When people ask why I’m doing this, I can’t give a clear answer. Not like last time. “Why are you cycling to the Nordkapp?”
“Because he left me.”
It made sense.
Now, when people ask me why I’m doing this, I refer to the bike ride. I think I make it sound as if I do these things all the time, as if the effect of the one caused the other.
It works. People nod, and seem to think to themselves: “Yes, this must just be a thing she does.”
But I can still feel the reason I had for the bike trip pulsing through this run. I can’t help it. There’s something about going very, very far that just makes one think about forgiveness and redemption.
I needed to sort one last thing out before I could move past everything that had happened, and finally close the chapter of the last four years of my life.
Because it wasn’t just losing you that brought me here.
It was also the year that came before.
Maybe it was naive to think you could carry the burden with me. When we met, I was grieving, grieving the loss of what I’d seen as my new family, the country I had begun calling my new home, the relationship that had just fallen apart, and the child that could have been, now lost.
All of that come and gone, in and out of existence in only a few months.
It was too much pain.
And I couldn’t carry it on my own.
Your eyes promised kindness, and my own brain promised me that if only I fell in love quickly again, I could build up everything I had lost, and this nightmare would be over – without me ever having to work through the grieving process in a healthy way, step by step by step. I listened to the sweet lies I told myself, losing myself to denial along the way. “I can make this right,” I’d thought. “I can have the family I just lost with you.”
Perhaps your heart, for a moment, thought it would be strong enough to bear it together with me, too.
It’s more likely that you never quite understood how strong you’d have to be to help me carry this grief.
You’d had an easy life so far, and could only wonder at the sadness some people carried within them. More often than not, inexperienced with hardship as you were, you blamed them for it.
You blamed me for my grief, too.
It was wrong from the beginning. It was a mistake to be with you.
But I loved you. For the hope you held. I felt that if I lost you, it felt like I would lose my chance at a family all over again. I hadn’t even worked through the loss of the first one yet. So if you told me there were things about me you didn’t like, I didn’t bat an eye. I changed. I adapted. Your needs became my needs, and if you needed me to be controlled, rational, quieter, I’d try to be that.
On occasions when I couldn’t hold it in anymore, all those emotions and all that pain you didn’t want to see exploding outwards in a display of tears and rage, you rarely said much. You just gave me looks I could barely face. I hated myself for not being what you needed. For being “too much to deal with”. I promised you I’d go to therapy, deal with it, and I did.
I don’t know what you were hoping I would change into, but whatever that might have been, change wasn’t happening fast enough. And then you left me for another.
It’s been over a year now since you left. It’s been almost four years since I lost what may till this day be the only chance I’ll ever have to have a child.
But that’s alright.
The grieving process isn’t something where you can just skip ahead. You have to take it like a long run.
Step. By step. By step.
I’m not trying to rewrite the past anymore. I’ve learned to be patient and see what the future might hold.
Losing you was a win – though it took a while to sink in.
The breakup last year, and the epic bike ride that followed, turned my life upside down in a way that I never would have expected. It turned me inside out. The last year has been proof of it. I haven’t felt this stable, this grounded in years – even though of course the bike trip wasn’t the quick fix my memory has tried to frame it as.
“You were just… impossible to really get a hold of, you were so full of energy when I met you,” the woman I had dated after I’d returned to Berlin told me a little while ago, over a wine and some reminiscing over the past year. “Like a humming bird that just wouldn’t settle,” she’d said. “You’ve calmed down since then,” she added, as I rested my head on her shoulder. “It took me a while to trust again,” I said quietly. She stroked my hair in response.
You’d left your mark.
And healing would take its sweet time, as well as people I could learn to trust with again.
“Hey…,” the man I, at that point, was trying hard and unsuccessfully not to fall in love with, quietly whispered. It was sometime early morning, and I was lying on my couch, in my new, still barely furnished apartment.
I was crying uncontrollably.
I had just been reminded of your most terrible lie: that you loved me, unconditionally.
