Field of Dreams

For the past couple months I’ve been dealing with another running injury, this time my other leg. NOT COOL LEGS, NOT COOL. I’ve thought about sawing them off. I might have a good shot at the special olympics that way. But I’m pretty sure they don’t take self-amputees, so I guess that’s not really a good idea. I’ve been dealing with running injuries since…March basically. First my left leg, now my right. Ugh. Frustration doesn’t even begin to describe how I’m feeling. All I want to do is run. Run across the country and grow a long beard. Oh wait, that was Forest.

When you’re not dealing with injury, running is one of the greatest things. You don’t need any real equipment, you just lace up, and go. Anywhere. It’s freedom at its purest. Running outside in Ukraine always felt so freeing — well, when I wasn’t worrying about the 2,348 million things that came with running there. But those moments running solo in the fields, watching the sun set over my village, or seeing a flock of crows take-off from the newly plowed land – those moments were breathtaking.

My Ukrainian village isn’t the only place to feel that way though. My hometown in Illinois is dotted with forest preserves and prairie paths that take me back to Ukraine (I mean not literally, I couldn’t run that far, but mentally). I guess if I run far enough out of Iowa City I’d surely end up in some cornfields…but some things just aren’t the same.

Throughout two years of my Peace Corps service I dreamt of having the luxurious option of going to the gym. Especially on those days when the windchill crept at a low -20*F and I had to go on a training run, or when I grew tired of my MTV yoga videos, Tony Horton’s voice, or lifting Ukrainian children as dumbbells…I dreamt of the gym and all its glory.

In Ukraine, I ran throughout the winter with very limited running accessories, ran the same routes a billion times. I severely rolled my eyes when anyone in my distant homeland complained about having to go to the gym. I thought, “COOOOOME ONNNN you guys, I would trade 100 goats for that option!”. But…that was then.

Now I’m at a big 10 university where most of my tuition dollars are funneled into a state-of-the-art gym that looks more like the inside of a Carnival cruise ship and has a (rather ironic) lazy river running through it. Yea. I’d never been to a gym like that since my family is a family of YMCA people — the kind of gym where you’re lucky if they have A/C, the machines might be built in a Flintstone fashion, and the average age is 78.

Basically, the first time in my new gym caused a near melt-down. I went to the gym looking for a simple bike machine to ease my running pain and found only touch screens and gaming programs. I tried about 4 different machines, feeling overwhelmed by the options, the choices, the buttons that aren’t actually buttons because it’s a screen. An elderly woman watched, judging from behind me (probably not, but it felt like it). She clearly had no problem operating these machines, but I felt SO DUMB, so out of place, so behind. I’m a young person, and young people are supposed to know these things, right?

I gave up on the bike and wandered to the treadmills, since those are something I can usually figure out. Even then the machine was way more complicated than necessary, and my attempt to run brought tears of pain. Great. Crying at the gym. Those people muse have thought I was a loony for sure. It wasn’t the best gym day. I left thinking of how much I wish I could run and how overly state-of-the-art the gym has become.

Basically, I’m back to first world problems — the hot tub’s too hot, too many options for dining out, the gym is too techie, etc.  I finally have a gym, and I’m complaining about it, ha. That’s really what it comes down to. I have that option yet all the terrifying techno mumbo jumbo machines make me dream of running in the fields of my Ukrainian village (though, maybe without the packs of wild unfriendly dogs).

I’ve been missing my village. Of course not every aspect of it, I’m quite alright with not having to take bucket baths again, hearing pigs being slaughtered or cat sex at night. Nope, don’t miss those things. But I do miss the simplicity. I miss walking through the fields and hearing only the wind.

Grad school has been keeping me busy, busier than I’ve been in a long long while so my nights aren’t spent writing anymore, which I really do miss. Instead I’m waist-deep hand binding books, setting and printing metal type, and practicing blackletter (gothic) calligraphy — but I love it, so that works. I guess my socially atypical rejection of technology fits rather nicely with the work I’m pursuing. All I need is a time machine set to 1450 (oh and I’d need to be a man cause I would never go back in time as a woman).

Annnnnyways, time has been passing quickly and most days I feel so distanced from Ukraine. Maybe it’s just the fact that I’m still readjusting, or that I’m busy with school, but in so many ways I’ll stop and wonder about my Peace Corps service and think “Huh, that really did happen.” I’m not really sure how to describe the feeling. I feel a bit like Kevin Costner finding sanctuary in the open field but not knowing exactly why. Well, except I don’t hear voices telling me to build a baseball field. But most of the time, Ukraine feels like some sort of weird and distant dream — one that involved zero baseball but a lot of mayonnaise, marshutkas, and mesh.

It’s technically only been 5 months since I left Ukraine, but I haven’t heard anything from the Ukrainians I invested time to make connections with. It makes me wonder if I didn’t try hard enough, if they even remember me, if they’ve forgotten. I miss seeing my students, their hilarious personalities, and watching them grow. I miss writing about the ridiculous things that would happen in my week. At the moment I feel so disconnected from it all. I’m standing in the field waiting to hear the voices, waiting for them to remind me, for it to come back and ground me.

But it all grows hazy in the distance.


3 thoughts on “Field of Dreams

  1. Thank you for this poignant post, Kristen. I left Ukraine almost a year ago and still have similar thoughts to the ones you’re having — and still miss the simplicity, too. Though I’m lucky enough to still be in touch with a few people (mostly pupils), I also wonder about the connections I made and wonder if those I’m not in touch with still think about me as I do about them.

  2. Ukraine misses you, for sure. I also feel like I should be pinched…because nothing feels real as we get ready to head back to the states! I’m scared but at least I know you’re alive and well and bookbinding. There is hope yet!

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