Normally, streams of sunshine pour through the capes of leaves that hang from the trees, but tonight, all I could see were their branches, curling out like witch’s fingers. At my insistence, the ruca and I went for a jog after work, except we waited a little too late. The last rays of twilight had flickered away, and the innocent beauties of day felt tainted by the inability to see them at night. Instead, I noticed all the eerie nuances of night-life that thrived on Bernal Hill: cobwebs drooled across street signs; scampers in the bushes kept me on alert; sticks crackled, and dirt kicked up at our feet like puffs of smoke.
We sprinted up the last staircase that leads to the top of the hill where we run one arduous lap. I led the way since I have the keen eyesight of a cat (compensation, probably, for my hearing that’s gone to shit), and I scanned the bushes rigorously, searching for anything unordinary that might jump out at us. Checking back on the ruca, only a few steps behind, a dull flicker hazed her eyes instead of the warm connection I’ve come to love and need from her. I felt that familiar throb inside me that had been tender all week, but I ignored it. If I kept running, it would all disappear eventually, right? The strain of my lungs would exhaust, and start anew without even a trace of memory to mark that pain. Then everything would go back to how it was…wouldn’t it?
The hill itself was dark, as if someone had blown a candle out in the room, but the lights of the city spewed out in front of us. I like to consider this picturesque view my prize for actually making it to the top without passing out, but tonight, a completely different panorama played out before me. The Bay Bridge lit up magnificently, shooting land to land across the water, which was dotted with several lights that bobbed on the bay. The usual sparks of sound that flare up the city had dimmed to nothing more than a distant hum beneath us. On the hill, few people remained, their faces blurred in the blackness as they made their ways home. Some whistled out to their dogs who’d tangled themselves in trails of the hill, others packed up their wine bottles from their sunset picnic, and a pack of high school kids shuffled away, their 4:20 session now long gone.
Continuing on, we breezed easily downhill and through the streets. We neared the last stretch uphill that circles back to the staircases we came from. I usually love this desolate trek, so close to the finish line, but tonight the cautionary whoo-whoo of owls took on the voice of my two angry parents yelling at me in my head: “Why would you go running at night?! What were you thinking? Where is your common sense?!”
Suddenly, the ruca called out to me, her voice a cracked yelp. “Wait!” she gasped, a desperate hunt for her breath. “Wait!”
“Need a breather?” I halted, not thrilled about her timing.
“I…I have something to… to tell you,” she huffed.
She approached me, the glisten of sweat shiny on her face.
“I…I’m still upset with you. From our fight last week. I’m just…I’m still hurt.”
I let my lungs exhaust too. Just the mention of the fight swallowed me back to the scene, forgetting the trepidation that, a moment ago, had prickled my skin. While it’s typical for the ruca and I to squabble over regular stuff (“Please don’t borrow my lipstick!” “Do you even know where we keep the mop?” “No I will not wake up at 6am to make you coffee!”), our spats usually extinguish as quickly as they fire up. But every now and then, like last Wednesday, we just can’t let up and we explode, firing at each other like cannons. Maybe it was a crappy over-time/underpaid day at work, maybe it was that hormone raging time of the month when the SPCA commercials are enough to make me cry, or maybe it was the annoying neighbors who sounded like they were bowling upstairs. But I was in a toxic mood, bloated with all the crap of my day, and took it out on my ruca for forgetting her keys (again) and making me wait 40 minutes longer than promised when I’d had plans. Becoming defensive, the ruca lashed out too, and the next thing we knew, a mishap over keys had turned into a full out screaming match with all swords being thrown including “And I’ve told you three times to put the dishes away!”
The choleric duel had taken place a week ago to the day. Though we’d grumbled our apologies and called a truce, we’d carried on the rest of the week as if we were ordinary roommates. Intimacy had become an awkward strain between us, and the cariño had vanished from our usual I love you’s. Like two stubborn turtles hiding irritably in our shells, we’d emotionally withdrawn from each other.
“I’m sorry,” I wheezed. “I was such a (huff, huff) jerk to you. I wish I could...wish I could take it back. But for the record (huff, huff), I’m hurt with you too!”
“I know I was a jerk too,” she panted. “And I’m sorry.”
“You didn’t…fall out of love with me, did you?” I croaked, almost scared to ask the most pivotal question, should one of the answers crush me completely.
“No,” she shook her head. “I just realized I was still hurt (huff, huff) while we were running.”
“We can’t get so out of hand when we’re that furious. (Huff, huff.) We can’t treat each other like punching bags!”
“Yeah,” she agreed. “No punching bags.”
There was nothing we could do to change what had happened. The feeling of regret had to digest through us, like spoiled milk. For some reason though, just acknowledging that we were hurt felt slightly soothing in itself; like we were officially ready to come out of our shells, and look the other in the eye.
I peered down the dark road that winded through the hill, suddenly longing for the familiar comforts of home.
“C’mon,” I coaxed persuasively. “Let’s run the rest of the way.”
A renewed energy shot through us. My body worked through its motions, expelling the sordidness that had poisoned me the entire week. My heart and lungs were firecrackers exploding in my chest, and my calves triggered with heat, like sticks rubbing together before they catch fire.
We weren’t home when we made it back to the staircase, but we heaved a huge sigh of relief anyway, and slapped high-5s. Clambering back down, the lampposts on the staircase had finally turned on, and lit the way home for us.
© Sarah C. Jiménez, All Rights Reserved 2011
© Sarah C. Jiménez, All Rights Reserved 2011