Heading to Nashville for the Country Music Half Marathon was surreal. I was ready. I'd been training for six months, but it always seemed like it was in the future, out there lingering. I could barely believe when I was standing in my corral the morning of the race. We had all separated by the first mile. I was hot and miserable, and this wasn't my usual quiet morning run with familiar faces. Breathing wasn't easy, and by mile 4 I was on the verge of a panic attack. I felt claustrophobic, except I was in the wide-open outside with lots of people. What was wrong with me?! It's taken a week for me to piece it all together.
Just before mile 12, I was falling apart. I realized training and the race was what was holding me together about losing so much last year. I didn't want it to be over. I was dreading finishing the race. I didn't want to say goodbye.
I kept moving my feet, and in the last mile I came to grips with the fact that the race was going to end whether I finished or not. I started running. I ran faster and faster, and I sprinted the last quarter mile. I crossed the finish line at a pace I've never run before. Most importantly, I finished on my terms.
Last night, I dreamed about Mark. It's the second time in the last few months. The first time, he was lying on a couch, unconscious and obviously sick. People were there and I kept checking on him. I was confused because I knew in some corner of my subconscious that he was dead, but I was hearing him breathe.
Last night, I showed up at this place, and Mark was standing at the door. I just grabbed him and hugged him as long and as hard as I could. I heard his voice tell me he was still here and he was fine. Then, we were back in the room again with Mark on the couch only this time I paid attention to who was in the room with me. It was Marie and Stephanie and Kim and Bethany and Robb and Jennifer and Ryan and a bunch of other people who knew Mark. We were laughing and talking, and Mark was quietly lying on the couch, awake this time, and smiling.
I went for a run when I woke up. Along the way, I found clarity. Mark is still here, and he's OK. I think he was awake and smiling in this dream because we'd all spent last weekend talking and laughing and remembering. We weren't wearing our grief like a burden; we were celebrating, and I think that made Mark happy. He lives in our hearts and our dreams now, and the more we remember and celebrate the more awake he is and the brighter he smiles. Mark lives on in Team Mark -- the runners, the cheerleaders, the donations, every person who still loves and remembers Mark.
Mark helped me find
faith in myself. He helped me find my worth, when I was quite sure I had
none. He fought for me, when I wouldn't fight for myself. He never stopped trying to help me find my
place in this world, my happiness. In a round about way, he helped me find Team In Training, a group of people that have filled a void in my life and helped me find purpose and passion again. He did one last thing for me, I think, and
that was bringing me back home.
Like Mark, I haven't gone back home much since I moved to DC. This is where I'm meant to be, and I didn't think I could go back. I thought I had to
let go of "back home" to be here and happy.
I've always been different, but one more time, Mark showed me I can
still fit, even back home. I feel closer to my friends from high school now than I did back then.
Mark brought me back to them. He'll remain a part of me, telling me to
find the things that make me happy -- and telling off anyone who gets in
the way of that.
I know I don't have to, but I'm going to keep running. I'm going to stay involved with Team In Training. I'm going to stay close to the people who have known me longest. I am not, however, going to say goodbye. Ever. I don't have to.
Long live the King. Long live Team Mark.