by Kelly O’Toole
Staring at the fire in our living room, that gives off no warmth, but is a nice decoration or distraction, I think of my one and only women’s AA retreat, where they met on the beach to burn whatever sorrows they wrote on paper. I skipped it, and instead walked to a convenient store for M&Ms and a fashion magazine. Alone in the dorm room, I indulged in sugar and pretty pictures, in my opinion, a much better way to deal with pain then letting go. I think today I’d willingly, even maybe excitedly, go to the burning of past and present.
Presently, I’m watching church from NJ live on Facebook— the first service I’ve witnessed in almost 9 months. I also did my first Zoom AA meeting, and fumbled with turning on the video and mic, the seniors in attendance better with technology than me. My name was Galaxy and some numbers, until one of the old men messaged me how to change it. I didn’t even know that everyone could see me if I wasn’t the speaker, until my friend said, I can see you smiling, I can see you eating an apple. Duh, swipe left. It was good, I guess, but not the same. I didn’t leave feeling happy or free.
I started running, almost everyday, down this empty side street with a Spielplatz. I run there so I can sing and go at my own slow pace and see almost no one, except for the man that walks his black lab, that I am now on a first name basis with. In two short conversations, I’ve learned a lot, as I’m always the questioner. I like to make up stories about him and imagine what his living room and kitchen look like. I wonder if he makes up stories about me.
I run and run, and for this week, it’s the only time I feel free. Lately, I feel like maybe I’m failing at everything and everything feels too much yet not enough, but when I run and it’s uncomfortable I know I can at least do this, and make it the rest of the day. I run after lunch, when the baby naps, and it’s my only time alone, outside. Only “Truth Hurts” makes me keep going, and I listen to it on repeat for 30 minutes, to get life out of my hair.
I had my last lesson with my German tutor because he’s on a 7 month paternity leave. He said he hopes to see me in person in the summer. We talk for an hour, mostly bullshit, and 30 minutes of lessons, every Tuesday for 3 months, and we’ve never seen each other, but I think we were sort of friends. I want to learn to speak but I’m tired, so I only force myself to do Duolingo and watch a little TV in Deutsch. I can only remember two new words: Himmel and Stark, and I hope there is some metaphorical meaning in me picking them out. Am I stronger and freer than I think?
We started a stricter lockdown today. My mom walks will have to start earlier and with only one other person. I have today off kid duty, and I don’t want to go anywhere. What fun is it to walk and shop alone? I might as well lay in bed and shower since it’s been two days since my last. But I walked to Rewe in the rain. Skittles were splayed across the parking lot, their bright colors melting into the pavement. I am splayed like them, longing for myself to be put back together into a joyous package of sweetness.
I ran in the rain too, for 50 minutes until every part of me was wet. I ran until my knees hurt, and in a demented way the pain makes me feel like I can find those pieces that have rolled too far come back a little to the center.
The pastor said, God is making things new again, in this year of change and longing. I should be seeing through faith’s eyes, and not my own. That sounds nice and all, but for now my only faith is when I run.
Kelly O’Toole spent her life in New Jersey until moving to Germany in 2020 with her husband and three young sons. I Only Have To Change My Mind is Kelly’s first book of poetry. She has also written a coming-of-age novel, and a second book of poetry, Perspectives. Her poems appear in The Elevation Review and scissors & spackle. Kelly taught high school English, and earned a BA in English and Art History, and MAT in teaching secondary English. Kelly has been a stay-at-home mom for six years.