A Fun Run with My Son: Thoughts on Depression, Life and Parenthood

“We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.” — Umberto Eco

I couldn’t sleep. Over-thinking . I thought of the futility of it, a carousel with no end, until you consciously apply a hand break to it. And I tried. I tried several times, with no consolation. My anti-Zen mind was doing its job right, and a bomb was going to explode in there, unless I got up and defused it. So I did, and wandered the room in the darkness for some time which seemed to tame the faceless monster in my head.

I made my way down the stairs and into the living room. I opened the blinds and looked outside. It was a lonely night, nothing but flickering street lights and the sounds of trucks.

I switched on the light and walked to the bookshelf. Since I was doing a fun run in the morning with my son, I looked for a book titled “Born to Run”, which I had read several years earlier when I ran marathons, as an inspiration. It was the true story of a group of American ultra marathon runners that made a trip across a desert in Mexico to find a reclusive tribe of legendary runners, the Tarahumara. I don’t keep my books in an organised fashion, so I couldn’t find it after several attempts. I grabbed another book, one I hadn’t read before, Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. I flicked through the pages and came upon a quote:

“I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.”

I wrote the quote on a piece of paper sitting on the ottoman, threw the book to the side and lay on the couch. I closed my eyes, and finally fell asleep.

….

I could faintly hear the alarm on the iphone upstairs. The sun broke through the blinds and blinded me. A small pang of anxiety hit my throat. Jesus, Jesus, this run. We got to do this run. I raced upstairs. The iphone read 6am which alleviated my nerves. I then walked into Sol’s room. He was buried under the blanket. “Hey, Sol,” I said, “You need to get up. We have this fun run to do.”

“Just five more minutes daddy,” he said, his voice hollow and almost indecipherable.

“I’m going to have a shower. Please be up by the time I return.”

I walked into the bathroom and looked into the mirror, eyes distant and vacant. I walked back out and played Tom Waits on the stereo. As I jumped into the shower I regretted putting it on. While I love his music, that voice, made of shreds of glass and cheap bourbon, and the lack of sleep, hammered into my cranium. I closed my eyes and felt the hot water hit my body and in my mind’s eye I saw Sol when he was three or so years of age, how he used to wake me up in the mornings playing monster. He’d wear a black cape and bring up his hands very close to my face Dracula-like and yell, “raaahhhhhh!” As he walked out the door, he’d ask, “Were you scared Daddy?” My reply would always be, “Very. You’re a good monster.”

He was still submerged under the blanket as I walked back into his room. “You really need to get up. We need to get going.”

“Alright then. I’ll get up now.” He lifted himself slowly, rubbed his eyes and then dropped his head back on the pillow.

“Come on mate,” I said, my voice laced with annoyance.

He lifted his head again and pinned his hazel, almost green eyes in the light, on me. “Why are your eyes so red?” he asked.

“You don’t want to know,” I replied, avoiding his intense gaze. “Please have a shower and get into your running gear. I’ve left it in the bathroom for you.”

With the motions of a geriatric, he stretched his arms, and then getting up off the bed he bent down and touched his toes. He walked into the bathroom, and I heard the water running and a song which he sang in tune to Waits, still screaming on the stereo.

…..

I sat on a chair and rubbed my hamstrings with Deep Heat and pinned the race number on my running shirt. Sol walked down the stairs and stood over me as I continued to rub my legs, his hair still wet, droplets of water falling on me. I collected his race number from the kitchen table and handed it to him together with some safety pins. “Put this on your shirt.”

He looked at the number and read it to himself. He then looked at my race number. “Why does your number have an orange background and mine is blue?” he asked.

“It seems they placed us in different zones for the commencement of the race.”

“Will that mean we’ll be separated?” he asked.

“No. We’ll be right,” I said. His face muscles relaxed and he began to smile. I ruffled his wet hair.

“You still haven’t told me why your eyes are so red.”

“As I told you earlier, you don’t want to know. We better be off.”

On our drive to the train station a melodic tune played on the radio, intermixed with an experimental percussion piece.

“Is that Phillip Glass?” he asked. He took a gulp of water from a plastic bottle.

“I’m not too sure,” I replied, grabbing my own bottle and taking a sip from it.

“It is. It is,” he said excitedly. “It’s from that soundtrack to that film … hmmm … Koyaanisqatsi.”

“I can’t believe you can even say that,” I said.

He put on my Ray-Ban sunglasses and began to bob his head up and down to the rhythm of the music. “What a beautiful day for a run,” he said as we approached the station.

