I go for a run for the first time again. I’m no stranger to the feeling of muscles out of practice; my running life has ebbed and flowed, spiked on treadmills, gotten lost in the rhythms of yoga, and returned again each summer, when classes had ended and I could breathe again. I know my body now, and I know that the tightness that stiffens my legs as they beat-beat-beat will soon fade, and that while it will never be pain-free, it will, sooner or later (usually later), feel like something I know how to do again. I will relearn the breathing patterns, the way to keep pushing on the hills instead of slowing and stretching and aching through the (few) miles.
I go for a run for the first time again. This is the first September I can remember that I’m not in school; the flurry of new pencils (which I love) and a crisp planner and the breaking-in of a new class schedule has missed me this time. Time, I’ve learned, is a constant, and yet, it has a remarkable way about it: It stretches and pulls, tightens and runs, swallows me up and leaves me behind. I am never in control where time is concerned, and I find that now is no different. It seems, oddly, like it’s been years since I left my Tuscaloosa apartment for the last time. It’s been weeks.. It’s still hot out, the heaviness stifling the electricity that is buzzing around this season of change, and yet, I sometimes walk out and expect snow, for hasn’t time been raging on? But it hasn’t: The days, filled with hours of breaking in this new life, inch by slowly. Each week is a month, and by Friday, remembering what I had for breakfast on Monday is only possible because I eat the same thing every single morning. Sometimes I beg the weather to change to match my life, to give me evidence that time has rushed into the next season, that I am not suspended in the humidity. But it’s 90 degrees in the shade today.
I go for a run for the first time again. It’s the first time I’ve run in my new city, and it took so long because I was searching for a place that was just like my old running trail at home. I never found that, an out-and-back way that always gave me a front-row ticket to the sunset. So I decide to take what this city will give me: an out-and-back way that sometimes edges a highway and begins by a Target but is often covered by trees that I know will eventually turn. I run here, in the heat and the humidity, letting my legs push me along despite their tightness, despite the discomfort, despite feeling like this isn’t what they know how to do, for I know it is. Somewhere along the way, I catch sight of a break in the trees. It’s a smattering of almost-shifting leaves against the sky, hints of color that I could just be imagining. I stop, panting, to take a picture, for the view flies me back to an afternoon last fall, when I caught a sight just like this one and interrupted conversation with a friend to point it out. “Look,” I said, head tilted back, eyes frozen on the promise of autumn there, resting against the sky. “Look, it’s almost fall, isn’t it? Time is going so fast.”
I go for a run for the first time again. I notice the people who pass me, people whom I don’t know. I notice the way the man who has his sleeping baby boy in a body carrier points out the birds to him. I notice how the woman with a body seemingly not made for running pushes past those who block her way with walking. I notice that a little girl on a bike pauses at a fork in the path, trying to decide which way to go, and I want to tell her this will happen many times, that the secret is to breathe and pedal, but I wonder if I’m qualified, for I don’t know how to ride a bike and I often pause at forks, too. And I notice the way the leaves of that tree seem splattered against the hot blue, and for just a second, it’s another September in another place, and I remember how it felt to be me on that day.
The first run is not always the hardest. Sometimes day three or 17 or 84 is, once the exhilaration has faded. But the first run reminds me, this day, that the tightness propels, and the discomfort fades, and the trees will turn. As I move, I do grin, because it feels good to run and it feels good to have found this out-and-back trail by the Target and it feels good to be taken back to another September just for a moment. And it feels good to come back to this one, hot as she is, unknown as she is, beautiful as she is.
I go for a run for the first time again. And the day after that, I am sore.