The Silent Teammates

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was the spring of new life; it was the winter of mourning. It was the beginning of the end; it was the end of the beginning. I had miles before me, I had miles behind me. (That isn’t a paradox, so it doesn’t really belong in this paragraph, but it is true.)

The majority of readers will not understand this piece. How can they? Only true, dedicated runners will understand the heavy-heartedness of having to throw away a pair of running shoes. I remember the horrible day when my first pair of running shoes gave out.

My running experience began in 8th grade. I was bright-eyed and naïve about crosscountry, competition, and carbs. I didn’t even own a pair of running shorts until shortly before my first meet. But I had my sneakers.

They hugged my feet protectively as I ran my first race. They clung to me as I stopped before the finish line because (as previously mentioned) I didn’t know about carbs and that one especially should consume some before an afternoon race. They stuck by me as I stumbled across the finish line, dizzy, white-lipped, unable to see clearly, and hanging onto consciousness by a thread. Even as I retched, they didn’t abandon me. They were loyal to the day both of the soles ripped off completely.

Although one may be on a team, running is, in several ways, a solitary sport. In my opinion, that is one of the most nerve-racking things about it. A runner does his or her best and hopes the rest of the team does the same. You can’t pass the ball, a teammate can’t bail you out, and you cannot just be a “good” runner – you are the third best or the eighth best or the fourth worst.

Arguably, a runner’s sneakers are the truest teammate one has. Teammates carry you through a challenge. They support you. They are right beside (or beneath) you the whole way.

I am probably being silly, but I cannot help being nostalgic as I deposit my worn soles in the trash can.

We had a good run. I guess that’s all that can be asked of any team.

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Bug-Eyed

Bug-eyed (adj.) wide-eyed with amazement or fear

How appropriate. I hate bugs. Anything with 6 or more legs makes my skin crawl. When my 10th grade biology teacher announced we had to turn in an insect collection, I was horrified. My aversion to bugs is exceeded only by my disgust at killing them; I cannot bring myself to even swat mosquitos. I just leave them alone and hope that they extend me the same courtesy.

Fortunately and unfortunately, bugs were drawn to my house like a modern, entomology adaptation of Noah and the Ark. One night, I heard my sister screeching at Mom about a cockroach on the wall of her room. Roaches are Mom’s kryptonite; I don’t know why she expected help from that quarter. Heroically, I grabbed a container and rushed to my sister’s room, a band playing in my head. Triumphantly, I clapped the container over the roach…and froze. I felt like Superman, defeating a villain, only to discover he had never taken off his glasses or put on his cape! I was a mild-mannered, slightly-geeky news reporter (or freelance blogger). I had no idea what to do now that I had actually captured the beastie. The slightest move and the roach could start flying toward me.

Mom tossed painters tape from the doorway. I taped the container over the roach, hoping that it would suffocate. My sister refused to even enter the room. Finding the idea of sleeping beneath the live cockroach display unappealing, she moved to the guest room for the night. In the morning, we called our cousins to transfer the roach to a Ziploc bag.

Feeling like a murderess, guilt and horror ruined my sleep from my first kill until I speared the corpses with pins and presented them to my teacher. Lying in my bed, I imagined insects crawling up my legs, on my wall, in my wall…one night I dreamed that a praying mantis kept following me around. I can’t remember much of the nightmare, just desperately trying to get away from this green insect in a pious position. At the end, I was screaming, kicking, crying, pleading with it to leave me alone. It looked at me with an expression in its buggy eyes that seemed to say, “Dude. I’m a praying mantis. I don’t know what you’re saying.”

That day, I was trying to classify my insects when I stumbled across pictures of a praying mantis attacking and eating a hummingbird. I thought, “I am so glad I have never seen one of those before!” (I had never seen a praying mantis, not a hummingbird.)

The next day, Mom called me out from my room to tell me that there was a collectable bug on the screen. I grabbed a container (the same container used in the cockroach episode. In retrospect, I don’t know why I thought that would work this time) and sped out to capture my insect. Because it was high up, I had to stand on a chair, clap the container over the bug, and drag it down. When I saw it, I froze. A praying mantis.

Thank goodness for painters tape and cousins.

After drafting this post, I went to put a load of clothes in the dryer. As I cleaned the lint screen, I noticed a roach about 3 inches from my hand.

The screen clattered to the floor and the roach scurried under the washer.

Looks like another sleepless night. And…it may be time to do another load of laundry.

Crossing the Rainbow Bridge

There is a little corner of our backyard that is shielded by a large cluster of bamboo trees so that it cannot be viewed from the house. This was my sanctum. In the crook of the corner, I brought a half-dead palm tree back to life. On a three-legged bench propped up by a tree, I read Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. Against the fence is an assortment of browned bamboo stalks, formed into crosses and tied together with faded yarn. That is where we buried Shadow, the fluffy black-and-white cat who loved cheese and turned out to be a package deal when we bought the house. She died of leukemia.

