger women than myself have fought much harder than I ever did and still lost.
I was simply lucky enough to be diagnosed before it had spread.
I wouldn’t wish cancer on my worst enemy, but cancer itself was also never the enemy. It was always just something that happened to me, a bunch of rapidly dividing cells that found a home on my left ovary.
Chemo and I, on the other hand, were never friends, and I cursed him often. He had a job to do, though, and because of that I tried to be as accommodating as possible. I hated chemo. Chemo was scary because I could physically feel, with each treatment, that his poison had the power to kill all of me, and not just the cancer cells.
Having cancer has been quite an experience, a very humbling one, to say the least. But it’s even more humbling to know that I survived.
Today I sit here on the last day of the year, reflecting on everything that’s transpired this past year, from the first inkling I had on January 4, the day after our wedding, that something wasn’t right, to a trip to the ER, surgery, chemo, and now, recovery. While I was thinking about all of this, the thought crossed my mind that I should be ready to see 2013 go. Hell, I should be ready to kick it’s sorry ass to the other side of the moon!
But in all actuality I’m kind of sad to see this year end. In some strange way, I’m okay with all that’s happened. It wasn’t all bad.
I married a wonderful guy, one who challenges me everyday to see things in a different way and to be a better person. I logged a lot of good running miles the first five months of the year, and I’m slowly starting to run again.
I got a lot of reading done. It wasn’t always quality reading, but those fluffy novels got me through many hours of post-chemo nausea and fatigue so deep I could barely get out of bed. And I won’t even go into depth on all the hours I spent watching Breaking Bad on my iPad. I credit it for saving my sanity those first two worst chemo treatments.
I got a lot of knitting done, too, and set up an Etsy shop. I rediscovered walking. My taste buds are back, and a good, cheesy pizza is once again heaven on Earth.
I learned that my children have turned into good, kind, caring adults, and that they chose their partners well. I discovered that people you think you barely know can turn out to be nicer than you ever imagined. I realized that people want to help, that almost everyone is kind in their own way.
I got four new hairstyles this year: shorter, even shorter, bald, and now a quarter inch of baby fine fluff with a lot more white hair (or extreme blonde, as I prefer) than before.
I learned that you can become friends with someone and love them just through their words and emails, and that losing them hurts just as much as losing someone you’ve known your entire life. Friendships, like life, can be forged–and lost–in the blink of an eye.
The words “life is short” became real this year, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I appreciate more now, the so-called little things. Taking a walk outside, running without a watch, playing games with my kids, cooking a meal together, hearing a good song on the radio . . . I could go on and on. I try not to waste those moments.
But there is still a story to be finished, a resolution to be told.
So in 2014 I want to finish the story I started, if only to help other women and their loved ones, and to honor my friend Katie and all the women who didn’t make it. Even though you all know that I’m okay now, please bear with me for the next few months while I write up all the unfinished posts I started. Maybe something I share will help you or someone in your life one day.
So, as I bid adios to 2013, I have to admit it was a good year, if only for this one big reason: I’m still alive.
Six months ago you sent me an email. You had just left a comment on my first post about being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. You had also just been diagnosed, and you were scared. You were so scared you asked me to delete your comment because you didn’t want anyone to know.
Thus began our friendship. We traded stories of our surgeries, gave each other advice on how to get through chemo, and compared notes on our lives. You told me about your young daughter and your brother, and we promised each other we would run a race together when this was all over.
You made me promise, over and over, to NEVER GIVE UP! You always wrote it like that. You also put actions in your emails with an asterisk. *nods nods* was your favorite. God, you were funny. I could always hear your Irish lilt in my head, even though I’d never heard your voice.
On Sep 29 you told me that things weren’t going well. Your cancer wasn’t responding to chemo. You didn’t want to tell me the news, thinking it would affect my own recovery. I wrote emails to you periodically after that, knowing you would write back when you were stronger.
Tonight I found out you didn’t make it. You went into the hospital two days after your last email and passed away a couple of weeks after that.
I am devastated. Hearing the news was like a punch to the gut.
We never met in person. I don’t even know what you looked like. We were friends. You were my hero.
Your last post was titled “This Isn’t Goodbye . . .” I think you knew it probably was.
You touched other lives just through your comments here on my blog. People asked about you when you disappeared. I understood why you stopped writing and needed a break. I did so as well. After a certain point in chemo, when it got really tough, I needed to save all my energy for the fight. My brain was all jumbled up and I couldn’t string a sentence together, let alone make my fingers work on the keyboard. I’m sure it was the same for you.
You fought hard, Katie. You never gave up and you never lost hope.