“You’re beautiful. And I love you.”
“Please don’t say that. I don’t want to hear any more lies. Please don’t lie to me,” my response came in ragged breaths, my entire body struggling to understand that this wasn’t a threat. This wasn’t a manipulation to get me to be quiet. This wasn’t you.
I wasn’t going to be told I’d need to change first, to deserve kindness.
“I’ll repeat it till you believe me,” he smiled quietly, stroking my hair. “Because it’s true.”
“You are beautiful. And I love you.”
It took an hour of whispered words, and gentle smiles to calm me down again.
It took me another few months to truly believe what I was hearing.
This wasn’t a lie.
This was real.
This run is different, because the energy comes from a very different place. The bike ride was a scream into the void, all that pain and sorrow looking for a place to go and finding north, only north, away from that place, away from the place that wasn’t home, away from a person who said he loved me, but acted so very, very differently.
The bike ride took me away from all that, and towards the person I could be when I was free.
This run is different. I don’t need to run. There’s nothing to run from. I simply want to.
I am free.
And when I am done running…
I have a home to return to.
Maxi listens quietly as I tell him my story, of the run, the bike ride, the break up… everything. I can’t see his face in the darkness of the tent. It’s past midnight – almost three hours past when I normally go to sleep these days. “If I may say so…” he says quietly into the dark: “You seem as if you’re doing a lot better now. Am I right?”
“Yes, I most certainly am,” I reply.
I’d been on my way past Bamberg when I received a message on Instagram. “Crazy run you got going, super inspiring! Wish I could join!” Signed: @its_makushi.
Perhaps one shouldn’t invite strangers that randomly text one on Instagram to a long run through Germany…
But I did.
“I’d love to join, but… it’s an hour to get to where you are by train, and I’ve only got 17 days left for my master thesis, and… I don’t…”
The sunshine is beautiful. The weather is finally getting better. But I do not like being cold, and suddenly an idea hits.
“How about this: You get on the train, come on over here, bring along a tent and then when thoughts of your master thesis are getting too stressful, you leave with the next train home.”
I don’t really expect him to say yes.
But he does.
“Oh, and I know you via Daniel, the one you ran with at the beginning!” Maxi adds. Well, it’s good to know that makes it less likely I’ve invited a complete stranger to my run.
When I see him – a huge grin on his face, as he swerves towards me on his bike, tent, sleeping bag and backpack precariously placed on his back – a few hours later, we quickly realize we had met before after all. “At the science communication conference!” So I won’t be sharing a tent with a total stranger, but at least with some sort of vague acquaintance.
“By the way, I’ve never wild camped before,” Maxi tells me sheepishly. I laugh. “Honestly, I sometimes forget how this isn’t normal for most people. Sometimes I’ll invite friends or family to go camping and then we get there and they’ll ask: where’s the campground? But I’ve forgotten that other people might campground…” I pat him on the shoulder. “Well, it’s an honor to get to teach you then.”
We set the tent a few meters into the woods, growing alongside the Main-Donau canal. I’m worried people taking their dogs for walks in the morning might see us, but the tent is dark green, and fits in well with the green shrubbery. Then I begin to cook food. Lentils, just like every night, but this night I’m trying to make it special: I’m adding a real onion. Maxi had also upon request brought a lemon and some tomatoes.
“I wasn’t expecting warm dinner, and now I even get something that just tastes great!” Maxi grins at me, sitting cross legged on his sleeping bag. “Well, I try my best for guests.” Especially if this is their first experience wild camping. I want to make it special after all.
We talk and talk and talk. The meandering flow of conversation carries on way past my bedtime, but it’s too interesting, too intense, too meaningful to stop. Eventually, we have to, as I realize I’ll barely have 6hours of sleep.
The next morning, he leaves early in the day, heading back to civilization, back to his thesis work. I run on along the canal, heading for Nürnberg.
I may have invited a stranger to join me on the run.
But I might have just gotten lucky and found myself a new friend.