An elderly couple in their running gear held hands and shielded their eyes from the sun as they walked up the ramp leading to the station. A child flew a blue balloon near them until it separated from her hand, and drifted into the sky. She began to cry.

…..

On the platform next to us sat a chubby Asian boy who I know from the take-away Vietnamese restaurant near my residence. He held a hot dog in one hand and with the other patted his porcupine-like hair. I said hello to him. His mother brought her head around him and said hello as well.

We boarded the train and sat opposite a black man that stared outside into space and blurted words at no one in particular, as if talking to a ghost. I greeted him but he didn’t respond. Other runners began to fill the carriage. A lady with a beanie resembling a rabbit, with big ears that poked on either side, began to dance with her two children. A fit looking middle-aged man pushed against the door stretching his calves.

“It’s a five kilometre run today,” I said, “You’ve been running a lot better than me during our practice runs, so feel free to take off at any stage.”

“Ok then,” he said, as we observed the black man stumbling towards the exit door and almost falling onto the platform as he opened it.

“Just wait for me at the finish line, ok,” I said.

The train commenced to move. The black man walked into a tunnel, his silhouette against the sun.

….

We snaked into the pedestrian walkway of the Story Bridge with hundreds of other runners. A DJ played tunes in the middle of bridge, his arms in the air in a celebratory dance. A lady next to us spoke into a mobile phone in a language I did not recognise. I looked to my right at the city’s skyline of buildings, where I had once worked and felt “trapped”, and to my left New Farm, where I had once lived with Sol, his sister and mum. His mother and I had divorced, and my time was no longer divested in the corporate world. A friend had once said to me, “Don’t look at the past. It’s there to learn from not to go back to.” But the mind, I thought, cannot help but make connection with it no matter how hard we try not to.

“What are those?” Sol asked, pointing to the spikes at the top of the bridge’s suicide prevention barrier.

“It’s to prevent people from jumping off.”

“What, to kill themselves?”

“Yes.”

“And why would they do that?”

“Enough of life. The pain is too great.”

We came past a sign, with a telephone next to it, which read:

“Who cares about you? We do! Call Lifeline on 131115.”

“I hope we never have enough of life,” he said, looking up at me.

“I hope so too. I hope we can do this run together in forty years when you’ll be pushing me in wheelchair.”

He commenced to laugh and I joined him.

….

Music blasted from the speakers. There were thousands at the starting line. Balloons floated in the wind. We stood under a massive fig tree, the branches shooting wide and into the sky. “Wow,” he said, looking up at it in wonderment. “How old would it be?”

“Over a hundred,” I replied, “and it’ll out survive all of us here unless humans cut it down.”

“I hope not,” he said, still looking up at it.

A voice came over the speakers. “Let’s get this thing going. Welcome to the Bridge to Brisbane Run of 2016. Here we are on this beautiful day in one of the world’s most beautiful cities. And are we ready? Let’s begin this countdown … 10, 9, …”

“Good luck Sol,” I said. “Enjoy your run.”

“You too daddy.”

I fitted the headphones to my ears and a trance song came on, “Set You Free”, which made my mind flood of memories I had of this city in my teenage years, and a friend from those years that I loved and had passed away. I connected the GPS on my Garmin watch.

“ …3,2,1!” And we were off!

I ran next to Sol, with the trance music rebounding in my mind in a timeless landscape. He took off at the three kilometre mark as I struggled up an incline. At the Kangaroo Point cliffs, a group of pro-animal protesters held up signs, one which read, “A pig is smarter than a dog.” I laughed and thought, “Probably smarter than all of us.” I quickened my pace and sprinted home on the last kilometre. I pressed the stop button on the Garmin as I crossed the finish line at Southbank. It read — 26:30. Sol waited for me a bit further up with a smile. “You did well,” I said, between heavy breaths.

“You too,” he said, with no obvious fatigue, as if he hadn’t run at all.

We cruised around Southbank among other runners, families and hipsters, in our endorphin highs. We ate lunch and drank fizzy drinks, and went home.

At Roma Street Station, the black man that had sat opposite us on our way in lay on a bench by the platform, asleep and snoring. The train glided through Brisbane’s western suburbs as we chatted about Sol’s favourite actors and films, and his aspiration to be an actor. “Embrace your energy fully into it,” I said, “and let it guide you. We have one shot at this. We think we have something to lose but that is just the ego tricking us.”

Later that day, I drove him to his mother’s house and as I returned home I missed him. That little monster played in my mind again. That little boy was now a teenager and I was glad we had met each other on this journey.

I arrived home, cooked dinner and picked up Umberto Eco’s book again. I read a passage in it, “… what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments … We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”

I let go of my thoughts and slept a lot better that night.