You went so quickly.
Now that I know you’re gone, I feel like the only survivor of a plane crash. We are a small club of women. This cancer doesn’t leave many behind. It is selfish and claims most of us for itself.
I never felt anger towards our cancer before now. It was just something that happens to some women. Now that it has taken you, it’s become personal. Now I’m angry. This cancer can mess with me, but how dare it take someone as good and kind and honest as you were? And how dare it should take away the mother of a fourteen year old girl?
I bought a sticker for my car while I was still doing chemo. It’s a teal ribbon and says “I won.” I’ve saved it all these months until I got the official news from the doctor that I was cancer free. I’ve debated actually putting it on my car, thinking it might seem arrogant or disrespectful to the women who didn’t make it. You fought harder than anyone I know to beat this cancer. In your last email you told me you hadn’t given up hope. You told me once again, as you had so often before, to NEVER GIVE UP.
That sticker is going on my car today. I know you would want to see it there. I hope it makes you smile when you see it from wherever you are.
I didn’t give up, Katie. My fight was nothing compared to yours, but I never gave in. I was only lucky that we caught it so early. Most are not so lucky. It doesn’t make sense to me that someone can fight as hard as you and others have done and not win. I will never understand that. My victory is a hollow one without you here. It’s like breaking the tape at the finish line and realizing you’re the only one who made it to the end.
Rest in peace, Irish Katie. Your fight is over, and we’ll miss you here on Earth, but you’ll always be in our hearts.
Your friend forever,
The day before my very first chemo treatment I decided to spend my last day as a normal person, doing some of the everyday things that I love the most. My objective: to have fun and not worry about the next eighteen weeks of chemo.
First things first: I slept in late. It was heaven. I lounged around until 10:00AM or so, read a book, checked my email, blog posts, and Facebook, then finally decided to get up and take a shower. There was no hurry.
Next on the agenda: really bad-for-you, high calorie fast food from Cane’s (chicken tenders, fries, Dr Pepper, and extra Cane’s sauce). I know. It’s my guilty not-so-secret.
It wouldn’t be a day as a normal person unless I went to Target. I love Target. My motto has always been: If you can’t get it at Target, then you really don’t need it. And no, Target is not sponsoring this post. (Neither is Cane’s.) I bought a bunch of things I would consider “cancer snacks,” which was really nothing more than stuff that sounded good at the time: gummy fruit snacks, chocolate pudding, nutty protein bars, and a big bag of pistachio nuts. I had no idea if I would really want to eat any of this stuff if I felt nauseous from the chemo, but we would certainly find out.
After Target, my son’s girlfriend made a chocolate cake with vanilla frosting, my favorite. We had both been craving something sugary all week, so she was kind enough to make it. I had a huge piece and loved every single bite before dinner.
I spent a little time watching TV, relaxing, and gathering my thoughts about the next day. I was nervous, but not unnecessarily so. I wasn’t afraid, but felt uncertain about what it would really be like, and if it would be as bad as everyone said it would be.
I met a group of running friends for dinner at a small, local restaurant. We had been trying for several weeks to have a Ladies Night Out, but somehow Bill and Anil crashed the party and became honorary girls for the night. It was such a great evening, filled with talk of running, being sick, our lives, a little gossip, and exclamations over how good the food was. I had a tasty dinner salad with an excellent risotto with shrimp.
To end the night, all but two of us piled into our cars and went to see the movie Before Midnight. I loved the first two films, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, and had been looking forward to the next installment for years. Literally, years. Maybe it was because being a normal person was exhausting, or because my mind was on the next day’s first chemo session, but I was disappointed. Maybe it was the build-up. Maybe I’m too much of a hopeless romantic. I still liked the movie, and should probably see it again in a different frame of mind and when I’m less worn out, but I found the talk exhausting. Maybe the pushing forty Jesse and Celine were both just a little too real this time for me.
I’m tired of real. I have enough real on my plate right now to last me a lifetime.
To top off my last day as a normal person, my daughter arrived from Portland to be here for me during my first two chemo sessions. In case I haven’t mentioned it before, I have the best daughter and son in the world. Having them both here to help me through this, along with my husband and my son’s girlfriend, not to mention my awesome friends, has been the biggest blessing of my life so far.
It was a perfect day.
Bring on the chemo!
If you’re an athlete, you love to eat. It’s one of the main reasons I run so much, so I can eat what I want without having to worry too much about putting on weight. Thanksgiving, however, throws me under the bus every year. I love sugary desserts, and can’t resist going whole hog on that one day of the year (well, except for Christmas and my birthday, of course).
