by Grace Ferguson
I remember walking into the sports store, tagging along behind my mom. She was picking up her finisher’s medal from her most recent race. I watch people trying on the brightly coloured running shoes in one corner, bouncing on their toes before shaking their head and pulling out another box. Another woman looks in the mirror to see how she likes the new Brooks running shorts on display. I look around at all the fun gear, Nuun tablets, and rollers.
“I wish I was a runner,” I say wistfully. I twirl my chlorine-damaged ponytail that spends almost four hours a day in a swim cap. There was something tantalizing about the idea of lacing up shoes, feeling the burn of the sun on your shoulders, the sting of sweat dripping down your face.
“Honey, you can be a runner whenever you want to,” my mom replies, fingering the silver medal from her second marathon ever.
So I tried. I started running a couple miles after swim practice in the evening, but soon petered out. I got bored of the same route, my homework piled up and I found an excuse to stop. Still, I kept a jealous eye on the cross-country runners. In senior year, I abandoned the pool and joined their team. They welcomed me with open arms.
On night, I arrive home from cross-country practice and the lights are dim. The TV is on and my brothers are sitting quietly in front of it.
“Where’s Mama?” I ask.
“She is sick and went to bed,” they reply, never looking away from the blue screen of the TV.
Sure enough, my mom’s room is dark, blinds drawn and the mound under the covers appears to be asleep. I back out of the room and run through the normal night’s routine.
Another week passes and my mom has barely moved. The food I bring her sits on the plate and becomes a home base for a family of flies. As the days drag on, I keep running, and my first cross-country meet approaches. My mom is getting sicker and sicker. She used to wake up at 6:00 a.m. to get a 10 mile run in before taking my little brothers to school, but these days she can barely sit up in bed.
The day of the meet, I woke up to a note from my dad saying: “Took Mom to hospital. Try not to worry. Good luck today.”
I cracked open my parents’ bedroom door and stole into the darkness. I opened my mom’s “running drawer” and felt around until my hand closed on a pair of socks. They are purple Balenga socks, the ones my mom ran her first marathon in. There is a small hole in the corner of one sock from the pinkie toe she always forgets to trim. I put them on, hoping that they would bring us both good luck that day. In the weeks that followed, my mom came home from the hospital and slowly regained her strength, until she was back to running in the mornings.
I kept the socks. They ended up with a total of four holes, each with a story. Hole number two was added at a high school race. My racing shoes got stepped on and the tip of a spike found its way into the fabric of the infamous purple socks. Hole number three came from a collegiate race in Hawaii. The socks were already drenched from a wet warm-up on a golf course, and the friction on the back of my shoes proved too much for one of the heels. I added some blood stains that day as well. Hole number four came on my college’s annual spring break track trip. When I peeled the sock off, the pad of my foot showed right through the worn-away fabric.
Those purple socks stained with mud, sweat and blood became a part of me. They gave me a part of my mom when the unknown was threatening to overwhelm me. They protected my feet through mile after mile, race after race, through every outdoor element known in cross-country.
I still run, and so does my mom. Every time I come home, I run at least once with her. I have been to every one of her marathons (six in total) to cheer her on. We understand something about each other that non-runners never will. We understand the addiction, the magic in the misery. The socks are a symbol of that. They’re at the back of my “running drawer” now, and I can’t imagine ever throwing them away.