Long Distance Runner

The number 147 bus travels north along Lake Shore Drive. When riding it, I aim for a window seat on the right side. In this position, if I lift my head a bit, I can see the path favored by runners, speed walkers, and the occasional ambler. Today, lulled by the rhythm of the bus, and the divine Chicago climate, my mind slips from its habit of listing things-to-do, and lands on a figure on the trail. Slowly, with each turn of the wheels of my transit, Tommy emerges.  

There is no doubt it is my husband -- deceased, but fully alive in my imagination. He is wearing a baseball cap to protect his balding head, his feet are in the worn sneakers he prefers, and the radio headphones that covered his ears through his final days in the hospital and hospice, are still in place. I don't want to interrupt his daily exercise, but I assume his appearance means he wants to chat.

"Sweetheart," I say, as I place myself jogging along beside him, "please take off your headphones so we can bring each other up-to-date. (Because this scenario is occurring in my head, I am easily able to speak and trot at the same time.)

My second husband's face is gleaming, partially from sweat and perhaps from joy in seeing me. He doesn't make a move to obey, but continues swinging his arms in a match with his taut legs. "I can hear you, wifey," he says. "I have special powers now."

"How long have you been running?" I am curious; was he also nearby on Michigan Ave. at the beginning of the bus' route, but there was too much city commotion to spot him? Or, did it take the placid lake and serene setting to bring him into full view?

Gratefully, Tommy has no problem responding. Not only is he not out of breath, as one would expect from a long-distance runner, but the voice that was stilled by aphasia in the last three years of his life, has returned. It is full, alto.

"Oh, I haven't been counting miles," he says. "That's one bonus about the afterlife; no limitations."

"So that means the foot pain that ended your marathons, and made you switch to elliptical machines, is gone?"

"Pain? Sweetheart, we're talking heaven; and, this is your version of heaven. We're in your illusion; you're the writer. You're certainly not going to stage me in poor condition."

"True," I say. "I love remembering you as an athlete. When we first met in 1996, it was early morning, still dark. I was walking Sasha and you were jogging past my townhouse."

"Yeah, I stopped to pet your dog. But I was really thinking, 'who's that cute gal that lives on my block?'"

"Then, Sasha and I -- in the early evening of that same day, when we were sitting on our porch stairs -- we saw you again," I say. "You were on your way to the Y. I was impressed. Quite the athlete."

As the bus continued its route north, I become worried about its eventual turn off the Drive to city streets. I would likely lose Tommy, because in my daydream, I want him set with the blue sky and matching water, the air free of exhaust fumes, the course empty of stoplights.

"I'm glad you were impressed," he says. "If I remember correctly, you were drinking a beer. I thought, 'hope that cute gal isn't an alcoholic.'"

I laugh at the memory, and at happiness he is still vibrant in my fantasy. "One drink a day," I say, pretending to be offended. "And I never even finish it."

"I'm teasing, sweetheart, only teasing. Just like you, I miss our times together; how easily we got along. I could count on one hand the real arguments we had in our 16 years."

The bus is starting to approach Foster Avenue and I don't want to end my reverie on a scenario that could bring longing, so I back away from nostalgia. "Remember when we jogged together in real life?" I say. "You slowed your pace down to my pathetic 12 minutes a mile."

"Twelve? Wifey, you're really great at painting a rosy picture. It was more like 20." His eyes are twinkling as he says this, and I swear I could feel a gentle poke in my ribs.

And that's where my fantasy starts to fade. The bus is beginning to leave the Drive, so I rush to seal our heart-to-heart. "Drink water!" I say, which must have been aloud because other passengers turn to stare.