A Runner’s Story
by Catarina Massa
Last October, I ran my first marathon in Newport, Rhode Island. I had been training for almost a year leading up to the race, and crossing the finish line was an accomplishment I will cherish for the rest of my life. I am now preparing for my second marathon, which will be in October of this year in Massachusetts.
People have many different reasons for devoting themselves to this sport. Some just use it to lose weight, others hope to accomplish something they never thought would be possible, and so on. For me, I began running as a survival mechanism.
I was five years old when my father began to hit me. At that time, he worked nights at the Kimberly-Clark factory and would sleep during the day. My brother and I were playing in the living room when my brother began to cry (I guess I was not very good at sharing). All of a sudden, we heard the bedroom door slam upstairs followed by my father’s heavy footsteps and booming voice. Before I knew it, my brother had run to the garage for protection, leaving me to fend for myself. All I remember is the look of pure hatred and anger on my father’s face as he grabbed the broom and began to hit me. I huddled in the corner and cried for him to stop, but the blows against my back would not cease. I stayed in that corner until after my father had left for work and my mother had come home.
My mother found me frozen in the corner with a bloody shirt and bruises all over my back. She immediately called my father at work, scolding him for what he had done. She eventually passed the receiver to me, and I could hear his voice, heavy with regret.
“I’m so sorry, sweetie. I promise I’ll never do it again.”
And I continued to believe his promise the second, seventh, and fiftieth time he assaulted me.
Until I was 14, I would always try to hide from my father’s beatings, but he would always find me, and I would continue to huddle in a corner as I had the very first time he hit me. That is, until the day my father almost killed me.
My father and I would always argue about the cat litter. I did not take care of it as often as I should have, and my neat-freak dad hated it. One day, he told me he would put the litter box in my room if I did not clean it out by the evening. I came home from a long day of standing in front of the grocery store in the bitter cold trying to sell girl scout cookies to the truth of his statement. I was exhausted, so I put the box in the hallway, wanting to lie down for a few minutes before taking care of it.
It was not long before my father came raging up the stairs, shouting hateful words at the top of his lungs. I jumped out of bed just before he could reach me and dashed out my bedroom door. Running down the hallway, my father took out a clump of my hair as he tried to grab me. He chased me down the stairs, and I prayed my hardest for the back door to be unlocked. I probably would not be alive if it had not been.
Once I was outside, I ran. I ran so fast and so hard that I did not notice I was not wearing any shoes. My father eventually stopped chasing me, and I collapsed when I felt like I had gone a safe enough distance. I laid on the ground, weeping for it to end – for one of us to die so that I might find peace.
That day, I began to realize I had a strength my father did not have. I became addicted to running, going longer and faster everyday, and I escaped many more beatings than I ever had before.
Many of you may be wondering about my mother. Where was she during all this abuse? Well, my mother was busy being the most sacrificial mother a daughter could ever ask for, working two full-time jobs (three if you count being a mom as a job, which I do). I regret all the years I blamed her for not getting my brother and I out of the house. I had to go to college to realize being a married woman in this world makes keeping your children safe much harder. My father has taken everything from my mother – her IRA, our home, and a chance for a better life. However, my mom still did everything she could to provide for her two children, and I am proud to call her my best friend.
Some people think I use running as an excuse to get away from my father, and while that may be true, I mainly use running as I way to get to freedom. It is just like a race; no one ever thinks about running away from the start line because we are always thinking about running to the finish line. The destination is the most important part for any runner, and my destination is liberation.
Throughout my journey, I have faced many challenges as a result of the physical, emotional, and financial abuse of my father, but I have also encountered countless blessings. I have a mother who adores me and a pair of running shoes. I could not ask for anything more.
My father does not love me and never will. While the pain of his neglect and hatred will never truly subside, I love myself more with every mile I run, and that is the only love I ever really need.
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Catarina, your story is painful but inspiring. I am so sorry you had to endure this abuse at the hands of one who should have been your biggest defender. Thankfully, you found a way to deal with the trauma and you have the love of your mother. Keep writing and keep running if that is what your heart calls for. Best wishes to you in the future.