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Blog

Fork in the Road

Amber

My dad’s sister got a reading from a psychic in San Francisco a few months after he died. Because that’s what we do in my family.

Dad showed up, as a spirit or a ghost or whatever you get to be after you're dead, and the psychic said he was wearing jogging shorts. As far as I know, my father never owned a pair of jogging shorts in his life. He was fond of joking that running was the worst way to be healthy. “Sure you live longer,” he’d say, “but you have to spend all that extra time jogging.” Now that I spend a lot of time circling trails, I wonder how much longer he would have lived, and how much more peaceful he would have felt, if he had been a runner.

As she told me this, writing off dad's curious post-death jogging shorts as psychic dissonance, I remembered a thought I had months before he passed away. Dad lived in Swall Meadows, right next to Inyo National Park. After spending the day in the care center with him, I would run in the shadows of the sunset-tipped mountains. This thought came to me in the middle of one of my afternoon runs, feeling weirdly like a vision - an idea I’m really not comfortable with, minus Peyote and a Native American chieftain or two. So I wrote it off as the product of mild heat stroke and my new and strange obsession with running. At the time, Dad had already started to talk about dying, but we wouldn’t accept it for months yet. But as I was running through the desert, I saw two paths for my father.

One, the widest and bleakest, the path he eventually chose, was of him spiralling down into the worst the human experience can offer - a broken body and a mind that can’t heal because both are so separated from their own processes and emotions that they can’t find their way back.

The second path, much fainter, showed my father running. Conquering what ailed him until he was healthy enough to become one of those sun-leathered old dudes pounding the pavement in running shoes with wet bandanas tied around their grizzled heads.

Knowing now how badly off he was by the time he fell, I don’t know if that was possible. Maybe what I was seeing was a path that had forked off many years previous and was no longer an option. Maybe it was a path he could have chosen. I don’t know. But I saw him running. I saw him healthy. I saw him beating back the demons with sweat and salt and endless miles of asphalt.

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I'm writing a book about my father's death. I'll be sharing pieces of the Dead Dad Book as I work on it, because writing here and on Twitter led me to this book in the first place.