How do you write something you want to write yet have no idea how to write?
I’ve been asking myself this question for the past three weeks. I’ve wanted to write so many times. I could have sat down and started typing words with no idea what was going to come out, like I’m doing right now, finally, because the pain of not doing it has finally outweighed the pain of doing it.
I could have written something the week of March 16th, when pandemic fears in the city had begun to take center stage. My volunteer work at the nursing home had been put on pause. NYRR had cancelled upcoming races. I had completed a few more marathon training weeks but the Boston Marathon had been cancelled – something I’d been expecting and, to be honest, wasn’t all that devastated about. My main concern surrounding that issue was whether or not I’d be able to get a refund for my non-refundable hotel room. (I did.)
I could have written about how to cope with the sudden shock of cancelled races, abandoned training plans, staying fit while sheltering in place, how to make the most of your stockpile of canned beans, or the best running movies to watch while quarantined.
But I couldn’t bring myself to write anything. It wasn’t even that I felt uninspired. I felt stuck. Frozen.
My dad got sick in mid-March. He was in upstate New York and I was in the city (a.k.a. New York City, which please know every New Yorker calls “the city”). I went to his place to nurse him back to health with chicken soup and crackers. I wasn’t sure what he had, but being that our country now appeared to be the epicenter of a global pandemic, I played it safe: I wore a mask and gloves around him, disinfected the hell out of everything in sight, and washed my hands so often my knuckles started to crack.
He was too sick to get out of bed. I brought him food a few times a day and practically begged him to eat it. He had no appetite. He also wasn’t short of breath, or so he told me, so we hoped he didn’t have COVID-19 but rather a strain of flu, or maybe just a really bad cold. Still, I wore a mask around him. He never once saw my full face.
Two days after I got there, after a phone conversation with my dad’s doctor, I drove him to a local hospital – both of us in masks for the drive, both hoping for the best possible outcome. I wasn’t allowed in the hospital so I waited in the parking lot for three hours. Nurses kept coming out to update me: I remember the phrases “critical condition,” “very sick,” “CAT scan,” and “suspect it’s covid.” That last one sunk me. I actually recorded the audio of one conversation for fear I would forget details. I played it back later and realized I had said to the nurse “I’m just afraid I’ll never see him again.”
I never saw him again. He died on April 1st.
I’m glossing over the two weeks leading up to the day he died because this post isn’t supposed to be about all of that, although maybe that will be another post, or not, I don’t know. I’m still not even sure where this one is going.
What I will say about those two and a half weeks I spent upstate at my father’s house is that they were both hopeful and sad, peaceful and lonely, productive and lazy. Much of it was spent standing. I would run some mornings, then spend most of the day standing at my laptop in the kitchen where my eyes were glued to coronavirus news. I was unable to sit down until after I ate dinner, which I usually ate standing. I ate whatever I wanted. I didn’t bring a food scale, a human scale, or thought about calories. My sisters and I were on a never-ending text thread. My dog was mostly bored, spending most of his days lying on a dog bed just outside the kitchen, staring at me, likely wondering why we were in this weird, boring house in the middle of weird, boring nowhere, with no outside dogs to play with or people to pet him.
My father’s death was not what I expected as the outcome of my trip. It wasn’t what was supposed to happen. For the last week I was there, I kept hearing the Sugarcubes song “Hit” in my head, or at least the opening line: This wasn’t supposed to happen. It constantly felt like I was inside an alternate ending to a movie, the kind of ending a director might film as a bold experiment and show to test audiences only to have those audiences hate it so much the original ending would be put back in place before its release. I was stuck inside a horrifying Twilight Zone episode where the protagonist is a good person who meets an unfortunate fate through no fault of their own. I was Henry Bemis in “Time Enough At Last.” It wasn’t fucking fair.
So what does this all have to do with running? Nothing? I realize this blog has been wildly inconsistent – I write about running and do race recaps but also wrote about my mother’s death and once I had a post about how I dyed my hair red. I’m using this blog to write this because it’s just where I put words online that are longer than a tweet or instagram post. And because I feel better when I write.
I will probably write more at a later date about how this whole situation is affecting my running, my plans, my cooking. I’d like to write about how to navigate a sick and/or dying parent, a subject I am unfortunately intimately acquainted with. I’m even thinking of turning this “running blog” into something more, although those plans are hazy and not a priority right now. For now, I wanted to get this out, as messy and unrefined as it probably is. I’m not even going to spend much time editing it. I just needed to write about this, to explain where I’ve been the past month as well as for my own sanity.
Please continue social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face, and doing all of the smart things everyone should be doing right now. You know what the smart things are. Don’t do dumb things. Do smart things. Also, don’t hoard toilet paper. There’s enough toilet paper. You don’t need that much.
And call your parents if you are lucky enough to still have them around.
I love you, Dad.