Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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At the Starting Line

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pp. ix-2

TODAY IS MY BIRTHDAY. APRIL 13, 2014. I’ve had quite a lot of them already. I am eighty-six years old and I am standing at the starting line of the first Istrian Marathon. For my birthday, I will treat myself to a 21-kilometer run, a half marathon. I can hardly believe I am so old. How...

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1. Each Step Counts

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pp. 3-10

AND SO I RUN THE FIRST METER of the first kilometer of the last half marathon of my life. The course is not wide and the runners are practically touching each other. We’re almost like the colorful houses in Slovenia’s bucolic seaside town of Piran, situated on the shore by the Adriatic Sea, so...

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2. But Where Are You, Girls?

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pp. 11-16

AT THE CORNER OF TARTINI SQUARE IN Piran, the course begins a steep incline. The terrain is different from what I’m accustomed to. I can hardly remember racing up such a steep hill. As I run between the Venetian-style houses, I inhale the musty air that pours into the streets from the cool...

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3. The Slope of Love

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pp. 17-26

AFTER FIESA, THE COURSE BEGINS ANOTHER STEEP ascent. Before I tackle the slope, I focus for a moment on the sounds of the orchestra that is playing a lively melody. They have chosen a good place for their stage. The scenery behind them offers a view of the freshwater lake that reflects...

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4. In Search of a Safe Home

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pp. 27-34

THE DESCENT TOWARD THE CHECKERBOARD PATTERN OF the saltpans is at such an ideal angle that my stride feels pleasantly easy. “How do you manage to keep running?” people often ask me. I might answer that I still want to run away from my childhood when...

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5. The Letter

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pp. 35-44

I’M VERY GRATEFUL WHEN I SPOT AN official nourishment stand on the route. I stop, drink half a glass of water, and eat half a banana. The kind volunteers offer me oranges and a piece of cake. It’s obvious that the cake is homemade. It makes the whole event seem even nicer, even more authentic...

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6. Helena, Is That You?

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pp. 45-52

MY MOTHER ANSWERED MY LETTER AND WE began to correspond. She invited me to Ziri, I should come and live with her. She was quite persistent, but I had mixed feelings. Ziri seemed far away, I had a job in Ljubljana and no one commuted to work in those days. I was also afraid: what if I am...

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7. Will You Embrace Her When You Meet?

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pp. 53-58

THOSE FIRST KILOMETERS ARE QUITE PLEASANT, SOMEHOW virginal. We runners are fresh enough, full of sincere hope that the race in front of us will not take too much out of us. The path to my mother was of an entirely different kind. There was little hope and a great deal of effort, and...

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8. How Strange Life Turns Out!

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pp. 59-66

IN 1985, THIRTY-FIVE YEARS AFTER THAT FIRST visit in Austria, I saw my mother for the third time. I had to go much farther this time, all the way to Australia. For thirty-five years, I held in my heart the face that watched me as I crossed the threshold of her Austrian house and then promised...

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9. The Path to Jail

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pp. 67-72

WHEN I COME FROM THE TUNNEL INTO the light, eight kilometers are behind me and thirteen still ahead. This is the moment when the race becomes difficult. But today is April 13—surely I will manage to run thirteen more kilometers. A little more than what I’ve already run and...

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10. Moving out

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pp. 73-78

I AM ALREADY ABOVE IZOLA, IN THE place called Jagodje, a word that sounds like strawberry in the Slovenian language and thus brings a sort of freshness to the midpoint of today’s half marathon. I am happy that nearly half the course is behind me, that in a couple of hundred meters, I will...

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11. May I Ask for the Next Dance, Comrade?

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pp. 79-95

THE ELEVENTH KILOMETER IS SOMEHOW ALWAYS HARDER. I still enjoy the course, which is now winding among the vineyards, but I cannot run with such ease anymore. The course now slopes upward slightly. I guess it is worth the effort for a good view. Running, at least when it is uphill, is a...

