Monday, November 21, 2016

This Is Marriage: Days 437-441

I exit the plane and make my way into the terminal of Baltimore airport. Standing at the gate is a Seaman dressed in "Guacs," the Navy's green uniform. To say he is a sight for sore eyes is a vast understatement. As we embrace for the first time in 8 months, he says "You're my wife" and I laugh. It is true, yet I still find it unbelievable. I don't know how I got here. All I know is I want to stay.

It's almost midnight. We're in a rental car outside of the hotel on the Navy base. I've been awake since 4:45am (because I was too excited to sleep so I got up to run hill repeats under the supermoon). Pete has been awake for more than 24 hours. The Navy's hotel is full so we are calling local hotels from a list they have given Pete. This, I'm coming to realize, is the thing about the military. Sometimes you end up in some ridiculous situations. Welcome back, thanks for your service. You can't go home and you can't stay here! We are tired, we are scrambling to find somewhere to spend the night. We are laughing. It's moments like this where I fell in love with Pete. Moments when we're tired, moments when we're stressed, and we come together instead of falling apart. And we laugh. Because it's absurd. Because that's what we do.

I'm running through the Norfolk Botanical Gardens, after having dropped Pete off on base. Everything is sunny and beautiful. I don't know where I'm going, but I don't feel lost. I am exploring. I find lion statues and fountains and lakes. It is glorious. Later I am sitting in a coffee shop eating avocado toast and reading a book on happiness. I find it disappointing. Maybe it's because one of the chapters advises "Never retire" and I'm all like "Screw that, I'm retiring as soon as possible." Maybe it's because I already know my own personal happiness equation and it is this: People + Adventure + Effort = Happiness. Radiohead's "Everything In Its Right Place" is playing in the background. And I think this is happiness too: everything in its right place. Life is a crapshoot of sweetness and suckiness. The more I can be in my own "right" place, feeling at peace with myself, making the best of whatever happens, the happier I will be.

View from the Botanical Gardens

We are shopping at an outlet mall. We are eating wings and calzones (Pete) and pizza (me). We are going to the movies. We are having conversations about everything, from the mundane to the deep. We are holding hands and we are joking around. We are not the same people we were at the beginning of this year and yet we are still the same Pete and Jen, picking up our excellent adventures where we left off. We're still us, only better, stronger, individually and as a team.

I am running on the Cape Henry trail in First Landing State Park after dropping Pete off on base at Muster Time (The military calls it muster when they have to assemble, i.e. Muster at 0700 means to meet at 7am. I love saying this word. I say things like "Ketchup and Muster" and "Relish the Muster" and then laugh. This will never cease to be funny. To me at least). I stop to do the obstacles along the way - abs, chin-ups, tires, monkey bars. The woods are gorgeous, as always. And there are monkey bars along this trail! This is the best ever!

We're driving on a highway in Virginia. Basement Jaxx's "Where's Your Head At" is playing on the radio.
Me: "This song is grammatically incorrect. You're not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition."
Pete: "Can you end a sentence with a proposition?"
Me: (laughing) "Yes, always. It's recommended."

We're eating breakfast at Anchor Allie's in Virginia Beach. It's a sailor themed bar/restaurant. We are eating pumpkin french toast and I am doing a shot of milk (I asked for coffee with milk and the waitress brought the milk in a shot glass and I was all like "Now this is a shot I would actually do!" Pete is eating his breakfast plus half of mine after saying, when I was about to order my breakfast with no meat and only one egg, "Honey, never turn down food. I will eat it." and the waitress said "I'll just put her bacon and egg on your plate."

