The cancer treatment had left her empty. Her bones like swiss cheese as she now suffered from osteoporosis. Her hair was gone except for random clumps, so she just shaved her head bald and wore a scarf. She swore that when she passed a mirror, her skin looked greenish-purplish which was not her color scheme at all. All she wanted to do was suck on sugar cubes. The doc told her she couldn’t have sugar. Sugar, she said, fed the cancer and now she must be very careful of her diet.
She couldn’t think anymore. She needed sugar. She pulled a mushy bag of marshmallows from the cabinet. They were all stuck together. In went the fork to scoop up a mass of marshmallow which would head directly to the gas stove for roasting. The gooey goodness slid across her tongue as she slid down the wall to sit on the floor enjoying every molecule of sweetness dripping down around the tines. The depression was setting in. She spent the last 3 years bed ridden (or bathroom bound depending on proximity to her treatment). Now she was mentally paralyzed, body weakened. She beat it, but it killed her doing so.
Days passed. When you are depressed and processing life, days can pass and you can find yourself at the end of the week without having really done anything you wanted or needed to do. “You’ll never run again,” they said. “You can’t have any children,” they said. “You need to get plenty of rest,” they said. “Don’t do anything strenuous.”
Don’t do anything strenuous? She pondered this lifeless existence blankly while biting her apple. Fuck that. Fuck them. She’s going to do some fucking strenuous shit. She didn’t know what, but spending her life avoiding things, good things, because it was risky or because ‘maybe’ it would put a strain on her was just too sad and lonely. She didn’t beat this cancer so she could be afraid to cross the street for fear of getting hit by a bus.
The very next day after work, she walked into the gym. She decided to just remove the head scarf. I mean, it was just going to get in the way or get sweaty anyway. Circuits, she thought: kettle bells, suicides, ropes, planks. She knew what to do. Ten minutes later, she was puking in the toilet.
Maybe she didn’t know what to do. I mean, it had been three years. More than three, really, if you include the beginning of her illness. The doctors hypothesized it was because she was so close to Hiroshima when the bomb went off. She was 14 at the time. It was rare for Japanese women to have cancer these days because of their healthy lifestyle, the American doctors believed. And now, here she is almost 16 years later. She was too young to be immobile.
She came back to the gym the next day, and the next. Slowly but surely, she grew more adept at her workout. New Mexico in the 1960’s was stark and in the very early day it was cool enough so she could walk. Soon she was walking a few miles a day before work and going to the gym after work. Her walks became jogs. The fresh scent of sagebrush in the cool morning mountain air was delightful. Looking back on her small but mighty accomplishments, she smiled brightly to herself while opening her bottle of water and taking a satisfying sip.
“Hey,” a gentleman said.
“Hey,” she replied.
“Mind if I sit down?”
“Uh, no. Not at all. Have a seat.”
“I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but I’ve noticed you out here every day,” he said. “Are you training for something? I mean, are you in the military or something? Not a lot of women run, you know. Well, anyway, I’m sorry for being so nosy. I really just meant to say I admire you.”
“Haha… well thanks. No, I’m not in the military. I just want to live my life fully,” she replied. “You see, I just recovered from a really long struggle with cancer. I want to get my health back. These small challenges keep me going.”
“Well, I don’t know if you would be interested, but a group of us run the canyon every year.”
Days went by. Now all she could think about was this handsome native fellow who sat down to talk to her. It was pretty unusual. Maybe because she looked like she could be native, he decided to talk to her. She blended in well when she came to document the tribal people as an anthropologist from the very beginning. It may even be part of the reason she got the job: her dark hair, eyes and skin. Often the native people did not want to give anything to the white people – so much so they often wouldn’t even speak English.
She began to research the run in the canyon and Phantom Ranch. It seemed pretty remote. It was 24 miles across, 8250 feet high on the North side, 7260 feet high on the South and about 2400 feet in elevation at the bottom where the ranch is.
Twenty-four miles. That’s almost a marathon. Women don’t do things like that. She was out of her mind for even thinking about it. That guy was out of his mind for even suggesting it. Was that some kind of pick up line? Who picks up women by suggesting crazy outlandish things like that?
