To 17 Year old Me -

It’s okay that everything hurts.

Heading up the hill at Derryfield Park, I know your legs weren’t that tired when you stopped today. I remember the instant relief you felt as you turned around and walked back to the starting line, waves of runners elbowing past, all effort. I see your coach’s disbelief and the quick shrug of your shoulders. You cheer on your team mates and watch them complete the state meet. It’s the last cross country race you’ll ever run in and you didn’t finish.

Twelve years has worn a lot away, but I know you drove home alone and the rain poured so hard that the wipers couldn’t keep up. You’re in your room now and the door is closed, but behind the wheel you cried until you sobbed. Two miles from home, you gripped the wheel so tight that you let go and hit it. You hate that you cared so much and you gave up anyway.

One of the best and worst parts about getting older is that you gain perspective. I’m writing like you know this already, because I think you do. We’re every age we’ve ever been.

Me at 16

I haven’t forgotten how you keep yourself at a distance. You carry a pencil so you can erase your thoughts. I know you use your index finger to write cursive confessions in the air — your most intimate, invisible self. You think of how the room could fill up with words.

I guess I’m writing to tell you that I was a runner once and I understand. I get the pressure you put on yourself today. I know that you can’t shake the feeling that nothing (everything) matters. It’s okay that you’re exhausted and sad and ridiculously hard on yourself. I want you to know that you’ll have better runs.

I just spent the month of February running every day — 29 days straight and I thought of you each time I laced up my shoes and when I layered up for the cold winter air. I thought of you when I paralleled the Amoskeag River, taking deep breaths and experimenting with pace. A few days I only ran a mile. Some days I jogged even though I could have gone faster. I saved my legs for the next day.

Most of all, I had fun and I want you to know that. I didn’t overthink it. I didn’t beat myself up and I didn’t dread a run all day before I took it. If I stopped and walked, it didn’t mean I was giving up because I was still moving forward.

And so are you.

You know how you feel when you drive back roads in New Hampshire? All the potential you see in a foundation found buried in the woods? How deteriorated stone walls scream of the past? All that simple beauty will stay with you because you’ll never stop seeing it.

Photo by Gale Straub
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