I didn’t have running shoes or a number on my back. But I completed the marathon this week in Lima Peru, as sure as the pack of gazelle-like Kenyans and some weirdo in a wolf mask. My starting point was a bit farther away than twenty-six miles, beginning China last fall, when I was told to leave.  

I ran like hell, never looking back. 

I left by way of Hanoi, wearing a sweltering wool cardigan over thirteen layers of clothing as my luggage bulged with student letters. I wanted to say goodbye to Vietnam as my soul was fused to the country, the border being a quick train ride from Kunming. I’d erase memories of my failed marriage with fiery pho or lose myself in Vietnamese history, the war being as much of my childhood as Curious George. My father would force me to watch Walter Cronkite, the technicolor equivalent of broccoli, as he’d light his Kent.

“Watch this kid, it’s good for you.”

I crumpled when landing in Hanoi, melting in the exhaustion of everything. Manic packing, projectile wailing, soul blistering goodbyes.  A taxi dropped me off at a favorite hole-away-from-home on West Lake. The area was buzzing, the trees sparking with firefly lights, while electric bikes crowded the streets. Throngs of diners on plastic stools eating prawns the size of their hands. I want to join them, but I start to weep instead, my tears bursting with every feeling imaginable. Happiness. Sadness. Brokenness. Relief. A tender breeze from the lake dries them, but not before I taste one. A blend of sweat, sadness, and gruel.

I scrape the day off in a well-needed shower, asking myself, am I too old for this? The mirror sure said so. Why am I finding myself back at the starting point instead of cracking into a nest egg? Has my life been erased once again, shaken like an old school Etch-a-Sketch? All that remained was a suitcase full of cards.

Oh, how I wish I had packed my cats!

I tried not to think of these things when I went to Bangkok a few weeks later, the air thick with sin and exhaust; the heat punching me in the face like an open oven. The city is a mosaic of values that somehow works. Monks getting their heads shaved in barbers next to brothels. Massage parlors near mosques. I visit temples. I eat pad thai. I try to find peace that I did the right thing leaving China to move to a country I can’t even locate on a map, Peru. A country seemingly run by drug cartels or middle school boys; you take your pick.

In January, I arrive in Lima, as if I awoke from a weird dream, leaving Chicago snowstorms for Aqua Velva waves splashing a mossy coastline in the middle of a desert. A country where potatoes and bananas have their own food groups. Penguins and surfers share the beach. I make friends with the cats in Kennedy Park, hoping to channel my felines in Kunming.   

Slowly, the automatic Chinese phrases in my brain are replaced with Spanish. How much does this cost duōshǎo qián  is now ¿Cuánto cuesta esto? My tongue goes through hot pot withdrawal. I think of my noodle lady washing chopsticks in front of her shop until late in the night, wishing I could give her one final hug.

And now, I find myself at the finish line, sponging up a fresh new culture and way of life. Larco Mar’s Paddington Bear statue replaces a Thai gold-covered Ganesha. A glass-encased Mary replaces the Erawan Shrine. Exhausted runners dancing to Zhumba music replaces marathoners praying to monks in orange robes. I think of the classic Thai t-shirt, SAME-SAME BUT DIFFERENT. 

I did it. I finished a marathon I didn’t train for. I guess everyone does. No one wants to be an angel parent, a divorcee, or picking through the remains of a car crash for the wallet of a loved one.

We all have a pair of running shoes inside of us.

1 thought on “Marathon

  1. You inspire me everytime i read one of your posts. Big congrats on your run!! I did a half marathon back in the day.
    Best wishes to you. Hugs from southern illinois.
    Ps moving to connecticut soon to be close to my kids and grands! New chapter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *