Monday, March 31, 2003

That stitch in my side

That stitch in my side

Everyone knows that stitch in your side you get when you run too fast or long. It happens when your diaphragm - the muscle under your lungs that pushes air in and out - tries to push more oxygen into your system but discovers that your lungs are already full. The muscle is trying to push up, but can't, and so ends up expanding out, pushing against your abdominal cavity. This causes a sharp pain. The diaphragm is just trying to help you move faster and farther than you have before, but your lungs are already full. So you have to slow down because this hurts. You're pushing too hard too fast and there's not enough oxygen you can put into your system to go as fast and far as you'd like. Everybody has their limits. You can wish and wish that you could run up mountains, or reach farther, faster, fast as the wind, but you'd get that stitch in your side if you tried too much.

I suffer from a near constant stitch in my mental side. My ideas push against the sides of my brain, wanting more, now, right now, you can do it, you can do everything. You can do a two-year grad program in 18 months. You can have it all - everything you ever wanted. You just have to run up a few mountains, first.

I drove to Augusta last weekend. When I got down into the Savannah River valley, I was awed. I hadn't been down that way in the Spring in many years - I usually visit in the summer time, and I had forgotten how lush the place can be in March - I had forgotten that I was born in this semi-tropical environment that doesn't exist most other places in the world.

Everything was in bloom. Hot pink azaleas, dogwood trees and every kind of fruit tree was in riot-bloom. I kept seeing the fluffy purple trees 3 stories tall and was awed by them. I couldn't figure out what kind of tree they were, and when I saw one up close at last I almost fell over. It was just wisteria choking those giant old pine trees. Wisteria in Tennessee doesn't get that big, and only lives if it's someone's pet plant. But in the river valley here the wisteria gets so big and so old that the giant ropy vines are good for swinging on if you are small and put out fluffy lavender blooms a foot long. They look like trees from the first Fantasia movie, and they smell the best.

The giant pines that put out pinecones 8 or 9 inches big were busy getting ready for the summer, and had their sticky green-yellow pollen out. I drove into a pollen storm - when I got to my cousin's house, he was trying to clean the pollen off his back porch with only a little success. I made footprints in the pollen snow on the walk, could write my name on cars in the street. At one point, my cousin Christopher was standing out in the sunshine, holding his new son Dylan, and the wind kicked up. They were caught in a green-yellow snow storm for a moment, the light shining on bright and a thousand little motes dancing all around them.

And I realized I had spent most of my twenties out there getting an education, while everyone else in my family was down here by the river, putting down roots and pollinating and having babies. Well, not wasted - I guess given the same sets of choices, there isn't much I would have changed. But my life is so incredibly different from theirs - and not worse or better, just different. I am a near alien now, full of different ideas than theirs, and with a lot less possessions. The next weekend I spend in Augusta will be for the wedding of my 19-year-old cousin who already owns a house, and is preparing to marry the girl he's dated since he was 14. I've never had a relationship last 5 years. As much as I'd like a baby, they'll probably beat me to it, and though I know it's not a race, and I know I'm the first one to have a master's degree, I feel weird about that.

I also visited my cousins who are teenage boys without remorse. Guys who hang around being guys, playing video games at every spare moment and having trashed bedrooms and playing music loud and not caring and watching Star Trek and punching each other in the shoulder and cracking slightly crude jokes. And I love that. It cracks me up. I think it's fabulous in its own way, but I probably appreciate it more than most because I never had brothers.

And I saw Aunts and Uncles who are all about hugging me every chance they get. Which is awesome. To be able to jump out of the car and just get hugged as much as possible in that big way that you almost never get hugged. My Uncle Steve is 6'4" and he laughed and hugged me until he picked me off the ground. And that just doesn't happen often enough.

I pushed for that weekend in Augusta. I pushed until I got there, and it hurtv- going to Augusta always hurts. But I'm not sorry - I'll do it again. I will run and run and run, and when I get that stitch in my side I'll sit down for just a minute, and then I'll start running again. This is all an allegory, of course - busted my knee so bad back in Tennessee that I can't really run anymore, not really…

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