VII. Pee In the Courtyard
Runner enthusiasts lined Marine Drive and I hurried through the anxious crowd towards the start. People in visors and bright colored shirts were shoulder to shoulder by the road, and I sweat from speed walking and the ne plus ultra caffeinated iced coffee I drank. I scanned the road for Lindy. Runners jogged around me in every direction, warming up, and several congregated in the shade of the branched awnings.
"Runners! 5 minutes! 5 minutes till the start!" yelled the race official.
I could see Lindy amongst the crowd, doing quick and graceful strides down and back from the line.
"Lind!" I yelled.
She heard me and smiled, big and genuinely. She jogged over.
"HI!" she said, "Sorry I'm sweaty!" she hugged me and her arms left puddles on my shirt.
"It's okay I don't care! I'm sweating too," I said, "Is Sam running with you?"
"Yeah, she's doing strides."
Sam was her friend who she ran with in college. She'd moved to Chicago after they graduated a few years ago. Lindy drove into the city from Michigan to run a road race with her at least once a year.
"I'll see you at the finish?" she said.
"Yeah good luck!"
"Oh I'm out of shape. We're gonna do a nice little talking pace I think," she laughed.
"Whatever you'll probably win."
She ran back to the start. She didn't look a bit out of shape. Being out of shape in runners' translation meant performing anything less than personal optimum. 'Out of shape' for Lindy and Sam was infinitely more in shape than the average person, myself included. I'd accumulated side breaking cramps just ascending the EL stairs. I ran a mile in January, which only took place because of a New Year's resolution I'd made to workout. I reevaluated my resolution after the mile, and decided to change it to a commitment to think more positively. That too lasted just a few hours.
The gun went off and Lindy and Sam got out towards the front of the pack. Lindy was elegant. She looked like a fawn amongst the various other runners. It was sort of laughable how fawn-like she really looked. In the beginning of a race everyone looks so determined. By the end most people have the most gruesome expressions on their faces, which aside from racing, could only be recapitulated by contortion. Some of the runners behind Sam and Lindy held their arms out far away from their sides. Some scooted low to the ground with short ugly strides. Some looked tired and stiff, even from the start. Lindy was relaxed and graceful though.
I remember once after she had a bad race in high school, my mom told her, "Well at least you were the prettiest runner in the race!" It used to annoy me listening to her tell all of our relatives, "and Lindy has just the most beautiful stride..." After a few times of hearing her say it, I started some internal back talk. "We know mom! Dammit, she has a nice stride!" I'd think to myself. In real life though all I'd say was, "Yeah she does."
The spectators clapped and cheered as they ran passed. Some cowbells clanked. I remember Lindy hated the cowbells. Personally they didn't bother me, although I couldn't understand how cowbells got all mixed up into sport spectating.
A husky woman with bright blond hair cheered, "Go Tom! Go Tom Go!" Each time 'Tom' ran passed, whoever he was. This made me laugh. Of course Tom's going to 'go'. It's a race! Spectators always seem to tell the runners to go. As though they don't understand that that is the premise of the sport. Someone sometime in running history must have been dense to the idea that moving is the essence of racing. He must have needed the constant reminder to 'go'. I've never told Lindy to 'go'. I tell her to 'go faster'. I think that's a better piece of advice.
I followed the bright herds from block to block. We walked fast across the city park, and each time the runners went by I was just a moment too late to cheer for Lindy. I could see her and Sam out in front though, behind a half dozen men, but leading the serious looking women.
The race ended and Sam and Lindy were the top finishing women. They talked with other runners in the shoot, drinking small green cups of water and recollecting mile splits, and the accuracy of the K markers. I said good job, and stood near them, all too aware of how awkward my limbs were.
Whenever I feel awkward I feel bizarrely aware of my arms. Should I put a hand on my waist? Should I cross them? No, that looks impatient. I settled with putting both hands in my pockets, nice and relaxed looking.
"So I thought we could walk to Sam's apartment so I can shower, then we can do...whatever it is you want to do. Is that okay?" said Lindy. Her voice, even after running a race, was soft and calm, like I could be a baby or a puppy or elderly or dumb. She didn't speak that way to be patronizing, she was just meek.
"That's fine with me," I said.
Sam's apartment was a pretty place. It was distinguished with an expensive looking black gate and flowers planted in a shaded courtyard. It was a place that I would most definitely pretend to live in.
"I won't be long," said Lindy, grabbing her backpack and walking into the bathroom.
Sam opened the double doors to her courtyard facing balcony. They were French doors and I laughed to myself a bit, remembering the puzzled waitress, "That's all the French we got!"
The old wooden floors were slightly molding, but I liked them like that. Below the coffee table was a pink rug with a green bamboo branch etched on it. There wasn't a TV in the room, but a record player sat in the corner with a stack of seemingly organized records. The walls were cool yellow and scattered photography was hung behind the couch. A black and white picture of a swing set was hung nonparallel to a picture of a crooked fence.
Sam got me a glass of water and walked onto the balcony as she talked on the phone.
"We ran about 6:15 pace. Yeah, it wasn't bad. I remember when it was easier though... I know. Yeah she's gonna stay with her sister I think... Um, I think she's interning downtown some place. I'm not sure where..."