The solution: run the annual Turkey Trot in the morning and start the day of feasting with negative calories. Dallas supposedly has the largest Thanksgiving Day run in the country, drawing over 36,800 runners and walkers last year. With temperatures in the low 60’s at the start this year, I have no doubt that the 5K and 8 mile races drew an even larger crowd. I was sick this year and didn’t run, but my better half, Michael, took some awesome photos of the event.
Things always get started off with pre-race warm up exercises.
Some people really get into the warm up, especially the kids.
The event begins and ends in front of City Hall, which was featured in that fine 70’s sci-fi flick, Logan’s Run (yeah, the one with Farrah Fawcett).
Everyone and their dog comes out for the big day. There are lots and lots of dogs. And strollers.
It’s more fun when you run it with good friends.
Come on, Dude. Really? You’re kind of missing the point.
If you want to race, you better start up front to escape the masses. This guy’s serious about burning off his pre-feast calories.
A sprint to the 5K finish is a fight to the end for these guys. It was neck and neck all the way to the end.
Someone forgot to tell him you never run in cotton on a warm day.
She makes it look easy with both feet off the ground in her super fast minimal shoes.
Are they giving thanks, or just posing for a photo? I love people who run in costumes, but have no desire to do it myself.
There’s always one Dead Head in every crowd, in every city.
You gotta love a guy who runs barefoot wearing a t-shirt advertising beef. Muy macho. I wonder if he’s listening to Metallica, too?
The eight mile course has a puke-inducing uphill finish. Bon appetit, guy with the banana!
Here’s the real reason most people run the Turkey Trot: to drink beer and bloody Mary’s in the cemetery afterwards with their friends. It’s carbs!
And if you can’t join them, you can at least give them a hand.
Some people remind us just how much we have to be thankful for, and to remember those who can’t be with us.
Here’s to another year of eating and turkey trotting with good friends. I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!
The Christmas/New Year season is always a time of reflection and introspection for me, as I suspect it is for most people. This year has been no exception. Reflection and introspection are the main reasons why I love a new year.
Since Thanksgiving I’ve written very little, mainly because I’ve been incredibly busy. I’ve run a half marathon, traveled a little, cooked a lot, knitted some, and spent not nearly enough time with my children. Not writing became an activity in itself, even though snippets of future posts kept bubbling to the surface at odd hours of the day and night, begging to be written.
New Year’s Eve is one of my favorite days of the year. There’s such a sense of fulfillment that comes from having lived another year, and a feeling of anticipation for the year to come. This year the day coincided with my regular Saturday group long run, which is almost always culminated by breakfast at Fuzzy’s Tacos. Though different groups run different speeds, everyone always comes together afterwards to eat, visit, and talk about our run. A lot of Saturdays I enjoy breakfast much more than my run.
Being able to visit with so many great friends, old and new, on the very last day of the year made it that much more special. I had come full circle, running with friends who were with me when I began training for my first half marathon almost five years ago.
The older I get the more I realize: the relationships we build with others are truly what matter the most in life.
Even though it is “just another day,” the first day of a new year brings with it the idea of a new beginning, a chance to start again, a brand new, fresh, blank page. Ever since logging the morning’s temperature on January 1 each year in my little five year diary when I was a kid, I usually take some time to reflect and write something on New Year’s Day. I’ve always loved buying a new agenda for the year and filling it in with birthdays, future races, and vacations. This year, because of my son’s unexpectedly generous Christmas gift, I’m doing it all electronically on a brand new iPad2.
I’m not one for resolutions. They’re almost always forgotten within a few weeks, if not days. I usually prefer to think about what I want to do more or less of in the new year. I remember one year’s plan was to “find more joy.” I think I’ll always work on that. This year, my plan is to have less clutter in my life–and my house. I think I’ll always work on that as well.
Mostly, I want to get out and do more. Staying home doesn’t create memories. Adventures do.
I’ve always wanted to be somewhere else. Even when I’m on vacation in the most beautiful places in the world, I’m planning my next trip. Call it restlessness, call it dissatisfaction, call it nonacceptance . Whatever it is, I’m still working on learning to accept that wherever I am is where I should be.
And it truly is about the journey, not the destination.
HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone! Here’s to a great year of adventure, acceptance, and a clutter-free life (and house).
This week I finished up my last week of teaching, two friends lost their mothers, and a dear work colleague passed away after a long battle with breast cancer. We only got the news of the work colleague’s passing the day after her funeral, which upset me more than anything else because the news didn’t get passed on to our school, where she was greatly loved, and many people would have wanted to attend her funeral to say goodbye. I also got the news of her passing right in the middle of a huge fight with Michael, when I walked out of the room and just happened to pick up my phone and see the email, which made the news even harder to take.
