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I was watching Tessie run tonight.

I remember being six. I remember running for the pure, absolute joy if it, for the feeling of being faster than everything else.

I still run. But it’s far more cumbersome. I require comfortable clothes and highly padded shoes and stretching beforehand and I bemoan it, but it also requires a certain amount, of…well, for lack of a better term, a certain amount of grit.

I was always a runner. Like Tess, I think I progressed from walking to running over the course of about two weeks. Crawl, walk, run, and she's off! I loved that feeling – being faster than my sister, faster than the boys, just fast. Pure joy.

I ran, all the way along. I ran cross country, then I ran track, in high school. It made me, if not popular, at least allowed me to survive as a white kid on the edge of a black neighborhood. I raced in the 800 meter, the mile and the 2 mile, thus saving the sprinters from having to race those long races. Imagine a tall, skinny, geek girl, giving a grin to the bombshell sprinter. Lois Lane meets Flo Jo. It saved my life.

I kept running. I ran, and I ran into the crew boss of a forest firefighting crew. I had to be able to run a mile and a half in twelve minutes. I could run a mile in under six, so I figured out that I could probably manage for 12.

I fought fires for a season, and then another. In between fires, we trained. I wanted to smoke jump, and it required two seasons of experience, and physical fitness...including good knees.

Then an accident. I blew out my right knee – I tore two ligaments and my meniscus. What physical therapists call the unhappy triad, or for you football players, Kurt Warner knee. I asked my doc, a former boxer, how long the reconstruction would last. He told me five years. Five years? I was 23. The operation was pioneered five years before, when football players started playing on Astroturf, and started blowing out knees like never before. It’ll probably last longer than that, he said, but we can’t guarantee it. Am I going to be able to ski this winter? I don’t think so, honey. You KNOW when they call you honey you are totally screwed. 42 staples and a handful of screws later, I have the new, improved, bionic knee.

Three months on crutches, then physical therapy. Doc Burns said I could start running at six months.

To the day, at six months, I walked to the track on Queen Anne Hill, and went for a run.

After a lap, I sat down on the curb, and wept.

That knee, which had been so fleet, so fast, faster than all the boys, didn’t work the same way. I felt like I was running on a peg leg - this body that had always met any demand I could make of it, no longer worked without a hitch.

I talked to the physical therapist about it the next week. Well, Chris, you might be rushing it, he said. (In hindsight I was trying to take it on too soon. I didn’t walk normally until almost a year after the accident, and I’ll always walk with a very faint limp.) But at the time, I was totally, unutterably frustrated.

I eventually learned how to walk again, to run again, mostly by studying the physiology of the other leg. Ah, when I run, the knee bends to absorb the first shock – I have to imitate that gesture. The knee moves THIS way after I step off of it. The foot does THIS. But it was a long retraining process - my frame is no longer symmetrical, so everything else had to adjust.

And I still love to run.


But now I watch Tess.

She isn’t wearing running shoes, she’s not breathing hard, she’s not exercising. She’s just running. She is running in flip flops, in her school clothes, because she is young and happy and because it feels wonderful. We are walking home in the dark, just street lamps and a perfect, balmy breeze. She looks like if she runs exactly right, she could spread out her arms, she would take off from the ground, and soar.

I want to run like I am six.





For Walter, because I think this
This must be the night when I remember how to fly, when the breeze catches my weight at last
is an act of genius,
and for riverrun because of
God talk and burning children.

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