Running. Moving. Breathing. Pushing.
He could feel his heart pounding in his chest; pounding in function, not in pain. He was alive damn it! He knew he was alive. He could feel his body screaming at the demands he was placing on it. Sweat mixed with humidity, making his clothes feel heavier than cotton should ever feel. Part of him wished he could just strip down and run free. What would these people think of that? What would she think of that?
Cracking. Crushing. Beating. Pummeling.
His weight hitting the earth made him feel powerful … virile … manly. He imagined himself a primitive hunter moving toward his hunting grounds. He let the sounds of the surrounding city fade into his story. Instead of a roaring delivery truck, he heard the distant calls of a lioness. Instead of seeing the top of the Hilton just above the tree line, he saw an imposing mountain, defying even the power of vegetation.
Then he saw her face again. His jungle faded back to reality and he saw the path for what it was. A pristinely sculpted attempt to delude people into believing the city was environmentally friendly, but he saw that it was not that green. Although they said the track had been covered with smoothed stones to prevent erosion, he understood it was to prevent dirt transfer to designer running shoes. Nature was not really welcome. He couldn’t remember why he used to enjoy running here. He felt absurdly protected from things that could not harm him and exposed in his weakest places.
At least the day’s winds had managed to knock loose the smaller dead branches so the path was not completely perfect.
He pushed forward, enjoying the feeling of branches crushing under the weight of his worry. He needed to feel a little bit of destruction, even if it was unremarkable destruction. Part of him wished he had the strength to turn that destructive force on himself, to draw the blood to match the wounds he felt. Yet all he could bring himself to do was run.
In his own way, this was turning that force on himself. His body screamed for him to stop, but he refused to listen. His muscles ached. He marveled at the pleasure he took in ignoring it. The earth continued to greet his feet with each movement of his straining legs. This was what he needed. He could run her out of his mind, out of his heart. He just needed to push a little further and he’d find the clarity he needed.
Or would he?
Although his body knew he’d been running for more than an hour now, his mind continued to tell him he needed more. He could still feel her with him.
His lungs sucked in the thick air. His breath was hard and rhythmic, matching the pace of his running. He could smell the coming storm. It made him think of her. She had always loved storms. He remembered how she would try to hide her excitement when she’d hear the first rumbles of a distant crack of thunder. At first, when the storm was only offering distant signs of its approach, she would stay as she was, but he knew it wouldn’t last. As soon as the cracks got close enough she would move quietly into the yard, sitting herself directly on the ground facing the storm so she could watch it roll in.
In a moment of generosity, he had offered to build her gazebo so she could stay dry. He thought she would enjoy the beauty of the storm more thoroughly if she felt safer, dryer. He had never understood her laughter as an answer. It frustrated him beyond explanation that she hadn’t even said thank you, or tried to explain why she didn’t want shelter. There were so many things he didn’t understand about her, so many things that frustrated him about her. She had that thing in her that was beyond his comprehension. It was the thing that drew him so heavily to her. The thing he loved. The thing he wanted to be himself, but all of the running in the world would never set his mind free in the way hers seemed to be. It was the thing that always came between them. Even now, in his imagination, it continued to come between them.
He felt the first drop hit his face. It was so cold on his overheated skin. It felt good and fresh and clean. He wanted her even more. He ran even harder. He would beat this feeling. It was after all only a human emotion; something he had decided that he no longer needed and would never allow himself to have again. He could use his body to eliminate his soul. He would be clean and pure and certain. There would be no more gray areas and he would no longer be confused. Emotion was a waste of time.
He closed his eyes for a moment, allowing the water to wash away his salt, his sweat, his inhibition. His eyes were burning from the combination of sweat and rain and weeks of holding back the tears. He gave in. The tears fell in a torrent that exceeded the voracity of the storm. He stopped running and, unable to see, moved to lean on the small tree next to him. He put his hand out to grasp the tree for support of his tired body and dropped his head, not bothering to cover his face. His chest heaved, searching for air as he sobbed.
He did not find enough. He never found enough these days. He was smothered.
His body was fighting back, a punishment for losing its pleasure perhaps. It was exhausted. His chest pushed in on his heart, he felt it was going to stop beating. His stomach turned and he felt the saliva begin to gather in his mouth. He spit it out, afraid that swallowing would bring undesired results.
Just as his body defied his will, his mind reeled. He remembered her smell in the morning, just after her shower. He thought of how empty his new apartment felt without her there to crowd the counter space with beauty supplies, or steal the covers in the night. He hadn’t realized the extent to which she had invaded his life, his soul. His mind went through a montage of evenings passed together in the comfort of their home, wondering intermittently about each time she had gone out without him to “keep her identity”.