She paced back and forth in her trailer thinking about what to do and how absurd the thought is. I mean, she was just doing this running thing for her health after all. She wasn’t trying to prove anything to anyone. Plus, she IS a woman. She really was just walking fast – I mean it started as just a walk in the morning to start her day right. Who was this guy anyway? The nerve he had. How inappropriate he would even suggest this.
She began training. Her morning runs grew longer and longer. Soon she had to save herself for weekends because she was now running 2-3 hours at a time. She maintained her kettle bell training and weights. She probably started consuming 5000 calories a day – she was ravenous.
The gentleman would watch her from a distance. He lived high on the hill and could see her efforts from above. Every now and then he would go into the town and he would nod a head as they passed each other in the store or at a cafe. She would become frustrated at this and although she would behave politely, she did not want him to know what she was up to or that she cared for his suggestion at all. Coy, she called it in her mind.
One day she decided she wanted to take a look at this North Rim. She packed up her station wagon and headed out on the 9 hour trip. She gazed into the vastness of the Grand Canyon. Grand it is, she thought. So humbling. She booked herself a room at the Grand Canyon Lodge where she could relax for a few days and hike around, study maps and really consider what it is she would be in for if she decided to admit she wanted to do the run. “No one, especially a guy, ever really challenged me before like that,” she thought. “He was either very bold or very rude.” And she just couldn’t decide. Even so, there was something about it that gripped her mind.
A few days later, she returned home.
“Hey,” a mans voice called from behind her.
“Oh. Hey,” she said… coyly.
“What did you think?” he asked.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You went there, didn’t you? You went to look at the canyon.”
She began to walk away. She felt her cheeks turning pink. The Tanoan accent in his speech reverberated in her mind as she walked away. He trotted up along side of her.
“We’ll see you again out there in a few months. Oh, and if you want, come by in two days. 5am. We’re meeting for an easy run.”
With that, he was off.
By now, she was easily running 20 miles. But she knew this man ran 50 or more. They all did. She went inward. There is a place where race does not exist, gender does not exist – it is the place where we are all animals. Beasts. Wild and roaming. She feared this as she adored it.
She clothed herself, animal fully contained and subdued, early the morning two days later. In the light of the moon and stars, she trotted over across town and up the hill. She entered the warmth of new friends and kindred spirits on his patio pouring coffee and chattering about life and the beauty of the morning. He introduced her to everyone after finally asking her name, gave her a cup of hot coffee and, as they say, the rest is history….For in the end is the beginning.
The anger overwhelmed him. He didn’t even know why he was angry. She told him she just wanted to be friends. She even said she wanted the friendship to grow and that she loved him. What did that even mean? He was inside out. The idea of her with anyone else made him crazy. The idea of him without her made him crazy. But he knew he had to let her go. He didn’t even know why it made him crazy. He intellectualized the situation over and over again in his mind and he fully understood the situation. Often he would be fine. He would put it out of his mind as if it weren’t even there and not think of it and he felt normal… great even. Then something would happen and he would imagine her making love to someone else, or even kissing someone else. His cool was gone. His sense was gone. He would go outside his own self and lose himself entirely in madness.
What was this? Why couldn’t he control these emotions? Who was this woman? I mean, was this love? Was it obsession? Most importantly … is there a cure? Funny enough, he now understood the film ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’. She was in his blood. And he was in hers. He wanted the pain to stop, but that was like trying to fix a ghost limb … it was completely intangible.
Could he trust her that she felt the same way? She said she did. He was so mad, he didn’t trust her. He calmly said his goodnights and he ran. Out the door and down the street. He ran ten, fifteen miles. He just didn’t want or need to stop.
Back to his house, sweaty and endorphin filled, he wandered down to the basement. Half in a daze, he searched for his new towels and t-shirt. He heard a kah-thunk. Wiping the sweat from his face, he looked over his shoulder and saw his old drum kit from high school.
The drum set called to him from the corner. Forget her, it said. Let her go. If you play me, I will make you famous… you will travel the world and you will meet many women and you will see that she is nothing.
Mesmerized by this, he took the towel to his face as he removed the dust cover and sat in the hazy light of the basement enveloped by the kit. His drum sticks lay on the snare just where he left them probably a half a decade ago.
