I took the same road home for 21 years.
I am still washed over with a sense of relief as I think about the left I have to make to pull onto my well-known back road, and how it makes me breathe easy to relax back into the comfort of my small town.
It’s beautiful. Four miles of asphalt, full of trees, and lined by the unique style of homes that seem to clutter Southern Maryland.
In the autumn it glows with red, orange, and yellow tones that make you want to live in your hometown for your whole life.
It’s the road where the elementary school I went to is standing. The road I walked home on when I realized I had missed the bus. The road where I went the exact speed limit the first month I had my license, and then at least ten miles per hour over every month thereafter.
But, more importantly, it’s the road that carried me through years of growing up and the runs that celebrated accomplishments, flushed out anger, mended broken hearts, and soothed my soul.
I had never though of it all in such a nostalgic way until recently. My best friend and I were talking about where we were originally from, attempting to mentally escape the never-ending New York snow, over coffee. She was telling me about her hometown in Arizona, and describing all the places where she spent her time or that were special to her.
And it sparked a sense of homesickness. A homesickness that was accompanied with a longing to lace up my shoes and step towards the familiar flashing school zone marker that lies just beyond my street sign.
The landmarks, and how the stretches of road between them add up in mileage, are still fresh in my mind after years of “creating” loops specifically for that road.
And as the years passed, I had to get creative in making my four-mile road span six, ten, even fifteen miles.
I remember the first time I tried running from the entrance of my neighborhood to the bowling alley, only a mile away.
It was awful.
But that was just the beginning.
The front of my neighborhood soon became the start and finish line of every run, and those runs added up.
Slowly but surely I transformed from someone who couldn’t handle a one-mile run to someone who was training for distance races. I still reminisce looping the road enough times to complete my first ever eleven miler. When I crossed the “finish line,” I felt like the Queen of the World.
I was energized.
The road became home, and every run more memories were made.
Eventually, my brother became my most frequent running partner. And we would wake up at ungodly hours, to go run in the pitch black. I still pout thinking of how I was always forced to run on the inside, protected, from the cars that whizzed by us, even though my brother was younger than me.
Or the time I kept running… for weeks, knowing my foot was in shambles, but too stubborn to see a doctor. I would come home with sweat still glistening, and sink my left foot into ice telling myself tomorrow I would finally make an appointment.
I miss the feeling of satisfaction that came from slapping the road signs at either end of the four mile stretch before turning around to head back towards home, accomplished.
I ran that road when it was cold, when it was humid, when I was fourteen, when I was twenty one, when I was in high school, when I was in college, when I was out of shape, when I was in shape, when I was lost, and when I was found.
I hated every inch of that road one summer, and the next I was anticipating the early morning hour when I could sit on the front step lacing up my worn out sneakers, preparing to run on my favorite stretch of shoulder.
And just like that road, I think of my childhood home. There it is. A structure of familiarity, comfort, memories, and growth. A place where I went through highs and lows to become who I am today. Only to leave, not ever realizing until the years have passed and the new chapters began, how precious and fleeting all those moments were.
Because now I am running on a different road.
A road longer than the effortless four miles I took for granted.
Back at the “starting line” trying to figure out the distance between all of the different landmarks that lie ahead.
A road that isn’t familiar.
A road that doesn’t have memories attached to it, yet.