I clean the coagulated toothpaste-saliva-gunk that accumulates at the bottom of the toothbrush container with a soapy sponge. I occasionally rinse the container out to gauge the progress that the soap obscures. I’m almost there. Just a couple of more wipes from the sponge and I’ll be done. I remind myself to throw the sponge out afterward so that I can have a clean one for the dishes later. I rinse out the water container from my c-pap machine and look up at the clock on the oven. It’s 8:20am. I’m running late. Have to get the groceries and drop them off at my dad’s and then exercise. It’s uphill 100-yard sprints day. I have to do them. I felt too ill to do them yesterday so I have to do them today. It’s a duty. The kind that helps prevent heart-attacks and high blood pressure.
I drop the groceries off in my dad’s kitchen, go into the rotting moldy bathroom and apply sunscreen to my face and neck. I walk back into the kitchen and fill up two 24-ounce plastic cups with water, walk out the front door and set them in the drive-way in the shade along with an old raggedy gym towel. I feel nothing. Neither dread nor excitement. It’s the next thing to do. Like cleaning the gunk from the toothbrush container. I walk down the hill to begin my sprints.
By my second sprint my lungs feel like they are on fire and my left knee is throbbing. I can tell it’s going to be a slog. Three. Four. Five….Ten…Thirteen. Large gulps of water in-between. Groin and hips and lower abs are sore. The sun is burning my forehead. Just do the next one. It’s next thing to do. There’s always a next thing to do.
I hear applause as I position myself to run up the hill for number fourteen. The sun is in my face and I cannot discern the source of the applause until a middle-aged woman emerges from her driveway. She says she sees me doing the sprints from time-to-time and can’t believe I can run up the hill. “People don’t realize how hard it is to go up a steep hill like that”. I feel slightly annoyed but I recognize that there is a human being in front of me and that they are being supportive, friendly and conversational. I leave my body completely (it’s debatable how much I was there to begin with) in order to fulfill my duty as a “decent” human being. I don’t remember everything I said. Knowing myself I’m sure I humbly deflected the compliments and did my best to hide that I would rather not be speaking with her (not her specifically, but anyone really). Finally she leaves for her walk and I finish my last two sprints. I think back and imagine what an honest conversation would have looked like:
“Wow, I’m so impressed watching you run up the hill. People don’t realize how hard it is to go up a steep hill like that.”
“How do you do that?”
“I know that you’re impressed because I’m large but I have learned over time to accept these back-handed compliments as…compliments. I do it because it’s the next thing to do. It’s no different from wiping a shit-stained toilet or a cleaning a greasy pan. I do it because it’s the next thing on the list. I’m able to do it because I’m no stranger to emotional pain. I’ve felt so much pain inside that I’ve learned to bear a lot of pain in my body. I can will myself through almost anything. Well…most of the time. I couldn’t yesterday. I’ve gotten better at discerning pain from injury though. So please don’t worry about me. So yeah…that’s pretty much how I do it.”
I sit down on a shady patch of the curb in front of the house panting like an old dog. I towel off and I gulp my water. I feel no thirst but I am aware that if I don’t drink the 48 ounces that I could feel ill later from dehydration. Another duty. Another gulp. I finish off the water. Check. I did one more sprint today than last time. It was the next thing to do.
My father asks me if I’m hungry and I say I am even though I don’t feel it (it’s my duty to eat protein after I exercise in much the same way it is to drink water). He scrambles me up five eggs and heats up two corn tortillas. I devour them within two minutes and flip through my phone. Neil Gaiman says he thinks Netflix’s adaptation of “Sandman” is going to be good. Hmm. Maybe. I doubt it.
I go into the garage. I left my clothes in the dryer yesterday and I begin to fold them on the washing machine. I sigh. I lay the clothes gently in the laundry hamper and think about the rest of my day and how there is nothing I want. Nothing I desire. There is only the next thing.