Monday, February 26, 2018

8 Minute Memoir, Day 48: Childhood Toy

My most beloved childhood toy is a stuffed dog that I got from my parents' as a Valentine's day present.  The dog was small and white with red ears and wore a cute little dress and had a bow.  I named her Courtney and she was my security blanket.  I still have her, actually; right now, she is in a storage bin in my closest here in the apartment with a bunch of notebooks and stuff from work. That bow on her small, stuffed dog head is barely hanging on after over two decades of love, worn in on the paws, incredibly soft after all these years.

The other thing that came to mind was... our playhouse.  We had a playhouse in the backyard, with swings and a bright yellow slide attached to the second level (that moved as the evergreen tree across from the structure grew wider and in the direct way of the landing zone).  At one point, there was an open space for a potential fire pole (that was eventually closed up, probably for the best).  The playhouse was built at my grandpa's house and then brought over to our backyard on the back of a trailer.  It was anchored to the earth with posts buried deep into the ground... even the most vigorous of swinging couldn't move it from the foundation, even if we felt that motion on the top level.

It was the home to our wildest imaginations.  Once, I brought all of my worldly possessions from inside the house out to the playhouse and declared that my new home.  I also have a memory of my little brother throwing my stuffed animals over the side and me yelling at him about it, haha.  I remember swinging, pumping my legs back and forth, over and over.  Setting up a home in the prime real estate, the "balcony" next to the slide, cozying up in the middle of summer in a Disney sleeping bag and an old pillow.  Eventually, we grew up and it became a place we could get a little peace and quiet...  And when we were old enough, we sat out there with our friends and drank cold beers and reminisced on our younger years, just barely on the other side of them.

Someday, I hope we have a backyard, and I hope we can give our kids a playhouse, treehouse, what have you.  I hope we can give them a space to create entirely new worlds, an opportunity like I got all those years ago.

Jess Goes Running: Today

Today, I woke up with a plan.  The sun was shining (earlier than I expected) when I rolled out of bed, and I ate some cereal and drank some water.  The end of February is here, and with a 50 degree day in the forecast, I knew I had to take advantage of it.  I hopped in the car, went over and picked up my friend V, and we headed over to Montrose Harbor.

The last time we'd gone running there, it was cold and windy and icy, so icy that we couldn't even go out onto the curlicue part of the pier.  Today, however, the coast was clear.  It was sunny, crisp and fresh--and windy.  Very windy, as we'd come to find out during our second mile.  But it felt so good to be out there, running with the backdrop of a beautiful skyline on turquoise water.  I turned off the run/walk intervals on my watch, and V and I ran three miles with no walking breaks.  Probably one of my first of those since the 2017 Evanston Flying Turkey 5K for sure.  It was tough, but I did it!  And felt awesome.  I put in the work and I felt amazing afterwards.

When I got home from running (and then brunch at our favorite place, of course!) I kept my running clothes on... and a little bit later, I put my shoes back on and went out again.  I was initially planning on running three miles, another three straight miles without walking breaks... but then three miles turned to four.  I ran from the apartment, to the pier on Hollywood Beach, down along the breakwall to Foster Beach.  It was a breathtakingly beautiful afternoon, even if the wind was just as tough on this run as it was the first time.  At the end, I stood downstairs outside the apartment and caught my breath and just smiled.  I had done it.  Another four miles in the bank.

Today, I ran seven miles...  This is my highest mileage, combined or otherwise, since the marathon.   Wow!  It feels so good to be back here.  Today is the strongest that I have felt in a long time.  I had two fantastic outings today, two fulfilling and wonderful and fantastic runs.  Two opportunities to exist and breathe and feel my feet on the pavement in the most beautiful city in the world, my kind of town.  Man, I am so lucky.  I know that I need to be ever vigilant; I know injuries can happen anytime.  But I am feeling so strong, so confident, so certain, right now.  I am ready to see what the spring brings.  Winter has been long, and I haven't done as much running as I hoped, but... maybe in a way I needed the break.  Maybe now I'm coming back stronger than I thought possible.  I am so excited for whatever lies ahead.

"In running the mind flees with the body, the mysterious efflorescence of language seems to pulse in the brain, in rhythm with our feet and the swinging of our arms."  
-Joyce Carol Oates

Friday, February 16, 2018

8 Minute Memoir, Day 47: Swimming

My feet graze the sand as I float in the warm saltwater of the Pacific Ocean.  I am a little ways offshore, letting the gentle rolling motions of the waves bring me in and out.  It's a beautiful day in Costa Rica and the first time I've touched the ocean in over five years... we are here, together, for an entire week.  Our first adventure to a foreign country and so far, we are proving to be good travel buddies.

