If you scan many bucket lists, you might find the words “run a marathon” on them. I do not delude myself to include it on mine particularly after a chat with the Mister reminded me that the original marathoner died after his 26.2. No thanks.
I will happily cheer on my cousin Jacqueline as she continues setting higher running goals. I give high fives to my sister-in-law, the tri-athlete, after her most recent coup and celebrate with my father-in-law after he does his yearly century 100 mile bike ride. I can appreciate setting goals, training for them and then the rigorous head game of the actual event. I revel in clanging bells from the sidelines like when I saw my friend Susan cycling past on the day she became a tri-athlete. I’m a good cheerleader.
The first time I met Todd, I quickly knew I wanted to be friends with him and that was before I knew about his incredible musicianship and love of karaoke. His puckish expressions, mischievous sparkle in bright blue eyes and black studs piercing his earlobes were unforgettable. We met at the Living Room coffee house among street kid friends we hung out with every Friday night. Sometimes Todd would bring a portable cribbage set and play but most of the time he engaged the kids in conversation and was known for being a good listener. His intention with and deep love for people resonated.
We lost touch when he moved up to Seattle to play in a band and continue his songwriting. Our mutual friends Pam and Darren would keep me up to date with his latest exploits and so I knew my friend Todd was working at a coffee shop, playing music and also battling his bi-polar condition. What started out as a brief malaise, spiraled down as he turned to alcohol to self-medicate. We learned from his friends later that he had stopped socializing with them and had begun keeping to himself.
I was chopping beets in a different kitchen than the one I am chopping them now when I received the call. I remember Pam’s voice, struggling to utter the un-utterable statement and in between wracking sobs to tell me that Todd – killed – himself. I dropped the knife and held a gulp in the deep of my throat like trying to swallow down a titanic of emotion. We spent long minutes in silence and tried to deduct what had happened. I remember hanging up and looking down at my hands, stained magenta from the beets and thinking how inappropriate dinner all of a sudden seemed.
Darren gave a eulogy at his funeral and brought back stories from talking with Todd’s Seattle friends and a DVD of the service. Several months later, I met Todd’s parents, Connie and Rex for the first time. We swapped stories over coffee and cried and hugged it out. Months later, the death of their only child was a fresh wound.
Several months later, while waiting for the bus, I saw an advertisement that quickened my pulse. It read “Out of the Darkness” and described an overnight walk benefiting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I pulled out my mobile phone and punched in the numbers to Pam and Darren’s house. The words tumbled out like a charge, they rushed out like swimmers beginning their tread into open water. This non-marathon runner committed to walking 18 miles, the furthest distance I’d ever walked, 18 miles of the city of San Francisco from sun down to sun up.
This is where we began.
We assembled a team and began raising support for our walk. Every Saturday I moseyed down to Ocean Beach where other Out of the Dark walkers would meet to train and walk the distance of Ocean Beach to Lake Merced. In the beginning the walking was slow going and like with any other thing, involved all those small steps to build up to the big event. Our walking coach herself was bipolar and had walked many other Out of the Darkness events. We talked about Todd and her compassion ministered to me. She charged ahead with the faster walkers and then backed up to chat with slower walkers, ahem, met Her enthusiastic persistence made quicker work of 10 miles.
The evening of the big walk, we met up at a noodle joint in the Marina to tackle a big bowl of noodles as the beginning of our food fuel for the nightlong walk. In Crissy field, we proudly wore t-shirts emblazoned with one of our favorite photos of Todd’s mug, smiling out, friendly, a lover of people. I cried as a survivor told his tale of jumping off the Golden Gate bridge and living to tell the tale. I missed my friend just as Pam, Darren and Keoke missed him, and we walked for Rex and Connie as much as we did for their son. We, the living, set out to honor the living and the dead. We walked in solidarity. As the darkness settled above us, we began the slow walk of remembrance weaving our way through the Presidio and then into the Richmond. We found succor in talking with the family members and friends walking on behalf of someone else. We walked through the Sunset and through the Haight and north of the Panhandle. I’d never seen the Financial District so quiet and empty. In our numbers, we walked safely and sometimes in silence mulling over why we were walking. By the time we made it to North Beach, I could feel the growing blister forming on my right big toe. We stopped so I could bandage up my toe and then keep walking.
Even though it hurt to walk on, on we pressed.
As we neared Crissy Field once again, we caught sight of a lit up path woven between small paper bags with tea light candles inside. Each of us stopped to write our message, a message to the person we were walking for, on a bag. Inside, we lit a candle, illuminating the message before walking forward past the pathway, back to the staging area where our walk would draw to its final conclusion. The sunrise over the Golden Gate bridge encountered early morning fog and the seagulls had begun to wake up and circle the sky around us.
Eighteen miles was never something I thought I would tackle. For friendship and for love, wouldn’t most of us walk to the moon and back if we could?
Sometimes, certain foods bring back memories. Those food memories make us human. They remind us of what matters in the most mundane and most important acts: breaking bread at the table with people we love. And so as I make this Roasted Beet, Fennel and Rocket salad, I think of Todd and find myself grateful for the time we had and a bit wistful in wishing there just might have been more of it.