Illustrations

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pp. 96-108

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12. Three Girls on a Bicycle

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pp. 109-118

I’M RUNNING THROUGH THE IZOLA MARINA, PAST the shamefully expensive yachts in which one could live a whole year round in total comfort. But they remain empty most of the time, waiting for the one or two summer weeks when their owners have time for a seaside outing. Then they tie...

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13. My Mother-in-Law’s Gift

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pp. 119-128

THE NUMBER THIRTEEN. I CAN’T SAY IT’S been unlucky for me. It is true that in recent years when I have started to run more slowly, it is around this marker that the course becomes somewhat lonelier. The faster runners have all gone ahead, the untrained beginners have hit a wall, as they say...

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14. Helena, Think About Something Nice!

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pp. 129-134

FROM IZOLA, I’M RUNNING TOWARD THE CITY beach, where people are sitting on the wall and looking down at us. Still paying attention to where I am stepping, I wave back at them. The race is becoming extremely difficult for me now. There are still eight kilometers till the finish line. I have not...

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15. To Ride! to Be Free!

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pp. 135-142

FROM THE SHORE, THE PATH TURNS TO the left and ascends the hill. Because I am so tired, it seems especially steep from a distance, and very long. I am becoming slower and slower. I would like to walk for a few steps, but I know I must not. I cannot allow myself to. It is so hard to start...

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16. Supper Under the White Lady

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pp. 143-148

THERE ARE NOW SIX KILOMETERS BETWEEN ME and the finish line. What might seem close to a fresh runner seems very far to a tired one. Distances stretch out longer, thoughts grow shorter, and begin to circle around. Do you really need to do this when everything hurts? If you stop now...

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17. With Such Pleasure and Determinationas If I Were Running for the Last Time

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pp. 149-154

JUST A LITTLE MORE, HELENA, YOU’RE DOING great. It’s obvious you’re healthy! That is how I encourage myself even though I know it is not exactly true. I’ve hardly recovered from these last months. Mentally I’m in bad shape and I’ve lost a lot of weight. I try to convince myself that running is healthy...

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18. To Have Time for Yourself

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pp. 155-160

THESE LAST FOUR KILOMETERS ARE TOO MUCH for me. It will be hard now to distract myself. I have run out of memories. Most of all, though, I would like my thoughts to just stop. A few scenes keep spinning through my mind as if someone had made a film of my life and the beginning and...

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19. A Little More

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pp. 161-164

I AM REALLY SUFFERING. MY LEGS HURT so much, I’m afraid I will fall. I lift my feet with great effort to make sure I don’t stumble over the bumps in the asphalt or trip over the roots of the trees. Roots are my friends, just like Trefalt’s roots. But when I am tired, they are dangerous. I know I mustn’t...

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20. I Can’t Do It Anymore

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pp. 165-166

I HAVE BEEN TALKING TO MYSELF FOR three hours, but after the number twenty I say something out loud:
“I can’t do it anymore.”
As if Radojka already expected these words, she responds immediately: “Oh, yes you can, and you will. We’re almost at the finish line. Come on...

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21. Where Is My Last Harbor?

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pp. 167-170

Apparently my thoughts were moving very slowly. I had hardly begun to churn them around when a kilometer had already passed. It also doesn’t hurt as much as before anymore. I feel something new, an almost miraculous strength that I am still going and it is easier for me now to continue...

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The Finish Line

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pp. 171-172

I WAS THE LAST ACROSS THE FINISH line. But I didn’t quit and I didn’t walk. Not a step. It is my own fault that I didn’t run as well as I should have. I could have run the race faster. But I made a mistake by not holding back at the beginning. My fellow runners pulled me forward, and so I ran the...

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About How This Book Was Born

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pp. 173-176

URBAN, MY HUSBAND, WHO VERY MUCH LIKES to write, used to ask me—his first reader—why I didn’t write, since my comments made it clear that I understood writing. I always told him that I would only write when the time was ripe. When I was pregnant, I met Helena while running...

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Thanks

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p. 177

MY THANKS GO ESPECIALLY TO HELENA, FROM whom I learned very much about life. And my thanks also to the one that breathed with me the strongest, my husband Urban, who listened to me and discussed Helena’s trials and victories, even in the middle of the night. Thanks as well to my...