“Run the marathon with me,” says my best friend (who also happens to be my business partner), “I don’t want to train for it alone.” At the time, her husband is contemplating taking a job 3,000 miles away, in our hometown. We are both hoping to move back in a few years—this city is the bullseye of our 30’s. Our lives are so intertwined that when she mentions him interviewing for it, the job isn’t even contained within the realm of possible. I take it as seriously as if she had told me he was buying a unicorn. I sign up for the marathon on a whim; running a marathon is on my bucket list, and who wants to do anything alone? We are going to train together, to run together. This marathon is to be another check on our list of things that we’ve done, together. We’ve built our business on the principles of wellness and prioritize making time for our friendship amongst our busy days. Our love of running (and ability to run together--no small feat for two lone-wolf runners) binds us; of course this would be something we would tackle together.
I get the message while I am finishing up some work for the evening: “He got the job.” And then within a matter of days, it’s final: my best friend is moving away. Far, far away. I feel happiness for her (she’ll be so close to her family) and deep, deep grief for the moments that I realize may not come the way we had expected them to (We always bring our girls to see Santa together, I worry about her kids not remembering me). At the core, below it all, I am desperately afraid of being left alone.
We were fast friends, bonded by our California roots and our preppy east coast husbands. Running together early on was a test of the potential in our friendship. Our first run together took us over a sun-dappled gravel path that smelled of decaying wood and fresh undergrowth in New Hampshire. It was the summer I got married, before spending our time together in the summer was happily consumed by organizing activities for our sunscreen-slathered children with impossible blonde highlights. She was training for a marathon. Before we started running, I had visions of being left far behind, huffing and puffing in an embarrassing attempt to catch up. That melted away once we started out. Our steps fell into synch, our paces compatible. This, I thought, could be a great friend. Towards the end, as our conversation waned and our breathing and footsteps were all that broke the silence, we realized that we had both stopped sweating, not for lack of exertion. This found us begging for water at a local bar. It was cool and perfect, and we clinked the plastic cups they had given us in a toast to our inevitable closeness.
She has been my steadfast company in a tumultuous time. Through my husband’s surgical training, where he works countless hours, through the birth of my daughter and the growth of our business, she has been my constant. I am as entwined into her family as I am into my own. I love her kids with the unrelenting ferocity of a blood relative; her little sister makes me feel like less of an only child. In fact, her family is the primary reason that though my husband spends far more hours at work than he does at home, I (and my daughter) have felt neither lonely nor alone. Now, during my runs, I have a desperate and sinking feeling. My brain repeats over and over, “I don’t want to do this alone.” What, exactly, I am afraid of doing alone eludes me. Perhaps this is an indication of the hole that she will leave when she moves.
For the first time, I am running and crying at the same time. With our training for the marathon, I am spending more time on the road. Mostly alone, since our routine has been so upended by this move. Running for me has always been a release, and the metaphor until this point has been of the yogic variety: finding comfort in discomfort, pushing through, knowing when to yield. I ran through teaching special education in the Bronx, through the abject terror of my father’s cancer, through the life-swallowing grief following my grandfather’s death. In these times of hardship, I turned to running to be my constant companion, found solace in its repetitive simplicity. Left, right, repeat. All without tears. To stop the tears, even. With this move comes a new metaphor in my running: I don’t want to do this alone. I’ve always run alone, save for runs with very close friends (I have exactly two people with whom I like to run, not including my dad's running club, many of whom I have known and run with since I started coming home from college). What is it about this time in my life that brings the tears every time I lace up? Running had, for so many years, been my companion; now its companionship reminds me of the one I am losing. This marathon, this move, solidifies for me the simple fact that good company is at the heart of what we all want in life. Yes, misery loves it, but so does joy.
It’s all anyone really wants, isn’t it? A friend to synch steps with; company for life’s path. We look for, and find, companionship in the oddest places. Online, in bars, in friends’ social networks. We find drinking buddies, lovers, friends, husbands, confidants. We curate relationships that we hope will prevent us from being alone---truly alone---on our journey. But, I’m learning (as an unwilling student), interludes of aloneness are inevitable, even with the most loving cultivation of relationships. More than not wanting to face her leaving me, I don’t want to face it alone. A cruel irony. The fact is that it’s only her and me inhabiting our friendship; when she shifts a bit, there is nothing to fill that space, except dull sadness and the fear that she has something to fill the space that I will leave.
A few weeks ago, my left quadriceps started to ache. It was unstretchable, unrestable, unmassageable. Gnawing. I chalked it up to getting older. Then, last week, my right leg began to ache behind my knee, a twinge with each step. As if one leg was incapable of working without the other. Left, right, repeat.