Floriane T. Taruc

“Grief wrapped around her, eating at her heart.”
Homer, The Odyssey

I set out into the breaking dawn with sprightly strides, swinging my arms parallel to my torso as I breathed in remnants of the moon’s essence. It had rained the night before and dew rested on every leaf and blade of grass my bare legs brushed on, dampening my socks early on into the run. My lungs burned and my muscles ached with every step. Somehow, I convinced myself that pain was good; pain was necessary. I pushed forward, afraid that slowing down would cost me another run.

The highway was empty save for the few neighborhood dogs and flickering street lights as I darted past homes still lulled by sleep. I could see orange streaks of light beginning to form in the horizon, though heavy rain clouds made them appear more red, as if a shadow enveloped the rising sun. Ominous, I thought. I felt a rising sense of dread creep inside me, making me turn my head to see if I was being followed. No one. A dog barked.

I was running along my usual route. I was to hit the kilometer mark near the statue of a siren, then I would pass by a green beachfront mansion and turn left, where I would go on for another kilometer before crossing a bridge built over an inlet. It was neither the flatness nor the straightness of the road that drew me to this route, but the blue Pacific shoreline stretching as far as the eye could see. Waves crashing against the earth drowned out my deafening thoughts, much like being underwater, so that all I could focus on was my lungs’ desperate plea for air and the sweat trickling down all over my body. No expectations—just a constant flowing and ebbing, waves coming and going.

By the time my tracking application announced that I had reached three kilometers, I was certain it was going to rain. My body felt the wind’s force attempting to outbalance me as I

dashed past a bent coconut tree. I made a quick glance, a passing hello, before facing forward and moving on. There will be more coconuts along the way; I needed not look back.

For as long as I could remember, I hadn’t been able to sit still. This is the reason why I loved running: I had always wanted to be somewhere else other than where I was. I liked motion and change. I viewed life as a constant forward-step with certain stops until you reach the finish line. I felt untethered, always searching for the next big thing, the next goal, or the next person. Within me existed a perpetually unfulfilled void that left me unsatisfied with everything that came and went. My plan had always been to leave my hometown, never to return, so that I could find anywhere, anything, and anyone.

When the opportunity to study in a faraway city presented itself, I took it with outstretched hands. I lusted the unfamiliar; I enjoyed the foreignness of every obscure street I ran in. I had the opportunity to reinvent myself around new people and exercise my own faculties. The cloudless skies of Los Baños provided me with the freedom I so badly craved—then the pandemic happened.

The first thing you learn about running, I would say, is that it is a mental sport as much as a physical one. Anyone with legs could start running, but not everyone could endure another ten, or twenty, or forty more minutes, let alone an hour. Running necessitates patience: patience with oneself, patience with pain, and patience with the world. Meanwhile, the first thing you learn about freedom is how easily it is lost.

I moved back to the modest town I swore I would abandon. For a while, the days felt the same: wake up, eat, get some work done, sleep, repeat. I was closer to purgatory than hell—an aimless existence. Luckily, the town’s obscurity allowed me to indulge in running. I ran almost daily, pushing myself to endure one minute after the other and gritting my teeth when the hurt throbs, until I went from struggling at three to repeating ten kilometers. Today was my first attempt at fifteen.

I began to pick up speed despite every fiber in my being protesting against it.

It had already been two years since the onset of the pandemic. Restrictions had been eased up and I was free to go, but I did not wish to leave anymore. I had grown to love the world for what it was and not what I wanted it to be. I no longer needed to be something somewhere, because I was no longer absorbed by my arrogance to find my purpose. I could simply exist; I was part of the universe. I was as present as the ocean,

The second thing you learn about running is that you will not finish unless you continue—and endure. I had been running for an hour already when the storm broke. Rain against my skin felt cold, but I could feel a void licked by fire.