Milk shot. That's just how I roll.
We're walking on the boardwalk in Virginia Beach, talking and holding hands. I forget what we are talking about, something that I want to do but Pete doesn't. I say "How come when you suggest things I always say yes but you only say yes to like 50% of my things?" Pete says "Because you're off the wall, honey. Your things are like let's go to the moon." I cannot stop laughing. Then I see a sign pointing the way to Ben & Jerry's. This is one of my suggestions to which Pete agrees. It is an excellent choice. Obviously. Later we are talking about something else and Pete tells me I am "squared away," Navy slang for someone who is tidy and in good order, basically someone who has their shit together. That about sums me up: off the wall and squared away.

Virginia Beach

We are playing Pirate Mini-Golf. Half of the time I get a hole-in-two and half of the time I hit the ball in the water. Pete is a much better mini-golfer than I am, but he insists that I am winning. I say "There's no way I am winning." (We have already fished my ball out of the water at least 4 times). Pete says "You're having more fun so you're winning at adventuring."

We are back in the same country. Soon we will be back to living in the same house. But I have to leave soon to catch my flight back to Rochester. This is making me sad. I don't want to leave. I have a Pete in one hand and a waffle cone in the other and if there is a heaven, this is it. Pete says "You'll be back in 4 days and then we have 5 days together and then I'll be home 5 days after that." I am thinking of outlandish suggestions I can make so that more Ben & Jerry's seems tame in comparison. Mwahahahaha.

We are at Mount Trashmore Park. It doesn't look like a mountain, it looks more like a big hill. We wonder if it's just a mound of garbage with grass on it. Later Mr. Internet confirms that it is (it was made by compacting layers of solid waste and clean soil). We walk up and across the "mountain" and around the lake. A man on a bicycle is yelling "Andy! Andy!" Or so we think. Turns out he is actually saying "Handy!" Then he says "Handy Pete!" He is talking to Pete, calling him some nickname from Afghanistan that apparently only a handful of people know. That is my husband, Handy Pete.

We're at the airport, saying goodbye again. Airports are my favorite when we're saying hello and my least favorite when we're saying goodbye. But all the days I get to be married to Pete, whether we're together or apart, whether we're doing things extreme or ordinary, are my favorite days.

Marriage is the privilege of being with the person who makes all the days your favorite days.

Rochester from the sky at night

Lyric of the moment: "So let's hang an anchor from the sun. There's a million city lights but you're number one. You're the reason I'm still up at dawn, just to see your face. We'll be going strong, with the vampires baby. We belong, we belong awake, swinging from the fire escape..." ~Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness "Fire Escape" (New suggestion: swing from fire escapes. Also Ben & Jerry's).

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

So your Seaman got deployed: An adventure in 13 steps

In February, prior to Pete's deployment, we went to a pre-mobilization meeting in Virginia. I found it to be largely a waste of time. Not to mention that when I got up to use the restroom during lunch, I came back to find my half-eaten apple pie slice had been cleared away. The Navy took my Pete and my pie! To be fair, the meeting was full of earnest and lovely people. I got the impression that they wanted to be helpful. It's just that no one was offering any answers to the things I very much needed to know. Like: How do we stay happily married when we're thousands of miles apart and we are limited to electronic (monitored) communication? How do I not feel guilty going on runs and adventures while Pete is working long, hard days far away from home? How do I keep myself from automatically assuming the worst if I haven't heard from him in a few days? How do I stop feeling such profound disappointment in humanity for being at war with itself? How do we come back together at the end of all this? 

No one provided any answers to these question, so in the months that Pete was away, I set out to figure it out for myself. This is what happened and the adventures that ensued:

1. Drop your new husband (You have a husband?! This may never cease to astound you) off at the airport, not knowing when you will see him again. Cry. Experience a tornado of WTF feelings. WTF Navy? WTF humans? WTF is the point of any of this? 

2.Go to Alison's house and do intricate, infuriating, strangely soothing wooden puzzles with Alison, Danielle and Laura. Thus begins the tradition of ladies night dinner/puzzling get-togethers. As it turns out, wonderful friends, delicious plant-based foods and Liberty Puzzles are a surefire way to fill your heart with so much gratitude and happiness there is scarcely any room for sadness or worry.

