21 January 2022

The dark won't hide it


December came and went the way it always does in the West Midlands, with the ground freezing and then thawing and then freezing again, with the morning and the possibility that things might be coated in frost. It's now January and the same cycle continues on, but some days you notice, or you think you notice, that the day has gotten a bit longer. This is both empirically true and true in one's lived experience — that is, you both want it to be true, so it is true, and it is true, so it is true. Still though, if you want to run before everyone wakes up, you need to do it in the dark, and you need to accept that it will still be dark when you return home. I've accepted this and overcome my fear of running in the dark through the woods, not because of any act of will, but just because the fear has left me. I don't know why. Your eyes adjust and you forget about it, and if you run long enough, you don't notice when it is no longer dark. It just suddenly isn't. 

Just before Christmas, I ran a marathon in the North, just outside of Manchester. It ended up being muddy and solitary and foggy and so poorly marked in places that on at least two occasions, I stopped completely to think back to where the last sign must have been wrong. Around mile eighteen, I came to an aid station with two people sitting and waiting and surprised to see me, like I was some sort of traveller. Only one other person had come through they said, he had gotten very lost too. I managed to finish fifth, although it should have been second or third, considering the numerous other factors. You do a kind of apologetics after a race to explain whatever deficiencies you've identified in your own running, deficiencies that no one cares about but you. That was the third marathon of the year, the fourth if we're counting the one I ran on the canal in May. None of them felt particularly good, and the photos from Chester captured me as I've felt, bloated, drenched in sweat, and grimacing. What is the point, the photo asks, of any of this

That's a fair question to ask this year, the year I turn forty, an age that feels both old and young to me now that I have arrived at it. Recently, the other forty-year-olds I know look younger to me, and I wonder if this is just an effect of ageing and that when I am seventy, I'll look at other seventy-year-olds and think the same thing. Of course, the next thought is to wonder if I will make it to seventy, which although mathematically much more likely once I am forty, still feels impossibly far away. I had always said glib things about how being healthy in my thirties would pay off as I got older. Now I don't know. I have a pain in my throat and think, is this cancer. It must be cancer. I've had these thoughts for many years, it's not necessarily a new thing, and it most certainly is not cancer. But still: when you're almost forty, you need to pay closer attention. You're not young anymore. I've been known in polite conversation to smugly say, On a long enough timeline, most men will get prostate cancer, but that's no longer comforting to me. I'm on that timeline and it's getting longer. 

An email came from our energy provider saying that we had some ungodly deficit in our account and our costs were going up, this after another letter came saying I had underpaid my taxes and they needed to collect, again, an ungodly amount of money from me in the next three months. I resented the language in both of these letters, which seemed to suggest some moral failing on my part, or that I had some agency in how much tax had been collected or what the energy provider had been taking in our direct debit, when in fact they had been things that had been decided for me, on my behalf. Now I am worried about the next three months and indeed, the rest of the year, when taxes are meant to go up and the cost of living is meant to increase. Where is this money supposed to come from, how much more can I work. 

When I was younger, worries like this flowed through me without a filter, but if I've learned anything, I've learned that unfiltered worry poisons relationships. You have to dismantle the worry for yourself, manage it for yourself. Because worry is all imagined pain, death as a kind of abstraction or metaphor for other things, things that are not actually death, not even close to death. Real death comes as a phone call in the middle of the night, in the moment from when you wake up wondering what has woken you up, in a chain reaction of thoughts that resolve in a second, but are so distinct and clear that they can be articulated as a story. Like the way Yoko touched my leg to wake me the morning Mia was born: It's time. You get up and get dressed even though there is nowhere to go, nothing to say. You sit and wait like you are waiting for something, for the sun to come up at least and the girls to fill up the house with sound and movement. What is worry when the worst has happened. It's a luxury. There's nothing to worry about after it has happened.