Category Archives: what I know now

Set a goal. Cross it off. Set another.

When I was 15, I quit my first love—gymnastics. It was a decision that taught me so much about myself. I loved it, still do, but it was tearing me up mentally and giving myself the permission to quit meant giving myself permission to experience whatever life had in store and not put a big red FAILURE stamp on that chapter in my life.

I went on to run cross country and track. Something I didn’t know how to do. Something I had always hated. I was the 15-minute mile shrimp in elementary school. The girl who would’ve gotten the Presidential Fitness Award, or at least the National Fitness Award, if she didn’t get a big X in the mile every year. I could stretch and push up and sit up and pull up and all the things but running? No, not running.

And honestly, running felt like salt in the wound because I couldn’t play any other sports. I wasn’t any good at anything else. I had no hand eye coordination. I think it took me a month or two to see running as something to be admired. Something to push towards.

My dad spent hours with me at the local YMCA, in the months before school let out for the summer, training my breathing patterns and posture and arm movements, pushing me to round one lap of the indoor track without stopping to heave. He would stand at the corner of the track, pressed against the wall with a running watch, timing me, quietly propelling me to just keep going, one more step, that’s it.

Then we transitioned to running outside. My neighborhood had rolling hills and I remember thinking, “This is hard. This is nothing like the indoor track. You expect me to run 3 miles by August?” It was May and everything hurt. My calves. My quads. My lungs. I was a muscular 110 pounds and yet, I felt so heavy. Sluggish.

I started doing summer runs with the coach and some other girls and I remember the first time I ran 3 miles. It was mid-July, mid-morning, and I was coming around the corner down Walnut Street in Royersford, thumping down the uneven concrete sidewalk, trying to admire the houses I passed by. I had just stopped to walk a block when my coach came doubling back for me and pushed me to keep going, almost there. When I got to Lewis Road, the 7-11 on my left, I felt home free.

Running was never the plan. But those 3 last years of high school brought me so much joy, and so much appreciation for the limits of the human body. Set a goal. Cross it off. Set another.

A few people in my life are struggling with where to go next. They’re at crossroads, hoping they can just continue forward but realizing they can’t. And I want them to know that there is beauty in forcing yourself to set aside what you planned and follow the best path you see now, to push yourself into something you didn’t know you could love.

Lately, running has given me anxiety. Am I going to fast? What’s my heartbeat? Am I going to be okay? Can my body handle this?

When I was just 15, had never run more than a few hundred feet at a time, that was the last thing on my mind. I was just frustrated and tired and hot and out of breath. Our bodies are powerful. But so are our minds. They see us through. They know what we sometimes cannot know until we given in and trust. Let’s not forget that.

Marriage Is Like Climbing a Mountain

Before I met James, I’d never been hiking. That all changed quickly.

About three weeks after our first date, he asked me to come with him. He showed up at my door in mesh gym shorts and a white workout tee. I had on sage green khaki shorts and a white scoop neck tee. At the time, my impression of hiking was a bit like golf. You were working out, but you had to wear khakis. Man, I felt stupid.

In the 4 years since, we’ve gone on more hikes than I could’ve imagined. I’ve skirted along a precarious stretch of rock to make it up the “A” trail in Great Falls, Virginia. I’ve huffed and puffed my way up half of the Maryland Heights trail in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. I’ve paused over and over, hands on knees, begging my heart rate to slow on a short quarter-mile clip up to the summit of Sugarloaf Mountain in Maryland. I am officially a hiking convert.

And I have to say, after just one year of marriage, that it’s a bit like climbing a mountain.

You start with this lofty plan to make it to the summit, some rock-encrusted trek that seems worthwhile because you’ll get a great picture to post on Instagram. A breathtaking view, a calm, cool breeze, a check mark on your list of a life well lived.

But life is hard. And that doesn’t change when you get married.

I’d gone through a lot of sweat and tears and mud before I met James. So why, after just some wedding bells and rings and vows, did I think that life would be magical ’till death do us part?

The idea isn’t that life gets better when you’re married. It’s that marriage helps us through it. We climb half a mountain, and have to switch trails partway through. Maybe in a few years, we’ll walk back to that other path and start up again, but not today. Not anytime soon.

It’s a series of routing and rerouting. Of rooting for each other and creating roots as a family. Because you have someone with you, breathing life into your tired limbs, pushing you to press onward, to not look back, to carry your past as a marker of how far you’ve come.

For our anniversary, we went on a 5.5-mile hike. And it felt like the perfect reminder that life is a journey. Sometimes, you get to tumble effortlessly down the hill, foot over foot, or walk on the flat, soft, packed dirt, and other times, you have to keep looking up, spotting the next tree, taking deep breaths, and steadying yourself next to your partner.

You take turns leading. You take time to check in. And you make it through – together.

The Things My Car Has Seen No. 2

Five years ago I wrote a blog post called “The Things My Car Has Seen.” It was a farewell letter to my first love – a black BMW with a tan leather interior and a sunroof perfect for hot summer nights and cool spring afternoons.

