As October days grew shorter the days at work started and ended in darkness. Fortunately, Van Kampen Merritt uprooted from its Chicago office and moved out to a newly constructed building at the corner of Naper Boulevard and I-88. It took only twenty minutes to get there by car, and I was relieved and happy to be done with the train. I produced a painting of the building for the corporate brochure. The building languished after VKM moved out, and was torn down a few years back. It is strange to drive by and see a blank field where that building once stood.
Yet despite the lack of an hour-long commute, it still took considerable discipline to go running at night in the dark. I’d raced one last time on October 17 and felt a complete lack of zip, so I vowed to give that up for the fall. Plus the race was a local affair and the course was so obviously long that everyone complained after the finish.
Party at my place, not
On October 11, we planned a party at my coach house but broke it off and went out dancing in Oak Brook instead. “So we blew off my place and hit “Outlaws,” I wrote. “I had fun. Love to dance. Met Linda Star, a G.A. for Macs (McDonalds.) She danced so free and cool. Might be a bit like me. Big Ol nose. Like mom? Hee hee. Aso a blond, breasted chick from S. Illinois. Nice hair spray, eh?”
The party life was fun, but it had its costs. “Didn’t feel so good this morn. Crawled to phone.”
That day, one of my running buddies and I finally had it out about our differences in training philosophies. “He’s talking no compromise, 6 minute pace or else. It’s just that he starts out, stops, then bango….I like to see my runs as a developing thing, he an explosion of movement. Ran ourselves ragged. We admitted our anger and frustration last night. Told him I won’t be frustrated by him as friend. Friends. By God, by God.”
Honestly, that tug-and-pull dynamic between us lasted for decades. Competitive rivalries that began in high school and lasted through college are like that. Some old hurts or fears refuse to dissipate with time. If anything, they grow larger within a relationship until they are confronted and exposed. Once my children grew old enough to understand relationship advice, I counseled them, “You know, it’s good to have friends. But remember that even your friends will sometimes try to control you.” Watching my kids grow up and navigate the world from grade school through high school and college and beyond, I saw that my advice was true. To their credit, both of them are keen on the emotional intelligence front.
In my early 20s, I wasn’t always motivated by the right instincts. I tried one last time to test my relationship with my elder girlfriend. “Stopped to see her. I admit I wanted to f*** her eyes out, but she’s too smart. Knows she can be strong, doesn’t need my pandering lust.”
So we broke it off. I never entirely knew what to do with that sort of love. I had strong feelings for her. She was intelligent, intuitive, and actually kind even with her critical advice. One of the most important things she ever told me lasted a lifetime. “We all make mistakes,” she counseled. “But it’s all in the recovery, how people view you.” There were many more sage bits of caring insights that she provided, including basic instructions on how to treat women better, or a bit rougher––shall we say–– if they liked it that way. What more could one ask from a woman? And more importantly, understanding that not all women are the same. That’s one of the most important things a man needs to learn in life.
Dating and dining scenes
That said, I wasn’t standing still. I called and asked out the Linda that I’d met at Outlaws. That date aborted early when we realized how little we had in common beyond dancing. We both kind of laughed about it. So we drank our wine and left without much fanfare.
That week, I asked out another woman named Linda that I met at the laundromat or somewhere else. That date also ended early when I sat down to dinner at her apartment and her cat swooped around the back of my chair, scratched my face, and bit me in the neck. I reacted with an instinctive swat at the cat and she proclaimed, “Leave! If my cat doesn’t like you, neither do I!’
The social life never slowed down. That week, another friend from Luther College showed up in town to visit my running buddy. They were close friends, but I really liked the guy too. So we sat together in a bar called Rocky & Bullwinkles while our mutual friend worked waiting tables. He was new at the job and had some challenges going on. So we sat there with beers in our hands empathizing about how many tables he had to cover. We had settled our differences after our clash over training techniques, so we both looked forward to hanging out with our chill fellow Luther dude.
