Me and Michelle at 8th grade graduation, circa 1997.

Me and Michelle at 8th grade graduation, circa 1997.

I hate mornings, but I love race day. On these days I get out of bed with willingness, nay, dare I say subdued enthusiasm as I work to peel off my grouch face and secure my game face.

Sunday morning before last was different. My alarm cut through a restless, disturbed sleep at 5 a.m. and all I wanted was to pull the covers over my head to prolong that time before facing the day. The things that I usually love about race day – crowds, palpable energy, adrenaline practically airborne amongst runners and catching like a virus – all of it instead gave me a sickly, tightening feeling of anxiety in the pit of my stomach.

Vicious bouts of anxiety haunted me the entire week prior. Michelle is gone, Michelle is gonethis can not be my new normal. I was having a physical reaction to the unexpected death of a dear friend I’ve known since childhood. A friend with whom I’ve created almost 20 years of memories, the hilarious and endlessly repeatable and always cherished kind. The growing-up-with kind. A friend I took for granted would always be there. A friend I still sort of pretend is living several states away and I just haven’t talked to her in a while. The grief expressed itself, and continues to do so, through an earth-shaking anxiety.

In May, I ran the Honor Connor 5K in memory of a teen who drowned a couple of years ago. The teen’s brave mother gave a speech to the crowd of runners and her words came back to me the past couple of weeks. When tragedy bombs your life, you have to realize that you’re never going to get over it, life just sort of builds around the gaping hole it created. You won’t ever completely heal. You just learn to live with the new normal. You learn to carry it, she said. I can’t imagine what it’s like to carry what she does. But we all do it, on different levels and for a million different reasons.

Michelle would have told me I was crazy for getting up so early on a Sunday to run 6.2 miles. But if it is something I wanted, she would have told me to just shut up and do it. After feeling only half functional for days beforehand I think forcing myself out of bed to do this race signified the start of me acknowledging the new normal. Continuing the day-after-day, but sensing a little piece of myself gone and feeling a little more bitter at the unfairness life tends to dole out with seemingly no rhyme or reason.

Life goes on, but I carry you with me always.