3. Get two chances to go visit your Seaman in Virginia during his stateside deployment training. The trip to get there requires two planes, one rental car and one tunnel under the water. Even as you are thinking "This is why we need a teleporter," you cannot help but wonder at the magic of your life. You literally traveled through the air and under the water to get here, to spend these last few days together. You try your best to savor these moments, the zip-lining and trail running and mini golf adventures. But long weekends are never long enough. Soon you are driving away from him again, heading for the new home which you should be sharing together but cannot. The Navy did pay for the two of you to go to Busch Gardens, which was roller coaster filled and awesome, but this does not seem like a fair trade-off. 

4. Buy a banana costume from Mr. Internet. This will be the best $20 you have ever spent. Wear it to volunteer, cheer and dance at races. Because it's ridiculous. Because it's hilarious. Because you can say "I'm just happy to see you" and it is both funny and true.

5. Go on roadtrip adventures. With Chris, to run the Celebrate Life Half Marathon in Rock Hill, NY. With Alison and Bob, to run past waterfalls and through hail and to eat breakfast at the Ithaca Bakery. With Steven, to spectate at Muddy Sneaker and to cheer/tree climb in a Tigger costume. With the Eagans and Valones to Letchworth for running and rafting. With Alison, Bob, Steven, Mark and Todd to run Thom B. Trail Run in Hammond Hill State Forest (and sadly, to experience the thuds heard 'round the Gus). To Albany for solo adventures in Mike Doughty Living Room concert-going and to Saratoga Springs to hang out with Alison and Bob in their lake house rental. With Laura and Alison, to the Adirondacks for a ladies-who-adventure mountain climbing, cake eating birthday weekend. 

6. Discover the shortest, most toucan-and-awesome-filled running shorts online. Talk about them incessantly until you have formed a whole posse of toucan short-shorts wearing friends. Feel self-conscious about the extreme shortness of these shorts and wish that your ratio of squats done to cookies eaten was much, much higher. Realize that you can spend your time feeling self-conscious or you can spend your time feeling awesome. Go with awesome. Time is short. Wear the short shorts.  

7. Write ridiculous limericks and haikus and other terrible poetry. This starts as a way to fill up the emails, funny cards and weekly care packages you send to Pete, a way to occupy your racing brain with silliness instead of worry. And then it spills over into race reports and Facebook posts to friends before their big races. No worries, be happy, get limericked. 

8. Run. Run at all hours of the day and night. On trails, on roads. Dodging logs, dodging frogs. Run all the hill repeats. Run through the mud in a fancy dress at Mess The Dress. Run Cayuga Trails Marathon, a gorgeous elevation and popsicle filled romp in the woods. Run a 99 mile relay with your SWAT Team, which is not the fastest team but is most definitely the best dressed. Run an impromptu 50K at Mendon, burst into tears on your 4th ascent of water tower hill, yet somehow beat your previous time at this race by almost an hour. Run for 12 hours and 55 miles overnight, through sunset, moonrise and sunrise, until everything hurts and nothing hurts and you feel unstoppable and dead and so fucking lucky that this is your life. 

9. Use your muscles. Do push-ups and squats and bunny hops at Fit1 until it feels like your legs and arms have fallen off. Buy a chin-up bar and struggle until you are strong enough to eke out one unassisted chin-up. Keep struggling. Be grateful for your muscles. Use them well. Especially your heart. That's your very best muscle.  

10. Despite your best efforts to avoid them, have doubts. About your ability to run, to be a good friend/wife/person, to spider crawl backwards up the stairs (why is this so impossible, arms?), to produce anything edible in the kitchen. Instead of being consumed by the doubts, shrug them off. Embrace your weaknesses and gain strength through struggle. Practice the things that are hard until they become less hard. Be where you are without judging or feeling bad about it. (If you succeed in doing this on the regular, please send me your advice).

