on milestones and memories

Last Friday, I walked a large expanse of D.C., remaining on my feet from 9 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon. When I went home, I cooked paella and a massive carrot cake for five of my favorite people. I woke up on Saturday in no pain.


This probably seems insignificant to you, but it's huge to me. It's everything to me. A month ago - a week ago, even - I would have been unable to stand to make dinner, resigned to the couch with an ice pack after a day spent on my feet. The next day would have brought the kind of pain and soreness that would have confined me to a bed or a couch for most of the day.

I still have so many limits, but this weekend showed me that I'm healing. On Monday, I told the receptionist, the physical therapist, and the exercise technician about it, my excitement increasing with each retelling.

I can do other things, too : use the second-highest resistance band on my conditioning workouts. Complete an entire spin class without even a hint of pain. Tell people that I'm feeling good, feeling happy, and not even lie a little bit.

But because nothing about this process seems to be without complications, the healing is presenting a new challenge, too : remembering.

Up until now, when people asked me what happened the day of my accident (is it even really an accident? I'm not sure how else to refer to it), I said that I remembered starting the race, remembered throwing up at mile 5, remembered being in the ambulance suddenly. That was it - the rest of my day was missing.

I'd been running for over two hours - at an extremely slow pace for me - and the entire time was a blank. 

But the other night,  I was just about to drift off to sleep when a memory hit me seemingly for the first time - a National Guardsman holding me after I'd (I assume) passed out, asking me "can you walk over there?" and putting me down on my feet. I remember my feet touching the ground and the pain shooting up my leg, seeing only black and bright dots of light and crying out, wounded, until he immediately scooped me up again. 

I remembered crying and repeating over and over, as if it was the only thing I knew how to say : "Please don't put me down. Please don't put me down. Please don't put me down. Pleasedon'tputmedown."

I remembered an older woman, a spectator, sprinting across the street, dodging runners, to hold my hand. I remember her insisting they figure out how to call my parents while they called the ambulance, her rubbing my back, pouring water on my neck, and promising me she wasn't going to leave my side until the EMTs got there.

I don't know her name - we didn't know each other - and yet she was one of the most beautiful examples of human love and support I've ever experienced from a stranger. I cried on her shoulder, unable to say anything except "Please don't put me down."

All of this, I just remembered for the first time. I remembered that scared, sad runner chanting Pleasedon'tputmedown over and over and my heart hurt. I wanted to hug that version of myself, the one who'd just felt her whole world crash and had no idea of the mountain she had left to climb.

And I want to tell her this : that her body won't let her remember that moment until it senses she's strong enough. That when she begins to heal, to push her own limits again, to trust herself again, her mind will slowly take the padlock off that day. 

I want to tell her that three months from that moment, she'll show three of her favorite people around her favorite city. And then she'll return to her house to stand over a grill, baking in 90 degrees, testing a paella recipe for the first time.

I want to to tell her that the only pain she'll feel that day is when she leans against the side of the grill (whoops!). That she'll return to the kitchen to serve up a perfectly grilled paella and later, as plates are being cleaned, she'll whip up frosting, whirl it around a carrot cake, and gift her mom with a homemade birthday surprise.

I want to tell her that she'll experience a huge milestone : a physically taxing day with no pain, and her heart will be so full she won't understand what that means until the next day. I want to tell her that one day, she will be strong enough to remember.

In one day, she'll be strong enough to laugh and love and cook and laugh some more and remember. And that it proves she'll be strong enough for everything in time.

(Related-but-not-really : this grilled paella was one of the most incredible things I've ever made.)