DEAR JOANNA

Dear Jo,

I remember when you started running in college. You founded that running club in our sorority and I don’t remember if the club was successful but I do remember when you ran that Rock and Roll 10K. Your parents came down to watch you and you got so sick you thought you were going to die.

When you ran your first marathon it was 30 degrees in College Station and Emilie and I stood at the finish line to watch you run across. We were miserable, it being colder than College Station ever gets and all. We were all pom pom beanies and red noses, waiting for you to get your space blanket and complimentary margarita. To be honest it was a chore. I was beginning a new semester of grad school and Emilie hates the cold so it was a battle to leave the house. But we made it, and we congratulated you, chattering teeth and all.

You didn’t think you were going to die after that race. “I don’t know, I guess it’s easier to do the harder race?” you mused back at the house. It took two days for you to thaw from the cold and another week before your muscles got back to normal. You skipped a few classes that week, recovery time was critical.

We hung out almost everyday in college but after you moved to Houston our texts were few and far between. You didn’t know what was going on in my life, and I didn’t know about yours. We drifted. I felt like we were astronauts who disconnected from a space station. Floating through cold and crowded nights, unattached. I remember when I saw you that September after undergrad, I didn’t even know where to start the conversation.

We were both hiding such big stories. I was finishing grad-school and learning the intricacies of someone else’s mental illness and you were in Houston, essentially doing the same. It was all small talk, with both of us hinting at the catastrophes in our lives. I think we were both asking for help, we just didn’t know it yet. I felt like if I let even one person in to assist with the disaster it would all collapse around me. You tiptoed so much you forgot how to run.

A year, a cross-country move, a mental breakdown (me), a divorce (you), and an aced LSAT later, I took the train up to Boston to watch you run the marathon. It took 10 hours, but I was so excited. It was after you got the full ride to Baylor Law. It was unseasonably warm that day. A lot of runners fainted, but you didn’t. I guess if you’ve run through hell before, a warm day in Boston really isn’t much of a bother. It was the same day I got my first essay published in a book. It was a day for dreaming.

I remember I stood on the sidelines with your parents. I made a huge cardboard sign and when you ran up the hill I started sprinting. Converse sneakers and all, just like Benny ‘The Jet’ Rodriguez. There were people in between us but we kept eye contact the whole time, two astronauts back on earth. Both crying. I thought, “This is what our friendship is, it’s me on the sidelines cheering you on at the hardest part of the race.”

Long after you ran up the hill, Ma and Pa Raines and I stood awestruck as people ran by. I knew I wouldn’t make it to Copley Square by the time you finished running. But I wasn’t at your divorce hearing either; I know you’re strong enough to cross finish lines by yourself.

Here in DC, at the National Arboretum there’s a bonsai tree that is over 300 years old. It was at Hiroshima when the atomic bomb hit and it survived, it’s still growing. When I first saw it I felt like I got the wind knocked out of me. The beauty of it was so vast, so important. There’s something poetic about watching small things survive. That’s what it felt like to see you in Boston. I got to see you learn to run again.

Maybe that’s why you’ve found so much good in life despite all the bad — because you’re bold enough to grow, even after the bomb hits.

The British Special Air Service has a saying ‘who dares, wins.’ You dare. You’ve taken some big risks; the LSAT, changing your name back, Baylor, applying for that dream clerkship. You don’t let doubt get in your way, and I can’t help but think it’s been paying off.

Your friend at the bottom of Heartbreak Hill,

Rachel

P.S. Let me know how clerking for the Supreme Court of Texas goes.

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