I didn’t know Wendy Martinez. I don’t live in the neighborhood where she was killed. On the surface, we shared only a few things in common: she was my age; and she enjoyed running through our city.
Most of the time when I write on here, I’m wondering who I’m writing for. Turns out, I’m writing for myself. No one reads this blog, and that’s kind of never been the point anyway. The reason I write is to stop time. It’s a way for me to catalog my life through the lens of running, using running as a proxy to expand the days and minutes and weeks that go by. It gives me a false and fleeting sense of control–that I can stop the feeling of my daughter growing up too fast, or that I can stop any negativity or tragedy or bad event from derailing these days that Jess and I are living in–days that I know I will look back on as the best days of my life.
But I’m not delusional. I look at pictures of Mini from six months ago or six weeks ago and think “where did the time go?” It stops for no one. All you can do is embrace the time that you do have and hope for even better days ahead.
Before 2014, I never really ran seriously. I’d occasional go for a two or three mile run, with an excessive pat-on-my-back mentality whenever I finished. I’d run a 5k here or a 10k there. And I wasn’t ever a serious athlete when I was younger. I just did the typical things that average boys/guys did. Little league, mediocre pick-up basketball, half-committed tennis, touch and tackle football with friends. I also did some not so athletic things, which I was a little better at. Academic teams in high school, engineering in college, law school, and the mother of un-athleticism–becoming a patent lawyer.
In 2014, I took a job with Under Armour, a place filled with athletes past and present. And call it social pressure or career pressure or whatever–I kind of felt like I had to have a “thing” so I’d have something to talk about and relate to at work and in meetings. “Oh yeah, I’m training for X this year, it’s been insane!” Running was the most accessible and had the lowest barrier to entry, so I decided in the fall of that year that I was going to train for a marathon. I emailed a bunch of friends asking if they wanted to train with me–most of them just laughed and said hell no.
Somewhere along the way, I got hooked. Not because I ever thought that I was going to be the fastest or strongest or best-in-any-measure runner out there. I really don’t even consider myself an average-runner. It’s just something I do. The thing I got hooked on was how running connected me with myself. In ways that I could try to describe (“oh, it’s so meditative” or “oh, it makes me healthier” or “oh, it gives me a challenge”), but really, the connection that’s there is in ways that I can’t really describe. I just feel more myself when I spend that time with myself. I feel more with others even though I run alone. I think about things differently, I curse more creatively, I define winning-losing and success-failure in a new light when I’m running. Some of this came as a coping mechanism after my mom was diagnosed with cancer, but it was really always there. When I look back, and connect the dots of my recent life–the first day we found out we were pregnant, when Mini was born, watching her take her first smile, her first crawl, her first steps, and her first temper tantrums–I feel the connection to those events more strongly because I feel like I connected with myself more strongly.
When I read about what happened to Wendy, that she was killed for no reason at all by someone she didn’t even know while she was out on a run, I had two strong feelings. One of incredible sorrow and heartache for this woman and her family. The other, a strong sense of guilt. Several times I’ve run through that intersection where she was killed at the same time of day with the same (presumable) expectation of relative safety. It happened to her, and it didn’t happen to me. And even though I never met her, I feel like I had taken something from her–that somehow I and the many others who are like me, were able to avoid that fate for no reason other than chance. Not because we’re good people or that we did anything that made us lucky. Pure, dumb, cruel, chance. The killer could have ventured to a different part of the city at a different time, crossing my path. Or I could have gone through that intersection where Wendy was that night, and my daughter would be left without a father and my wife without a husband. That there is no reason why this did not happen to me, and there is no reason why this should have happened to Wendy. Of course, tragedies happen every day, but this really is the first time I’ve felt in my heart that “this absolutely could have been me.”
And that thought brings incredible guilt. Guilt, because I know that for Wendy and for her family, that “could have been me” scenario is their nightmare. Tragedy is something that happens to someone else until it happens to you. It brings guilt for the many times I’ve lulled myself into a sense of security–the 4:30 am runs where I had the Lincoln Memorial all to myself and felt like the most iconic space in our great country was all mine for a few hours. Guilt for the times when I’ve run through some sketchy areas and thought–no one is going to stop to attack me, and if they do, I’ll just run away. Guilt for the assumptions I made about certain streets or paths being safe, and thus, the rules of caution need not apply as strongly. And guilt that I’ll really no longer feel that way again.
I didn’t know Wendy. But when I read anecdotes and stories shared from her friends and family and coworkers, she really seemed like the kind of person you would want to be around. The kind that brings you up and brings positive energy to the conversation or to the room. She seems like a person who was rooted in her faith, not just for her own personal salvation, but as a calling for service and meaning to others. Her mother spoke some words of forgiveness during the vigil for her, and that was a powerful testament to her character and her own faith during what I’m sure was her most nightmarish time on Earth.
It sounds like Wendy was someone who loved to run. I don’t know if her love of it was for any of the same reasons as mine. I can only understand my experience. But my heart hurts even more for her knowing that the activity which has given me so much self-discovery was the same one where Wendy lost her life.
When I have read of tragedies, sometimes I think all that I can do is use the sadness as motivation to do something more that you otherwise would not have done. To be kinder, or work harder, or love more deeply, so that in some weird way you can try to balance the cosmic cruelty. And also to try and dedicate those good things not just to the tragedy that happened but more importantly to the life that was behind that tragedy.
I will keep this in mind when I think of Wendy–someone who I never knew, taken so cruelly from her world, and for whose life I celebrate and for whose death I mourn deeply.