On the Capital Crescent Trail from Bethesda to Georgetown, I walk along the pavement, staying close to the right so that bikers and runners may pass. I hear a shuffling of leaves to my right and see something white zip through the branches. I immediately grasp my key ring and two apartment keys tighter even though I am surrounded by several bikers and walkers. I search for a male lurking in the trees but see nothing. I begin my run again.
I’ve felt an ache to run for two days now. I don’t know where it came from. I have to admit I was scared to take the trail after hearing the horrid stories of women being raped, but my coworker assured me as long as I run during the day or evening when it’s crowded, I should be safe. In the 10 years I’ve been running, I’ve never feared for my safety, but I’ve always carried a few keys with me in case I needed them as defense weapons, and I always keep my music at a low volume.
But today with a storm pending, I knew it would be a perfect opportunity for a run. With my 10-minute commute, it doesn’t take me long to arrive home and change my clothes. And then I’m out the door in a hot pink shirt and black shorts. I should probably carry my CGM with me and maybe some glucose tablets, too. But I don’t plan to be gone long, and my blood sugar is steady at 125. I drank some juice just in case.
I can feel my knees aching, maybe from the change in weather. I know they will be a problem, but I promise myself I will stop running as soon as they give me trouble. I begin my run and miss the instant release. I miss the quiet – how the world stops, how I only focus on my breathing and putting one foot in front of the other. I don’t think about my life. I don’t think about my changing future. I don’t think about the emptiness that now plagues my heart. I just run.
I fall in love with the trail instantly. As much as I relished running along the harbor in Baltimore, I love the serenity of greenness surrounding me, the quiet, traffic-less path. I don’t even need headphones here. There is no reminder I’m traveling through an urban setting, just me, other commuters, and the trees.
I run longer than I should. My knees start to give – the pain so stinging it hurts to run. I stop, and my mind returns to the world. I think of two days ago, when I first felt the need for this run. I had returned home from work to an empty apartment. I dropped my bags on my bed, usually made but then in disarray. The roses my boyfriend had given me the weekend before were already wilting. And then I saw the tiny lavender plant he left for me on my desk. It’s barely more than a seedling, encased in a circular wrap. A tiny, thin green stem grows from the root.
Lali Puna’s “Faking the Book” plays through my headphones. I stare at the plant – the sun grasping at it from the slats in my window blinds. I chose this bedroom for the four windows that line its outside wall – the sunroom. But even as the song fades, my tears do not. I cannot stand here reminded of the relationship I said goodbye to eight hours ago. I cannot stand here looking at the beginning stages of a plant – the only life of the relationship I have left.
After four years, we have parted ways. We remain amiable and good friends, but we realized we were moving in different directions and could no longer stay together. He is on his way to another city across the country. I am left with this plant that I’m not even sure I won’t end up killing before it reaches full bloom. I already lost one lavender plant earlier this season. I pick up my bags and leave the apartment again.
That was two days ago. I am now running again. Even though the white flash in the bushes spooked me, I know it’s probably all in my mind. My knees ache, but I push past the pain. I know I shouldn’t, but I need to run. I need to make it back to where I started. The opening of Bethesda Avenue greets me, and I push harder until my knees can no longer hold me. I limp home, knowing I probably won’t run for a while. But I feel better.
When I get home, I drill some holes into a plastic gelato container and fill it with a mix of organic soil and perlite. I dig a small hole and place the lavender plant inside, covering it until it’s secure. My boyfriend named it Eden, a name we once agreed we might one day name a child. I look at Eden and hope it survives.
I see that from its tiny, thin green stem grows another.