27 February 2023

Stay with me

The winter has been, the news tells me, relatively mild, but the gas bill and my own feeling in my hands when I head out to run just after six tells me differently. I've been sleeping the same way I have been sleeping since I started my marathon training in earnest, the sort of sleep that hits you in seconds after you shut your eyes. The sort of sleep where you feel you have died. The training calendar is unrelenting in this particular programme I've chosen, but it's what I feel I need to punish myself for all the things I feel I need punishment for: gluttony, lust, wrath. The punishment snowballs into a terrible cycle of binging, secret eating, and earlier and earlier starts to the morning run. I ran twelve miles before seven on Wednesday; I ate three protein bars in ninty seconds last night. Or this one, I ate four hundred and sixty-two calories of corn thins and Flora hard plant butter three minutes after I woke up last Monday. You look thin, someone says, and I say, I don't feel thin. I feel fat, and I am still fat — if you want to see a thin person you need to watch this YouTube video the algorithm showed me, of ultrarunners on a five hundred metre track under a stadium in Norway, running for twenty-four hours straight in the dead of winter. Those are thin people.

The year continues to pass day by day, despite the feeling that I had over Christmas that I couldn't continue on, that something had to change. One day, the car breaks and needs to be repaired and that day is gone, and then another and another, and then a week is gone. I fall into the same cycle of bad habits and repentance, and every day, the kids get older and one more day has passed where we all had dinner together and laughed and everyone seems okay, they seem to be okay. As Dad, I don't really know though, do I. I sit in the H&M, on a chair, holding bags and cups and wait, while something outside of my view is happening, and time seems to stop as I remember doing this very thing as a teenager, sitting in a dELiA*s (stylised) dressing room as my girlfriend tried on the sort of t-shirt that would make me crazy. Now, I sit and bat back all the patriarchal thoughts that come up so naturally in me, the things that I know I should not say or even think about young women and their clothes, about modesty and what they should or should not wear. I just want to wait patiently and silently, I want to be that Dad, the Dad that is supportive, the Dad that doesn't judge or just keep talking. I've said enough already, enough for two lifetimes of Dad. 

I can't manage to find a charitable reading of my Evangelical past, to understand how someone felt it was in my best interest at seventeen to install these technologies of control in me, to teach me to think of my body as not my own, but some resource in Evangelical mission, that I would, if I remained faithful in the right ways, understand the point of it all. Some Christian says something condescending to someone else about purity culture: oh you were so hurt because someone told you not to have sex? like everyone knew all along it was just a thing people said that no one believed. The same people who were the most hardcore can just laugh at Nate Bargatze jokes and think, yes, Christian culture is really weird, isn't it. But I'm forty now, and that joke was my formative years — it wasn't an experiment, it was my life, goddammit, I find myself muttering out loud before I realise I am arguing in my head with a comedian on Amazon Prime about my youth pastor. Who could care less about the unhappiness of some apostate anyway. I was warned this would happen if I left and indeed, it has happened: I have no one to blame but myself. 

I'm forty now: in the GP's office to get my blood taken for the second time, to reconfirm I don't have a serious illness, the nurse says, You qualify for an additional health check for your blood sugar and cholesterol, would you like to book that in? and I say, It's because I'm forty, isn't it. I was faithful and unfaithful at the wrong times. When will the reward come, and the nurse looks at me blankly, like I've said too much. Yes, no, sorry, book me in, let's try to find all the problems we can with this body that has never really been mine anyway. I'm very healthy, but we're all worried about microplastics, and the nurse says, Indeed, as she slips in the needle and the blood, my blood, from my body, fills three vials and gets shipped away to be checked. 

That probably explains it all, doesn't it: the early morning run is just a counterbalance to all of that reality, the strange responsibilities of patriarchy as father and husband; the yawning void of Evangelicalism; the inevitable blood test that will mark the beginning of the end, the time when it won't be nothing. When I run, I am just my body, only my body. The earlier I run, the less awake I am, the more it becomes like a dream, like the perfect ballast to reality. My family is literally asleep, and while they are asleep, I can just run, pushing on the edge of everything, a dream world that flits in and out of my mind like a crane on the path seeing me and taking flight, only to meet again down the way. 

Unwashed, unshaved, unkempt

January came and went without any changes. I kept TikTok off, so the divorced dad messaging didn't get through in any meaningful way, and I found myself redoubling my normie efforts, although I'm not sure that I could articulate why I felt that way. I felt again like I had become a Calvinist, convinced that my damnation would be to the glory of God. It's silly, we can all agree it's silly, but existence is silly. The whole thing is silly. It's silliness all the way down.