Oh no. She was referring to me, and the moment she ended her phone call I would be forced to regurgitate the details to my unsorted lie. I didn't even know what street Edelman was on. The location and details were of no importance to my parents, who didn't understand anyways, but Sam would know. She seemed privy to Chicago's professional world, and would surely see through any attempt I'd make to bullshit.
After I graduated I needed to give my family some tangible evidence that my four years in undergrad had amounted to more than just debt and weight gain. I literally Googled "Chicago PR Firms", and Edelman Firm popped up first. My mom pronounced it 'Eatleman' and believed I did marketing of some kind. That was all false, but the details were unimportant to her. She was assured believing that I had a degree required job, of any kind.
Sam was the type of city newbie who had taken a personal interest in knowing the exact location of everything south of Lawrence. I could imagine her in random conversation, "Oh that's off of Wacker right? Yeah I know exactly where that is." Which I'm sure she did. I'd lived in the city for five years and still got lost on a weekly basis. Why wouldn't I? It's a big place.
The spot in my brain which is capable of absorbing the frivolities of intersections and locations of boutiques was occupied by other things. Insubstantial things, I'll admit, but more entertaining at least. I knew which used bookstore left free paperbacks in a box on the street every Thursday. I knew where to get a good pancake past 2 a.m. I knew which uptown bar had a dog who retrieved tips from customers. My accumulated knowledge was of incalculable value to me, but Sam and my sister measured worth by numbers... 'How much money are you making? How long did it take to run that race? How many hours did you work? How many months have you been dating? etc.' Countable things.
I doubted telling them that I'd accumulated more than 30 free paperbacks from the Thursday giveaways would fulfill an impression of numerical value. It wasn't exactly measurable, but those little things did matter to me. All of the novels, some brilliant, some crap, had shaped me in one way or another. 'Much Ado About Nothing', some trash Danielle Steel, a few cliche murder mysteries, they were all there racked up in my brain somewhere. I may have not produced a W2 or celebrated a 6 month anniversary, but I'd had good moments. Nothing in the past year was experienced to appease the expectations of someone else. I did what I felt like doing. I was virtually route-less. That feeling I used to get after doing something I was supposed to do, like volunteer work or completing midterms, it wasn't happiness. I don't know what it was.
Overall it became palpably difficult to discuss anything professional or wholesome. My brain was a sponge full of fireworks I'd seen at the pier on Saturdays, and stiff blue drinks I'd gotten from strangers on Thursday nights. I couldn't exactly have clean banter about my living arrangement, or the quality time Cait and I spent together. Being aware of it all made me noticeably deflated.
I had also acquired a heightened sense of paranoia since the lie began. Whenever someone asked me what I'd been up to or where I was working, I felt like a guilty criminal in one of the murder mysteries I'd read. I became tense. Sam walked off the balcony and organized some papers on the kitchen counter.
"So how have you been?" she said.
"Who do you know! What have you heard?" I thought to myself. I knew she was asking because of courtesy small talk, not interrogation, but when you're guilty of something it seems that everyone else is aware of it.
On an afternoon a few months earlier, I was relaxing in the park with Cait. My mom called and I walked across the grass and answered my phone.
"Oh I'm just on my lunch break right now. Yeah, I packed a sandwich. I've been busy.. I know. Love you too," I'd told her. A squirrel had come quite close to me as I talked, and when I hung up the phone it was up on its' back legs a few feet away. "What are you looking at," I said to it. I clapped my hands and it ran away.
"I've been good. Really great," I finally said, after a bumbling moment of ponder.
"How about you?" It sounded fake. I was trying too hard, I thought. I should have stopped at 'good'.
"Oh I've been really great too," she said, "just busy working. I feel like I don't have a life."
I couldn't relate. All I had lately was life. People always say they don't have a life when they don't have time to be irresponsible. I had so much life I didn't quite know what to do with it all.
"Yeah me too. So busy," I said. The nerves had crawled from my stomach and metastasized into a knot in my throat.
"I really have to pee. I hope Lindy's done soon." I was trying to change the subject. Bad topic choice, but I was desperate for any diversion.
"I think I just heard the shower stop. She'll be out soon. So where are you interning again?"
The dreaded question. All of my mental scans about semantics and how to fold my arms had volcanically erupted and I needed to leave, immediately.
"Edelman," I said. I jumped to my feet in an absurd spout of panic.
"I'm gonna have to just go outside. I can't hold it!" I said, heading towards the door.
"What? Laura you can't pee outside! She's almost done. Just wait a second!"
"It's either that or in my pants!" I ran out the door and slammed it behind me. I didn't have to go literally, but I did have to go.
I felt like she was about to be the questioning officer in a heated interrogation room. In an old film she'd be wearing a fedora hat and pull my arm mercilessly into a black car.
"We're taking you downtown," she'd say. The room would be dark, except for a blinding overhead light. She'd move it over me when she talked, after pacing back and forth intimidatingly.
"Why are you lying about your job!" She'd say.
"I'm innocent!" I would yell back.
"You went to college. You're supposed to get a job!"
"Why!" I'd probably cry.
Lindy walked outside, her hair dripping wet. I was standing in the middle of the courtyard under the sun.
"Did you seriously just pee in the courtyard?" she said.
"No no. I didn't."
"Sam said you ran out here because you were about to pee!"
"Oh yeah. I did.. It went away." I said.