My Monday morning commute is a 2-mile run to a strip of pavement sandwiched between churches and parking lots downtown. The sidewalks are empty. The only traffic in motion at 5 a.m. is the city’s homeless population carting what few belongings they have rolled and fastened to their backs to their next chance at a cup of coffee. Maybe even a hot meal. It is the 5 am migration. And for the next hour, these are our streets.
My job is to be perky and to show up on time. The meeting spot is the edge of the parking lot even though it is barren of cars. The spaces are lines we just don’t cross. I bounce from foot to foot to stay warm. I do it to insert some energy into the air. See if it will take off. Perhaps land on someone who can’t shake it off. At least, that is my hope.
Our boss is named coach. And her team is an ever-fluctuating roster of souls in transition looking for direction, a road map out of this paved purgatory. Individually we are a mess. Together we are runners.
The purpose of the group is to provide a stable and supporting environment for homeless people to transform their lives. I first learned of Back on My Feet years ago when it was in its nascent phase in Philadelphia. The idea of a running group for the homeless has always resonated with me. Because running requires one thing: the desire to move forward. Your pace is irrelevant. Your route is flexible. The only thing that matters is putting one foot in front of the other. Because sooner or later you will find yourself somewhere else.
My running buddy is fast. We have two very different philosophies of running. I have always focused on long distance. Setting a target and chipping away at the miles in between. His doctrine involves speed and whether or not he podiums. For him, every run is a race you should aim to win. I think there is room for both approaches.
My running buddy did not choose me as his partner. He was showing up long before I came to the group. But one morning I arrived, assessed the other runners, and noted that he looked fast. And that he didn’t have anyone else to run with. I don’t know his last name. I don’t know why he ended up on the streets. And I don’t really care. I just don’t want him to wind up back there.
For the rest of the week he enters my mind. I wonder if he’s made any friends yet. If he still talks to his family. I wonder if he feels proud of the progress he’s made.
Sometimes he thinks of me too in that he hopes I won’t show up. The other morning he had just come off a shift of work and was tired. He did not really want to run fast. I said fine. I told him to set the pace. We made it one block before he changed his mind and we dropped 6:30s at 5:30 a.m. We accelerated on the hills. And we talked about how sometimes when you’re running alone, you just feel slower than you really are, that sometimes you have to propel yourself into the hurt to get better. And that is how I know I did my job.
Every now and then I receive an email from someone that makes my heart jump.
Usually it’s just a quick note, a confirmation from the BAA telling me I’m registered for the 2014 Boston Marathon. Or a reminder to update my address, a nudge to check which corral I will be in when I line up to race next month. Usually the emails hit my inbox just as I am thinking, no, I’m not going to run today. And usually I change my mind.
I’ve been waiting for the marathon for almost a year. But I’m approaching it differently than I have in the past. Last year, I had a running buddy who was faster than me, I did speed workouts, I hustled to debut at Boston under 3 hours. (I didn’t. Missed it by less than three minutes.) But this year I don’t really have a goal. I know I am not as strong as I was last year. I know I am not as fast. But I am running it anyway.
Because this year, it’s not really about my time. It’s not about seeing if I can finish. I know I can. I finish races. It’s about an obligation.
I haven’t really followed the court case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, which is strange. I am a news junkie. I check at least ten different news outlets every day. And in the weeks that followed the bombing, I refreshed my news feeds constantly. During the manhunt in Cambridge I was glued to the police scanner for hours. And then he was found in the bottom of a boat and I haven’t thought about him a lot since.
What I do think about are the reasons I should run on the days I don’t want to. Like today. I think about how easy it is for me to put on my shoes and just go. My life was not dramatically altered afterward. I didn’t know anyone injured in the blasts. I don’t need to strap on a prosthetic foot every morning. I didn’t have to re-learn how to walk. And because I can run, I will run.
I don’t really know what I am expecting to feel when I board the bus in Boston Commons in five weeks. But I hope I am excited. I hope this year I turn to the person sitting beside me and make conversation. I hope that during the race I remember to touch hands with the spectators because that’s why they came. And I hope that when I cross the finish line, I hug my high school coaches who will be volunteering there again, find my family, grab my drop bag, and leave without a story.
I don’t know what you said the other night in the dugout. No one without a Red Sox uniform does. That’s probably a good thing. Sometimes it’s less about wording. Sometimes it’s more about the sentiment and its delivery by a man possessed.
I went to bed last night smiling and repeating the phrase “We won the World Series. We won the World Series.” I’d like to think that was all because of a little ministering by Father Papi. So thank you. I am not going to say the city needed that. We didn’t. But we sure appreciated it. You already consoled us through some dark days this spring. And you did it in the way Bostonians appreciate – with brevity and bravado.
The other day my mom asked why you aren’t captain of the team. I couldn’t answer that. Varitek retired with the title in 2011 and before him the Sox hadn’t had a captain since Jim Rice. I wonder if it’s because sometimes you break things in the dugout when you’re mad? Like the phone. Or perhaps it’s more simple than that. Maybe you just don’t want to do the paperwork. Either way I am going to make a case for it to John Henry. You have given the Sox three rings. I think we can cough up a C.
Now, I know the win means you are all going to shave now. That’s fine. All I ask is that you don’t get fat. Don’t come back injured. And return hungry. Enjoy the parade boys.