11. Feel the acute ache of absence, and the frustration at this third wheel in your marriage, let's call him "Navy," who is super good at making things inconvenient and complicated. Find yourself Googling "Weird facts about the Navy" to find things you like about your third wheel (because you don't like disliking things). Things like how MC Hammer was in the Navy before he developed his affinity for parachute pants. And how Navy Seals do not have pet seals (sadly), but they do have dogs, some of whom are trained parachutists! Then whenever you get upset by this whole deployment thing, your imagination kicks in. And in your head the Navy ceases to be this conglomeration of ships and weapons and stuff your pacifist brain doesn't want to think about. Instead it is replaced by images of puppies being parachuted in to fix everything with their adorableness while everyone dances to "U Can't Touch This." And you relax and realize that the Navy is just an organization of people (and parachuting dogs!) And (most) people are awesome (most of the time). 

12. Feel extreme gratitude for your people, the ones with kindred genes and the ones with kindred spirits. The best part of life is people. And for reasons unbeknownst to you, all the very best people have elected to be a part of yours. This is true wealth.

13. Finally, after the better part of a year, which has felt like an entire eon, travel once more by the magic of airplanes to meet your Seaman as he arrives in the US. Feel extremely grateful that you can afford to buy last minute plane tickets to make two trips to Virginia, so you can be there for his arrival in the States and return to spend Thanksgiving with him (He cannot return home home until December, after he completes all the post-deployment debriefing and what-not. Because deployment is the gift that just keeps on giving!) Hug your husband man for the first time in 8 months and feel a happiness like you have never known before. (And you have known happiness. As a kid, you had not one, but two treehouses). Though you are two airplane rides away from the house where you reside, the moment you run into his arms, you feel like this, this is home.

This is the path I blazed through this year of Pete's absence, a trail of laughter and tears and challenges and joy. So what do you do when your Seaman gets deployed? Everything. You cry until you laugh and laugh until you cry. You fill your life up with people and adventures and runs and ridiculousness. You go all extreme aliveness on that shit. And you feel like the the luckiest person in the entire universe. That you live a life of options and opportunities and experiences. That you are surrounded by amazing people who accept you for who you are, in all of your ridiculousness. That you have found a love that can go any distance. 

Picked up some Pete and some Pinkberry at the Baltimore airport

Lyric of the moment: "I'll be loving you always. With a love that's true always. When the thing you've planned needs my helping hand, I will understand always. Days may not be fair always. But that's when I'll be there, always...." ~Leonard Cohen "Always"

Thursday, November 10, 2016

How To Be Awesome: A reminder

When my brother and I were kids, my mom said to us "I may not always love everything you do, but I always love you." That is how I feel about America. Nation, I do not love all your actions, historically and recently. I think you need to take a time out, go to your room and think about what you've done. But I love you, Americans. All of you. This nation is a melting pot. Founded on the ideals of equality, of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. FOR ALL. Let us not forget that. We are stronger together. We are the UNITED States of America. We are HUMANS. Let us be humane. 

I understand that some of you are struggling, that some of you feel unheard, marginalized, unwelcome, that some of you are angry, fed up. Some of you don't feel all that great. So not great that you voted for a man who promised to make you great again. But I'm sorry to say, America, that you were lied to. The man used the magician's greatest trick: misdirection. He shouted about Muslims and Mexicans and Nasty Women, trying to make them the scapegoats for your struggles. But here's some truth for you, America. Your economic struggles are not caused by immigrants, they're caused by a vast income inequality where the wealth is concentrated in the hands of the 1%. Why do you think the man whose millions were handed to him by his father, the man who used his charity's money to purchase portraits of himself is going to help you? He's not going to help you, but he's going to try to distract and divide you so that you don't realize he's not going to help you until it's too late. 

