Hands in the leaves, briers scraping my arms, tears streaming down my sweaty face: “I just gotta get to the road.” The scene was all too familiar. Here I was, broken yet again, alone as usual, and crawling through the woods on hands and knees. Completely taken out by one tiny root, and one tiny ankle.
“WHY… WHY…. WHY….” I demanded out loud.
I knew right after I hit the ground that it was bad. I dared a glance down to see my ankle, which was now tripled in size and a funny shade of blue. I wouldn’t be able to walk the two miles back to my car, so I began crawling towards a road less than half a mile away. After a messy, painful, and pathetic crawl, I finally reached the road and waved down a car. Luckily, a nice old couple opened their doors to me instead of a serial killer, and I hopped inside and did my best not to cry for Mama.
I don’t know what I was more pissed about… the pain, or the fact that this exact situation had already happened–not once–but twice already over the summer. I had only been training for a month this time following a 10 week break from the last injuries. In all of my years I’ve spent trail running, I’ve dealt with some pretty intense and almost deadly injuries, but never with ankles. I’ve always prided myself in being able to “hop it off”, a preventative method good trail runners take to avoid landing a bad twist. But shoot, this summer, somebody or something just wanted me out of the dang woods. All I did each time was catch a tiny root with lazy footing, and my ankles were never the same.
After I finally made it home, grabbed the crutches that were still there from the last time, and hobbled into my bed… I couldn’t help but just cry. Dan was out of town, the kids were at school. I was all alone. And man, I just felt so defeated. Actually, let me dig deeper there…. I was sick of feeling so defeated. Just sick of it. Sick to my stomach almost. Over the past three years or so, it’s just been injury after crazy injury. For every two steps forward, something would happen and its fifty freakin’ steps back.
So, you know, I threw a few remotes, and maybe a cell phone at a wall or two, grabbed a pillow and just laid into it. Enough is enough. I cried for a few hours straight. I cried so long, I cried myself to sleep.
But suddenly, everything changed with a gentle shake. I peeled the covers off of my head, wiped my eyes, and looked up through tears at the person standing over me, “….Dad?”
In a perfect world, a girl’s dad would be just the person to see in such a situation. Yet, I’ve never found that perfect world. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nothing like you’re probably thinking. My dad is a great dad. He’s never been anything but a loving, caring, and providing father to me and my siblings. But over the past decade or so, despite the fact that we live just miles from each other, we’ve more than grown apart; enough to the point that an uncomfortable awkwardness finally settled into the silence between us.
“How you doin’ baby?” he said quietly, standing a few feet away from my bed. “Mom said you hurt your ankle again. I just wanted to check on you.”
I was already such a wreck. No doubt mascara was plastering my cheeks. I knew there was no point in trying to hold it all together. So, I didn’t say anything. I just cried.
“It’s so stupid, Dad.” I finally mustered up between sobs, “It’s just a freakin’ ankle. I don’t know why I can’t hold myself together.”
“You’ll be fine, Honey. You’re tough. You just need some time to heal. But something good will come out of this, I’m sure. It always does.”
I didn’t respond. I didn’t know how to. It was no longer about my ankle. Him being there–it changed everything.
He watched me for a moment, seemingly unsure of his place or what to do next.
I don’t know when it happened, when we got to this distant place.
We were so extremely close when I was a girl. Dad gave me my love for music, creativity, trails, and anything and everything in the great outdoors. He taught me discipline and strength and introduced me to God.
But I think somewhere between my reckless youth, and the lack of me reaching my womanly potential as an adult, I must have broken my dad’s heart. I let him down somehow, and I’ve never known exactly why. Maybe it was because I was married so young, perhaps he felt like he simply wasn’t needed anymore. Maybe it’s because I was the one carbon copy of his image out of six kids, that he expected more out of me. Whatever it was then, had us at this place now: a dad and a daughter caught between two worlds of memories and maybes.
And since he also gave me his stubbornness, I waited to see how he was going to react.
And he waited right back.
What I wanted and needed so badly was for him to just pick me up and hold me like a kid. To let me just cry in his arms, and for him to tell me it was going to be okay. Because in that moment, I didn’t need anyone else. I didn’t need my husband. Not my mom, I didn’t need my sisters or friends for shoulders to cry on. I just needed my dad.
But I didn’t want him if he wasn’t willing to shatter walls to get to me, so I didn’t budge…
…but he took that step. He came to me and locked me into a deep embrace. Full of love and maybe a pinch of regret.
“Aww baby girl…” he said with tears in his eyes. “Everything’s going to be okay.”
“Daddy…” I cried, “Thank you. Thank you.”
And we just stayed there like that for so long, all awkwardness gone. He grabbed my hand and knelt down beside my bed.
“Gah… Dad I’ve missed you…So much.”
“I’ve missed you too, baby,” he said while wiping the tears from my eyes.
Dad sat with me for a couple of hours, never letting go of my hand, and he let me pour my heart out–about anything and everything I could think of. I asked him for advice. I apologized for mistakes. We talked about how fast my kids are growing. We talked about camping, mountains, and fishing. We laughed about failures, and cried about some pain. We talked about it all, but not once, did we talk about my ankle. …I had forgotten about it.
After awhile, afternoon came, and it was time for someone to go get my kids from school. Dad fetched a new ice pack, some pillows, and pain meds to keep me comfortable for the next few hours alone. “Mom and I will take the kids to our house. You just stay here and rest that ankle. I’ll be back to check on you.”
“Hey, Dad,” I said, as he walked out. “Thank you for being here. I needed this.”
“I’ll always be here for you, Ash, whether you feel it or not. Let’s not ever go a day without speaking again.”
I agreed and we smiled at one another, and then he walked out of the room. I looked down at my swollen ankle again, and finally–finally–it all made sense.
“So that’s why you wanted me off of the trails.” I said quietly, looking towards Heaven…..”Thanks.”