But first, he had to finish waiting tables, so we sat there drinking the entire time. And four hours is a long time to sit at a bar and drink. By the time my friend got off work, I was pretty drunk and it was already 11:00 at night. He was all full of fire, however, and demanded that we visit another bar across town. “Let’s go to Scotland Yard,” he proclaimed.
We walked across the Fox River bridge and sat at a group of tables facing the classic old bar with its phalanx of shiny glasses hanging above. I loved that place. It had been around a long time, and featured a host of overstuffed chairs on the upper level where people could sit and drink and smoke. So the air always smelled of cigars and cigarettes, but we drank right through the haze on many a night.
After settling at the tables, we ordered another set of drinks. Then another. And so on. At which point, I slowed down and tried to sober up. But the two boys were busy pounding them one after another. In a fit of laughter over some story they’d just told, one of them knocked a glass off the table, shattering it on the floor.
That’s when I spun around and said to the people at the table behind us, “I don’t want to be with them. I want to be with you.” A couple was sitting on one side of the table, and their companion was a tall woman with long blonde hair hanging all the way down her back. She smiled back at me and laughed. “Oh yeah? Who are you?”
That’s how I met the woman to whom I’d get married four years later. Her name was Linda. “Go figure,”I thought to myself. “I keep meeting Lindas.” I immediately liked her shy smile and bright blue eyes. So I tore off a sheet from my checkbook and wrote my number on it. She gave me her number as well. That Sunday night, I called to ask her out on a date. She accepted. I wrote: “Called and asked out Linda Mues. That’s 3 Lindas. Could be interesting.”
That Sunday morning, I watched the New York City Marathon on TV. “Cried watching Alberto Salazar break the world marathon record on TV. He was so strong. So tough. Calloused to the distance, as Dellinger says. Lovely Allison Roe.”
That race inspired me, and I did a couple runs that Sunday. “Ran twice today. Peck Road and back.”As always, I also recorded the birds I’d seen recently. “Rusty blackbirds. Gadwalls Friday at the beaver dam.”
That week, I showed up on the wrong night for my first date with Linda. “What are you doing here?” she asked. “Our date’s tomorrow night.”
“Well, can you still go out tonight?” I asked.
“I have parent-teacher conferences, but we can go out for a bit.” So we did, and the conversation was earnest and warm. I asked her out for another date on Halloween. She dressed up as a cowgirl. I dressed as the god Mercury, replete with dark blue tights, a face covered in silver paint, and a set of actual duck wings attached to my ankles. We went out dancing, but that wasn’t really her thing. Somehow, we set up another date after that. Apparently, she was willing to look past the fact that I wasn’t the actual god Mercury.
On the first weekend in November, at her suggestion, we went for a hike at Starved Rock State Park on the Illinois River. It was a calm, warm day for that time of year. We saw common loons on the Illinois river and hiked several miles before sitting down for a picnic on a bluff overlooking a sandstone canyon. She’d made sandwiches with apple-walnut bread, salami, and cheese. They tasted delicious after the long hike.
But toward the end of our hike, she embarrassedly admitted that she’d just gotten her period, and needed to rush back to the car. So we had an earnest finish to our third date. I realized that we had little to hide between us, and quite a bit in common as well. She liked that I was a runner, and did some running herself. We both liked nature and the outdoors. “Totally calm day,” I wrote. “She’s thinking I’m thinking. Watched Goodbye Girl on TV. I’m not perfect. I’m going to be myself.”
And speaking of imperfect. At the same time that I started dating Linda, a young woman from work (only 18!) was drawing my attention in all the ways that make a man weak and full of desire. She was tall and blonde, Swedish by descent, and possessed of a killer body that she was not shy about. “Should I ask her out?” I wondered. Should I call Linda? Does she own my weekend? I don’t want to hurt her. Neither of us need that.”
All these things ran through my head on my daily runs. That’s the only way I’ve ever been able to figure anything out, or be creative, and fight anxiety or depression. Running is how I’ve always kept moving in life. Without running, I don’t think I could ever have made it this far. I’ve run through the darkest of nights and found glimpses of light. That is hope, defined.