The Other Me...

As a professional-father-husband person, there's not exactly gobs of free time. In my 20's, I found exactly none for me and that was a mistake. I was a boring person, I suspect, and not a very pleasant one, either.

In my mid-twenties, I took up writing -- scribbling short stories and a novel that ended up with a "close but no cigar story" from the publishing houses in NYC. And after that, quite frankly, I had enough of the writing for a while.

Realizing the importance of doing something besides being a marketing guy and yelling at the kids to quit fighting, I filled up the time previously occupied with writing with running. And that's been good, too. (It's new commenter-Sarah's pointing out the Pushcart nomination in my bio that has my brain on this track.)

I expect down the road I'll become a writing runner, though for now I think I'm probably 1 or the other, because the professional thing puts food on the table and husband-father gig reminds me it ain't all about me.

At any rate, my point - and I do have 1 - is that at one point, the runner and the writer came together in a single story. It was called "Harried" and was the winner of the Central PA Magazine Writing Contest in 2004. It's a story about a high school cross country runner. Frantic ego-surfing on Google proves that the story is long gone from Central PA's public archives, so I now feel safe breaking any copyright laws and reprinting it here. So whether you're here for the writing or the running, hopefully, you'll enjoy it:

"Harried" by Marcus Grimm

You’d be surprised what you can do with a telephone pole.

The fence alongside our driveway that keeps my mother from drifting down the bank of pacasandra? Telephone poles. Holding up my plywood backboard and rusty metal hoop? A telephone pole. The crossbar from which a bird feeder nourishes on one side and a bug zapper destroys on the other? Half a telephone pole.

It’s an expensive way to do things, unless your Dad is manager of the phone company. Then it’s just like stealing office supplies on a much grander scale.

He started stealing the telephone poles about five years ago, when it was obvious to him that he was being passed over for promotions. Not that he really wanted one, anyway. He’s the biggest fish in our frightfully tiny country town pond. But still, a few more atta-boys from the home office wouldn’t have hurt.

He travels to the home office in Scranton a lot. For what, I don’t know. Phones ring. People answer them. The world moves on. It’s not rocket science, though my father would be quick to point out that it is how news of rocket science is spread.

These visits, these coat-and-tied excuses for progress, these budget crunching, bean counting, right sizing excursions always come on the days of my cross-country meets. He returns a day or two later, and asks how I did, but by then I’ve forgotten.

Nobody reads the sports page from two days ago.

Not that cross-country is a good spectator sport. Hardly. Twenty-five boys, all lacking the size and coordination to play football but who are clever to realize our sport is one step, albeit small, beyond the chess team.

We start running in July, meeting at the high school after supper time. The roads are still hot, but the air is less so. We run on back country roads, from telephone pole to telephone pole. Six miles. Eight miles. Ten miles. My knees always hurt on the first two. They’re not made for this. Nobody’s are. But still, it passes the time.

There are three of us who set the pace. Alan and Chris won’t beat me in any race, but this is practice, so we stick together. Why they can’t beat me is merely genetic. It’s not my fault, anymore than it’s not my fault that cross-country runners don’t look like football players and aren’t watched by cheerleaders. It’s all relative.

Summer oozes into fall oozes into school. Distance training gives way to interval training. One mile at break neck speed, with five minute jogs between them. This is our hell, and we celebrate it by vomiting school lunches onto the lawn.

The whole time, my father travels to the home office, where he hears not for the first time that senior management should have college degrees. My father spent those years as a linesman, linking pole to pole to pole. Now, he learns, he was wrong. Continuing education for a man in his fifties is not an option. He thanks them for the advice, and comes back to our town to hide in satellite office obscurity. He rents a tremendous log splitter, and runs telephone poles through it on the weekends. He takes these pole-ettes, and stacks them for firewood. In the winter our house will smell like creosote.

Throughout the fall, I set records that nobody cares about. Races are just over three miles, and take place around the athletic fields of various schools. We run on the land they own but haven’t used. We run where the kids sneak off to smoke pot or have sex or drink beer or all three. We go to these same places, but only feel them with the soles of our feet, not our backs, and not our butts.