I thought the car was so cool that I plopped down in the driveway one smoky summer afternoon and prompted my sister to snap a few shots for the blog back in 2010. The back passenger side wheel became my backrest, my arms crossed over my knees and that familiar blue and white crest visible to the left of my arms.

Fast forward 7 years. In May, I sold its predecessor, my mom’s much less cool silver BMW sportswagon. She bought it in the fall of 2003, and at 13 turning 14, I made it clear that she was really cramping my style.

“It’s a sports wagon, Kaleigh.”
“Yes, but it’s a wagon.”

We were emphasizing different things. This would go on straight through my teen years. She saw it one way, and I another.

Though I grumbled until the day I sold it off, it seemed only appropriate to think back again, to all the things this car had gotten me through—for better or worse—and be thankful.

In mid-December 2003, that car transported me to a funeral. And as the years went by, another one. And another one.

That car witnessed my last first kiss.

My first first kiss was standing next to the black BMW, in the bitter cold atop a snow pile, in the dark of night. To an Italian boy with blue eyes who ran cross country and track and played guitar and landscaped his way through the summers, with a sister named Amanda.

My last first kiss was standing next to the silver BMW, in the sweltering heat of an asphalt parking lot, in the bright sunlight. To an Italian boy with blue eyes who ran cross country and track and played guitar and never learned to help his father who landscapes for a living, and also had a sister named Amanda. The symmetry and simultaneous contrast of those moments is not lost on me.

That car witnessed plenty of irritated phone calls, driving home frustrated about issues at work, or learning how to be an adult. It witnessed a blowout on the side of I-95 in the windy drizzle of a late April evening. It witnessed a couple of tow truck rescues, smoke on the side of the highway, a doggie sleeping in the front seat on the way home from doggie daycare.

We made it to hiking trails and weddings in that car. We made it to interviews and family birthday parties and the BWI airport long-term parking garage.

But mostly, we made it work. In between my father-in-law’s crouching over the engine, flashlight in hand, peering down into the folds and guts of the machine, we made it where we needed to go. It may not have been beautiful, it may not have been cool, but it worked. For a time, it worked.

As with anything, there comes a time when the most reliable of things sneaks up on you and flips itself around, and when that happens, it’s best to skirt yourself out from under the teetering mess and move quickly while you still can. It was time to say goodbye. And no one was happier than me.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge its good run—14 years of blood, sweat, and tears.

 

The Next Day

benzine-car-speedometer-picjumbo-com

A few weeks ago, my tire all but blew out on I-95. Seventy-five miles per hour in the far left lane and the car started swerving left, right, left.

You pray for a miracle when that happens.

Please, God, find a space for me in the next lane, and the next lane, and the next lane. Please, God, just get me to the shoulder.

And then, you find yourself sitting two feet from a rumble strip, a thin patch of tar between you and the passing cars.

You pray for their attention. You pray for their carefulness. You pray for their sobriety.

Please, God, don’t let somebody clip us from behind. Please, God, don’t let us die because somebody, somewhere behind us, didn’t see the stopped car on the side of the road in the dead of the night with the wind and rain whipping around us.

We prayed hard that night.

We sat quiet in the space between one exit sign and the next, the flashers fizzling out behind us, those dimming red sparks holding on just long enough for the tow truck driver to pull in front of us and light up the road like a football stadium on a Saturday night.

It’s one of those moments where you think, “If I can just get through this, I’ll do whatever you want me to do. I’ll floss more. I’ll run more. I’ll take out the trash sooner. I’ll hold open more doors and read more library books and hug more strangers. Whatever it is, I’ll do it. Just let me get through this.”

I turned to my future mother-in-law that night, and I said the only helpless, true thing there is to say: “I’d really like to marry your son. I’d just really like to do that.”

Because when you sit in a car in the dark of night, two feet from trucks trekking down the road, you’re not sure anymore. You’re not sure you have control. You’re not sure you’ll get out. You’re not sure there’s anything you can do to feel better.

I imagine it’s a little less dramatic than the way the people felt on the Titanic. But it’s that utter hopelessness that keeps you from crying – you laugh, you sigh, you sit and wait. You shiver when you roll the window down. You sip iced tea. You cannot do any more anyway.

The true test comes the next day, and the next day, and the next day, when you’re not trapped two feet from trucks, and you still want to say those same words:

I’d really like to marry your son.

Some days, I stop and think about where I landed in this life. And I can’t help but acknowledge that my future is a miracle.

She sat on the side of her own metaphorical highway once – helpless, feeling utterly lost. She had lost her baby girl that night. But she decided to try again, to have a new baby, and that baby grew up to fall in love with the girl in the front seat of that shaking old car, the tire steaming and smoking and burning behind her. That baby grew up, against all odds, and made some girl really, really happy.

So that she could say, “I’d really like to marry your son.”

And she is. And she will.