Bothered, unhappy, angry today. No reason I can identify. It just is. I get home, and I’m terse. Nothing wrong. This just happens to me once in a great while. A mental off day. My daughter senses it, and she’s needy.
Or maybe she’s trying to help me?
If everything is fine, she fine with whatever we, or I do. If it’s not. If something’s wrong. She’s right there.
“You wanna play games?”
“You wanna go swimming with me?”
“You wann play toys?”
“You wanna get ice cream?”
“You wanna play hide and seek?”
Each “No, honey” from me is a bad thing. A rejection.
Toys. Ice cream. Swimming. Hide and seek. These are things we do together for happines. Sh’e trying to make me happy and these are the things she knows that make me happy. The things I do for her.
Each “No, honey.” reads on her face as “You can’t make me happy.” It’s a failure an upset. Bad. Bad. Bad. It makes it worse, this way I’ve felt all day.
“I need to go for a run, honey.”
“But I miss you. I want to play.”
“When I get back,” and everything that’s bothering me is worse for saying this.
“I’ll wait here. We’ll play when you come back.”
“Ok.” I say. I’ve been at work all day.
She comes upstairs while I get changed, put on my shorts, my running shoes. Hot today. No shirt.
She walks downstairs with me to the door. Telling me her day. Trying to fit in all she has to tell me in these few minutes.
Bad. Bad. Bad.
Just the germ of an idea crosses my mind. On impulse, to ease my conscience, but out of no real consideration I say “Do you want to go with me?”
So, still not sure how I’m going to do this, I put air in the tires of the jogging stroller we haven’t used in a year. Can’t run on the road with that, but I remember the nearby school had a cross country course I’d see kids running on during the year. I load everything up and drive over. It’s only a mile away. We’ll see what we can see. Do what we can do.
I figure she’s going to want to walk around or play, but she gets right in the jogging stroller as soon as we park. She’s very excited. I buckle her in, put the sagety leash around my wrist and start pushing at an easy jog.
My daughter has gotten bigger in the last year, and the pushing is that much harder.
I find the course with no problem, it’s well mowed, and it takes me about six minutes to do a lap which I figure means it’s about two thirds of a mile through the woods. It’s approximately a square, on a hill. The first side of the square is level. The second is long steep uphill. The third is level. The fourth is long steep downhill.
There’s trees, birds, woodchucks, squirrels, flowers, chipmunks all that kinds of stuff. It would be very nice if I was feeling good. My daughter points it all out, and laughs, and makes “Buh-buh-buh-buh-buh” sounds when the stroller vibrates over a series of roots in the path.
Warmed up and rested from the downhill leg, I punch it on the second lap. I don’t know how long my daughter will find this fun, so I have to get all the workout I can while she’s happy.
We race across the flat, and I fly up the hill, head down, pushing, legs burning, panting to the top. Recover on the flat. Handbrake and lean back down the hill.
Recovered, I race across the flat. Up the hill. The sweat comes freely now, and my own particular nasty stink. Sunglasses off I throw them into the stoller basket as I pant to the top. She’s heavy. The pushing hurts. Recover on the flat. Brake and lean down the hill.
We race across the flat My daughter laughing as the stroller bounces. Heart heavy, tense, unhappy for no reason I can identify, up the hill, pushing it because what else is there to do there? My legs burn and lungs ache. Not that feel good. The strain ache. The breathing tomb dust ache. The ripping dry ache. Recover on the flat. Down the hill. Braking. Lean.
We race across the flat. My daughter just a presence in front of me. Arms in front of me like a swimmer I push the stoller up the hill. Legs sliding, pumping. Heart slamming on ribs like a bad old beating at the door with a long overdue bill in his hand. Lungs, don’t even go there. Sweat in the eyes like tears. This is about punishment, I realize. Recover at the top. Lean down the hill, braking.
We race across the flat, and I see my daughter turn back, look at me and smile. I wipe the sweat and force a smile back. Then once again, the swimmer position. Up the fucking hill. Up the fucking hill. Up the fucking hill. No body part inventory this time. It’s all bad. Sweat and metal taste in my mouth. I sob, a single huge sob of sadness and grief for God knows fucking what, and it’s aftermath wracks me at the summit masked as recovery gasping Person walking dog, looks at me funny. Down the hill. Brake and lean.
To race. To race across the flat. The acceleration is slow. My speed is going. Why didn’t I eat today. My daughter is leaning forward expectantly, holding onto the hand rails against mad crazy speed and bumps that I can’t generate. Keep accelerating. Speed for the hill. Speed for the hill. Go. Go. Go. Here it is. Sprint. Push. Tears and panting sobs I shamble up the hill. Not a run, hardly a jog. My arms in front. Head down. Pushing. Crying. No recovery, it’s too much, still panting. it feels like I’m still going up the hill as I break and lean down the other side.
I walk the stroller across the flat. No question about it, I’m not getting up that hill this time. No way. I pull myself together. Nobody knows that I’ve just had some kind of break down, not even my daughter, not even that person with the dog. All they could have sensed was something unusual. Probably not even that. Back to the car.
“I wanna run. I wanna run.” My daughter says as I unbuckle her from the running stroller. She says things twice when she really means them.
“Ok,” She did sit there for half an hour.
I jog across the flat as my daughter races alsongside me at what is to her three year old legs, a breakeck speed. She runs just ahead of me, looking back at me, laughing madly in that crazy way she always runs.
Tired already she says “We’ll walk up the hill, Daddy.” Suits me.
We run along the top again, and I make her hold my hand down the hill so she doesn’t go flying ass over elbows.
Back to the car. Go home. Eat. Swim. Get ice cream. I won’t say I feel fine. All better. But whatever it is is diminished. On the downswing. Later we watch a little TV, then I tuck my daughter in and she tells me more about her day. Saw a cat. Ate a popsicle. Mommy made a grilled cheese. Things like that. Dutifully, I give each of these things the attention and consideration it deserves. She tells me she liked running with me, and I tell her I liked running with her too.
She looks at me knowingly with somber wisdom the way she does when she is about to tell me that grape is the best flavor, or that you can’t spill juice on the rug or some other matter of great importance or great concern.
“The hills are sad,” she says. So she knew.
“Just sometimes, honey.”