I have only had one father in law in my lifetime. I no longer have a husband but I definitely kept the family in the divorce settlement. Well, ok we got joint custody. And while it’s been a while since I have spent time with them, I have fond memories of Elmo and Nilda James, both together and in separate relationships. There was the girl’s trip to Vancouver that Nilda and I took and I think my abdominal muscles hurt for at least a week upon returning home from all the laughing we did. There were the multiple phone calls to her from Puerto Rico on my first Thanksgiving with Mike when all the directions on the turkey package were in Spanish and I needed serious help or we were going to die of food poisoning. Even with 8 years of Spanish, they never covered stuffing a turkey. There was the road trip from Florida to Arizona in two cars with in laws and a lot of open highway. There were the family holidays in Puerto Rico with roosters, hammocks and lots of bread. And there were the endless stretches of baseball that Elmo and I used to watch together. It was our bonding time and we did a lot of it. From the cheap seats watching the San Antonio Missions to the family section of the big league stadiums to the recliner and sofa at 115 Austin Court. One thing we both loved was baseball.
This morning my father in law passed away and of course I went out to run after getting the news to process my feelings and let my pores bear the burden of some of the tears. I have run for a long time. It seems to be the one constant in my life that reminds me to keep putting one foot in front of the other when times are hard. It reminds me to breathe through pain so thick you think you could cut it with a knife. I ran through college when a serial killer was wreaking havoc on my campus, to gain some sense of control back in my life. I ran through tough times in my marriage, through my divorce and as I packed up my life to move 3000 miles away to a new city and an unfamiliar road. I remember one very poignant run when I was separated. I don’t remember the circumstances of that particular day but I remember heading out the door and running. Not jogging, which is what I would generally classify myself as, but RUNNING. Within a half mile I was gulping air as if I might drown in it. I had to stop and walk or be in danger of passing out on the horse trail. As I walked it dawned on me that I couldn’t run from this problem and that is exactly what I set out to do without realizing it. I laughed a little at myself and from that day forward my running shifted into a welcome respite from the curveballs life tends to throw our way. I don’t run from problems anymore but I run to get through them. When I get back from a run, my head is clearer, my breathing slows and life doesn’t seem so hard for a few moments. Not as hard as 9 miles in 90 degree weather with 85 per cent humidity, anyway.
So today, I took an unfamiliar route as I wanted to keep my mind engaged so as not to run bawling down a New York street. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself, not that most New Yorkers would even give me a second look but I wasn’t going to take any chances. I had a general direction in mind and had to run cross town to make my way to the East River Park. As I came upon an intersection I had to wait for the light. I was stopped dead in my tracks by a huge graffiti tag of his name on a building. Elmo in big bright red and white letters. My breath caught in my throat and I had to choke back tears. Mind you this was within mile 1 of a 9 mile run. This would not be good for my breathing. I snapped a picture with my iPhone and repeatedly brushed tears from my cheeks willing the light to change faster as I nervously laughed off my mounting grief. I walked a little and took a few minutes to collect myself, and then hit my stride, surprised by how effortless the rest of the mileage felt today. I guess grief is good fuel. It felt cathartic to let sweat run down my arms and back as I remembered so many little things about Elmo. The way he said tacos, with an a like cat instead of August. How much he loved his family and how patient and kind he was with them. How I shook my head the first time I heard him describe something as “black as pitch.” The countless innings of baseball we watched and how much he enjoyed it.
Later when I was home and able to let the image sink in, I was still struggling with the seemingly unexpected site. I have never run that street. I only two days ago, decided to try a new route and go east on this little island with a million running route options. Why didn’t I go to Central Park to run long like I always do? Why today of all days did I decide to let the street lights dictate my path? Because my God is not random and even though I couldn’t see it at that moment I knew it was a little love note from Him in my time of sorrow. When I shared it on instagram I got my answer. A friend reminded me that it was just God letting me know that Elmo was welcomed home safely. Welcome home Elbow.
Footnote: It has been a few weeks, but it felt like it was time to share this.