“Pusher Love Girl”: The Backstory
I’ve listened to “Pusher Love Girl” four times since Kendall passed away. The first, on the way to visit the cemetery the first time by myself, when flowers didn’t seem to suffice. The second, it becoming my little tradition, the next time I visited the cemetery alone. Although I do usually bring flowers, I feel like they are more for myself—Justin Timberlake seems a better offering to a 20-year-old brother than tulips ever will.
Both the third and fourth rounds of “Pusher Love Girl” happened Saturday.
The song was never officially dubbed “ours” or “his” persay, but it’s the most current reminder I have of him in my head. I imagine others who have unexpected loss may feel the same way about a cereal they saw their loved one eat before leaving home or the reading glasses left on the bedside table. “Pusher Love Girl” is my favorite because, well, it’s slightly explicit and full of pop, and a memory that is solely mine.
The last summer we had together, both back in our childhood rooms across the hall from one another, he’d listen to it in the mornings, his electric razor buzzing and falsetto voice unashamedly belting. I was the only one who ever woke to a voice-cracking “I’m just a j-j-j-junkie for your love” from the next room. Unlike the heaviness of tombstones and obituaries, this song reminds me of life. The song is full and peppy, just like those mornings filled with spritzes of cologne and scents of waffles. It’s the unscathed joy we didn’t know to savor from our side-by-side life, the one before we became separated by tragedy. The safe and sound version of us.
My running was not motivated by reminders of his death, but of his life. And that half marathon? I did the dang thing.
In Which We Talk About The Race and Not “Pusher Love Girl”:
Saturday morning brought a 4:30 am wake-up call and the hottest morning Nashville’s seen in quite a while. I’d never trained in this kind of heat, in addition to never before wearing the knee brace and tank top I decided to wear on race day. AKA I basically broke all of the “running world” violations before getting out of the car, watching the odds stack up against me before my eyes. Anxious runners filled Broadway, pushing through the crowds to locate their running corrals. I was supposed to be in corral 38, but in a blackout moment of sheer naivety, I made the oh-so-obvious determination that I AM NOT A CORRAL 38 KIND OF GIRL. And thus, my corral 10 career was born. Split seconds after making that decision, I heard the announcer say the number 10 and FELT MY LEGS MOVING WITHOUT MY BRAIN. Like, hello? Stretching? What’s that? Beyonce? Is that you?
It wasn’t until the end of Broadway that I realized I hadn’t started my music or running app and remembered to take a beginning-of-the-race selfie. With expletives dancing in my head, I rounded the country music- filled corner with flashback memories of all the 5Ks I’ve ever hated filling my steps with angst. And then, the Space Jam theme song came on and I WAS BUGS BUNNY WITH THE ALLEY-OOP. “Welcome to your jam,” the honky-tonk heavens sang. (Don’t quote me on this theology, but I BELIEVE THEY EXIST, OK?)
The angst was gone and the first five miles were like Christmas morning. I passed the 5K mark with a confident scoff at my formerly-lacking self with internal shouts of YOU ARE DOING THE THING, GIRL. GET IT. I had no chill, and why yes, I sang all the songs that were blasting in my earbuds with complete choreography while running, loving my life. I decided that since I had already set a personal record of “showing up to a half-marathon,” I was going to also have the most fun ever. And I did.
But did I mention it was hot? And there were hills? It was entirely, hilariously toasty, and I downed unidentified glucose packets and running goo all along the way. On mile 10, they gave out wet sponges and it was a definite highlight. (Did I just say that mile TEN was a highlight? You guys. I think I’ve been hacked.)
I’m not going to tell you that it was all butterflies and roses, except, in retrospect, it was. I did the thing I didn’t ever ever ever think I could possibly do. It was HARD and it was HOLY and it was life-altering.
Post-glorious sponge distribution, I’m starting to feel like I will not live to see the finish line. Until this point, I have diligently timed my run/walk ratios, but with three miles to go, my body takes over and I do everything I can to just keep going. I’m delirious and see ambulances and stretchers occupied with runners in the distance. NOT TODAY, I tell myself. NOT TODAY.
In the midst of my delirium, I hear someone in the crowd shout, “Last mile! You can do it!,” and suddenly wonder if I’ve lost track of the mileage or a true marathon miracle has occurred. Although I thought I was just beginning mile 11, I am terrible at geography and am extremely gullible, thus whipping out my last mile playlist like I was born for this moment.
Back to “Pusher Love Girl”
I am wearing a wristband that says “Make Him Proud,” a reminder of the brother I started running for. Because I was unable to emotionally prepare for the last mile, I was suddenly overcome with emotion at the start of “Pusher Love Girl.” The buzzing, the falsetto, the waffles, my brother–it was all there, aching into my muscles. I sped up, ready to finish strong, but the song kept going and going, with no finish line in sight. The tears were streaming, and for the first time, my physical pain matched the brokenness I’ve felt all along. My feet were bleeding, my knees throbbing, and my patience thinning.
And then I began the actual last mile. I’d run mile twelve as if it were my last, with nothing left for mile thirteen. Pro tip: Don’t listen to spectators, friends. With my heart set on the playlist, I clicked “play” again, but this round was different. I was slower, softer, exhausted. I was weak, I was out of control, and by grace, I was straight-up joyful. I fist-pumped and sang my own falsetto to “I’m just a j-j-junkie for your love.” Steadying myself, I crossed the real, genuine finish line, in complete and total shock. It wasn’t just victory; it was redemption.
Death isn’t the end. Sadness isn’t the end. In Christ, we cross the finish line stripped of our own strength, with joy renewed and darkness removed. He will play back the sad songs we’ve written and show us their worth. This is our story. This is our song.
I am overwhelmed. He has overcome.
I can barely walk today, but it was worth it. The training, the blisters, the soreness, it was all so, very worth it. And I wonder if this can help me navigate suffering, this in-between life that feels like a never-ending race without my brother. Maybe healing begins when we intentionally show up to our brokenness, expecting it to be hard and pushing forward anyway. I walked away Saturday feeling a little more whole, a little more
Kendall, I hope I made you proud, buddy. See you at the finish line.
“Do not let it cross your mind that you do not have what it takes to pursue your dreams.”