He's not going to make you great. Greatness is not achieved by hate speech or mean tweets. America is greatest when we are inclusive rather than exclusive, when we tear down walls instead of building them. You are already great, Americans. Look at you. You are a beautiful rainbow of existence, people of all different races, religions, sexual orientations, gender identities, ages. You've fought so many wars against fascism and totalitarian regimes abroad. Don't let that authoritarianism happen here. Americans, you have done great things. The greatest of those things are the ones that work to provide equal opportunities and options and basic civil rights, basic HUMAN rights, to ALL. But there is more work to do, people. Don't settle for being great, be AWESOME. 

Maybe we could all use a reminder, so here it is:

How To Be Awesome: A reminder

  • Think. Really think about what it's like to live someone else's reality. You can never really know what it's like to be someone else, but you can realize that everyone has struggles and that other people's experiences in the world are different from yours, sometimes unfairly so.
  • Work. Work hard on yourself. Change starts with you. Work together to make things better. Work through your disagreements respectfully and compassionately. 
  • Speak up. Use your words and actions to show that we will not tolerate racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia or prejudice.
  • Do not give in to fear. Fear divides, paralyzes and hurts us. Be bold. Be brave. Be curious about life and about others. Ask questions. Read. Think critically. Discuss. Learn. Grow.  
  • This should go without saying, but history has shown us that it does not. Do not do any of the following things. They are NOT OK. EVER. EVER. EVER. Do NOT commit sexual assault. Do NOT brag about committing sexual assault. Do NOT draw a swastika on anything ever. Do NOT invalidate other people's struggles by saying things like "All lives matter" or "Police lives matter" in response to the "Black lives matter" movement. Do NOT engage in Us vs. Them mentalities. Do NOT ban transgendered people from using public restrooms. Do NOT tell women what to do with their own bodies. Do NOT judge or disparage people based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality or religion. Do NOT vote for legislation that limits the rights of others. Civil rights are not a zero sum game. The more basic human rights everyone has, the more we all win. As a country. As a species. 
  • Let go. Of your attachments, your entitlements, your past. You cannot go back. You can only go forward. 
  • Remember that you are not just an American citizen but a citizen of Earth. Be kind to your fellow carbon-based lifeforms. All of them. Be kind to your earth. Treat it like you would your own home. Because it is your home. It is all of our homes. 

I love you, my fellow Americans, my fellow humans. I love you wholeheartedly and unconditionally. You do not need a tiny handed, insecurity plagued, hate spewing orange man to make you great. Screw that. You are great. You are so much more than great. Build each other up instead of tearing each other down. Love each other. Love so much it crowds out all the fear and hate. You are capable of immense awesomeness. I know you are. Go forth and be awesome. 

From Robot, with love. Always and forever. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Mendon 50K: Because why not?

I pity the fool who signed up for Mendon 50K on a whim at the very last minute. When she hadn't trained for it. And then she promptly got her period and was like fuuuuck, well this is not ideal. Oh yeah, right. That fool was me.

I hadn't planned on running any races in November, as I needed to be free to make a short notice trip to Virginia to meet Pete when he returned from Afghanistan. But when I found out he'll return stateside later in the month and the forecast for Saturday predicted perfect running weather, I thought about registering. Then I hesitated. This wasn't one of my goal races for the year. I hadn't trained for it. Though when I say I didn't train, I don't mean that I didn't run. I run 4-5 days a week year round, plus strength training and cross training. Had I planned to do this race, I would have upped my mileage a bit, but regardless of my race calendar, I try to stay in decent enough shape that I can run 20+ miles whenever I want to.

Mendon was my first 50K, two years ago. It rained the entire time. I enjoyed the race but I remember thinking never again. Five loops is just too many. Last year I ran the 30K, loved it, yet again thought never again. But then I turned 35 and I started to get that time is running out and I'm still not good enough at any of the things angst. And Pete's return was rapidly approaching and I had failed at my plan to become super awesome in his absence. I only managed to do one chin-up, my chainsawing was mediocre at best and my attitude towards cooking had only improved slightly, from "never!" to "meh, sometimes." Plus I still don't have abs. Because cookies. There was a lot going on in my brain. And Saturday seemed like an ideal day to spend hours in the woods, so I did.

