It seems to be an unwritten law of the cosmos that when things are going well, something is bound to fall apart.
Things here have been going very well. I love my grad school program and my new Boston friends. I’m getting settled into a place where I might even stay for a while (you know, with no pesky travel requirements to places like Afghanistan). I haven’t fallen down when the T jolts to a start in quite a while. I’ve been writing a lot, and talking a lot, and through those outlets I've started to make peace with my military experiences. I found Cinnamon Toast Crunch on sale yesterday at Stop & Shop. And I’ve been running again.
I even started making plans; for a Jingle Bell run in a couple weeks, for “Lauren’s comeback 5K” in the spring. I should know better than to make plans by now, but I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t help hoping. Last weekend I nudged the treadmill odometer to 2 miles . . . a measly accomplishment compared to the 2009 Houston Marathon, but something I was proud of: the most I’d run – pain free – in almost two years. It was so encouraging.
Things were going so well.
And today was no exception. I got a good sleep, ate a delicious Cinnamon Toast Crunch breakfast, had a productive morning, and triumphantly jogged the entire loop around Jamaica Pond – for just the second time ever! Then, starting my cool down, a familiar pain; dull at first, then building to a sharp stabbing in my left knee.
The pain transported me back; back to the wheezing of the rickety treadmill in Afghanistan and the drips of condensation from the gym tent’s ceiling; to cursing the treadmill and body armor and Afghanistan for the pain that wouldn’t let me push harder or faster – or at all – to outrun the stress of the deployment. It brought me back to the sterile white walls of my temporary corporate apartment in Florida; to sappy chick flicks, greasy take out and one too many beers – my escapism substitute for the exercise I no longer had. It brought me back to depression, anxiety and isolation; to a dark hole I’ve worked so hard to climb out of.
It’s a pain that reminded me, in case I’d forgotten, that there are two parts to my life: before Afghanistan, and after. Before, when I was healthy, settled, sure of myself. And after, where those things remain very much in flux. It’s a pain that reminded me that – for better and worse – my life will never be the same.
I know I’m lucky. In the great scheme of things, with everything that could have gone terribly wrong, a bum knee isn’t too bad of a draw. And I know I’ll be okay. I’m much stronger now, and I have some additional factors on my side. For one, I’m in America. That makes everything better. I have my support group of family and friends. And I have writing – a coping mechanism that I terrifyingly lost in Afghanistan. I also have a team of doctors at the VA trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with me so they can fix it. (Or, as I’m fearing, so they tell me I need to learn to live with chronic pain. But even that – distressing as it would be – would at least give me something concrete to lean on).
Well docs, now’s your time to shine! You told me me to “run until it hurts, and we’ll go from there.” So I did. I just wasn’t expecting it to hurt so much.
And I don’t mean my knee.