He almost had a heart attack after his first post-hurt run, or at least that’s what it had felt very clearly like. He hadn’t had a heart attack before for comparison, but he’d heard about the symptoms and they all matched up.
I say post-hurt because that’s what he called it, as in after the hurt. We all have a hurt inside, nothing special about it really, but his particular hurt had to do with not reconciling with his emotionally abusive mother before she died. He can talk about it frankly now, because he’s in the post-hurt. But it wasn’t always that way.
No, for years it was terrible. Even for an optimist like him, terrible was the most apt way of describing it. She gave him a deep hurt every day, in the form of insults both spoken and yelled. She gave him the hurt because she hadn’t dealt with her own hurt inside. It’s funny how it works that way.
He ate. Constantly. Consumed fast food like it was his job, to the point where drive-thru workers knew him by name and smell. Took his once in-shape, football-playing body and expanded it, let it grow and grow until the hurt seemed like it would burst him from the inside.
When he wasn’t eating he was on the computer. She could still send the hurt his way then, as always, but he had his own world inside that laptop screen. A world where his body was the same as it always had been, and the hurt didn’t take up so much of his mental real estate.
He stopped weighing himself after a couple months. Reading the number the scale told him just added to the hurt. So he remembered the number it used to tell him before the hurt and pretended that that’s where it would stay.
Her mind went after the house did. Great piles of trash and personal effects lined the hallways, a veritable mountain range of detritus. He lost a few pounds just in trying to clean it alone, but she’d give him more hurt when he tried, so he left it alone.
Soon the doctor’s visits were real, and not just hypochondriac outbursts. There were weird words that added to the hurt then, words like glioblastoma and terminal.
He couldn’t say a word to her the last time they saw each other. He’d wanted to, but the hurt stopped him. So he just looked at her face as she looked at his.
There passed silent months then, months of frustrated quiet and unbearable solitude.
But then he met her. It was just one of those things, you know. She saw his hurt right away and didn’t run from it. She’d seen it before in myriad ways, countless times and people and places.
So he ran. And his heart threatened to attack, and he took it easy for a while. But he ran. And as he did, the hurt took a breath. It left him to it.
So he ran again. And again. Ran through his chest’s tightness, kept going even when he was sure his legs would collapse under the weight. The sheets of sweat were liquid hurt, left there momentarily on his skin to be carried away by the wind.
He went a week without fast food. Then two. Then a month. Started craving apples over Big Macs, started reading again like he used to, too. The hurt was still there, but it was tiny. Shriveling more and more by the day.
Soon he could jump rope again. Soon he could sleep the whole night, without apnea to wake him. Soon she could almost touch fingertips together when she wrapped her arms around him.
He set a deadline for the hurt’s final destruction: his first half marathon. The hurt whispered persistently in his ear and planted its doubt, but he weeded his garden regularly with runs.
There came a day when he wanted to hear what the scale had to say again. And when he listened, he hardly believed what he heard. It told him the number in his mind, the one he held onto for all that time.
The hurt destroyer came. Weeds sprung up everywhere in his garden as he ran and ran and ran, prickly, thorny weeds that refused to be plucked from the dirt so easily. He didn’t know where the strength came from, but I do. It came from the hurt. Because if you hold onto that much hurt for that long, it’ll either end up killing you or saving you.
A mile passed, then another. Lactic acid soaked his muscles, weeds strangled his brain. But he put one foot down, then the other. One foot down, then the other.
In the end, the hurt didn’t have a chance. It was outrun. It just couldn’t keep up. He saw it there at the finish, at the line that had marked the beginning not too long ago.
It was faded and torn, catching on the wind in spots. And when a stiff breeze finally came, it was blown away with ease.
So he doesn’t shy from talking about it now. Why should he? It’s just a memory, just a dream of an old life lived long ago. A time before he’d gotten past the hurt.