Tat tat… bbbbrrrrrrummm tat tat tat…. he went. It felt so good. His muscled remembered what to do. He was so tired, however, he could barely see straight. He returned the sticks to the snare promising to return in the morning.
The sun came up. It is now 20 years later. He traveled country after country, city after city. He became rich and famous as one of the single most greatest drummers in the world. He poured every single unexplainable emotion into his kit, which was now a very large kit, and gave that to the world. He still thought of her every day, and even though the kit promised him there would be others, which there were, there was no one. He was thankful for the pain which finally was subsiding after so very long.
There was a knock on the door. It was her. Finally, the calm he wanted and waited for. He drew the dust cover over his kit and never played it again…. until…. his little boy asked him, ‘Daddy.. what’s that?” half a decade later.
She loved him with all her heart.
She ran to the fence line and didn’t know what to do. Should she go? Should she turn around? Should she try to talk to her family about this?
The little pig bounced around in her teddy bear back pack, nose and front feet peeking only to tumble back down with every other step. She was only four, but she had the heart and wisdom of a noble warrior. The family was given the pig for Christmas. This was the Serbian orthodoxy, and that was the tradition. Being a little child of only four, Anica only knew one thing: her heart did not want this living creature to be slaughtered for some dinner. What made things worse, the family even named him. How could they name him and plan to eat him. Were the adults all insane? What was wrong with her parents? How could she be related to such murderous and callous people such as this?
She could not understand. She only knew she needed to escape.
The farm property sprawled for acres. The grasses were long near the fence-line. She waded through it to the rickety wood border that some how kept the cows in.
She turned to look back at them. She thought it was good that her evil parents needed to keep them alive for the milk and cheese.
She blew a kiss to them and said a silent prayer in her head for God to watch over them, then turned and ducked between the weatherbeaten rails.
Down the gravel path she walked. When she was a few farm yards away she began talking to the pig. Eventually, to ward off boredom, she began singing little french children’s songs she learned in her music class.
“Don’t worry, Dragi. We will get you safe. I will sing to you to keep your mind off the trouble… Sur le pont d’Avignon… l’on y danse, l’on y danse… Sur le pont d’Avignon.. l’on y danse tout le rond…”
This filled her heart up with a little more happiness and she almost wanted to skip if she thought the little fellow wouldn’t bounce entirely out of her back pack.
She had gotten far enough away by the time the sun began to go down so the adults would not be able to see her and she would not be able to hear them. She decided to sit under a tree for a bit. She knew the town was close now. She pulled a wrapped peanut butter and jam sandwich from her dress pocket and decided she needed to solidify her plan except that she had no plan.
The street light was ensconced by a shape coming her way. By the glow, she thought it might be a holy person or an angel of some sort, but she was still a little afraid. She drew her forearm up to block the glare. Chewing still, sandwich in hand, she called out, “Who’s there?”
The jogger with a curious dog came over and knelt down next to her revealing herself from the shadows.
“Whatcha got here, little one? Are you okay? You lost? You look pretty okay judging by the sandwich,” she said and she smiled.
“Do you eat pigs?” Anica asked.
“Haha. No.. I don’t actually. That’s a strange thing to ask,” said the jogger.
“Well, my family wants to eat little Dragi here and I have to save him,” Anica replied.
“Hmmm… that IS a dilemma,” said the jogger. “I can help. I’m not in the habit of this, but my farm is right there. I’ll give you a lift home and if you like, Dragi can stay with me and you can visit any time you like.”
Author's note: Many of these stories are inspired by real people. Some of them are fiction stories based off of an encounter with a stranger or co worker and I'd often tell them when the story was published. In this case, she had actually come from a Eastern European family and when this happened, well, partially happened, she had indeed heard the word Draga often which was an endearing nickname for darling or sweetie which was what she nicknamed the pig.
The grand hall was illuminated by the morning sun streaming through the columns. They were as tall as redwoods reaching up and out into an endless sky. You could see the dust floating about in the air like a fine mist. There was her small silhouette within the forest. The round curve of her forehead to her nose and then down and around over her top lip point and her plump bottom lip and chin. As she looked up she imagined there was some color at the top of the columns. She visualized the moist dark brown tree bark fading into a green canopy with a little bit of blue and white peeking through. You could see the reflection of it in her eyes.
