22 November 2020

Where do we go when we fall asleep


British Summer Time ended, but my body doesn't seem to understand that the clocks have changed. I stopped setting my alarm, hoping this would help, but it hasn't — I wake up at 4:30 and don't want to go back to sleep. I make my protein powder and berry slurry, eat fruit and meditate for twenty minutes. I think maybe at some point I might try to sleep again, but I don't. The kids wake up and it was half-term so nothing is happening anyway. The virus still, of course, but that's just the way it is now. 

I've kept waking up in the middle of the night — this week it was once to the screams of one of the girls who was having a bad dream. Everyone was fine and I sat in the kitchen with the range hood light on, and ate a piece of toast, scrolling on my mobile phone and thinking to myself, I shouldn't be scrolling on my phone, I should be sleeping.

After watching some very convincing videos by some very skinny distance runners on YouTube, I've been running more mileage with the goal of hitting my sub-three hour marathon before I turn forty. To run fast over a long distance, you need to run a lot, they say, and then the video cuts to a shot of them running, skinny, through some remote and beautiful place. My running is not remote or beautiful. I get up and it's still dark and I lumber out, thinking, well, one mile first, that's all you need. Sunday mornings are the hardest, the long runs, but there is nothing happening before ten anyway, particularly during lockdown. If you get out early enough, you can run on the canals without anyone, but if you wait like I did today, you have to deal with groups of very slow runners, in packs or herds, who are impossibly annoying if you meet them after sixteen or seventeen miles of steady work.

At the beginning of this, the first week I’d run sixty miles, I had pain in my left testicle or groin or upper leg, a pain that I couldn’t quite place, but over the days, it had settled in the testicle and it became clear I needed to go to the doctor. Given the timing, the Covid spike again, I called first and spoke to the GP who said I needed to come in and get examined, which I did in my mask. He did the exam and ended it abruptly, saying I could pull up my jeans, and washing his hands, asked, ‘Where are you from?’

He wasn’t concerned, he assured me, but I need to have an ultrasound just to double-check, but because the hospitals were rammed with people from Covid, it might be six or eight weeks, and I acted as though this was fine because I'm good socialist and think that of course, the people with the most need should be served before me, despite my unsettled feeling when I sat on the sofa that I could feel, if I thought about it, a growth, even though I knew it wasn’t.

The ultrasound came sooner than was promised, and I went and sat outside of a window called ‘Ambulatory Care’, a term I had never heard before, and a young woman who pronounced my name correctly called me back. The ultrasound technician was a middle-aged man, but the nurse and another young woman would be there with us, he said, as chaperones. I thought about how that word made me feel foreign, like I was a high school dance and someone was watching to see where my hands were when I was awkwardly dancing.

I didn’t, of course, have cancer, and I pulled up my trousers and walked out of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital thinking that this was, whatever the outcome today, my future: finding lumps and having pain in new places and tests that would mostly be okay until some time when they weren’t okay. Thirty-eight is a strange young age, that’s still young, but not that young, and your body begins to feel less precious and sexual and mysterious, and franker. Here is my body, me pathetically holding a paper towel across my stomach while three people look quizzically at a computer monitor and we casually discuss the reasons I got a vasectomy, what, ten years ago now, is it.

My dad likes to remind me of one time I said that runners would rather talk about running than run, but when he reminds me of it, I think condescendingly about myself then. I can’t describe running as something I want or don’t want to do anymore; it feels more like a responsibility, or impulse, or inevitability. When it isn’t in my life, it leaves an absence. It's like marriage: I don't choose to run every time I run, I chose to run some time in the past. The sun came up this morning and my body felt good, if tired, and I thought about inevitability and how the road seems to narrow the older you get, but how you can run faster and further and steadier when the path is narrow. You don't have to follow the line, the line is the path. The end might be coming, eventually, in the future, but for now, for this season, the thing in front of you is long and straight and clear.