Sometimes you just need a good cry.
I hate goodbyes. Leaving people you love is not easy, especially people you’ve worked with for 11 years. I couldn’t even bring myself to tell my classes that I was leaving teaching, and that they would be my last group of students ever. Every time I started to tell them my eyes would water up and I couldn’t go through with it. Saying goodbye at the end of the year luncheon was hard, too, even to people I know I will see again. Our time will never be the same as those years spent teaching together.
Our next door neighbor’s wife had been gone for over a month and we were starting to think she had left him. When he came over to ask us to watch the house, we found out she has been out of town attending to her dying mother. A few days ago I saw my neighbor outside, who told me the news that the mother had finally died, three days before her daughter’s birthday. I felt so sad for her, knowing that her birthday would forevermore be accompanied by such sadness. The next day we were told that our former principal’s mother had also passed away, less than a year after her father’s passing, which was also less than a year after her brother’s death. Those goodbyes are perhaps the most poignant, the final goodbye.
I knew it would be hard, but when I said goodbye to my daughter outside her dorm the very first year of college in Austin, I wanted to turn back time, back to those days when she was small enough that I could protect her from anything the world might throw her way. I cried the entire three hour drive back to Dallas, my husband sitting helplessly next to me, unsure of what to do or say. Even though she wasn’t that far away and I would see her often, I knew, deep in my heart, that things would never be the same again–and they weren’t. She grew up and didn’t need me as much, which is a good thing, but hard for a mother to accept. It’s hard to let go sometimes.
And there are the goodbyes you never get to say, when those you love are suddenly and inexplicably taken away by death.
There are all the goodbyes we’ve said to our childhood pets, and to those we’ve had as adults. My good friend, Carol, a fellow teacher, inadvertently killed both of her fire-bellied toads, Twodee and Fruity, on the last day of school. She cried all morning, until one of her second graders yelled out, “Let’s get a fish!” She couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of the comment on the last day of school.
My dad’s job transferred him from Dallas to Massachusetts the summer after sixth grade. It was a grand adventure for all of us. Our street was at the end of a cul-de-sac and it was teeming with kids. We spent the entire summer biking, swimming, chasing, digging, and doing everything kids should do, from dawn to dusk, outside and barefoot. It was the summer of the Munich Olympics, and one night our neighbor, a former National Geographic photographer, took us all outside and showed us the Northern Lights, something we knew we’d never see in Texas. It was also the summer of my first crush, when Chris, the cute newspaper boy across the street, would come out at dusk and we would sit against the fence in my front yard in the dark (with my dad nervously peeking out the window) and look at the stars and talk about Lost in Space, Time Tunnel, Star Trek, and Land of the Giants. A few months later, when my dad got transferred back to Dallas, I sat in the U-haul truck with all our furniture piled in the back and cried as I said goodbye to Chris and the best summer of my life. As we drove away and I looked out the window through the tears I tried to hide, Seals and Crofts sang We May Never Pass this Way Again on the radio (I swear I’m not making this up), and I knew that I would never be the same again. That song will forever be the soundtrack to that lost summer–and I never did return to Chicopee Falls, MA.
There are the goodbyes you say when you realize you must move on from a relationship, and the goodbyes you’re cheated out of when you get dumped by a lover. Cry me a river doesn’t even come close sometimes.
So many goodbyes. Before I closed the door to my classroom for the last time yesterday, I stopped and looked around at the empty room, remembering all the other rooms I had taught in. So very many memories . . . I said goodbye to room 201 and to teaching, turned in my keys, and went home and had a good cry. It was exactly what I needed to do.
Today is the three year anniversary of the death of a good friend. Actually, he was more than a good friend. He was someone I ran with.
We make friends throughout our lives and we lose them, usually when we change jobs, or move, or simply make new friends when our interests change. Some friends we stay in touch with sporadically through the years, some we rediscover through Facebook or chance meetings, and some we wonder why we never made more of an effort to stay in touch. We make new friends, we move on, and life continues. The friends we lose to death, however, are the ones whose memories visit us late at night, and the ones we can’t forget.I met Arshad through running. We had a mutual friend, Rich, and both caught up with me early one Saturday morning on a nine mile loop around the lake. We discovered we were all training for an upcoming local half marathon and decided to meet during the week for a few runs together. Arshad and I were both relatively new to running and had never run a half marathon before, and we knew that training with someone else would be easier. Also, I came to discover Arshad was the type of runner who enjoyed socializing and meeting new people more than he did running, so it made sense. Even though he was tall, lean, and naturally fast, he would purposely hold back because the companionship was more important than the running.
