29 March 2021

When the breathing gets hard

The house on Victoria Road has again undergone changes, and I woke up this morning for the first time with nothing planned for the immediate future. The work has come to a natural stop. The next thing is the garden, which needs sorting out — paving stones for the patio and a new shed in the back, and then maybe planters and a new place to compost. The man who will do it — who was also the man who did the fence — his name is Mike, and he was standing there yesterday gesturing to Yoko and me as we imagined with him where the planters might go and did the thing that I've learned to do about any work you're planning, saying, well, if you're going to do it eventually, you best do it now when you're doing everything else, and he nodded along. I had a sense about Mike, the way I have a sense about someone being Mormon sometimes like he might be religious in the way I was religious when I was younger, that being honest was an important part of how he ran his business and his life because he saw it as part of his witness, but I couldn't put my finger on why I felt that exactly. He said he would get us a quote and I assumed that I would accept it without asking anyone else because once someone does good work for you as a contractor, you have them do work for you in the future. It's a truism of home renovation. 

The man who did the floor, who was in our house for two days smelling of some cologne I vaguely recognised, also gave off a positive vibe, but in a different way. This Mike, his name was also Mike, had tattoos and had broken up with his wife, but he told me about his son and how when his son had turned 18, Mike needed to let him go do what he wanted to do, regardless of how Mike felt. We had a long conversation about this, about parenting and knee health, after I complimented his work on the floor and said that I had done the laminate upstairs. We talked about America, as you do, and about my own dad and power tools. When I offered Mike coffee, as you need to do when you have builders, he said he brought his own kettle, it was easier that way. He laid the flooring in two days and was done and the girls and Yoko said for days how much better it was. 

There was a strange sense of completion like we had put the last piece of the puzzle into this project that had started some four years ago when we decided to buy the house and I had pulled up the carpet just to see what was underneath. The kids remember me doing this, how shocking it was, to just tear everything up and expose the floorboards. Then, that year, it seemed like I was giddy with the sense of things maybe, potentially, working out, that I could become a homeowner, that we could get residency, that this whole gamble of staying here and not going back to Japan would work. None of it seemed fixed — it felt like winning at some casino game where you put all your earnings back into the game again and again. I was just waiting to lose, because that how I am disposed to think about the world. Certainly this can't work, certainly it has to go wrong. 

I went to run pace on Thursday morning, with my heart rate monitor strapped to my chest. I ran up the hill and then started out after five minutes, down Greenfield Road and in the darkness it came back to me, that gasping for breath I felt back in January. I fought through it for a mile, and then on the canal when it didn't get any better, I gave up and slowed to a trot, a jog, the speed of failure that ended up as a walk when I got to Harborne Park Road. I trudged up the hill feeling fat and defeated, wondering about how I would ever run pace when this was so exhausting to me. I had been running so well at the end of last year and then this. How can you run pace when you can't breathe.

The answer, at least when it comes to running, is to run again. You rest and you run again. I want to run fast every day, but of course that's impossible. Even the best runners run slowly. The house is sorted, I should be happy with that for a minute, stop worrying if the cabinets are yellowing or if I will run as fast as I can in my next race. A friend said to me you need to respect the process, not the goal. Forget the goals, if you honour the process the goals will come. So you set out again, I guess, reset the watch and try again. You'll get another chance, don't worry.