This project was tough, harder than I expected, because I was editing on my own. Usually, I have my writer friends critiquing, which helps me see things I don’t normally see, but this time, I was trying to do it on my own.
I do think that this version is MUCH stronger than the first, and I’m happy with that.
I’ve moved the story back into present tense. I felt that past tense wasn’t working. I added a few more details, took out some things, tried to make it smoother.
Ultimately, I hope that this exercise has helped to encourage you in your own process of writing. The first draft doesn’t HAVE to be perfect, because you can go back and improve it over and over, especially with the help of other writers.
Enjoy this last week of Heartbeat (unless I decide to toss it out for critique and bring it back in a few weeks to show what other eyes can do for a story) and how it has improved over these past 3 weeks.
Every hour spent running releases me from the prison of my home and gives me freedom from the warden-watch of my mother.
My feet scrape along the empty highway heading out of town, passing under the shadows of the outstretched arms of the trees, my breathing in time with my footfalls. I’ve always had an unusual cadence, landing harder on my left foot.
Scuff scuff—scuff scuff—scuff scuff.
In the silence of rural America, I revel in the lack of traffic, the freedom of thinking, the open spaces. When we lived in the city, cars, noise, and traffic lights distracted me from enjoying just running. It was all I could do to just survive each run, no matter how long or short. Back then, I didn’t worry about the heartbeats. I figured there was no point in worrying.
Part of me still figures there’s no point in worrying. My mom, on the other hand…
“Stop with that stupid running!” she screams at me as I lace up my shoes, her blue eyes wild beneath her frizzed out, curly, orange-red hair. It’s like looking in a mirror, except this mirror shows the future. I hate that I look like her. The relation is unmistakable and it’s her everyone pities. The mother of a runner. The mother of a crazy person.
If only they knew.
Spit flies from her mouth as she rages.
“I’ll die from it! You’ll kill me!” She jabs her finger in my direction, her teal shawl dropping off her shoulder. Her nostrils flare as she gropes for it, her eyes still boring into the side of my head.
I secure the final knot on my shoe, stand, and check my hair in the hallway mirror. I turn to look at her for just a second.
“No, mom. You’ll kill yourself.” I can almost hear the air crackling as the iciness shoots from my mouth. She takes a step back and I walk out the front door.
I swear the woman has ten times as many heartbeats as anyone else for as often as she gets worked up about nothing. I can’t afford to let her work me up, so I walk away to calm down.
I know. A set amount of heartbeats. Not one more or one less and not knowing how many are left. The great irony of being a runner.
I started running years ago to get away from her. Then I decided I wanted to be a professional runner, though mom told me it would be impossible to get into.
I need money for all the tests, but because everyone knows I run, no one will give me a job. They have so many assessments, but even they can’t predict when someone will finally run out of heartbeats.
Most believe that only crazy people want to do sports. Suicidal people. People who can’t wait to die. There’s such a stigma surrounding physical activity. It seems like out here, in the country, is the only safe place to be active. Out here where there isn’t anyone to judge me out on these roads.
Some people save their heartbeats for love. For children.
If love is what my mother has for me, I don’t want it. If this is what having children does to you, I don’t want them. Who does? The way it seems to me is that kids just mess up your entire life and you turn into a hot, angry mess, always yelling about how your kids are wasting your heartbeats.
I want to run. I want to be free. Where it’s quiet. Where no one is yelling.
I glance at my watch. Almost two hours since I left the house with mom still screaming at me. Nearly sixteen miles. At this pace I can do a marathon in just over three hours. That’s not fast enough. I need to go faster. I need to train harder. How can I train harder with her always yelling at me when I lace up my shoes to leave?
I pick up my pace, irritation driving me on and on, faster. I push through the aches, the wall, grit through mile after mile. I try to breathe louder than the voice of my mother screaming in head. I try to outrun the sting of her threats. Mile 18 comes and goes and the tears fall at mile 20. My body screams at me but I can’t quit now.
Scuff scuff–scuff scuff–scuff scuff
Ten miles later, I arrived back home, drenched with sweat. Gloriously tired. I walk around the block to cool down. The neighbors stare at me from their windows as I walk, slowing down my breathing, drinking my recovery drink that I stash in our bushes. Three hours, forty-five minutes, give or take.
I try, but I can’t delay it any longer. I really need to pee. I need to get inside.
I walk into the house, surprised that mom isn’t at the door, screaming about using up her heartbeats with my ridiculous running. Whatever. I sneak downstairs and into the bathroom.
I take a shower since I’m in there and I have no real motivation to leave. Is there anything better than a scalding shower after a long run? I sure don’t think so. The hot water pours over me, relaxing my body and mind. I stand in there longer than I should. Why wasn’t mom yelling at me? Maybe she left. That’s weird. She never leaves when I’m running. How would she follow me around, hounding me, if she left?
I can’t wait to be 20 and on my own. Just a while longer before I can finally, legally, get out of here and make my own decisions.
I finish up and get dressed in my room. My hands shake and body trembles. I’m starving and need to eat something. I trudge back upstairs and glance into the front room. That’s when I see her, sitting in that horrendous green chair. Her head lolled back, her eyes glazed over.
I’m shocked, but ultimately, I breathe a sigh of relief.
“Finally,” I say out loud.
Now I can train.