Buried next to Shadow is Sarah, as Gramma called her, or Socks, as my Mom dubbed her, a jet-black cat with little white feet. To this day, we are not entirely sure why she died. I remember walking out of band practice with my cousins, Brittney and Luke, when Aunt Barb picked us up and told us, “Socks is dead.” We drove to Gramma’s house, and sure enough, Socksy was lying dead in a box underneath the kitchen table.

I am not even going to attempt to list all of the hermit crabs we buried. We went through hermies like the last batch of Christmas cookies – eagerly, lovingly, and with incredible quickness.

Today, another hole was dug in the soft ground.

Bandit has been around as far as my memory goes back. One of my earliest memories was when I spent the night at Gramma’s house with Brittney and Luke. Brittney loved the cats and would not let them leave. She kept holding and cuddling them, despite their loud objections, attempts to run away, and my Gramma’s wise advice. She continued to fuss over them until finally, Bandit threw up. On my new Powerpuff Girls sleeping-bag.

I was righteously indignant.

Heck, I was in a toddler rage.

At the time, I did not realize the significance of this event went beyond an ugly brown stain forever branded on Bubbles’ blonde pigtails; it was the start of our love-hate relationship and the foreshadowing of my future with Bandit.

When my Gramma moved into assisted living, we took Bandit. I believe that Ronald Knox’s description of a baby also applies to Bandit: “A loud noise at one end and no sense of responsibility on the other.” When my sister was informed of Bandit’s passing, her first response was “No more litterbox duty?!” (All I’m saying is when it is at the point that Mom is freaking out because the cat didn’t throw up that day…maybe it is time to let him go.)

I remember a poem that used to hang on the wall at Gramma’s house about a rainbow bridge leading to Heaven and your pet running to greet you when you arrive. I can just picture Gramma standing on one end of the rainbow, a golden city shining behind her, waiting for her kitty to come to her with a joyous meow, not the gut-wrenching yowl he gave in his last days, but a cry of love and overwhelming happiness at seeing her again.

“Then [they] cross[ed] Rainbow Bridge together.”

Bandit2

Brittney cuddles Bandit as I suspiciously look on, sitting atop my condemned Powerpuff Girls sleeping bag.

A Charmed Life

Suspended in a cage of glass and wood, forgotten, unnoticed, and unused, yet, when the tiny door opens to let the light in, it still shines.

I have not worn my charm bracelet in years. I had all but forgotten it until I took out of my jewelry box today, just to remember a tow-headed girl tripping along in 1/2-inch heels (I have come a long way).

Once upon a time, my charm bracelet was one of my favorite pieces of jewelry. It still has great sentimental value, though I rarely wear it now. I remember the thrill of getting a new charm. I remember admiring the silver bracelet with the glittering pendants. I remember asking Mom to clasp it, because whenever I tried to it would slide off my arm.

There are not many charms, but each reminds me of…me. The two silver cats remind me of my life-long love of felines. In kindergarten, I even signed my schoolwork “Cat” and Garfield was my favorite comic strip. I would heatedly argue with anyone who said that the lion was the king of the jungle. (I firmly believed that was a misconception; a tiger was a more formidable predator and, in my opinion, more beautiful, and should therefore be king of the jungle.)

The tiny ballerina reminds me of my dancing days. I took ballet and jazz for five years at Judy’s Dance Academy. There was a hall covered with pictures of each dancer in her/his costume on the wall. Whenever we arrived early, I scouted mine out. I loved to perform my own (often impromptu) dances for guests.

The only memory that the jewel-studded ice cream cone revives is sitting on the steps at Gramma’s house with my cousins, with more blue Dinosaur Crunch ice cream on my face than tongue. Still, this charm was one of my favorite because it was dainty, colorful, and tasteful (savoring the accidental pun).

The small cross and Bible remind me of going to church when I was little, clasping the Bible I received upon my graduation into 1st grade, wearing my charm bracelet and small heels that seemed to get stuck in everything.

Today, I found myself wishing that I could go back in time, back when the thought of doing schoolwork on Sunday was revolutionary, when mermaids were real and scientists made magic potions (not bug collections and lab reports).

I looked in the mirror. Something was missing. Fortunately, I knew how to fix it.

“Mama, can you help me put this on?”

As she secured the clasp on my bracelet, Mom mentioned buying some new charms.

However, as I walked through the same hall I have walked since I was 6-years-old, I reflected rebelliously that I did not want to add any more charms. Somehow, it doesn’t seem right. Even the cheapest piece of jewelry I own has sentimental value. My Floating Shift ring reminds me of what I aspire to become. Charms are memories. I don’t mind getting new ones, but I cannot add them to the same bracelet. This bracelet belongs to a little dancer with a fondness for cats, who doesn’t know what lies in her future, but loving the charmed life she has.