He and I have vacationed together before, of course, but never anything like this.  When we left the airport in San Jose we were given directions that included things like "make a left at the soccer field at the bottom of the hill" and generally didn't include many street names, only the vague notion of a final destination, a wayward path to our home for a week.  But we made it, and now we are here, floating in the ocean.

I have always loved swimming.  We were lucky enough to have a pool growing up and I can't tell you how many countless hours I spent in the water during those long hot summers, my hair turning green from the chlorine.  I took swimming lessons and relished the ability that I had to be in the water.  Of course I was going to go swimming in Costa Rica, it wasn't even a question.

Over the course of the week we spend here together, we go swimming until our skin is wrinkled and sunburnt (despite constant sunscreen reapplications) and watch the sun go down over the horizon.  We go wading in the mornings, the water knee deep, the sun already burning brightly in the sky.

We go swimming in the aquamarine pool of our hostel, the space entirely ours alone--languid and luxurious laps from one end to the other, occasionally meeting in the middle for a kiss or two.

Tom rents a body board and plays around in the surf while I see how long I can hold my breath underwater, gliding back to the sand with the current.

We spend a day with one of our best friends, Jackie, who has friends who live in the big bright yellow high rise on the south end of the beach... we check out their gorgeous condo, then we go swimming and get tipsy in the palatial infinity pool down on the ground level.

We make the drive to Manuel Antonio National Park... the colors on the beach are so vivid and the water is unreal, almost technicolor... but the surf is rough, and it knocks me around a bit, to the point where I spend the rest of the day on a beach towel, with a book, soaking up the sun and watching Tom swim.

Even later on in the week we spend there, when I start dealing with congestion and burning eyes from some sort of illness that follows me back to the States, I take medication (with labels in Spanish, from the pharmacist who I think could understand what I was looking for) and I throw myself into the water anyway, because even though I feel pretty awful by the time we have to leave, I can't stay out of the ocean.  In fact, on the day that we finally do our make our departure, I am quiet and observing during the 2 hour drive back to the city, to the airport, and I cry before I get on the plane to go home.

I dream of those waves, the crystalline glitter of the sunlight hitting the surface, the salt sticking to my skin.  The rhythmic melody of the waves, always consistently rolling in, over and over and over.  A rhythm not unlike that of my own feet on a run, dependable and steady.  I'd go back there in a heartbeat.  Hopefully someday, I'll get to experience the emphatic delight of playing in those waves again.

Friday, February 9, 2018

8 Minute Memoir, Day 46: Christmas Tree

Somewhere in my childhood home, there exists a home video, recorded on a camcorder that was set up on a tripod on the other side of the room--and in the middle of the frame, my dad, putting our claimed from the tree farm Christmas tree into a tree strand and slowly, meticulously, stringing it with lights.  Also featured in this video, my little brother and I, taking turns sharing the spotlight in front of the camera while my dad got the tree ready for decorating.  My mom, meanwhile, would bring the box of ornaments up from downstairs: delicate, handmade projects from school holiday parties; Hallmark ornaments to commemorate birthdays and anniversaries.

I feel so grateful that as a child, the holidays always held such a particular magic for me.  Even now, thinking about it, I am filled with the utmost nostalgia and warmth.  Every Christmas Eve, we would make the drive to my grandpa's house... pulling up his long driveway and coming inside, everyone's arms filled with presents and food.  A veritable feast, delicious desserts, the exchanging of gifts, the grown ups drinking coffee and having conversations.  Thinking about these Christmas Eves now, at nearly 30, has me near tears because I am overcome with how magical it was to drive to my grandpa's, through the cornfields, the snow, the skies always so clear and filled with glitter... stars twinkling overhead.

And then leaving Grandpa's house and driving home, the car cold and crisp, but warming but before we even got inside...  driving home, coming inside to find the house lit up only by the glow of the Christmas tree, there in the corner of the living room, everything set in an ethereal haze.  My heart beats a little more quickly just thinking about it, how loved and how safe and how lucky I felt.

This is exactly the kind of thing I hope to replicate for my future children because I believe without question that it was an important part of my childhood, the wonder and delight of being a kid, getting my toes wet and learning new things and exploring the world, on the road to becoming an adult.  I want to give them as much sparkle and joy as I felt... I grew up in a technicolor world and I want that and more for them, I want the moon.

8 Minute Memoir, Day 45: Something Scary

Something scary that I have done in the last two weeks...  I haven't exactly been going outside of my comfort zone especially considering that I spent one of the last two weeks sick with what was probably the flu, just with weaker symptoms cause I got the shot in December.  Anyway... something scary... probably driving in the recent bouts of snowfall we've had.