Our home course is three laps around the school grounds. In the back corner, we descend down a path into an overgrown thicket that we call the hole. We slide by a hornets' nest that seems to grow larger with each passing, like my anger. We are pulled into the hole by gravity, and are pushed out of it by fear. When the hornets become too many, even the potheads abandon the hole. It is ours alone now.

Despite these records, despite this obscure notoriety, despite the fact that I am his son, my father never comes. He is either at the home office, learning of his failures, or in the backyard, running them through the wood chipper.

On the last day of the season no one knows about, we race against our rival school. They have their own super-unheard-of-hero. Another unknown superstar, who will also go to an unheard of college with an unremarkable scholarship. He hasn’t been beaten this year, and neither have I, and nobody cares. Not even me.

Three-quarters of a mile into the first lap, we pass one of the nylon flags that signifies a turn in the course. I’m riding the heels of my opponent, and his sidekick boxes me in. As we pass the flag, the boy in front slaps the flexible pole, subtle enough to look like an accident to everyone but me. The triangle flag slaps comically into my face, the nylon edge slicing my cheek. Race-heated blood seeps from it, and I push my opponent forward. We leave his sidekick behind, breathing hard. Alan and Chris have seen what’s happened, and they’re no doubt planning retaliation. But that’s behind me. Nothing behind me matters.

On the second lap, my opponent and I push forward, almost in lockstep. In another world, we could be brothers. In another world, we could roll our eyes at our out-of-touch father. In another world, we could cut down all of the telephone poles.

But we are in this world, and as we drift past the buzzing hornets’ nest and turn the corner to ascend from the hole, my brother drives his elbow sharply into my stomach just below my rib.

My body stalls, like a racecar popping a gasket. The oxygen to air to muscle to burn to energy ratio is instantly screwed, and I falter back. All that’s left is anger.

He moves five yards ahead of me, and then ten, as I try to jump start my body while it’s still moving. We fly up out of the hole, and his coach goes wild at the turn of events. People walking by notice the coach’s clown routine without regard to the two best runners in the county, only a mile from the finish. My eyes lock on my opponent, and I try to reel him in as my systems return to something that feels normal. I close the gap to seven yards, and then six. Anger isn’t the best fuel to run on, but in a pinch, it’ll do.

On the final lap, we run the perimeter of the athletic fields, which border the road from the school to my home. A familiar pickup passes by, with the telephone company logo on the door. I don’t need to see who’s behind the wheel. The trailer pulling the three telephone poles tells me all I need to know. The truck goes forward, the red caution flag on the tail of the pole flapping a plaintive good-bye.

Inside me, the anger turns to rage, and my legs spring to life. As we near the top of the hole, I cut the gap from five yards to three to two, and then, just as we begin the descent, I am at my brother’s shoulder.

Momentum is a scary thing. Built and nourished properly, it can carry someone a long way, but a misdirection, even a slight one, can be bad. Real bad.

We fly down the hill, leaping with each step. My hand moves to the small of my brother’s back, the pads of my fingertips sliding over a silk jersey that I’ve imagined must feel like women’s lingerie. I can smell my brother’s sweat and the honey-suckle that grows all around us. Just five feet before the hornets’ nest, I push on his back sharply. It’s only a step and a half, and he doesn’t even have time to scream. He just plows into the bush. His first grunt is anger. He’s not thinking of hornets. Yet.

I turn the corner and drive myself out of the hole, thighs burning with every step. Behind me are lots of sounds, all bad. I fly from the hole, faster than I’ve ever gone before, my final anger-drive thrust. As I sprint the final two hundred yards to the tape my brother’s coach yells, “Where is Danny? Where is Danny?” But I don’t answer.

When it’s over, and they ask me what happened, I’ll just say I don’t know. And they’ll believe me, because as long as you stay ahead of things, there’s absolutely no way to see what’s going on behind you. No way at all.

And when my brother hit that bush, and the bees drove into him out of instinct and anger, when it all went wrong, I was ahead of him. I know I was.

Comments

  1. so happy you wrote about this! i'm skimming now but can't wait to read in detail. thanks for talking about being a writing runner/running writer. more soon!

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The Bright Side

First Love

Father's Day 2015