T plus 2 2

Dark clouds hovered over the east and a stiff wind blew cool air from the Gulf of Mexico. My bare feet slapped against the packed sand as salt water lapped around my feet. I ran south along the beach, the water on my left, leaving the quiet confines of our little resort, the Playacar Palace, behind. Ahead lay at least two miles, maybe more, of beach front resorts and thousands of tourists sunning themselves in the sand. The public beaches near the city center of Playa del Carmen were much more crowded than this more secluded area. Here the sand was finer and easier on my bare toes, as opposed to the coarser sand further south that would have rubbed my feet raw had I not been working up to a run like this for the last year. It didn’t take long for me to get winded, thirsty, exhausted. I always run faster when I run barefoot because it’s a more efficient way of running and I have a faster turnover. No amount of training could prepare one for the sand, though. I didn’t want to run further up the beach, through the loose sand rarely touched by water. I ran along the water itself, occasionally having to lift my knees high to avoid stumbling through the surf. After about twenty minutes of running, I stopped and stood in the water for a couple of minutes, enjoyed the sound of the waves away from anyone (the crowded part of the beach lasts for about 3/4 mile) and let myself cool off before turning around and heading back.

This was my first run since Sunday, the longest I’ve gone without running in months. It was much needed. Monday and Tuesday, my last days at work, were hectic and chaotic and tear filled. The hardest part about Tuesday was saying goodbye to the daycare center. One of the teachers, E, who also has a daughter adopted from Ethiopia and is an avid runner, offered me a personal goodbye in the hallway outside the room where m has spent most of her days since she started, “It has been a pleasure taking care of her,” he said to me. “And I wanted to tell you that you have been a real inspiration to me both as a father and a runner.” I tried to thank him but the words jammed in my throat. He was standing there holding m and all I wanted to do was give him a hug, hold him and tell him how grateful I was to have met him, how grateful I was that he was in my daughter’s life, even if just for a year, and how sad I was that I was taking her away from him, how cruel I thought I was for doing it. I began to cry and then he began to cry and we shook hands but it wasn’t enough, the shaking hands. I gave him a hug. I told him that if he had to come to New Mexico. He was a big fan of Billy the Kid and loved stories of the old west. If he came to New Mexico, I told him, I’d take him to the courthouse that Billy escaped from. “I’ve looked out that window,” I said.

Around 4pm on Tuesday, I went looking for my boss. He was locked in his office working on a paper. After some haranguing by my replacement, he was convinced to unlock his door and let me in. We sat together, he and the new guy and I, drinking the new guy’s beer. He asked me about my impressions of science after eleven years. “I don’t really have any,” I said. “The place is really about the people; they make science run. And people are people no matter their profession.” We toasted a few times, and he gave me a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label scotch, the top quality of the Johnny Walker blended whiskeys. It was a nice gift, one I wish I could have opened then. While we chatted, a couple of other friends from the lab popped their heads in to wish me luck in the future. Two beers and nearly an hour later, I extricated myself from my now former boss, gave him a hug and thanked him for eleven years of my life. “It’s been a pleasure working with you,” I said.

I finally got to the faculty club and only two lab members appeared, plus the new guy. He may have been trying to make a good first impression, or he may have just been out for the free beer. In any case, I stayed way later than I should have, after a sojourn to pickup m from daycare. She was excited to see me, ready to go as she always is, but completely unaware of the event transpiring around her. I cried with yet another teacher and a third told me she didn’t want to cry so she kept turning away from me. Little m was very popular in her class and in the whole school. I was assured that everyone would miss her.

As I ran this morning, I realized something. I started this job basically as an unemployed man. Sure, I had a full time job, but it was full time because it consisted of two part time, temporary jobs. And it didn’t pay well. A friend convinced me to look for something, and an opening at the University appeared so I applied. I didn’t get the job I applied for, but they found another position for me, this position, and the rest is history. (Not necessarily history recounted here.) This job paid better than any job I’d ever had, and had much more responsibility. At the time I still thought it would be just a job; it never occurred to me that this would wind up being a career path. I realized as I ran that I basically went from being unemployed to having this job to being unemployed, with eleven years in the middle. I ran along the beach and thought of the next eleven years, what they might bring to me, and thought about m and all that she has already brought to me, and M who continues to be a shining lantern for me in the dark when all other lights go out. As my feet pounded the surf, it occurred to me that my current situation is not too different than where I was eleven years ago except that instead of being completely unemployed, I’ll be working for my wife. And my daughter.