It is the fall of 2000… after I say no to Richard’s offer of marriage and move out, after my father dies of a heart attack slash esophageal cancer, after I struggle with multiple jobs and roommates and unavailable men, after I move back into Richard’s newly purchased apartment building to live right below him… and I have decided to run a marathon.
I am not a runner. Or even a jogger but I am in dire need of something to distract me from the depression that weighs on me daily. A colleague has approached me while raising money for an upcoming endurance race that benefits the Leukemia & Lymphoma society. If I want to do one, there is an organization that will train me for the race and the donation will make me feel all kinds of warm inside. After reviewing Team in Training’s pamphlet and upcoming race options, I pick the marathon that is furthest away, in Dublin, Ireland. My Dad was Irish, his family coming over during the great potato famine, and I think it might make me feel closer to him. This race also has the highest fundraising goal, $6,000. Deep inside, I feel the weight of failure building already but I sign up anyway.
Training takes place every weekend, which puts quite a kink in my general depression plans, as well as not being able to have sex with the latest unavailable man (we’ll call him The Drummer) when he eventually calls, or drink myself into oblivion when he doesn’t. And fundraising isn’t going much better. So I hold a bake sale of sorts at my newest employment – a start-up venture capital firm called Revolution International Associates*.
Somewhere during my months of not-training-but-baking-furiously, I am also flirting with my boss. We’ll call him The Australian. He’s one of the youngest billionaires ever, or something equally impressive to hear around the water cooler. Did some famous massive deal back in the late 90’s in Europe. Maybe his best friend started RyanAir. Anyhow, he is flirty. I am flirty. I’m the Executive Assistant to a few of the partners. He is the boss boss. One night he invites me to dinner. And while I know he’s likely a player – I can tell by his swagger – he is also crazy manly hot. He’s 6’2”, broad chested, strong, reverberating voice, full head of wavy hair, good lips, strong hands… so I say yes to dinner at his house. I arrive, there is drinking of wine, and at some point, I see a bunch of fashion and home decor magazines laying around. I mention this and he says, “Oh yeah, my wife and I were thinking of redecorating.”
Wife. Wife. Wife.
I ask why he’s not wearing a ring because I checked. He sees my apprehension and explains that they are separated, headed for an imminent divorce. Still. Wife-ish. But then, he picks me up in his arms, effortlessly, like he’s just slipped on a jacket, and carries me to the bed. I’m 99.9% sure we have sex but there is a part of me floating, half in and half out of my mind, like it is all a dream.
The next couple of weeks at work are interesting. While we continue to flirt and have more drinks, I sense him pulling back. One day, I am called into the HR director’s office who is sitting with the firm’s CFO. I am asked directly if I am in a relationship with The Australian. Caught off guard, I don’t know what to say, and feel sick to my stomach but in my naivete, I also feel like I can say anything. The CFO can see the thoughts swirling through my head so before I can respond, he tells me that I’m not in any trouble, if that’s what I’m worried about. “No,” I tell him. “I’m not worried about being in trouble.” I explain that we’ve seen each other outside of work a couple of times but it was only recently I realized he was married, no ring or mention of his wife, and that now we are just friends. He explains that this is a tenuous situation. It turns out the soon-to-be-ex-wife was also an employee once. She isn’t happy about the upcoming divorce and could use just about anything against him. In addition, as we rely on people and companies giving us their money to invest, if there was any type of scandal surrounding one of our managing partners… Do I understand that it would be very bad? And can I be trusted?
I walk away unsettled. Later, I corner The Australian outside and tell him that I can be as discreet as necessary, however, I am still short $4,200 in my fundraising efforts. The next morning, there is a company check on my desk for the balance, and I am free to fly to Ireland for a race I am unprepared to run.
The day before my flight, I’m walking to my desk at work and as I go to sit down, my forearm scrapes the corner of the computer monitor. I’m clumsy, so scratches don’t bother me, but by the time I get home that night, I have a raging fever. I look at my little scratch which has turned deep red and purple and has streaks moving away from it and up my arm. I am alone in my apartment but have the sense to get myself to the ER. Once there, they give me a couple of shots of antibiotics and tetanus, and tell me I’ve missed having my arm cut off from a lymphatic infection by a couple of hours. The antibiotics wreak havoc on my stomach, but I get on the plane to Dublin the next day.
