In the teeth of winter
The wind comes in hard at your thighs, it makes little impression, but leaves your fingers numb. You’ve long given up on feeling your face as you stretch into your third mile, your tops are layered and from the waist up you’re starting to overheat slightly, but only in increments. Your balls are a distant memory, somewhere up near your stomach you think as you’re grateful to hit a red light that lets the traffic roar by and you stop to breathe hard on the pavement waiting for the cars to quiet and your turn to cross the junction.
Your mind does strange things when you run, well, mine does. There’s the elusive moment when your legs take over and you glide along, but mostly it allows you to empty your head out as you trudge through parks and along pavements; dogs, trees, the flash of cars, a face at a window regarding you as you move past, people trying to decipher the smudge of words tattooed around my thigh. And when you finally stop thinking, you start thinking. You stop thinking about work or money or relationships or what the fuck that you’re trying to run from on this wide road with its avenue of trees and its smokey rattle of endless buses and trucks.
I was coming home from one of those runs this last December, I took my phone from the band on my arm and there were texts and a missed call and then a group chat of some friends on my street. A friend, a runner sometimes too, had taken his life a few days before. An old neighbour who had undergone a few tragic years bound up in the black poisons that can undo anyone if you give them long enough: money, love, heartbreak, disillusion, it felt like the first year of his sixties had hit him like a truck and thrown him high into the sky.
Unexpected death is hard to take, a short, violent and self-committed act even more so. In the days that followed we’d stand in pubs holding our drinks a little too tightly, loose circles of dismay and anger, impotent with fury, isn’t that the phrase? Stranded on our own little islands of hopelessness and we’d rail against events, circumstance and wonder at those last moments in time when our friend climbed to the top of a multi-storey car park, the wind against him, the world holding his head down before he looked up at a distant London and stepped out towards it, falling away from everything, falling away from us.
I was running a few days later and pulled up like I’d caught my foot in a paving stone. Three miles in and my now empty mind filling up with images of our friend scaling those concrete steps up towards the light and back down again to the earth below. And I wondered at his loneliness, or was it his determination that took him there? What swims in and out of your thoughts as you fight not to live but to die? A distant figure on a rooftop and then dashed and gone leaving only the sky behind where you’d once been. And I walked home wondering, like we all had aloud or inwardly, if there was more we could have done. If a call or word could have tipped him back to this world and us.
I can still hear his booming voice, my, how his voice boomed and how all that was silenced by life falling hard towards him and the only way he could escape it was to jump to one side until he started falling himself.