Her hair was pulled back into a perfect blonde bun. She had a tiara on that mimicked the pearl and crystal gem stones in her bodice – tulle hovering over her white legs as she tip toed on the marble floor shoes dangling in her hands.
She paused for a moment in the silence and closed her lids softly. Then she sat, criss-crossed her legs and slid her wrapped feet in to touch the hard canvas hidden behind the elegant exterior. The soft satin ribbons securing the torturous devices as she lifted all at once from the ground to her pointed toes arms like wings gracefully opening up over head. She indulged in the symphony in her mind playing ravenous Tchaikovsky and dreamlike, whimsical Satie. She glided and whirled around the columns – writhing in agony as well as she would burst with joy and love. She articulated with intelligent transmissions of empathy, passion and fervor despite her youth.
The music came to an end when she became distracted by a pain in her head. Then she noticed there was no one around. No one was calling her. Where was her mother? She heard a rumbling in the other room. Adults were in some kind of meeting. She looked closer and saw her mother. The room looked like a court room: the columns, the white color, the marble. It was all so majestic.
In the center, the room fell away. She could see the city street, but it was silent. Her mother’s rosy cheeks were more flush than usual. Her charcoal tartan stroller coat and voguemont felted wool hat – her hair in perfect curls – She was so beautiful. Especially when she cried.
The little girl walked closer. She was worried she would now be late for the audition. She would be the youngest ballerina to enter the company. She assumed all of the white bearded gentlemen in robes were the judges of course.
She walked closer. Her white tulle and bodice blood red. Her pale neck lay limp over her mother’s arm. She could smell her mother’s soft perfume. Her breath warm on her face and tears like rain drops smacking the young girl’s skin.
All at once everything sped up. The images she was witnessing were now moving at full pace. The elegant, beautiful woman was seizing and screaming and gripping the little ballerina, staining her tartan coat in red. The truck driver did not see the four feet of her entire glimmering self skipping happily across the dank grey New York City street. It all happened just so fast.
Charles gazed in the mirror upon coming to the final buttons of his white JC Penny button down, tie untied hanging at both sides of his hands, chin slightly tilted up. He held the small tail of the tie and wrapped with a snap of familiarity twice, threaded through and pulled downward crisply. He snugged the tie into place, tilted his chin downward and turned away from the mirror not needing to recognize himself any longer than necessary. His coffee maker waited patiently for him to pour that lonely cup and abandon it once again without so much as a thank you for another lonely day. He took it and an apple and walked out the door easily, briefcase in hand. The coffee maker shut itself off and waited still half full for yet another day to pass.
Charles shuffled papers, delegated responsibilities, had lunch, made phone calls, analyzed numbers, took meetings and began to prepare to leave the office for the day. He straightened his papers, put the pens back into the pen cups, tucked the stapler back in, logged out of his computer, made notes for the next day, turned his desk light out, grabbed his coat and casually walked out the door taking a bite of his apple.
No one knew that once he drove out of the corporate parking lot he began to untie his tie with one hand removing it entirely and placing it on his coat which lay next to him over the briefcase. He unbuttoned his top few buttons and placed his hands back on 10 and 2. He did this much without thought, just as when he dressed himself, it was very automatic and emotionless. He didn’t think badly of preparing to go to work. He didn’t rush out the door when leaving. He didn’t curse his tie for being around his neck the way it was all day every business day… and a few holidays and special occasions.
He pulled into the parking lot of a white house converted to commercial property. It had a wrap around porch that was wide and welcoming. He pulled open the screen door and pushed open the wooden and glass door. He knew she was there. His whole body began to light up with electricity and he could feel that if he did not keep himself under control he would certainly become aroused. The obligatory greetings happened as he walked in, calmly hung his coat and sat down. He gazed at her. He ran his finger over the deep burnt sienna of her hair and then again over the french red vermilion of her lips. She lay delicately in a bed of cobalt green and hydrangea blue surrounded by subtle twinkles of pale lemon yellow and silver white. Her elegant, sheer sleeping gown draped over her breasts, her belly, her hips and legs and she waited for her lover longingly.
He secured the apron around his waist and boldly handled his palette mixing a new shade, spatula in hand, linseed oil at the ready and turpentine filling his nostrils.