After all, it's February, but I feel like we've been pretty lucky so far to have a pretty mild winter with not a ton of snowfall.  But I got stuck either commuting to or from the suburbs for work during the last most recent snows (with the exception of the snowstorm that hit last night) and that has been pretty nervewracking.  Monday night, on the Edens, behind slow moving cars with semis flying by, the road conditions just awful.  And I'm drivng the new car, the Fit, which I love and which has good handling, but also has the standard all-weather tires, so it doesn't necessarily handle the snow very well.  Not to mention, I still haven't been driving the car for very long, so I'm still getting used to it.

In general, I am confident in my driving abilities, especially in the snow.  I am less confident about others, but trust that good driving will work in my favor.  I had to drive to work in poor conditions when I opened Wednesday morning; I left earlier than usual and still showed up a little later than normal.  Needless to say, I was definitely awake that morning as soon as I pulled out from my parking spot and turned out onto Granville.  Tomorrow I'll have to dig the car out and make the drive to the suburbs; I'm hoping that enough time will have passed that the roads won't be too horrible, that I'll be able to get to work without much incident.

I'm glad that it's already almost the middle of February... somehow this always manages to be both the shortest and the longest months, and I am glad that it'll be March soon enough.  It's the Midwest so there's always the possibility of snow even until spring, but it's nice to know that we are eventually going to see a light at the end of the tunnel.  Until then, I'll be dreaming of sunshine and warmer weather.

8 Minute Memoir, Day 44: Leaving

This one is dedicated to the love of my life.

I attended Northern Illinois University for my undergrad experience and so, lived in DeKalb for four years.  I spent 2 years living on campus (one year in Grant, one year in Neptune), two years living off campus--my senior year living with Tom, who had graduated from Loyola and who had moved to DeKalb to await the imminent completion of my degree.  Up until that point, though, we spent the previous three years doing the long distance relationship thing.

During the week I lived in DeKalb but on the weekends we lived together; most of the time I went to Chicago but occasionally we'd spend weekends in the cornfields.  I'd take the train from Elburn to the city, then the El up to campus, make the walk to the dorm or to the apartment.  We'd spend Friday through Sunday together, a regrettably short but always wonderful period of time together.  But Sundays, Sundays were always so hard, Sundays always meant leaving.

Especially when I was driving to the city and back...  choking back sadness as I drove Sheridan to Lake Shore Drive to Congress, navigating my way towards Interstate 88 with a desperate and deep desire and longing resonating in my being.  Leaving was always so hard.  I always felt it so acutely...  I spent the entire drive away from the city just aching, wishing with everything I had I was still back there, with him.

And then eventually the day came where... Sunday happened, and that night we brushed our teeth together, making each other laugh in the reflection of the mirror, and went to bed together, and we didn't have to say goodbye till next time, goodnight.  To say farewell with five days standing between now and the next time.  We woke up together on Monday morning: I went to class and he went to work.  The luxury, the delight, the contentment of a building a life together... after over a decade, it is always more rewarding and more reassuring and more wonderful than I could have anticipated.  The leaving, now, is only a distant memory.

8 Minute Memoir, Day 43: Thank You

Dear K,

Thank you for being one of my oldest, dearest friends; a steadfast presence in my life.

On the eve of our birthdays--a little over 20 days away--I'd just like to remember our first meeting: roommates at speech camp, our lives crashing together at gale-force speeds.  A forever friendship, a bond formed over a week.  Then, over a year later, a happenstance meeting during the first weekend of college... so delighted to have found one another again.  And so it goes.

We saw one another through love and through heartache, college dorms and cute studios and townhomes... dinners together, adventures in the cornfields.  Always there for one another, no matter what.  You have never held any judgment towards me, and you always provide a reasonable opinion on things.  If you don't agree, you tell me so--there's never been anything but trust.  We got married to the loves of our lives, we had babies, we got grown up jobs and navigated the whole adult thing together, always there still--even if it's been a while since we last spoke.  We live hundreds of miles apart now, but whether it's by text or by phone, we always pick up right where we left off.  And I'm so grateful for that.

I just want to say thank you, because I'm so lucky the universe brought us together.  I'm so lucky to know you and your husband and your sweet boys, and think of you often.  We've been friends since we were 17 and that's not something to take lightly (especially because we're turning 27 this year, you know, LOL).  I'm looking forward to getting together in a few weeks, to having that precious time together.  (Feeling pretty lucky about that, too!)  We've been through a lot together, we've grown up together, and I couldn't imagine it any other way.

Love you!