by Richard Brynteson
The Tough Mudder race in Minnesota is only for the very tough. Contestants run through brambles, wade in water pits, and slog through slippery mud. In the end, whether they make the entire distance or not, they are splattered, splashed, and speckled with mud. The runners’ partners desire to send them through a carwash before allowing them to enter their house again.
Seems like I was always on the outside. Outside of my church because I was not Christian enough, and then outside my spiritual group because I was too Christian. Outside my chemical company because of my love for the environment. Outside of my family because something was wrong with them, or me. Outside of my Ivy League classmates because I was not wealthy enough. Outside of my own body because of my allergies. Outside because I spent most of my life spattered, splashed, and speckled with mud.
I was also outside of God’s love. Spattered so thoroughly that God could not love me. No one else could either. Spattered, smeared, and polluted with ugly, smelly mud. Because of what he, my great uncle, did.
I do not remember when it began. I just knew it happened, in Oyster Bay on Long Island. My great uncle babysat me. And did things to me. Things that splashed, speckled, and spattered mud all over my body for most of the rest of my life. The same uncle who showed me pictures of naked boys when I was a teen. The same uncle who rubbed my thighs while I tried to ignore it. The same uncle who talked about J. Edgar Hoover hitting on him when he was young. I didn’t know any better. He was just my great uncle.
It was only years later in my twenties when I began to understand it all. When my boundaries were loose and secretaries sat on my lap. When I would hug anyone whether I knew them or not. When I had so many fantasies and dreams about being raped in prison. When the dark smog of depression, self-harming thoughts, and hopelessness descended from nowhere and pursued me into the painful crevasses of my overactive imagination. When I fell into deep depression, others commented, “You have so much going for you.” Except for my ghosts, dreams, and imaginary demons who keep stalking me, I wanted to reply. They live in my basement room and won’t move out.
Even when the bleak gray clouds of mental machinations moved aside for weeks and sometimes months, the mud was still splattered, splashed, and speckled over my body. No shower could wash it away. No cliff diving into Crater Lake or splashing through the rapids of the Yellowstone River could cleanse my body. The mud was caked on. To stay. All the time. ‘Cause it was part of me. And always would be. Forever and ever, amen.
Everyone saw the mud because it clung to me. Everyone knew what happened. Everyone knows that I am damaged goods. Everyone saw it whether I walked in the mall, sat at my desk, or stood naked in a public locker room. They especially saw it when I was in front of a group, speaking, and sweat dripping noisily down from my armpits. Of course they didn’t know;,but I thought that they did.
And because I was spattered and speckled with mud, I did not deserve. I did not deserve a raise, a car that ran, new clothes, friendship. I did not deserve to be near the front of the line. I did not deserve to be honored on my birthday. I did deserve to be picked last for our pick-up hockey games. To deserve any love from anyone, I needed to work harder, to give more, do favors, mow lawns, run errands, and wash clothes. Because in and of myself, I was not deserving of that love.
I am too old to run the Tough Mudder anymore. Not that I ever did. The mud has worn off. Or was cleansed and transformed through years of therapy. And the love of my children and close friends and twelve steps friends. With caring love, the mud crystalized into diamonds. In the rough. But diamonds nonetheless.