Running, Remembering – Memorial Day 2011

I woke up in my aunt’s apartment soaked in sweat. For some reason, her building is kept ridiculously warm, even when it’s warm outside. She lives in the Bronx, close to Van Cortlandt Park.

I stay with her just about every time I go to the city.

Mostly because she’s such a great hostess. 🙂

Also because she lives right across from the park, and it doesn’t always feel like the city (and because she’s such a great hostess).

Did I mention what a hostess my aunt can be?

This weekend, however, I’d begun my 6 week road trip to Alaska with a trip to Hartford, Connecticut for the CT Salsa fest and Sexy Bachata Weekender.

Hartford, CT is right by the city.

I’d returned from the festival earlier Sunday to spend the day with loved ones before driving to  the Last Frontier for the summer.

emergency wine drop

I’d spent Friday and Saturday squatting in the bachata DJ’s room on the extra couch.  I’d planned on sleeping in the rav4 on the first floor of the garage, but as it turns out, I ended up with a couch. 🙂

Brunch in the BronxSunday was spent having brunch in the park with my FAVORITE brunch partner, Kip, and one of my best friends (and fellow wounded vet), Merlin. There was sun, relaxation, amazing crepes (before the gluten free days), great coffee, and of course…wine.

It was a simple appreciation of relationships and our existence.

So, Monday – Memorial Day I woke up in my aunt’s house and, since I had the dogs with me, took them outside for a walk immediately after brushing my teeth and having a glass of water.  Happy as could be, they pranced to the elevator. They relentlessly sniffed the floor, corners, and walls of the rank metal box the entire way down to the first floor.

I’ve had Corky, my boy, since 2 days after I returned from Iraq in March 2005, when I was still in desperate need of hobbies. Seeing him happy is always an uplifting feeling for me. I love his happy puppy paw prance! (Yes, that’s what I Cute Jack Russell Terrierreally call it.)

We left the building and were met by sheer brilliance shining from a clear blue sky. It was an absolutely beautiful morning (even for the city!!!)

I couldn’t help but smile, it had rained the night before, and it seemed as if everything shone with a new, bright clean energy.  It even seemed to make the city smell clean!

We crossed the street to the park, where I went to take the pups for a trot.

When I approached, however, I realized it seemed as if there was a child’s track meet or something going on.

As I got closer, I decided it was an adult event.

I asked.

It was the Memorial Day Marathon and Half (or however many 6 1/2 mile laps you choose to make), and it would begin in 20 minutes. It was free, and I was invited to join.


I needed no other prompting. I encouraged the kids to do their business, then trotted with them back up to my aunt’s apartment, and explained apologetically that I needed to go run because I love to, I can, and others can’t.

The real question is not why, but why not.

She raised no objection, but simply encouraged me to enjoy.

That’s always the plan.

I trotted down to the race, as the Universe seemed to dictate I should.

It was a “fat ass race,” so no timing chips, no fees, no aid, no wimps. I was wearing my 10th MTN team running shorts, and a black tank top.

I grabbed two mini flags and used them to pull up my hair like chopsticks.

I tied an American Flag bandana around my wrist for sweat.

There was no gun start, we just began when they said GO.

No watch, no gps, no cares, just my sneakers, shorts, tank top, blue hair, and me.

I smiled.

I ran.

I decided from the beginning that since I was scheduled to pick up my friend (whom I was going to take with me on my road trip at least to LA) and head to Newport, RI that evening, I’d only do a half marathon.

13.1 isn’t such a bad number.

The “race” was particularly lonesome in a way.

A good way.

I smiled and greeted runners, but ultimately, in typical east coaster style, nobody really approached me for a conversation.

I enjoyed having the park, the earth, the trees, the race, my memories, and my thoughts to myself.

A lot of people took pictures of me that day.

I’ve yet to see one.

The ground was soggy from the previous night’s rain, and the sound of my body leaving a slight message of my presence on the earth was soothing.

Squish, squish, squish, squish.

I felt in tune with myself, where I’ve been, and those whom this world has lost.

I felt my blood surge, my lungs stretch, my arms drive.

I felt the familiar burn of exertion.

It’s a drug.

I ran in a state of euphoria.

I kept a silly grin on my face the entire way while I remembered.

I jumped into puddles when I could.

I remembered the 4 close calls I’d had in combat while simply running on the Forward Operating Base (FOB).

The shrapnel.

The rockets.

The motars.

The plunging fire.

I remember the explosion.200 lb IED - RG-33

The blood.

The screams.

I remembered the fire fights.

Rounds punching through the walls of the falling kulat.

GO GO GO! Sprinting from cover to cover, leaving survival slightly to chance. Hoping not to get an EMB.

Enemy’s Marksmanship Badge (I got one…oops).

3 rounds through my backpack.

Missing me, missing the two mortars in my bag.

The whites of his eyes. The hatred.

The barrel…

The flash.

morning afghanistan sillhouette

Shaking trying to sleep on top of a mountain, counting the minutes ’til sunrise.

I remembered it all.

I remembered my friend sobbing violently on my lap for hours after he tried to save men from a burning vehicle.

The same size/type vehicle I was in when we hit the IED. The same sized IED.

He couldn’t.

They burned alive inside, to the symphony of  cackling flames and .556 rounds popping.

I remembered.

I know their families remember.

Tears streamed down my face as I splashed sloppily through root strewn trails.

It must have looked ridiculous. Tears streaming, giant smile, an expression of pain and pleasure mixed with reverance and excitement.

A random burst of disbelieving yet hysterical laughter here and there at the world, myself, and war.

I smile because I lived.

I smile because I can run.

I smile because men and women like the ones I remembered, also lived.

I smile because I can.

Remember to take this day to remember.

Don’t forget to enjoy the day, celebrate life, but remember.







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2 Responses to Running, Remembering – Memorial Day 2011

  1. Glo May 27, 2013 at 11:00 AM #

    I will never forget while in this journey with you of all that you have gone through and now have become. As I reflect on this life and watch you continue on your journey I read on with a smile on my face i beleive that your dad would have extremely proud to see his daughter fight to live and win the fight. Rita, you can be knocked down and stay that way. Thank you for your service. Just don’t do it the same capacity again. Serve the people who are really in need.

    • Hurricane Rita May 28, 2013 at 8:29 PM #

      I’d never serve in that capacity again. Trying to justify taking someone’s life is not a game I want to play. Ever. Thank you for your kind words. They made me smile. I miss you. I miss dad.

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