Last Tuesday afternoon, I went for my first run in weeks.
The nervey ball of nerves that won't unwind in my right hamstring and glute was less angry, so I was smiling. In fact, the whole situation felt positively luxurious: running around 4 pm, not 5 am; maintaining the perfect temperature thanks to the right clothing choices combined with the Colorado sun; listening to Sun in an Empty Room, by the Weakerthans; launching from and landing in a quiet house. (My family was already in the mountains at my mom's house, where I'd join them Wednesday.)
This is really my Christmas present, I thought to myself.
About 35 minutes into the run, I stopped at a traffic light to cross a six-lane road, not insigificant in size or traffic. I waited for the little white man to illuminate to show me I was safe to cross, so I stepped into the street; I was running with traffic, not against it, because the other side of the street didn't have a sidewalk.
A black car whose driver evidently didn't see my 6'4" body in the crosswalk gunned a right turn directly behind me.
My quad felt like it was millimeters from the front bumper. My hand grazed his rearview window. I felt a draft from the car's momentum. The wheels didn't squeal in real life, but in my memory, they did. I felt like I saw the driver and his passenger laugh or act otherwise unremorseful, but I may be making that up. He definitely didn't do one of those "I'm really sorry" waves one does when you make a bad driving decision.
What I'm not making up: I stood in the middle of a six-lane road, and yelled "REALLY?" I wanted somebody to get out of their car and be outraged with me. It didn't happen.
SoI shuffled along, and within 15 seconds, I felt more scared than I can ever remember feeling as an adult. I saw myself on the pavement, completely splayed out. I saw random people calling 911. I saw myself in the hospital, in a wheelchair, in a coma, in other scenarios I don't want to type. I saw my family living without me.
I came home, tweeted about it because my house was empty and I needed human connection. I didn't have much of an appetite. Later, I half-watched, half-drooled through The West Wing at 2 a.m. because sleep was not happening.
Although I've had close calls running and riding my bike, this one felt too reckless and too real.
Fast foward to Thursday morning. The small ski resort near my mom's house has an awful accident. A 40-year-old mom is on a chairlift with her 9- and 12-year-old daughters. I don't know exactly what happened—the investigation is ongoing—but they all fell 20 feet from the lift. The mom died. One child is fine, and one child is still in the hospital. As a skiing mom of skiing 10- and 13-year-olds who has ridden that lift countless times, I just...ugh.
The one-two car-charilift punch echoed like a true fist to my gut, break in my heart. Rationally, I know tragedy and death happens every second, but there's a difference between hearing a news story about Syria or reading about a friend of a friend on Facebook and intimately feeling mortal.
I'd like to say I was able to maturely process my emotions amidst the Christmas hangover, family dynamics, minimal exercise, maximal sugar and wine, but I couldn't. I was teary, snappy, and not very merry. I wanted to know the details of the chairlift accident, but I really didn't. I kept feeling my pinky graze the rearview mirror. I couldn't focus for longer than one game of Exploding Kittens, the surprise hit of Christmas.
Thursday afternoon, I dragged my 13-year-old to the grocery store with me. "Come on," I said, "I just want to hang out with you." She rolled her eyes and put on her Chuck Taylors. The seven-minute drive there was silent, and once we entered the store, I sent her off to find pasta. We reconnected, and I said, "Let's find something good for dessert," turning the cart for the bakery section, where the scent of sugar just hangs in the air. The whole house had tired of Christmas cookies decorated with red hots that may or may not have been touched by nose-picking toddlers.
Even though, on the 29th of December, the last thing anybody physically needs is a dessert from the bakery of City Market, a brick of cake—three layers of frosting, three of cake—is exactly what I needed. I just didn't know it until I saw a row of them sitting in a case.
I tried to buy carrot cake first, but my daughter did not condone that flavor. We settled on chocolate, the variety you'd find in an office break room and not decline. Not home-baked with love, but definitely good enough to justify the eating the whole piece.
"Muti (her grandma/my mom) will not approve," my daughter said, picking it up and cracking a smile in I don't know how long. "I know," I said, laughing, "Which is why it is perfect." I carried it like a beautiful silver serving platter over to the DIY checkout.
It rang up onsale—$3 off!—which further affirmed the righteousness of the purchase. Back at home, it sat proudly on the kitchen counter, prompting questions, laughs, family memories of other slices of chocolate cake too boring to go into here.
We all had a slice with vanilla ice cream after a dinner of leftover tamales and salad. Muti, who had been out at a neighbor's party during dinner, came home and cut herself a piece. "I saw the dessert table, and didn't want it. I knew this was waiting for me," she explained, taking another forkful. We all watched the end of Project Runway Jr. together, excited about the palm-tree dress that won this week.
Of course, a $9.99 slab of sugar can't magically rewind the chairlift accident or make me not feel spooked on one of my favorite running routes. Life—moments good, awful, scary, shitty, awesome, mortal, life-affirming, boring, whatever—is going to continue to happen in 2017.
But cake—and family, laughter, love, appreciation, presence, connection—will also continue to happen in 2017. Phew.