Hitting The Wall

The D-Train #24

I’m really not a huge Elvis Costello fan. I like him just fine, although I only know a handful of his songs. But when I was in middle school, I became completely obsessed for some random reason with one Elvis Costello song, and listened to it on repeat, over and over again, until everyone in my household wanted to kill me AND Elvis Costello. I don’t even know how I originally found this song. And it’s been so long since I got hooked on it that honestly, I forgot about it. I haven’t listened to it in years. But I was listening to the radio in my car the other day and, god only knows why, the dj played that old song I used to listen to so obsessively as a kid. It was Elvis Costello’s Battered Old Bird. I’m not sure that Battered Old Bird was ever played on the radio? But there it was, in 2020, on my radio. It was too weird that it was being played. And I mean, I try not to get too out there with thinking that the universe is sending us messages, but if the universe is listening and transmitting secret gifts? Man, this was one I would take. I loved this bizarre-o fucking song. And not gonna lie, I can’t help but think it came back to me when I needed it.

I keep listening to it this week since I heard it on the radio. It’s really got nothing to do with my life, lyrically. One of the lines is “And next door to them is a man so mild/’Til he chopped off the head of a visitor’s child.” It’s more about Elvis Costello, just wailing on those lyrics. It’s more about the mood of the thing. Just the darkest darkness. But also a palpable thrill. A current of energy. An irrepressible fight. 

I haven’t had a court appearance in two months, but I’m headed back to court today. Here’s what I’m trying to remember. In 2009, I ran the New York City Marathon. At the very start of training for it I tore a tendon in my ankle. I avoided surgery, but had my foot in a boot for weeks and went to physical therapy twice per week to try to get it back to normal. When I healed, my doctor told me that it might be possible, with crazy luck and a lot of work, to still train for and run the marathon. The timeline to get in shape for it would be almost impossibly tight, but I decided to go for it. It’s so hard to get into the marathon that I feared if I dropped out I would never get my chance again. Besides, I was beginning to think about getting pregnant and I felt like it was my one opportunity, and I couldn’t miss it. After that I figured I would be bogged down with a kid for awhile, and I wasn’t wrong. 

I was never properly trained to enter that race. And about a week before the marathon, during my final long run, I felt something unmistakably wrong with my hip. I limped home. I limped every day that week leading up to the race. My teammates told me it wasn’t too late to defer. My friends told me I was an idiot. I figured I could just drop out midway if necessary. Although in the back of my head I knew I would never do that. 

Carried by adrenaline and the surge of the crowds, I ran the first half of the race very slowly, but I got through it. Had the thing ended at the half marathon mark, I could have gone home a little disappointed but happy I had done it. But I was only halfway through. And it got much, much worse. When I ran across the bridge into Manhattan, I ran down the steep off-ramp into the City and felt energized. But about halfway between Manhattan and The Bronx, around Mile 15, I suddenly realized that I couldn’t feel my hip. Or my thigh. I was hitting myself in the leg with my fist, but there was absolutely no feeling. I knew something was terribly wrong, but I just couldn’t wrap my brain around the idea of stopping. I limp-ran up to The Bronx, where I felt renewed once more. Fuck it, my brain said. You’re getting so damn close, you just have to run back into Manhattan, then down to the entrance of Central Park, and then into the park, and then across the finish line. You have run more than twenty miles on this hip and you only have about five miles to go. I decided not to stop for help, and to just finish the fucking thing.

The last five miles were excruciating. I didn’t find out until the next day that my hip was actually broken. It was a combination of stress – I broke my hip on the opposite side from the ankle injury, and my gait was probably off from trying to protect that from re-injury – and not enough time to train. And I have since learned that I have terrible arthritis, mainly in my hips (it’s an autoimmune disease – I’m not that old). The irony is that running is good for my weird arthritic hips…until it’s not. 

Anyway, when I was hobbling down to Central Park for those last five miles (which literally took me about three hours), I found my friends who had been standing on the sidewalk waiting for me for fucking forever. I was exhausted, and dehydrated, and quite literally broken. I was at the point that marathoners describe as hitting the wall. I was a little loopy, and I sobbed big dirty tears when I saw them waiting for me. I wanted to quit so fucking badly at that point, but when I saw them there waiting I knew that I was going to make it. I was way more than six hours into the thing at that point. The sun was setting, and there weren’t too many runners on the road anymore. My friends joined the race and walked with me for the last few miles while I limped and sobbed and wondered why I have to always do so many stupid fucking things, and how I got so lucky to have people to walk me across the finish line anyway. 

I am beginning to realize that this newsletter isn’t about the end of love, or even divorce, as much as it is a love letter to my friends, which is probably as it always should have been. They’re the constant. They’re the faces I want to see.  

I know that I can endure anything. But I’m heading to court today asking the universe for one last gift for this battered old bird. Give me a finish line, damn it. My friends will help me across. 


Amy Blair

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