By Anna Jordan
Wind chases me through the tall dry brush. My feet hit the hard packed dirt of the path. You always hated to run, even though we were made for it. I remember Dad saying that as children, we stretched more than we grew, but you and your long legs were happier curled up with a book in a chair.
Rounding a tight turn, I confront the uphill. My thighs burn as I dig into the dust and pull my body forward. My hip flexors—tight as rubber bands—snap my legs into motion. I hear you clicking your tongue at me, as I struggle up the hillside, and see you shaking your head that I call such exertion fun.
Heat resonates through my body, burning me from the inside out. I wait for the perspiration, craving the release. The moment the sweat bursts through is the moment I know I can keep running. But you couldn’t, and you didn’t. After less than a mile, you’d walk yourself home, looking at me as though I should feel bad for even making you try. You always quit. It was the only thing we didn’t do together, the difference that made me me and you you. Now the difference is all I have left because I’m here. The rest, the identical parts, you took those. In the end, you hated them. You must have. If you didn’t, you’d still be alive.
The trail veers left, and I force my body up another steep path. When I think I can’t stand the heat from my body anymore, I feel the beginnings of that soft trickle of sweat. Prickling first from my scalp and then thick droplets down my chin, neck, forearms and calves. It drips into my eyes. I don’t wipe it away.
The trail is unfamiliar now. I’ve never gone up so far on this path. I check my watch. Six miles. I turn right instead of left at the fork in front of me and the path keeps climbing. My breathing is more like huffing, but I can feel my lungs expanding. My body knows how to take care of itself when I push this hard, but my mind is fighting, disbelieving my body’s strength. The sweat no longer cools my skin and the sun beats down on my bare shoulders. The violent clouds of dust I kick up along the path stick to my calves and drift into the shoes, grinding against the soles of my feet. I’ll have blisters tonight.
You were always good to my feet. More mother than sister with them. Pouring peroxide into my sores, holding me still while the bubbles fizzed and cleaned my dirty wounds. Remember that time in college when I lost three toenails after the triathlon? You pedicured my remaining toenails anyway, saying that having seven pretty toes made up for three ugly ones. Red, your color of choice.
But I couldn’t pour enough peroxide on your open wounds to heal them. No matter how hard I tried, you slit them open again and again. How could you be so gentle to me and so rough with yourself? Were we so different?
Another bend in the trail, but the hill has plateaued. I take long breaths in through my nose, and push air out through my mouth. The flatness of the trail allows me to catch my breath, even though I’m picking up speed. The hillside next to me overlooks the ocean, but I’m too far from the beach to feel the breeze. From here the sky melts into the water, and the blueness goes on forever, the clear blue of the ocean and the white blue of the sky fading in together. They seem to mirror each other, their slight color difference only noticeable at the horizon.
On good days, you used to peer into my face and fix your hair, as though I were your reflection. Sometimes I was. More often I wished you could see what I saw. Now I’m just me, with no one to look into.
The trail runs me around a wide curve, the steep hill to my right, the flat field to my left. The wind, chasing me, finally mingling with my sweat to cool me down. As the breeze swoops through, brightly colored bumps appear in the grass ahead of me. Bobbing blue, red, green and yellow, bouncing in the wind. Para gliders. I run forward faster hoping to see them catch flight. As I burst from behind a small grove of oak trees, my trail turns to run parallel with the gliders. One woman, her harness taut, her red chute full and curved with wind, falls into stride beside me. I run faster. My feet pushing the ground away, propelling me faster and faster. The woman lifts off the hill as I continue downward, shadowing her, trying to keep up. I’m bounding over rocks and cracks in the dirt beneath me. My lungs open and air rushes in; it flows through me, and I no longer grasp for it. The downward hill is steeper than the way I came. Normally I would dig with my heels and brace myself against the pull, in fear of falling. With my eyes on the glider, I lean forward and widen my stride.
I watch the woman with the red chute sail away from me. I’m alone now, flying.