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The Runner

Someone once told me that if you ran fast enough, you could fly.

My friends always complain that they can’t keep up with me, but walking is just too slow. It seems like you never get anywhere. They say I should chill, that it seems like I’m always in a hurry. But that’s not it at all. After I’m done running, there’s always got to be a place where I can stop and relax.

I just haven’t found it yet.

I’ve run everywhere. I’ve run through busy city streets and quiet country roads. I’ve run on beaches, up mountain passes, through desert and snowstorm and wind that pulls the breath right out of your lungs. I’m free when I run. Nothing else exists, just me and the ground and the endless road ahead. My heart in sync with my feet. My breath panting to the beat.

I go through three pairs of running shoes a year and three pounds of spaghetti in a week. I’m all arms and legs, I know it. Captain of the track team, I don’t care about that. Don’t look like nothing special if you see me on the street, except you’ll always see me running. Running to feel the wind in my face and the ground under my feet. Running just to keep moving.

I guess my friends are right, I am running from something. Don’t really know what it is, but it don’t matter. As long as I can, I can run away from it, and that’s all I care about.

Until one time, when I did fly.

It was another track meet, big state-wide event. I’d done all my stretches and my warm-ups, ate my oatmeal like any other day. You could feel the heat of summer coming as if it was just on the other side of the arena. The stench of sweaty high-schoolers and the sloppily trimmed grass in the middle of the track, with the sand for the long-jumpers. All us kids in the 500-meter finals jogging in place and stretching our necks and arms and legs. The steady hum of the audience and the sharp voice of the man ordering us to our marks.

The pistol firing.

I started off just like everyone else, our steps almost in unison as we all dashed toward the finish line. Nobody else was really there, though. The cheering crowds weren’t there. The man with the starter pistol wasn’t there. Not even the other racers were there. It was just me and the track and that finish line. I leaned forward and ran harder than I’d ever run before.

The wind blew and everything fell silent. I could hear a blue jay scolding above as if it were the only thing in the world that existed. I felt the wind blow past me and it felt like it was all around me, nothing else anywhere close. I closed my eyes and I was in the air. I spread my arms and felt the breeze lift me up and I was flying. My feet were still running, but they weren’t touching the ground. They were just carrying me through the sky.

The local paper made a big stink over it the next day, had the photos of me with my head down and my eyes closed and my arms out as I crossed the finish line first, then just kept running, not stopping ’til after I’d run right off the end of the track. I didn’t care. I wasn’t thinking about the next day, I wasn’t thinking about anything. I finally knew what it was to fly.

It didn’t get me away from what I was running from. Maybe I should stop running from my problems and run with them. That’s what my friends always try to tell me, anyway.

But I’ll always remember the one time I could fly.

© Catherine Fitzsimmons

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