The adventure began on Friday night, when Alison, Bob and I went to packet pickup at Medved, to Core Life for dinner (Thanks Bob!) and to Red Fern for cookies. Most importantly, I introduced Bob to the awesomeness that is TLC's "No Scrubs,"which he has somehow never heard! (Next time we'll advance to TLC 201: "Waterfalls").

Bob and Alison picked me up at 7am on Saturday and we headed to Mendon. At the starting line I had the typical Oh shit, what have I gotten myself into? moment. And then we were off, down to the beach, around the shelter and up the long sloping field that is in my opinion the worst hill on the whole course. I've run this 10K loop so many times over the years. But the conditions on Saturday were ideal. Dry, cloudy with hints of sun here and there, not too hot, not too cold. Basically it was the Goldilocks of days. Just right.

The first two loops felt like just another Saturday long run. I was running with Sam and Jeff and races are always more enjoyable with company. Sam and I were chatting away about life and politics and slippery banana peel jokes, ticking off miles without my realizing it. I knew I wouldn't be able to keep up with Sam for the whole time, since he is much faster than I am, and partway through the third loop, I lost sight of him. I kept trotting along at a fairly decent (for me) pace and was never alone for very long without passing or being passed by another runner or seeing someone I knew at an aid station (the volunteers were amazing as always!).

As I started the fourth loop, part of me wished I had signed up for the 30K instead. My calves started to cramp up on some of the hills, but I figured out that I could ease the cramping by adjusting my gait. So I was doing this weird swagger-waddle walk up the bigger hills. Downhills and flats were fine so I tried to go as fast as I could on those. A woman passed me and randomly said "Have you tried the pickle juice here? It's amazing." It seemed like some kind of a sign so I made a note to get pickle juice at the next aid station.

The fourth loop was very emotional for some reason. I kept thinking about Pete and then I had to tell myself "don't think about it, don't cry." This has been a challenging year, but I felt like I was making the best of it and the time was passing quickly. Now I am thisclose to seeing husband man again and it's like suddenly time has slowed to an infuriating crawl. I am so ready for this whole deployment thing to be over. It's just not the same to cross a finish line without holding Pete's hand. As I was heading up water tower hill, a little white dog ran over and started licking me. He was so cute, like a miniature Mozzie, and my heart exploded in feels. When I turned to continue up the hill, I lost it and burst into tears. I may have to rename it waterworks hill. But that is how feelings work I guess. Sometimes the only way past is through. Once the tears came out, I felt better and kept going. I made it to the aid station, where the lovely volunteers filled my hydration pack with water while I did shots of pickle juice. That seemed to do the trick and I finished the fourth loop with my legs and brain back in the game then headed back out. For One. More. Loop.

This is the point in every race where my brain rationalizes, the faster you go the sooner you get to stop. I was going as fast as I could on flats and downhills and hiking as fast as I could uphill. It was not actually fast, but I was moving steadily and ticking off the miles, only 10K to go, only 5K to go. To me, the last 5K of this race always feels longer than the previous 4 loops combined. But then I saw Valone! And then the Lopatas! Things were looking up. I finally made it back to the fence, crossed the road and cruised across the field to the finish chute.

Thanks to Todd for the photos!

My stomach was a mess for the rest of the day, which was not cool. But otherwise things were good. I was filled with the tiredness and happiness of another beautiful day in the woods with some of my favorite people. This is my life and it is the best. But seriously Mendon, never again.

Lyric of the moment: "Well I'm pushing myself to finish this part. I can handle a lot. But one thing I'm in your eyes. In your eyes, in your eyes..." ~Rogue Wave "Eyes"