So we trained together. Rich had run a marathon before (which was something I could never fathom doing at that time) and he was our biggest cheerleader. He liked to run a few steps ahead of us and keep the pace. Rich was also tall, so keeping up with the guys was good training for me. We jokingly called ourselves “The Dream Team” and logged many miles together in preparation for the race. I found out Arshad was from Bangalore, India and had gone to school in Chicago for engineering. I got to know him as a person, and he was always happy and in a good mood. We made plans to visit India one day with Arshad as our guide.
There’s something about pushing yourself physically with another person that bonds you to them. Running mile after mile, through every type of weather and temperature imaginable, at impossibly early times in the day, you really get to know a person. All your differences melt away with the miles you log together.
The day of the race arrived warmer than expected, and finishing was tougher than I thought it would be. I made stupid rookie mistakes (eating something different for breakfast and going out way too fast at the start) and seriously considered bailing at mile 10. I finished in 2:03 and Rich in 1:56. Arshad finished in1:49. I couldn’t believe how fast he had run his first half marathon.
I joined the Dallas Running Club and talked Arshad into joining as well. Our goal race was the Oklahoma City Half Marathon. He didn’t want to run another race so soon but trained with us anyway. I noticed that Arshad would run with any group, no matter the pace, and could usually be found in the back of the pack talking to any one of a number of pretty, young, female runners. He always adjusted his running speed accordingly.
Rich was training for a full marathon, and sometimes the groups would converge and run together. I was in awe of the full group and the distances they ran each week. The seed was planted for me, but Arshad said no way, he’d rather stick to half marathons and run them really fast. The months and the miles passed, and I noticed Arshad seemed to be running with the same group—and one girl in particular, Elizabeth–each week. I was happy for him, but never got the chance to ask what was going on.
Arshad’s lease was up on his apartment and he decided to move to my complex on the other side of the lake. I talked him into running the OKC Half Marathon with the group and we talked about reserving seats on the bus the running club had chartered. During that same time his parents came to visit from India. On our Wednesday night run he asked if I would join them and a few other friends for dinner and a movie on Friday. I met his mom and dad, his ex-girlfriend, Jen, and some friends from church. We had a great time, though he took some grief for the movie, an ultra-violent film festival entry about the war in the Middle East. He said he thought his mom would like it.
The next week, just before our scheduled Wednesday night group run, it started to rain. Arshad called to ask if I was going and I told him no. Fifteen minutes later the storm passed and my phone rang. Tempted to ignore it, I picked up and told Arshad I would meet him at the gate, knowing how guilty I would feel if I didn’t run. The dark evening was beautiful, and everything at the lake glowed from the rain. Arshad ran fast that night and it felt good to keep the pace. When I made a random comment about hating to run into a headwind, he remarked, ever positive, that he liked it because it kept him cool. He talked about how beautiful the trees at the lake were, and how it was his favorite place to run.
It was the last time we ran together.
We had made plans to drive together to the local train station for the start of our Saturday morning group run. When I got up early the next morning I noticed a message on my phone. It was Jen, telling me to call her as soon as I got the message. Even though it was six o’clock in the morning, I immediately called. She told me Arshad had been in a car accident the evening before, and it was fatal. His mother was also killed, and his father was in critical condition.
He died on a busy street I travel on quite often, and it was a long time before I could drive past the spot where a manufacturing defect in one of his tires caused his death. Two weeks after his death I ran the Oklahoma City Marathon without him. I ran faster than I’d ever run, because I knew he couldn’t. When I crossed the finish line and the medal was put around my neck by a bombing victim’s family member, I cried and asked if I could have another medal for the friend I had lost who hadn’t made it to the finish line with me.
His death made no sense to me, and it never will.
Today, three years later, I think about him. I can still hear his silly high-pitched laugh, and see a smile light up his face. I remember his earnest curiosity of what made people who they are, and his love of deep conversations. I remember the new running clothes he bought just before he died, and how he worried about what he looked like in them. I remember his carefree approach to running that I am still trying to emulate. He is in my thoughts every single race I run, especially the marathons I never had the chance to talk him into running. More than anything else, I just miss him.
His friends got together and donated a tree and a plaque in his name at the Celebration Tree Grove at the lake. We all think of him when we run past the spot, which is on the same route we ran that rainy night, days before he died. A little bit farther up the road is the place where it is always windy. It took me a long time, but now I smile when I think about how he could put a positive spin on everything, even running into the wind.
Rest in peace, Arshad Ahmed, and know you are not forgotten.