Meaningful runs, broken things & Fanconi anemia this Valentine's day

• ~1,000 words • 5 minute read

Another resolution I made this year was to participate in one organized run every month. The one exception I granted was the first month which I'd try to use to get back into running shape. It's gone reasonably well so far, though my training has not involved enough actual running — a lot of yoga,  cycling, walking and being very particular about what I'm eating. Trying to do a better job of taking recovery days, listening to my body and responding appropriately. Age and injury are funny companions; you become better at recognizing your limits and responding appropriately, but the healing process slows down. 

My first run of the year was supposed to the 10th Annual Valentine Fanconi Anemia Run  this weekend. With the snow and forecasted freezing rains this weekend however they've preemptively canceled it, which is probably wise.

It's a little disappointing for the obvious reasons, but also because this run was more special to me than most of the others I'm eyeing this year. I know the family that organized it and  was friends with their oldest son who passed away after battling with fanconi anemia around a decade ago.

I recalled our friendship very fondly. He and I were very close through late elementary and most of middle school. This is a blip on the radar of life, but a very formative blip. We were on basketball teams together, played creative boardgames and roleplaying games, invented our own games and stories, and spent summers biding our time between tinkering around on his family's Commodore 64 in the basement, jumping on the neighbor's giant trampoline across the street and swimming at the neighborhood pool.

He was an intensely creative, curious and kind person and I think that's what drew us to one another. There was potential and reason for excitement in everything those days and none of that was lost on us, least of all him. Everything was a fun, beautiful project.

I can still recall the look on his mother's face during one sleep over where we decided to conduct science experiments in the kitchen. A mostly innocent, if messy, combination of ingredients took a misguided turn when we decided to add a tiny splash of gasoline to the mix. His mother was not amused by our easy-bake, arguably arsonist culinary pursuits. We retired to the room under the guise of pseudo-punishment but spent the night crafting super heroes and villains with complimentary super powers.

Despite attending different middle schools we managed to stay close, but when high school came around we drifted apart. It's a real reason but not a great one. Our younger brothers were also friends, so we'd see each other or hear about one another tangentially from time to time. Our interests seemed to move in parallel — music, theater, creative writing and running — but our time never intersected.

Those are funny years — it's the only time in most people's lives when they see their friends just about every single day. Later in life we start to realize the uniqueness of this and find ways to preserve the friendships that matter, sometimes rekindle friendships that went dormant.

I remember the last time I saw him. It was in college when I was working at the pizza place. I hadn't seen him in at least a couple years but I recognized him. His hair was long and in his eyes. We were both surprised to see one another, but clearly excited under the surface. We talked about life, what we were up to  and the things that held our interest in those days. He'd told me he was really into painting and running and seemed to be trying to figure out what to do with his life, as was I. While many of our friends seemed certain of the tracks they were on we were both the same kids; too overwhelmed by curiosity to not be interested in trying a little bit of everything. I remember thinking we should start hanging out again, but was reluctant to say so.

Over the next year and some and some I'd tangentially hear about his illness — an exceedingly rare, genetically brought-about bone marrow cancer — and his family's efforts to find a blood match that could donate marrow and to raise funding for research and a cure. I remember getting tested, secretly wondering if I'd be a match and if that might be the unlikely thing that would bring our friendship full circle so many years later. I'd hear he was in the hospital form time to time. In. Out. I remember assuming he'd find a way through it because we were young and young people don't get cancer and die.

He'd pass away a year and some later, my last year of college as I recall. I remember going to his wake and crying, surprised by my tears because it seemed like it had been so long since we'd spent meaningful time together, this still being the age where seven or eight years seemed like a lifetime. On the screen, projected at the front of church were photos of Jake through the years, with his family, his seemingly unending string of cousins and friends. And so many of them were from the golden years of Jake and I's friendship; it was like peeking into a time capsule. It was like he hadn't aged at all. I remember feeling regret at not having reached out during the inbetween years.

From time to time after that point I'd think of him and still do today. Sometimes he seemed like the missing friend in my life; the link that would connect some of the more curious nodes in my life and make a little more sense. I remembered the way his enthusiasm and creativity nurtured my own; I think of the projects and pursuits in my life that might've benefited from that kind of presence and the fun things we might've partnered together on in young adulthood.

Drifting apart is not all-too uncommon in youth, but it's tragic he was robbed of life before the opportunity to reconnect when we'd be older, wiser, but still young in life. When we know better.

So now I try to participate in this run, though my track record has been spotty. The first time I participated in this it was just a walk. I did it with my mother and I remember seeing, of all things, a seal in the river that day The second time I actually ran, and had a pretty good time too. The third time I registered, but a nagging achilles injury kept me from participating. This last time I was out of the country, on a year-long sojourn that took me through 18 countries, something I'm sure would've appealed to Jake. And this year... It's the snow. An unusual event here in Portland and disruptive when it occurs.

All real reasons but perhaps not great reasons.

Hopefully next year, Jake.