She met a quitter today.
She didn't realize it at first: sweat dripped off the quitter's face, and her panting breath showed she'd been out running for some time, so she didn't look like any kind of quitter she had ever seen before.
She looked like the sort of person who wanted things, who worked hard for things, who really thought she knew what she was doing.
But she was a quitter nonetheless.
She watched her cross the street to avoid a steep hill, saw the flicker of defeat in her eyes, caught in her glimpse of happy patrons sipping tall, cool beers not pride in her own efforts but envy at their easy celebrations.
The quitter told her things like, "it's very hot outside if you didn't notice," "I stayed up too late last night and I must surely try to catch up on sleep," "there are allergies to consider," "too many things need to be done today so one of them has to go."
She said, "I am satisfied, isn't that enough?"
She said, "Everything is comfortable and fine."
She looked at the quitter and thought, you cannot be comfortable and be brave. You cannot be strong and be satisfied. There are things to give up in this world and being brave, being strong, being extraordinary-- these are not the things.
She thought, how can you know what you can do if you only do what you think you can?
She met a quitter today, and she waved goodbye.


to keep trying

The amateur runner has obligations to no one but herself, but still can't stop the flood of excuses to friends and fellow runners.  It's not a way to be better, depending on validation from others.  They have no stake in any outcomes.  All she has is on her own back, in her feet.

Running, he has no targets or deadlines.  To set time or distance goals might help some runners, the ones who need admiration, who run for others to see them, without hearts.  He is tired of competing and working and trying to fight for his worth all day; he is running because it is time to relax, to slow down and become a man again.

Wind bites her ears and then hands as she climbs another melted snowman to avoid a slushy fall.  She sees other runners get mad when sidewalkers block their path, but understands she is the one in the way, sidewalk speeding, and smiles at the pain of a rolled ankle just because a stranger stopped to make sure she was alright.

His real life still hangs around his shoulders, piling on guilt that he is not working on any one else's problems but his own.  Running does not eliminate the clients who demand his talent and thoughts and mind-full hours spent at his desk, nor does it earn him money to stow away for a rainy day as more clouds build up around his head.  The strength that it does build up in his legs and abs is merely a reflection of the mental power he gains by solving one problem--the distance between here and four more miles and home--entirely on his own.


happy gettysburg address day

The first time they met she knew three things immediately: he hated playing cards, he loved to be the center of attention at parties full of blurry new faces, and she would never kiss a boy with an eyebrow ring.  Then, she forgot about him completely.  Six-pack bandages on newly wounded hearts can do that to a girl.
Days later she would swallow her words along with her pride as she called a boy first for the first time ever, leaving a nervous little voicemail in a frozen yogurt shop when she realized she had to learn more about a kid who had seen more European than American cities, who lived on a Christmas tree farm and killed his pet sheep, whose anxiety at parties surfaced in the form of whiskey on the rocks, who played poker every week with stunningly good luck, and who prompted a succinct four a.m. report to a concerned friend of the implied prowess of "eyebrow ring ;)"
As she was prone to nervous chatter and had lost a valuable censor in her conversation due to the recent realization that hearts could only be broken and that trying to believe otherwise was an option only for Disneyheaded young princesses, he learned more about her than any other date would tolerate from a girl who did not show up to dinner in a short skirt and who abandoned him on a cold November doorstep for the third time in several weeks.  Luckily for both, his favorite I.P.A. allowed her words to settle into the parts of his brain that would hug and treasure them and allow both he and she to finally feel normal, at least around one other person.  She could draw again and talk about her favorite sci-fi novels and he could dance around on a sidewalk on a Thursday and sing in front of her.
Winter brought the coziness of wool-on-wool coat hugs at subway stations across the city, he showing she the fire that lit up his blue eyes at punk rock shows, she showing he the joy that still lives in the hearts of some adults when they learn that seals sleep upside down and that ice cream isn't too cold if there is another hand in their own.  They loved sad songs only, and she waited all day to just lie in his bed and listen to records, feeling like a featherhaired schoolgirl from the seventies.  She grew from like to love faster than she wanted, and realized it the day she began to understand that her goal was no longer to just live her life to its utter happiest, but to make sure that her happiness put its arm around his.