I saw you biting your nails in the eighth inning tonight. I was right there with you.
Only I was in Virginia. Wanting to take a shower. Needing to take a shower. But curled onto exactly one square of Clancy’s couch, staring at the screen, forgetting to breathe, and thinking John Lackey looks darn attractive with a beard. Was Beckett holding him back all those years?
Anyhow. I want to tell you something I don’t say often enough and should – You done good tonight.
Last night was different. Last night I went to bed mad.
I know I promised I wouldn’t bring it up again. But really John, Tito wouldn’t have left Workman in to bat in the ninth. The ninth John. Think about it. But that was only part of the problem. We played the entire game chasing mistakes and they caught us in the end. I would have liked to hear someone attempt to translate the obstruction rule to Koji Uehara in the clubhouse. We have no idea what happened, but apparently it’s fair. Just don’t touch anyone. Ever.
I do know that the Cards won a game they couldn’t brag about and bad juju is a bitch. Just ask Kolten Wong.
And I know that tonight you pulled Buccholz at just the right time. Papi played like it was 2004. Pede showed up when it mattered. The bullpen checked off all the boxes. And the game ended on a pick off. A pick off John!
I am now going to take my shower. I will see you tomorrow.
Can I touch it?
In fact, can you make sure everyone on the team touches it? And really gives it a good rub every night. Especially Stephen Drew. Although be warned, you might need to cuddle him a little afterward. The thing is, the beard is really working for you. Part woodsman. Part Old Testament. With a dash of hillbilly hipster. If hipsters could hit a 95 mph fastball.
My point is the rest of the team is flagging and something needs to be done. Preferably before Saturday.
I think you’ll agree that last night we got a lot out of a little run support. Jon Lester may have wavered at times, but he ultimately pulled it together on the mound. He did his job. Unlike Peavy. Who should probably stroke your beard too. But I am wondering if you could somehow communicate to the rest of the team that they can hit 460 foot homeruns as well. They can hit singles. Getting on the bags anyway possible is fine by me. Just do it consecutively.
Now I don’t want to seem ungrateful for all you boys have done of late. And I got to admit, it was nice to see a little aggression out there last night. Pede and Jacoby showing off their legs. David Ross getting rough at the plate. It was almost unnecessary. No. It was awesome. And I think you should all do it again soon.
Last night I was thinking it. You were thinking it. We were all thinking it.
Then in a single stroke, you sent a bomb into the Sox bullpen, Torii Hunter’s legs went vertical and the entire Boston nation was on its feet. It was proof of why you watch until the end. Always.
Because up until that blast, I had spent the past two hours cursing Joe Buck, wondering how that man has been allowed to ruin the postseason experience of so many people for so long. I spent the rest of the time trying to introduce my husband D to the various Sox players as they came to the plate and inevitably disappointed. He was not impressed.
So I focused on the pitching instead. I told D how Buccholz used to have this tendency to melt down on the mound. That he can be erratic. Pitch like Cy Young one inning, and then something spooks him and he completely forfeits his confidence and the strike zone. Last night that kind of happened. For five innings he was the Buccholz of late. Fierce. Competitive. And a little dirty. And then the sixth came and he was bleeding out on the mound chewing his fingernails. It was horrible.
My mom texted she couldn’t watch anymore. It was just too sad. Then D picked up a book. I wondered whether or not it would be best to just wave a white flag, pack the gear and head to Detroit hoping the hitless streak wouldn’t follow us. But there are no white flags in baseball, just limping to the dugout. I made D change seats with me for the final three innings. Because you never know what could make a difference.
Let me be clear. I was not convinced there would be a comeback. I knew it was possible. Unlikely. But possible. And if there’s anyone capable of the improbable it’s the boobs with the beards. However, I continued watching out of principle alone, reasoning if I am going to celebrate when you win, I have to support you when you lose. Or at least, I have to show you I care enough to curse you when you’re down. You know how it is Papi.
No one has helped us dig our way out of a bigger hole. No one does clutch like you. One swing and it was like 2004 all over again. A clean slate. And another day to try.
I don’t know you anymore. The last time we spoke was September of 2011. And it wasn’t good.
It was pretty much the worst breakup I’ve had since the fifth grade when I called my then boyfriend a shit for flirting with some cute blonde at recess. I admit, I overreacted. But I was still learning about relationships – how to have one and recognize a keeper when it’s right in front of you. You know. We all make mistakes.
I am going to be honest. I am not over Tito. He was my first. And second. That meant something to me. I really thought we had a good thing going with those championships. What happened?
I know. I know. We can’t go back. But Bobby Valentine? He gave us the worst season since 1965. I think you can at least give Tito a public apology. And when I say ‘you’ I mean Larry Lucchino.
But I don’t want to dwell on the past. I am writing you to tell you I think we should talk. Because today I found myself hovering on your url. And I admit it. I checked you out. Then I downloaded the MLB gameday app for my phone. Now we can be together even when we’re apart.
Don’t go getting ahead of yourselves. My mind didn’t even go to October. However, I do think we might have the start of something. If you don’t totally fuck up again. Tonight the sell out streak at Fenway was broken. You clearly have some work to do. And I don’t just mean how Hanrahan totally botched the save.
But it was actually nice to listen to you boys totally go down in flames in the ninth. A friend warned that I shouldn’t get too invested in you. That you would just break my heart again. I say good. That means I at least care.