I may have mentioned it once or twice but just in case you didn’t know, this summer has been really hard on me. Mostly, it’s been exhausting from the combination of a thousand marker events (like Shawn’s birthday) and the toll that single parenting has taken on me. I hope I never have another summer like this one. So many people have helped me but no matter how many people do, I continue to be totally overwhelmed.
I think this is why I need to run almost every day. Usually, I do it on my treadmill, but sometimes I am lucky and I get to go outside. Last week, while visiting friends, I managed to sneak away at dawn for a run along the water.
Before I started running, I pulled up Spotify. I was going to listen to something that I always listen to – pop hits or 90s dance party, for example – but I scrolled down to some of the older playlists that Shawn had put together. When he died, I took over his Spotify account. We used to joke that it was a good thing I had married him because my music taste was terrible. We decided early on that he would be totally in charge of the kids’ musical development. He would teach them to play the guitar and he would expose them to great music while I listened to bad pop hits with them in the car.
Now I have no idea what I’m doing. Seriously, Shawn should have assigned someone to take over my kids’ musical development. As I looked down at the playlists, I recognized one that I knew he’d made last fall. It was titled “5K” (I’m linking to it here.) I am pretty sure it’s what he played as he ran the Janney 5K with Claire last November.
Right next to the “5K” playlist was a list with only 4 songs. It was titled, “The End.” I knew this existed, but it still shook me to see it on the screen. Shawn had even made a playlist for his death. That’s how much he liked music.
I decided I’d stick with the “5K” playlist. I clicked on it and started running. The music was mostly loud metal bands – I Mother Earth, Linkin Park, etc. – stuff I could tolerate, but didn’t often choose when I had other options. But it was perfect for my run. I laughed a little bit imagining Shawn running an elementary school 5K with this music in his ears.
Running calms my anxiety. It’s been an ever-present emotion since the day Shawn was diagnosed. But the emotion that came up that day as I started running wasn’t anxiety. It was anger. Maybe it was the music (Metallica can do that to you, I guess) but mostly I think it was that the music let me feel the anger that’s been bubbling under the surface of my daily experience this summer. It’s an emotion that usually gets buried among the sadness and grief and worry that I feel more comfortable expressing.
I ran faster than I’ve run in a long time. In a way, the fury inside my body seemed to fuel me, pushing me way beyond my normal limit. I was flying.
Why him? Why me? Why us? Why not anyone else on the goddamn planet?
I had no answers. But that music let me be angry. As I reached the pier at the end of my run, I realized I would have to stop, if only to make sure I was able to get back home to my kids without actually hurting myself. I slowed down and then I walked.
And then I collapsed on the end of the pier and sobbed.
It was the hardest I’d cried in a long time. I cried out of anger, mostly, but also out of grief. I cried because I had run myself into the ground during my workout, and there was nothing left in my body that would help me contain my emotions. They were laid bare, out there on that pier.
A few elderly men stood around, silently fishing. They said nothing and averted their eyes when I finally looked up. For once, I appreciated this lack of interaction.
As I walked home, I snapped a photo on my phone of the waves crashing over the pier. The water was rough that morning, and like the music, it seemed to echo my emotional state.
I’ve felt angry before, but this time was different. I didn’t feel the same level of despair I felt for so long. I just had pure, unadulterated anger coursing through my bloodstream. The tears that followed were from that anger, and afterwards, I felt better. Cleaner, in a way.
Maybe it’s time for a little more Alice in Chains in my life.