Upon arrival, the Team in Training group is ushered to the mediocre hotel on the outskirts of town. We are pairing up with running buddies, based on our timing – which I guess since I haven’t been to more than two training sessions. A ten minute mile sounds right in the middle and I glom on to a talkative woman with red hair who tells me about friends she has living down in Cork. I’m captivated by her energy though I forget her name immediately. With the bacterial infection, drugs, jetlag, insecurity about my job, feeling stupid and disappointed in men, I am functioning on pure adrenaline. For dinner that night, we sit down to eat in the hotel’s pub. There are tuna sandwiches available but they have corn in them. Inside. With the tuna. And the bread is also buttered. I ask aloud, “What the hell is wrong with people?” and go to bed hungry.
The next morning, we’re downstairs in the lobby by 5am for transport to the starting line where we quickly realize the weather is going to be absolutely horrible for the duration. It is cold, wet and windy, more so than anyone expected. My running buddy and I seem to be making good time, though I have no actual idea. It is my first ever race, so I don’t know what to expect. For instance, I don’t know that at most races, they have highly marketed stations offering an array of goodies like Gatorade, Gu or a PowerBar, as well as the obvious water. No, Dublin does things differently and I think how smart I am for wearing a belt of water bottles. (If only I was smart enough to drink them or take those electrolyte pills I packed.) I am on a high, though. Despite the fact that I am freezing, I’m in my father’s ancestral lands. All’s right with the world. I see the 19-Mile marker! And then… I feel something odd happening to my legs wherein they have stopped moving. I look down and all the blood in my body seems to drop full-force to my feet which have turned to lead. I look up and see that my running buddy, up ahead of me, is turning around just as I fall to the ground. The look on her face is enough for me to realize that what is happening to me is not good. At all. But I give in to the feeling of slow motion collapse and then I am sideways lounging on a curb of a residential Dublin neighborhood, wondering what the fuck I am doing there. At some point, a spectator calls for an ambulance but what arrives is a volunteer with the fire brigade, driving a truck from the early 1900’s. I’m brought inside by a pimply teenager who throws a foil blanket around me and tells my buddy to meet me at the finisher’s tent. I know I am having the experience but it feels surreal, like I will wake up any minute, but I’m too tired to wake up anyway. When we arrive at the tent, one of the volunteers – all local nuns – sits me down and hands me a cup of barley tea. She tells me I’ll be grand in no time. I look around the tent and see soaking wet runners with streaks of blood and gravel in their knees or elbows. One man has an ice pack to his head. No one seems particularly bothered by the scene, there is no sense of urgency. Slowly I realize that despite my desire to honor the memory of my father in his homeland, he would think I am an absolute eejit trying to run a marathon without properly preparing.
Back at the hotel that night, after skipping out on the finisher festivities, I’m feeling worse so my running buddy and I grab a taxi to the closest ER. Approaching the hospital, there is a security guard smoking a cigarette outside. As we enter, he follows behind us and makes his way through the waiting room to the admissions area where he sits down across from us, cigarette still lit in hand, and asks what the problem is. I explain my woe, he charges me 50€ and walks outside to finish his cigarette in the fresh air.
Shortly after, a young woman calls my name. She wears her lab coat open, proudly displaying her perky cleavage, made all the higher by shiny red 6” heels. Sporting enormous hair held up by at least a can of spray and a full face of makeup, she introduces herself in an eastern European accent as the ER doctor on duty. I am both fascinated and terrified but she makes jokes to put me at ease. It’s not uncommon, she says, for young medical students and doctors to get their training in an English speaking country. She fell in love with Ireland and stayed, and oh by the way, you are grossly dehydrated and will need at least two bags of IV fluids. I am slightly delirious – everything catching up to me at once – so I smile at Dr. Olga, close my eyes and sleep.
The rest of my trip is a blur… I recuperate at my running buddy’s friend’s place in the Cork countryside then a few days later I leave for London to meet up with my Danish lover. The flight there turns out to be the scariest of my life** as the U.K. is experiencing the wettest autumn in 200 years, causing extreme weather and flooding everywhere. We passengers are bouncing up and down, swinging from side to side, for a solid 45 minutes. People are screaming, praying, standing, kneeling, while flight attendants do their best to calm nerves. My seatmate and I hold hands while we are landing and as we come to a sideways skid across the runway, the pilot comes over the speaker and says “I am just as glad to see Heathrow as you are.”
The moral of this story is… even when the chips are down – be it by your own hand or forces out of your control – keep moving forward. Baby steps. And preferably with a running buddy.
* Name changed to protect the innocent. ** Still is
p.s. This photo below is during a training with my roommate turned running buddy turned dearest friend for a marathon that I did finish in 2004.