never had a chance

They were not the great loves of each others' lives.
Both had loved too hard already; both had been hurt too bad, seen too much disappointment, and had too much love still to give--just, right now, their hearts weren't strong enough to take such a drastic action yet.
It would last about a year, give or take, then either end in cordial agreement or dissolve of its own volition.  Either way, there would be no explosive break-up, no betrayal, no pining for months, no heartachy, sleepless nights. There would be sadness at the loss of each other's company, for it wasn't a false relationship.  Both wanted, missed, and cared with genuine affection.  Both admired each other, because they were both admirable people.
In fact, both knew how to love so well that they infused this relationship with a temporary commitment, a fierce like for each other, a camaraderie in their non-love.  When they met, he didn't want to date anyone.  She was already dating someone.  Somehow, in their not-dating of each other, they found themselves part of a couple.  They needed each other for exactly what they were.
They were attractive, smart, sharp, fun, driven people.  They were catches who had been playing catch and release for so long that they decided to just pause the game for a bit.  Each toyed with emotions for a living, and had read too many books, listened to too many sentimental songs, seen too many movies, to turn down an opportunity to try it on their own.  The goal was to add another chapter to their individual stories; neither were ready to write their fairy tale ending just yet.
Everyone tells them they'll know it when they see it.  They don't know if this is true, but they find it painfully easy to recognize when it is not around.
This doesn't mean they're bad for each other, or wasting time, or hurting themselves.  They are happy, and they are learning, and they will become one another's stories.  And to these young sentimentalists, stories are the only constant they have ever needed to know.

Funny how I wrote this about a year ago, three months into the relationship, and it came nearly true--except that the end came much faster (seven months) than anticipated.  Luckily, this chapter has closed, though with a bit more ink smeared than necessary.    


the amateur runner

  The amateur runner is out after work, before class.  He always means to wake up early and run before the day starts, but is always more tempted by his warm sheets and an extra hour with his eyes closed.  He's out three to four times each week and wishes it were more.  He makes half-hearted excuses not to go but never wants to come back in once he's out.  
  She needs music but secretly knows she runs faster without it.  She remembers when her soundtrack was the clashing of sticks, the stomping, the shouting, her own gasping breath mixing with the panting of her teammates.   The sound of cars always; the sound of wildlife never enough to make an impression.  The thoughts running through her head.  She wonders what the other runners are listening to and if they are wondering or assuming about her.  She wishes she could broadcast the songs out of her chest and share them with the old couples and heavy souls walking by.  
  He has no real form--he steps and holds his body in whatever way is most comfortable and moves him the fastest.  He remembers what it was like to run towards something, at someone, for something.  He can still feel the jersey on his back and the pads on his shoulders. He can't run in circles around a track because he is finally running free and he needs the scenery to change.  He pushes until sweat stings his eyes and his headphones slip out of his ears and his chest burns because he was told that he wasn't working hard if he wasn't sucking wind.  He can't forget what it was like to be a champion, and he smiles right out loud knowing he never will.  He almost tells the other runners who he is, what he's done, why he's not so fast anymore, what he's running for now.
  The amateur runner can't stop judging the other runners, even those who fly past her, because they haven't been running for as long today (they probably just live down the block),  or they don't have as far to go, and they obviously won't be able to keep up that speed for the rest of the run and hey, she's just an amateur anyway, this isn't her life, she wants to do this, this is fun.  Besides, her knees really hurt near the water.  She window shops as she runs past the bus stop; she likes that hat, should buy some boots like those, wonders what her hair would look like that shade of brunette.  She can't help herself as she runs through a pile of leaves, kicking them up into the air and not caring if they get in her sock or if she loses a few seconds, not that she actually times herself.   Waiting at the red light, she doesn't jog in place; she's far too busy catching a breath or stretching out stiff autumn muscles or trying not to dance along to the song that just came on.  She can't help herself here, either, and amuses an old man in a grey sedan.  
  He doesn't own any special gear, just old tee shirts that tell of barbecues and 5Ks and schools that have turned into diplomas on the wall and photos on the computer and something to keep him warm as the new season falls.  He wonders if the letters on his chest trigger any memories in the young couples pushing new strollers, if those letters are the reason for any hidden smiles or shudders. 
  She's out today because she's not that girl, because coffee ice cream and Johnny Depp can't make anything better and she can't waste any more time.  Her pillows have too much mascara on them and she doesn't have the energy to sit still anymore.  She wonders if any of the others are watching, admiring, needing to believe that there is someone out there that is worth all of this.  She flips a song and is heartbreak, missing; every step is another strike.  A new song and there is hope, there is moving on, there is "I didn't want this anyway," there is "I can do better," "I can be better."  There is "I am young, I am free."  There is finally a lap of release.  Another song, there was love, there was safety, there was everything.  The amateur runner quivers, tears, shakes it off.  The next song is happiness, but happiness only in the ears and not the heart.  It's the happy song that brings the runner to the bench; it is what is lost, not what is left, that pushes the runner to shaking outdoor tears.  The runner shuts off all music and runs home in silence, head screaming.