I drove to Umstead last Saturday to run alone.
Last Thursday night, I learned that my best friend growing up was tragically killed in a hit-and-run collision as she did her usual 5:30 am run with two girlfriends in Eureka, CA. All were wearing reflective gear and headlamps. Suzie’s two friends were gravely injured, but fortunately they pulled through and are now in stable condition. Suzie died at the scene. She leaves behind an 8 year old son and a 4 year old daughter, in addition to her husband, family, and many friends.
It is somehow easier to grieve for her family than it is for myself. But at some point on Friday evening, I had lost my capacity to reach out. It was time to look inward, as much as it hurt. I made the turn onto the trail and ran slowly, trying to keep my breathing even despite my sometimes overwhelming emotions.
I was grateful for the intermittent rain, not so much because fit my mood, really, but it promised fewer people and the time I needed with my thoughts.
Familiarity was something that Suzie treasured, and I appreciated this as I descended the trail I knew so well toward Sycamore Creek. I remembered her answer to one of those internet surveys, mountains or the ocean? “I like the woods,” she said, “walking the familiar and ordinary paths, places you can get to know well and return to again and again.”
I alternated between running and walking, trying to remember to drink water and go easy. I really don’t know how far I went. Saturday was a journey. Suzie and I had met when we were 8 and 9 years old at the Atlantic Highlands boat yard, the same age our children are now.
Snapshots kept appearing as I ran along the creek. Birthday parties in Neptune. Roller skating in Atlantic Highlands. Bike adventures around Monmouth County. High school crushes. That time she tried to kill me on a mountain bike. My wedding, and hers. Our canoe/camping trip on the Kickapoo. Her trips to NC to help out when my boys were born. Hiking together in Yosemite when she was a seasonal ranger. And our 10 mile run this summer.
Memories, but no tears. It’s hard to believe that she’s gone. I crossed Reedy Creek Road and headed down Company Mill Trail, finally turning to run along the creek and past the bridge. Here I stopped and walked downstream a ways, looking for a quiet spot. Raindrops fell into the creek, creating surface bubbles that floated with the current.
I plucked a handful of samaras from the gnarled green ash leaning over the stream, letting them filter through my fingers and spiral into the water. Most tumbled over the rocks, flowing with the clear water over the riffles. Two lingered in an eddy, turning in circles. Go, I willed them. Go downriver. You can’t stay here. This pool takes you nowhere. Let go and flow with the river.
I blinked. My heart filled and my sorrow spilled over. I was there for a long time. But I found some of the peace I’d been searching for, and steadied myself for the rocky trails that lie ahead.