For A Friend


About eight years ago, I went out for my usual morning run in the neighborhood.  It was December, around six thirty in the morning, so although it was light, the sun wasn’t all the way up.  I was about a half mile from the house, on a route I ran all the time.  My mind was on the upcoming Christmas holiday, and I was really enjoying myself because I got to look at all the Christmas decorations my neighbors put out.  It was a crisp morning, just chilly enough to be able to see my breath, but certainly not a bitter cold.

I heard a bicycle coming up behind me and I smiled.  There he was.  He’d changed his mind.  I’d given my husband a bicycle for our anniversary a few months before and he’d taken to riding with me on some of my morning runs.  I’d asked him earlier if he wanted to come along, but he’d said no, he’d pass this time around.  But, it wasn’t him.  I turned my head to look over my shoulder, and before I had time to react in anyway, I was knocked to the ground.  I was being attacked.  It was horrifying, and I didn’t know what was going to happen.  Luckily for me, this person only wanted money.

After that incident, I lost my confidence in feeling safe when running by myself.  My schedule and my husband’s didn’t always coincide, and he could only ride with me now and then.   After years of running alone, all over the US, this thing that happened in my little town of less than 25000, was what stripped away my independence, my confidence to go out on my own and do the thing I loved.

Fast forward a few weeks later, to one evening when I receive a phone call from a friend.  “David” wanted to start running.  Would I be interested in training him?  It was an answer to a prayer.  David at 6′ 3″ and about 200 lbs is a big guy.  Used to play football.  Did I say big guy?

At first, we met three times a week and as he got more acclimated to running, we added another day.  We ran in the rain, on trails, in the dark with only the moon to show us potholes (that was kinda dumb), but no matter what, unless something unexpected cropped up, I could expect him at the end of my drive, with a deep, solid “Good Morning!” and off we’d go.   We talked about his business, my kitchen renovation, the kids, school, my job at Nortel, and a host of other topics.  My confidence returned, and on the days when David couldn’t run, I, once again, felt comfortable enough to go it alone.  We ran together for three years, and then one day, David said, “I think I might take a hiatus.”  And just like that, my days with my running partner came to an end.  I’ve always suspected David did it out of kindness, out of knowing my fear to run alone.  And he wanted to run, it was a win/win situation for both of us.

It’s been five years, and now, David can’t run.  A mysterious ailment is plaguing him, making it hard for him to walk because his right leg isn’t functioning.  He has foot drop, (the inability to lift his foot) which is key to walking properly.  His family’s greatest fear may become a reality.  We learned of his trouble when my husband spent some time working with him on a big project David’s company had going on.  He noticed David having trouble walking.  He asked him what was wrong.  He said, “We don’t know,” and in typical David fashion, that was it.  We saw them this past weekend, and I asked his wife if MS had been ruled out. She said, “yes,” and it was like a gut punch.  Because…, me, being how I am, I had been doing the Dr. Google thing and there is one other disease that has similar symptoms, and that’s ALS.

There isn’t a specific test for this, it’s more about eliminating all other potential neurological diseases.  He’s been going through testing for months, and the elimination of each one, sends them closer and closer to this devastating illness.  If it is this, it is a death sentence.  I can hardly imagine it, not only for his family, his wife, his two children, one at university and the other a senior in high school, but for all of us here, in this tight knit small town.  And then, there were those three years when we were running, when David was a picture of health.  He went to the doctor one day and told me the doctor said, “Keep running.  This is the best checkup you’ve ever had.”

I am sharing this because this is what writers do, when something is bothering us,  we write about it.  It’s an outlet, a way to get feelings out, when speaking the words is too difficult, too heartbreaking.  When I go on my run this morning, I’d like to think there will be the sense of his presence beside me, a shadow of my buddy, and if I listen carefully, I hope to hear the beat of his footsteps just to my right, even if it’s just in my memory.

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12 Comments

Just this morning they did a piece on GMA, twelve people on a train in San Francisco, heads down using cell phones an Ipads never saw a guy waving a gun and eventually shooting a young man. Heads up everyone, be aware of of what’s going on around you. Your attack is frightening. I don’t think I’d ever step outside again.

