I was unable to move, enveloped deep within the recesses of the narrow MRI chamber with a wall of curvy metal sweeping past my face. A loud buzzing noise came on.
I closed my eyes and drifted off. Periodical silences would intervene, punctuated by a series of loud clicks as the camera readjusted again. Occasionally a technician would ask me over the intercom how I was doing. Since I couldn’t give them a thumbs up, I would always say “Fine.”
They had said I would be in there for about twenty minutes. I know exactly how long twenty minutes is. It is how long it takes me to run to the schoolyard from my house and back again, a mile and a quarter each way. I have done it hundreds of times. Eight minute miles, ten minutes up, ten minutes back.
So I walked to the end of my driveway. Since I never stretch, I just punched my Timex and took off. I ran down the sidewalk past my neighbor’s house. He never picks up his free weekly newspaper, and there it was in his yard. I ran by my realtor’s house next, on the other side of the street. What was his wife's name? I can never remember. I passed by the parking lot of the strip mall, the one with the Bikram studio. The yoga people weren't out and about yet, mats tucked under their arms. The arterial road at the end of my street lay ahead, just past the stop sign a block further on .
I attained the secondary artery and turned right. It was a mile to the school yard from there, up the big hill a third of a mile away and around a couple of slight bends to the left.
Many of the houses I went by had a little bit of history for me. There was the house where I dropped off some misdelivered mail once while on a run, pictures from a wedding apparently, and the occupant was so grateful. I ran by the decrepit ramshackle house where my middle child used to play with his friend. This bittersweet memory was disturbing to me so I mentally shook it off and glided on. Slowly I topped the first rise on the run and ran down the slight decline beyond it.
The small colonial-era graveyard lay off to the right, St. James Cemetery. That was my father's name, and it is my oldest son's name. In the hollow below lay a creek, the low point of my run. I crossed over it and glanced at the name place sign, Tripp's Run. I thought of Linda Tripp, Monica Lewinski's supposed friend and confidante who conspired to use the young intern to try to bring down the Clinton presidency. Word associations frequently occupy me whenever I run.
I started up the big hill, three-tenths of a mile long. It takes awhile to run a block in real time, even if you don’t notice it when you’re actually running, and I was in no hurry now. Inside the buzzing chamber, I thought that about three minutes had passed. I was satisfied with the progress of my run so far. More importantly, I was not focusing on the loud rasping noise assailing me and I was at peace as I lay still within the narrow tube.
Going up the big hill, steep at first, gentle in the middle and then steep again at the top, I ran by the house where the little dog always runs up and down the fence whenever I go by, barking at me. I hadn’t seen him for awhile. He didn’t come out again, and I hoped he was alright.
The hill evened out for a bit, then got steep again. This meant that I was passing the white-columned houses on the left and the top of the hill loomed ahead. Here I sidled across the road on a long diagonal to my left, cutting off a bit of the crest. The road dipped to the left beyond the summit and I ran down past the intersection that lies one and half kilometres from my house, the turnaround point for my 3K runs whenever I train for my monthly Tidal Basin race. A block further on I hit the mile marker and I checked my watch. About 8:10, I imagined. Damn hill. Now I needed to make up eleven seconds in the next mile and a half.
Around a further curve to the left, the school yard opened up before me. I ran to the top of the parking lot, eschewing backpedaling in this open protected area. Sometimes I pretend to be an NFL cornerback here, running backwards while keeping pace with a swift receiver, but not today because I was slightly behind schedule. I turned around and went back around the curves, down the long hill, past the creek, up my block and got back to my driveway. 19:50, hot damn!
The loud noise was still filling the chamber. Rather than be there, I slowed down for a cooldown jog, something I never do. I ran to the end of my block, where I used to wait with my oldest son for his school bus. I turned left to circle the block and ran past the house where my youngest played on the trampoline in the backyard. I wondered if it was still there. Next I ran down the slight decline where my middle child wiped out once on his razor scooter. I passed by the antique pickup truck emblazoned with Jesus Saves signs. I circled back to my driveway and arrived back, relaxed and loose from the slower paced recovery run. The buzzing was still surrounding me.
I walked down my driveway past my pickup. My backyard was strewn with fallen leaves. I checked beneath my towering old oak tree to see if any more branches had come down during the night. The ground underneath was clear.
The buzzing in my ears stopped. A voice said, "The test is over. You're coming out now."
I felt movement, then stillness again. I opened my eyes. The room's ceiling lights were high overhead. Two technicians helped me sit up.
"You were wonderful in there. You lay so still."
"How long was I in there?"
"About twenty-five minutes."
I smiled, happy and relaxed. "I went for a run," I explained. "I ran three miles in twenty-five minutes."
They didn't know what I was talking about. It was as real a run as I have ever been on. I'm counting those three miles in my weekly total.