The Race of Life — Chapter 17 (A #NaNoWriMo16 Story)

Running is methodical. Mark was repeating the same basic motion over and over again. Over the course of a marathon, Mark would cover nearly forty thousand steps. Essentially, that is what a marathon is made of the repetition of the same movement thousands of times in a row. It is easy to lose focus. The body begins to scream out “STOP”! For Mark, he would often cut training runs short when these sensation got too strong. With less than ten miles until the finish, he continued to convince himself he could do it.

At this point, he would have loved a break from his own mind. The constant visions of his life were beginning to wear on him. Moments of joy were a great boost and he enjoyed reliving those moments. However, each painful memory felt like the ripping off of a bandaid to reveal a fresh wound, bleeding anew. But he just couldn’t resist.

The run was really starting to wear on him now. His reserves of energy were gone now, and he badly needed water and some fuel. It would be one more mile until he would pass a replenishment station. He had to hold on. Whether he liked it or not, he was about to dive deep into more memories from the past.

Mark flashed back to a few weeks after the funeral. He was driving Grace up to truly meet his mother. The death of his father was a horrible shock, but the silver lining was that it had opened the door to repair the gaping hole in his family. It was such a great feeling to be able to have an open conversation with his mom and Grace. The two were able to get along well, and they were well on the road to a real relationship.

Grace’s parents came to visit every few months or so. They were still busy up in the Appleton area, but found time to enjoy the company of Grace and Mark whenever they could. They were still a few years away from retirement, but Grace would tell Mark that was coming soon. The two actually hoped this would happen and that they would move nearby. Although it wasn’t a topic they discussed much, they knew they wanted to have kids sometime soon. They hadn’t really been trying, but nearing thirty years old, the time was coming.

Over the next decade life hit its doldrums. Life continued to move on a mostly linear path. Mark got a new job in Chicago, and Grace finally got one at the Chicago Tribune. Due to this, they sold their house and move closer to the city. They settled in Skokie, just north of the city. The house they purchases was similar in size to the one they were currently living in. It had room for kids if they were to come.

Both people settled into the lives they had created. They went to work,they came home. Rinse and repeat. They also settled into their roles as well. Mark took care of the yard work and washed dishes. He also did his best to learn a few home improvement tricks whenever something broke. While money was no longer an issue for them, their frugal days taught them important lessons about saving money where they could. Most home improvement tasks could be solved by anyone. Mark decided that anyone could be him too.

While they were thrifty to an extent, they also enjoyed taking vacations. They kept these in check, but they usually took a big trip once a year. One of their favorite types of vacations were cruises. In fact, they frequently chose the cruise option over any other vacation. This was how they chose to see the world. They loved Caribbean cruises, but those were meant for the winter time and getting away from the cold. The Alaskan cruises provided a fun change of pace with some incredible scenery. The European cruise, which they only did once, gave them an opportunity to witness some of the history’s most well known cities and artifacts. Having a ship to take you to tall of those places was a great perk.

Grace loved her job at the Tribune. She got to do a lot of investigative style reporting and it was everything she wanted to do. It was no secret that he life was all about making a difference. With this new career, she had an opportunity to truly make an impact. Whether it was an opportunity to expose a dirty politician, or find out the culprit behind the heightened pollution of the Chicago River, she was always up for the challenge.

Mark’s career shift moved him into management. Although a gifted programmer in his own right, he had shown a strong ability through his previous work experience to organize individuals and lead a team. He had a knack for picking the right people to perform certain tasks, and was a master at promoting harmony amongst the members of a team. It was interesting to him to discover he was so good at this. Generally being a low-confidence passive aggressive guy, he found that as the leader of a team cured these ills. He became someone else.

All the while, kids were still on the back burner. They were trying, but not too seriously. Ultimately, they were enjoying the single life and were not in a hurry to try too hard to break that up. However, as their early thirties turned into mid thirties, this attitude changed. They weren’t getting any younger, and as month after month passed with no pregnancy, the sense of urgency started to rise.

This led to a doctor’s visit for both of them. It had crossed Mark’s mind at some point that perhaps something was wrong with one of them. But he was afraid that it was him. He feared that he was somehow broken and that he couldn’t help her have a baby. Finally, it became obvious that this was a selfish decision. He had to get checked out. To make it easier, Grace also decided that she should be tested as well.

It was a nerve wracking few weeks waiting for the results. The couple discussed adoption. It wouldn’t be hard for them to do it. They had the money and it would be their only route if something was wrong. However, there was something about having their own child. After nearly a month of late nights, prayers, and tears, they got their results. Both of them were fine. It just wasn’t their time yet.

And so, life went on. These were the doldrums. Mark felt like they were merely existing. Maybe that wasn’t fair. They were going on extravagant vacations and enjoying fulfilling careers. But they still felt empty. Something was missing. They knew the time had come to have a baby. It would just be a matter if they could get the right combination of events.

The thought of emptiness shook Mark back into the moment of the race. His stomach was grinding. Just ahead, past mile seventeen, he could see the refreshments waiting for him. As he got closer, he could see different types of fruit, energy gels, and large cups of water. This was a pivotal point in the race. They might have been the doldrums of this marathon, but every decision mattered. He couldn’t survive on emptiness, just as his marriage with Grace couldn’t have. It had to be fed the right things.

With nine miles remaining, he knew he couldn’t figure his entire life out. But, he was hopeful that these nine miles could help him figure enough out. He didn’t need an entire meal. All he needed was just a little bit to keep the chance of getting it all back alive.