It was a long walk from the cancer center to the bus stop. I didn’t mind though. It was much better for me that way. It gave me time to think and to get my emotions under control in the fresh air and open space before I had to deal with the closed confines and dirty smells of the bus back to Liverpool.
Like the bus, the ward Mum had been living on for four weeks had grown small and claustrophobic. It was like living in a tiny village where everyone knew everybody else’s business, where everything you did was observed, every word you spoke was overheard. I knew that it was grating on Mum, maybe even more than the cancer. It was certainly grating on me.
With each visit the walk back to the bus stop was growing shorter as my thoughts came faster. I was running out of time to find a calm place before I sat down on the bus, too close again to people I didn’t know, didn’t want to know and for no good reason found myself resenting. When calls came on my mobile during the journey I wouldn’t answer them, I didn’t want the other passengers to hear me talking, to know my business. I wanted to lock the world out.
It was all starting to pull me down: the ward, the bus, everything either side of them and everything in between.
Mum had been on the ward for about four weeks when I almost broke. I knew I was in trouble, that’s why I’d stopped at the coffee shop run by the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service on the way out. It meant catching a much later bus, but it gave me time. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the time, I couldn’t think straight anymore; I just knew I wasn’t ready for the bus.
When I finally started to walk an idea came into my head. I could skip the bus altogether and run back to Liverpool. Why should I put myself through that torture of invaded personal space and tedious back roads?
Not far from the hospital entrance there was a slip road onto the M53. The motorway led directly to the Queensway tunnel and from there it was a straight shot back into the heart of Liverpool. I was wearing my old running shoes; all I had to do was stuff my coat, jumper and bag into a bin and start running. The motorway would probably be pretty quiet at this time of day. If I stayed in the slow lane, traffic could just go around me. If it was really quiet though, I’d use the middle lane. I liked the idea of the symmetry, it would make it easier to unplug and switch off.
I stood next to the bin for what felt like a lifetime, my coat and jumper off, trying to decide what to do. The arrival of the rain almost sealed it. The light drizzle would make for perfect running conditions. I might even make it home.
But I couldn’t do it. The reality of what I was thinking was seeping through like the rain. This could easily result in death and if I didn’t end up in a coffin I’d certainly end up in a police car. I figured they would understand though. I’d be the poor guy whose Mum has cancer, who has Parkinson’s himself and who had, quite understandably, reached the end of his rope. The idea of sympathy and pity made me uncomfortable, the idea of displaying weakness frightened me and the reality of putting even more stress on Mum shamed me. But I still wanted to run, I wanted to be free. The feeling was almost overwhelming, almost…
It was still raining that evening when the bus dropped me in the city center. I went home, got changed and went straight out for a run. I ran 8.13 miles. It was the furthest I had ever run at that time, but it was still about two miles shy of the distance back from the hospital. Knowing that I wouldn’t have made it back didn’t bother me though, it had just felt good to head out into the darkness and run.
I know I did the right thing staying off the motorway, but sometimes I wish I’d done the wrong thing. I wonder if it would have been a complete disaster or a wonderful adventure or both or if it even matters.
Just for once I wish I’d let go and let it all fall apart. I often make mistakes, I often do foolish things to relieve the stress, but in smaller ways. This would have been freefall and I wonder if that would have been the real me shinning through or is this man who holds it all together the real me? Sometime I wonder who I really am…