My heart goes out to David and his family. Two members of our family, had ALS. My husbands cousin went down hill very quickly, my cousin lived over twenty-five years, VERY compromised. He LOVED each and every day he had. It is so sad, ALS is terrible. My heart goes out to you.

As we get older friends and family diminish. I guess it’s the way of life but it stinks. It absolutely breaks my heart when someone in their prime is hit with the reality of mortality.
It makes me aware everyday of how lucky I am to be vertical and smiling.
You run for for David, I’ll walk for my cousin Arthur.
I’ll be thinking a lot about them and you today.

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    Yes, heads up, awareness is key in this day and age!

    ALS is very strange from what I’ve read and the two people you know who had it points to exactly that. I’d even read where a very small percentage of people had symptoms reverse – it acts differently with everyone. Of course, it’s not confirmed yet either…but….I’m not sure there’s much hope left for something else to crop up out of his symptoms. My husband’s family suffers from CMT (Charcot Marie Tooth)…including his mother, his brother, and our two young nephews. His older brother had it too. He became addicted to pain killers and took his life. His sister has MS and is in a wheelchair…so to your point, we are very fortunate to be upright, healthy. We are reminded of their struggles each and every day, and when we hear of someone, like David who is only 50…and potentially having to confront his own mortality so soon, it’s only another reminder that good health is the most precious gift we have.

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Wow. So sorry about your friend and your story about being attacked really got to me. I used to walk alone at a park and often there were long, tree-lined stretches where nobody was around. Someone could have easily been hiding in the trees. I think back to that and shudder. Today I have my treadmill…I take my dog down to the mailbox every day but it’s fairly close. I’d love to live in a gated community with sidewalks for that reason…but even that, I suppose, could be unsafe. We had an incident where a guy in a very exclusive gated community here in Nashville went crazy and murdered his family.

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    I think the main thing I learned, you can never predict where someone who wants to do harm will cross your path. You can never know when someone will go off their rocker and do something like that guy in NVL. It’s weird, b/c if I could put up a picture of where I was attacked, everyone’s jaw would drop. Just picture a normal, neighborhood street. The guy must have been desperate. And the park where you walked – yeah, that did sound like a prime location…you were lucky!

    The main thing I do…I never run the same route anymore. I stay really in tune with my surroundings. I’ve never run with an iPod, so I didn’t have to correct that, but this guy still snuck up behind me, so, now, I even look over my shoulder occasionally, just in case.

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I felt myself tightening up reading this, Donna.

What a beautiful, heartfelt, amazing, hopeful piece.

I am thinking of you. I am praying for you and David this very moment. Xx

Keep writing. Words have saved me….

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    Thank you IC…funny how easy yet hard this piece was to write. Easy in that I knew what I wanted to say and it all came, fast and furious, hard because I don’t want it to be this way. Thank you for your prayers.

    After reading some of your stuff, it is clear that your words are healing. To me, they would be for anyone who has lost like that. Your sister was beautiful, and now your words to everyone about her keeps her ever present, and beautiful still. XXX

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I’m glad you were able to get back up and going! And that’s sad news about your friend. My coworker’s brother was diagnosed with ALS this year and he’s gone downhill fast since. Very sad.

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    It’s very sad, you’re right…David has evidently gone downhill pretty quick too. People were talking Sat night about the fact he looked frail – this once big guy. I didn’t notice b/c he was sitting down…but he was definitely not himself. I hope it’s not ALS, but it seems they’ve eliminated everything else.

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I was horrified by your account of the attack on you, but even more so by the story of what has happened to your friend. How is it that the nicest people get struck down in this way?

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    Ducks, I don’t know. While I wrote this, it brought it all back like it was yesterday, from the attack to the hundreds of runs we did, all the fun we had, the laughing and sharing, and now this. I am hoping I can post something that will be good news, but when I saw him Saturday night, it was apparent, whatever this is, is taking him away, bit by bit. And you are right, he is one of the nicest people we know.

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Donna,
What a great piece. Is it based on reality.. or is it fiction?

Shane

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    Thank you Shane… long lost Canadian buddy. How are you??

    This is all real. Every bit. There is no fiction on my blog…unless I pop in an excerpt, but I usually highlight when I do that. Sad story here. Makes me teary eyed.

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