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The low point came the Christmas after John Lyons' death when Patti found her mother in the kitchen stuffing the turkey and crying because none of the children had given her a Christmas present. "It was bad," says Catalano, explaining that her siblings had come to prefer her over their mother.
Finally Freda kicked Patti out of the house. "Now I think she was trying to teach me in her own way that there was more to the world than one town," says Catalano, "but then I hated her."
Feeling angry, abandoned and hurt, Patti moved to Sandwich on Cape Cod where she got an apartment and a job in a nursing home. Out of loneliness, she began spending her evenings in bars. "First it was Saturday night," she says. "Then it was Friday and Saturday. Then it was Thursday and Friday and Saturday, and so on. I got into some bad habits."
She would send the younger children presents when she had the money ("Can you imagine? I was spending $20 a night. On drafts!"), and once in a while she would stop at the house to see them, but she'd go no farther than the sidewalk out front. "I'd pretend I was just passing by, and I'd say, 'Well, how are things?' We'd talk a little while, and then I'd say, 'Well, I've got to go now.' "
Meantime, she was gaining weight and hating it. At her peak she weighed 148 pounds, which on a 5'4" frame is fat. She would diet on grapefruit and eggs, and then she would gorge on Twinkies. Furthermore, she had been smoking since she was 14 and was now up to two packs a day.
After 18 months on Cape Cod, she moved back to Quincy where she became a nurse's aide on the 4 p.m. to midnight shift at the Quincy City Hospital, but the style of the rest of her life remained unchanged. Every night after work she went to a bar where her friends were mostly young women who were married and unhappy or getting divorced. "I thought I was having fun," she says.
Finally, while sitting on a bar stool one night, Patti suddenly realized that she wasn't having fun, that she didn't like her life, that she was in the wrong place doing the wrong things with the wrong people. She couldn't quite say what she should be doing, but for starters she decided to lose weight. The next day she bought a bike and launched a four-pronged attack on her overweight body: she rode, swam, walked and ran. Her debut as a runner was bizarre. Knowing only that runners were supposed to use comfortable footwear, she donned her favorite Earth shoes, sweat pants, a sweat shirt and a skin diver's belt and ran seven miles around the perimeter of a Quincy cemetery.
The next day she was unable to get out of bed, and the day after that she could only roll out onto the floor. It was two weeks before she could walk properly and three before she could run again. But she had lost three pounds, so she did it again, with the same results.
"It took me almost a year to stop coughing up brown phlegm," she recalls. "The first three or four miles were really awful, but I'd work through them. Then I'd come home and smoke some more." Eventually she stopped biking and swimming and walking, but she kept on with her running.
Before long she fell in with a group of Quincy YMCA male runners who were training for the Boston Marathon. She was awed—"I couldn't get over it. Twenty-six miles!"—but not so awed that she didn't decide to do it herself someday. That was April 1976. In June she learned that if she was to run in Boston the next spring, she first had to qualify in another marathon. So she picked out the Ocean State Marathon in Newport, R.I., then four months off, and set about training for it the only way she knew how, which was running as hard as she could. Her companions from the Y told her to slow down, that all she needed was a 3:30, but she paid them no mind.