Thirty-Three Days

After a run for Ruth

Stupidly, as in, why don’t I think in numbers ever, I signed up to “Run for Ruth.” It’s virtual, of course. The site offered a 5K option. Early in the summer, I’d done a virtual 5K for Girls on the Run, with my tween, Saskia, biking alongside me. It was nice, but it didn’t feel particularly 5K-ish. I’d decided about a week ago, now that the weather isn’t so July swampy, that I want to run twice a week, which seems very doable. Then, I saw this “Run for Ruth” thing. I signed up for the 87 miles between September 20th and November 3rd option, because somehow September to November seems longer than the 20th to the 3rd is, with a scant yet long month in the middle.

Um, math. I ran seven miles — the longest I’ve done in ages and ages and decades — on Sunday, which brought it to eighty miles. I’d run ten the week before, starting on the twentieth, the initial registration day. So, that brought me down to seventy. I went six miles yesterday, which means I have sixty-four to go. I don’t know that I am willing to plot it out to get to November 3rd. I do know that walking whatever I don’t run is a done deal. I don’t know how good my body will feel. I do know that between now and November 3rd, I will be fueled, in large part, on adrenaline, as in anxiety, as in terror.

When I run these days, I let myself wind or unwind along the roads, as if a ribbon leads me or trails behind me. The ribbon image is because my runs feel quite gentle. I try to listen to something that isn’t strictly news. One recent run featured Aminatou and Ann (Call Your Girlfriend) interviewing Pramila Jayapal together and another featured Aminatou interviewing Zadie Smith. Both were totally inspiring. Yesterday, the bulk of my run went to Kate Spencer and Dorrie Shafrir (Forever 35) interviewing Erin Brockovich, which was totally engaging.

Running feels as far away as I get can, which is to say, as alone as I can get. I so desperately crave being and feeling alone in a way that recharges me. For now, this is really it. It’s therapeutic insomuch as it’s alone with thoughts — interviews — that I want to hear and consider. I feel hopeful when I am out there in space. The eighty-seven miles is immaterial.

There aren’t enough miles to calm the white-hot terror of Trump not leaving office. Every time I consider the bad IF’S I stop breathing. I literally realize that I’ve held my breath. I have to counterbalance the stopped breath by gulping air. The tension is on a par with my family’s two largest crises, except this isn’t our personal tension within a very private bubble of our immediate family. This is the entire country’s fate at stake.

I thought 2016 was bad, but now I think it was a cakewalk in comparison. This time that year, I was consumed by rage. It felt constant, and I felt on edge in this electric, angry way. This time, although I can’t not say fuck constantly, I also cannot summon RAGE consistently. I feel as if between the four years and the pandemic, RAGE has been quashed from me with the force of pressure on my ribs. It’s robbed me of breath. The holding breath is linked, somehow, to my inability to hang onto my rage. This may be because I am too frightened for the rage to take center stage. I can’t fit it into my oxygen-deprived self, because so often I can’t breathe. I wonder whether this is a sign of defeat, submission to the authoritarianism that has already taken hold. From within this mess, it’s really hard to gauge what we’ve already lost. I don’t say that as a political scientist or historian; I say that as a middle-aged white woman in 2020, marooned in a pandemic in a blue zone that is growing colder by the way, because winter in New England is a scant season from now, six weeks post-election.

I believe that I would feel better, honestly, if I were to be rageful. Losing the rage is like losing an important edge of myself; it’s like being numbed. Anesthetized. Neutered, like the women in the detention center (“forced sterilization” but it’s a stealing of so much more than those words convey; it’s violent and assaultive and takes away a particular force that belonged to those women, along with their agency to reproduce should they want to). Although this next part isn’t true (objectively), the numbing is part of my resistance to medication, even though I am on a low dose of Prozac. I really don’t want more (and I feel, within the parameters we are limited by logistically) like I am pretty steady these days. I think the low dose takes the edge off despair and the rest is unavoidable, because the country is burning and we are living in isolation without the freedoms we rely upon and we are wrecking our children’s development and our lives while not addressing a deadly pandemic that has killed 205,000 people and counting in this country. I mean, FUCK. No amount of medication, no amount of rage, not even a continuous stream of oxygen makes this any better. Depression is logical at this time.

Meantime, I am not depressed the way I was a year ago (thankfully, but also, how am I not, save for I need not to be in order to survive this quarantine). I am worried about the anniversary month of depression adding yet another layer of complexity to this fraught month ahead, these thirty-three days. Notes to self: Inhale. Exhale. Try not to think beyond that time. Keep going. I guess, run again tomorrow — for Ruth, for self-preservation. Run just because I can.

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Sarah Buttenwieser

Writer, brainstormer, networker — follow me on Twitter @standshadows