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Saturday, July 5

Days Until Race: 120

Why I’m running (Part II):

I spent July 4th with my family in Rockport, 40 miles north of Boston on the tip of Cape Ann. But Hurricane Arthur delayed events one day. Town officials rescheduled the beach bonfire and Main Street Fireman’s Parade, and in neighboring Gloucester, where years ago fisherman aboard the Andrea Gail went up against a perfect storm and drowned, they cancelled fireworks. Friday morning the clouds hung low like overinflated water balloons. And, when finished taunting us, exploded. Then the rains came: cold, relentless, drilling into the pavement. We pretended like we cared, but didn’t. Insincere complaints of being housebound, now we can’t walk to town for fudge, this isn’t summer beach weather, what happened to the heat? But then we just moved everything outside, under the protected porch. Bottles of wine and bowls of clam chowder. Sweatshirts, blankets, socks. iPads and books and August’s elaborate train set, reassembled on the white picnic table. That night I slept with balcony doors open, the sky my own sound machine.

I remember Christmas vacations as kids in Turks and Caicos. We loved making fun of Club Med, where they didn’t believe in daylight savings so never turned back clocks. That meant it was one hour earlier at their resort than anywhere else on the island. A mini time warp, delineated by sand lines. On New Year’s Eve their fireworks mushroomed at 11:00 p.m., and beneath palm trees in the Coco Bistro garden we giggled after every pop. What a cult! They were living a lie, and crazier: They liked it. But when Rockport moved Independence Day to July 5th, it wasn’t funny. It was important, not illogical. And my parents celebrated with that unique lust only immigrants can muster.

Here’s my father: 31, absurdly young, married, living in a Bucharest apartment where the lights, heat and hot water are periodically shut off. No warning, no explanation, the length of time always indeterminate. I’m 2 years old, and he adores me. At night after a long, hard office day, he washes, boils and irons my cloth diapers. My mother feeds me, then stretches me belly down on his chest, where I bounce and burp. He has a dark brown mustache, and it always tickles my face, because he is always kissing me. He catches and collects those laugh sounds, many different samples, to retrieve when I am an adult and he is reminiscing.

My father is Catholic, which in communist Romania you are not allowed to be. So he goes to church secretly, in houses with unmarked doors. Prayers formed underground, all the more fervent because they’re buried. But one day there’s a knock at our door, bang, bang! Two Securitate officials, members of President Nicolae Ceaușescu’s secret police. They arrest my father. Beside him, my mother shakes. I watch her and shake too. Tug her skirt, what’s happening? Why are you crying? Where are they taking Tata? And what does my father do? He smiles. Kisses my mother’s mouth. Says, “I love you. See you tonight.” Like he’s off to work, or the market for more milk, which there isn’t any of either.

They take him to a very big building with uncountable rooms lining infinite long hallways. The doors to all the rooms are shut until one isn’t. The one you’re told to wait in. I know, because it happens again. And sometimes they take me and my mother, and sometimes pull me from her arms as I try with everything I am not to cry or scream, because then she’ll start screaming too. What I don’t know as a child and will only learn later is how many people suffer and die behind those doors. Thousands of people, but not my dad.

The Securitate says, “Why do you wish to leave Mother Romania?”

My father says, “How is it any of your business what I want or do not want to do?”

“Are you a Catholic?”


“Do you know that for this answer we could have you killed?”

My father laughs. Ha, ha. “If you could, you would have done it already.”

That bravery! Those balls! I want to be like him in some small way.

I ran nine miles on Saturday morning, following a path that snaked first along the ocean then spit me out on Main Street, where at 10:00 a.m. the mounting excitement was palpable. At twilight came the parade, and August shook at every fire truck, his body too small to hold so much happiness, shouting “One more, one more!” after each passed. Later, fireworks over the harbor. Not his first, but maybe the first he’ll remember. He called them “Rainbow, boom.” Not the same as what his mother, my 3-year-old sister, screamed at his age, but not so different from “Mini, pac, boom,” either. My father barbequed, like any good American dad. Except instead of burgers he made mititei, meat shaped like bullets rather than patties, mixed of ground lamb, beef and pork, and blended with his own secret spice concoction. Because he’s not just any other American dad. We wished each other happy Fourth of July, even though it wasn’t. Again and again we said it, clinking gin and tonic glasses. My mother led us in “God Bless America.” Her own hilarious version, since she can never remember lyrics. She sang:

                                               God bless America,

                                               Land of my home.

                                               Stay beside her, to protect her,

                                               When the light shines a light from above.

Never have I heard a more passionate rendition. She started sitting down, but bolted from her chair by the second line. Spine straight, eyes shiny, the fine hairs upright on her arms. Laura and I joined in, bellowing loudly, terribly, top of our lungs. Laughing our heads off.

Miles: 9

Time: 93 minutes

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