Running: A Love Story
I ran amidst the chaos of being a new flight attendant. I ran to the point of exhaustion. I ran so I didn’t have to think about anything else.
I ran in strange places and put myself in danger. Wherever I traveled, I ran.
I ran in Arlington, Texas in 1995. It was a crisp December Sunday at the Lexington Suites, where my classmates and I lived for seven weeks so we could learn how to be flight attendants. Most of my fellow trainees were either nursing a hangover or studying procedures on how to save a passenger who has an in-flight medical emergency. My roommate and I kept discussing the repercussions of failing our upcoming test: we would be kicked out of training. Fired. No chance of becoming flight attendants. We’d gone in circles about how life wouldn’t be worth living if this happened. It was going to be another long Sunday.
My chest was tight and my jaw clenched when I bolted out of our motel room in my running shoes and leggings. I started trotting, Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” on my Walkman’s headphones. As I ran, my surroundings quickly changed as I freed myself from the hotel grounds.
I ran along the nearby Trinity River and could have given two shits about failing my stupid medical test or having to stare at my roommate’s miserable face. I thought, “I’m outside! I’m experiencing nature in the great state of Texas! I’m inhaling fresh air! I’m getting stronger!”
I ran for over an hour, which was apparently my limit, because my legs started to fatigue and I had to slow to a walk. But I had no idea where I was. I was still walking along the river, but in my exuberance I took so many twists and turns I’d lost track of how to get back.
So I walked in a direction that seemed logical. A creepy sensation overcame my endorphin high as I felt I was being watched. It was too deserted. Other than me, there was no one within eyeshot. Just the river, shrubs, cacti, and the brisk Texas afternoon air.
I got an intense workout without intending to. Despite my exhaustion, I forced myself to run another hour back, because I knew someone was watching me. Perhaps it was the ghost of Jason Eric Massey, a killer who murdered two teenagers in 1993 and put their remains in the Trinity River. Or maybe it was the ghost of a female murder victim whose body was never identified. Her remains were also found under the Trinity River Bridge in 1980.
I know, only a naïve, clueless girl runs alone in an unfamiliar place. A place where murderers are drawn to commit crimes and dispose of their victims’ body parts. Whether I was truly being followed, I have never before felt so defenseless. Luckily I was not a victim this time.
I ran in Huntsville, Alabama in 1996. I woke in San Francisco at 3am and worked a flight to Dallas-Ft. Worth, then on to Huntsville, Alabama. Huntsville: known for the NASA flight center museum and, uh, I still can’t tell you what else. The two other flight attendants on my trip invited me to go with them to the mall. As I’d spent all morning and afternoon working with them and was craving fresh air, I declined.
It was one of my first times in the deep South, so I was excited to explore its culture as I embarked on a run:
The manicured gardens around our hotel soon turn to pavement and mini malls after I have been running 20 minutes.
Cars drive by me as people crane their necks to gawk as if I’m the bearded woman at the carnival. I don’t get it. Am I that strange looking? I brush off the looky-loos and keep running, craving the high I will get if I keep going.
Then a large pick-up truck with a gun rack slows down and slowly drives alongside, then behind me. I glance back and all I can see is a lone man’s silhouette in the driver’s seat. I start walking, not wanting him to think I’m frightened. I tell myself he’s just pulled over due to car trouble or to look at a map. But he proceeds to follow me as I keep walking.
This doesn’t feel right. In fact, I am scared shitless. I take a right at the next intersection and run, quickly, back in the direction of my hotel. As I’m running, the sky opens up and torrential rain blinds me so I can’t run anymore. Perhaps this is a good thing, however, because the guy in the pickup truck either can’t see me through the deluge or has given up.
I duck under a roof to wait out the rain. I feel so alone, so exhausted, and so scared I start to cry, my tears surging like the downpour. So much for an endorphin and fresh air high.
The rain does not let up. I make it back to my hotel, drenched, as night falls. I shower, lie under the covers, and cry myself to sleep. I realize that no matter how active I keep myself, I hate my life.
I ran in Durham, North Carolina in 1998: Our layover hotel is located near Duke University, in a woodsy, remote area. We land at 1:00 in the afternoon and are not scheduled to leave until 9:00 the next morning. Most of my crew decides to go to the bar to drink, as there is not much else to do. I, however, feel like I’ve won the lottery: I love running in the woods.
About ½ mile from the hotel, a twenty-something man starts following me. I again use my tactic of slowing to a walk, to make my perpetrator think I am not afraid of him. Once I start walking, he grabs a two-foot branch from the ground and walks three feet behind me, pointing the branch in my direction. Again, cars drive by, the passengers craning their necks but not slowing to help.
I notice an apartment complex down the street, so I walk into its courtyard as if it is my home. The guy tries to follow me, but disappears into the surrounding bushes, realizing I must live here. I’m shaking, and am too petrified to continue walking the remaining quarter-mile to my hotel, as my stalker might be hiding in the woods.
As I’m standing in the complex’s courtyard, contemplating what to do, a toothless man who looks like a character from the movie “Deliverance” approaches me. Immediately, he says, “That boy has been giving girls trouble for a long time. Some sexy lady was laying out by our pool and he came and touched her.”
“Really? Did he hurt her?”
“No. She screamed and I called the police. You should have seen her boobies bounce around in her swimming suit as she ran up to her apartment.”
He stares at my legs, as I am wearing shorts, and says, “You shouldn’t be walking around a place like this dressed like that…”
He keeps staring at my legs. Silence.
I sprint back to my hotel like Forrest Gump, not sure of who I’m more frightened of: the guy who was chasing me with a stick, or the man who warned me about him.
I ran to keep my sanity. If I hadn’t run when I traveled, I’d surely have been safer.
There’s a fine line between crazy and rational. I’m still trying to figure out where I am on that continuum, but running, albeit all its risks, has kept me this side of sane.