He released a scream into the storm hoping it would take her from him completely. The emptiness would be bearable if he couldn’t remember what it had been like to be full. The storm responded with a loud crack of thunder.
He pushed himself away from the tree, almost knocking down another runner caught in the storm. He offered no words of apology. He just started running again.
The rain fell harder onto his face, his chest, his legs. He felt his shirt and shorts cling to him the way he wished she would. He felt smothered by the discomfort and desire. He began to notice the wind trying to push him back. He felt like he was running on a treadmill leading nowhere. He leaned further into it and ran harder still.
He was going nowhere.
The rain stopped abruptly, taking with it the tears he had let fall into it. He was suddenly aware of his surroundings again. He had a momentary reprieve from thoughts of her. His breath returned to an excited but normal rhythm and his mind began to quiet. He slowed his pace gradually until he was moving at a fast walk.
He looked around, marveling at how the body can move along its path without specific direction from the conscious mind. He had run this path so much before and during their relationship that his muscle memory must have driven him here. His mind thought of her and his body sought her where it remembered her to be.
He stopped in his tracks as his eyes met hers. He hadn’t run this path since he’d left her. He’d stayed away intentionally for this reason. He thought about running again, maybe running into her, perhaps knocking her down, and not looking back to see if she was OK.
His body stopped just in front of her.
“Oh!” she said with obvious shock and subtle distaste.
He blinked but could not speak or move. He had finally achieved the empty mind he’d been crying for just moments before; only now, he didn’t want it. He wanted his full capacity so he could remind her what she was missing. Instead, he was reminded even further of what he was missing. He blinked again as she touched his shoulder saying something about his wet clothes. His chest moved in what seemed to be a laugh, but he had no idea from where the laughter could have been coming.
He watched her mouth move with words his ears wouldn’t let him hear. He thought of how often he’d kissed those lips, how often they had sought him out in the darkness of their shared apartment overlooking the river; the same river he had considered tossing her into. He remembered how easily those lips had lied to him about a love her heart could never really hold for him. He wondered what lies they released on him now.
His ears refused to let him know.
He felt the familiar urge to run again, to cleanse himself of the anger that was welling in his chest. He felt the passion for her that she had forced him to redirect and wanted to work it out, to get rid of it once and for all through the beating of his feet into the soft runners’ path, through any means necessary for it to be gone for good.
His heart felt like it was going to come out of his chest. He wished it would. He was certain that he could live without it. His blood was frozen now anyway. It had been since he’d come out of the bathroom in that little café around the corner from their apartment to find her lying lips kissing someone else with the same passion that they had kissed him a few hours earlier. He had no use for the heart that could break down so easily in the face of trials.
His eyes traced her face with the same love he had before. She’d cut her hair since he’d seen her last. He hated that she was taking care of herself better than he could of himself.
Her mouth moved. He felt the familiar urge to take her head in his hands and inhale her perpetually pouting lips. He forced himself to remember the hate in his heart. She was someone else’s pleasure now.
He felt his vocal cords vibrating and watched her eyes begin to soften. He felt her hand on his shoulder again. His clothes felt even more stifling. He wondered if sleeping with her again would expel this demon she’d left behind.
He felt her pull away again, softly, but with determination. He hated that he could see what she thought. He wasn’t supposed to know a stranger so well. His soul couldn’t handle it.
He watched her walking away from him again and wondered what he’d said to her that made her walk so comfortably. Had his body managed to find words his brain refused to register? Had he managed to give the false impression that she was forgiven? Had she even asked for forgiveness? He searched his brain for the elusive answers.
He found nothing.
His body answered only with the loud rhythmic sound of his breath inhaling and exhaling.
He saw his hand wave to her as she turned back, in that stupid girlish way of hers, to give one last stab to the corps she left in her wake. His body continued to betray him even now. He stared as she turned the corner, heading, no doubt, to her new lover, her new life. He wondered if it was the man from the café or if she had already killed him too.
He remembered now the explanation she’d given him when he’d asked her why she loved to watch a storm pass over her without shelter. He remembered her describing the feeling of weathering a storm without being moved or destroyed by it. He remembered why he could never understand her.
She loved this feeling.
He did not.
He turned his body and began the hard run home, hoping for rain to hide the tears he knew he could not hold back.
There wasn’t a cloud in sight.