My grandmother was a seamstress.
I loved our trips to the fabric store. There, we bought cloth by the yard and browsed books of blueprints. Blueprints for a dress, for a jumper, for a blouse. My grandma had a name for these blueprints. She called them patterns.
Upon choosing a pattern for a new dress or jumper or blouse, she went to work on the large dining room table upon which she never dined, unless one counts the consumption of patterns.
My father-the-runner was also a consumer of patterns.
He didn’t select his design, however, from hundreds of books at the fabric store. Instead, he chose from hundreds of streets in our hometown and with them stitched together an 8-mile running route.
Each morning my grandmother selected her day’s pattern from the handful of handmade dresses hanging in her closet. Sometimes bright floral, sometimes quiet shapes, sometimes solid blue.
But my father chose the same pattern every day.
“Can’t we try a new route?” I asked my father the summer of my 16th year. That was the summer I fell in love with running. Every morning, side by side, father and daughter took to the streets before the dog walkers, or the trash collectors, or the gas station attendants did. Sometimes before the sun.
But always the same pattern.
“A change of scenery would be, um, nice,” I commented to my dad on perhaps the 50th consecutive day I had traced his pattern. But for him, that was just one morning in 20 consecutive years of other mornings in which he ran that route.
To my request for an alternate route he answered only with his feet. And his feet moved fast. So I shut up to keep up.
It’s no wonder, then, that I left my state after high school. And my country after college. And again and again and again. I moved to new countries and new cities and new streets.
I ran to. I ran from. I ran to keep the pattern changing.
But over the past few years, as growing up become less of an aspiration and more of a fear, I wanted to stop the patterns from changing. Stop the goodbyes, the cancer diagnoses, the hard conversations.
While everything around me changed, I ached to sit with my grandmother as she stitched comfort from her patterns. I missed the rhythm of my feet echoing my father’s feet down streets we both knew by heart. But now outside of memory, those patterns are irretrievable.
This past weekend, in the autumn of my 33rd year, I rolled down my street to begin my final long bike ride of the triathlon season. I rode from my home in Virginia, through the outskirts of our capital and into rural Maryland. It was the same loop I had ridden every weekend for the past 18 months. Out there, where I stitch my own pattern, I understand why my father never changed his.
In July, I declined my Kona slot in lieu of a pattern. Two years ago at IRONMAN Arizona, I discovered how it feels to move my body 140.6 miles through water and across land. I learned how it feels to high five my dad and smile for my mom’s camera along the way.
Most importantly, I learned how it feels to hug them when it’s all over.