The Race  

Posted by Brock Booher

Here's a recent short story. Enjoy.

The Race

I had no idea how much running across the street would change my life. The accident happened so fast. One moment I was rushing to beat the traffic light, and then, suddenly, I was in the back of an ambulance on my way to the hospital - antiseptic smell, rushing medical personnel, anesthesia-induced sleep. I awoke with a pounding head, and a cast on my left leg from heel to hip.

After a few days in the hospital, they sent me home to recover, but after working on the road for most of my seventeen-year marriage, my hospital room felt more inviting. I guess all the nights of separation had subdued the signs of trouble in my marriage, but now that I was home everyday, and depressingly dependent, they lit up like neon.

Cynthia, my wife of seventeen years, feigned a smile as she set the lunch tray on my lap. “Don’t forget to take your medication,” she insisted with a cheerful, yet condescending voice.

“I’m feeling better. I don’t want to take it today. It makes me dizzy,” I complained. “Besides, I thought we could play a game or something.” I tried to sound inviting, but came across more like a pouting child.

“Now Dom, you know the pain makes you irritable. Take the medication so you can sleep the afternoon away, and be in a good mood when Caleb and Ceci get home from school.” She waved her hand as she sauntered out of the den.

I grumbled and picked at my food. I did want to be in good mood when my teenage kids got home, but her dismissive and dodgy attitude annoyed me. I slipped the pain medication into the half-eaten salad and covered it with wilted lettuce. Probably out of habit, I fell asleep in the wheelchair, but instead of sleeping the deep chemical sleep of a drugged patient, an itch under the cast roused me from my slumber.

As I came to, I heard the shower running in the master bathroom – a little odd for two in the afternoon. Since I couldn’t find the coat hanger I had been using to scratch beneath the cast, I wheeled myself to the master bathroom, but instead of finding a way to relieve an itch, I found my wife in the shower - with another woman.

The painful process of the divorce took less than three months to finalize. In those three months, my physical wounds healed nicely, but my emotional wounds deepened and spread. The pain in my left leg was replaced by a dull ache that seemed to pulse in my bones. My casual belief in God evaporated into hopelessness. I ambled listlessly through each day shrouded in a thick haze of guilt, insecurity, and anger. Thoughts of failure ran circles in my head until dark depression overcame me. One night I found myself curled up on my bathroom floor with a gun in my mouth.

I never knew how bitter gun oil tasted until I stuck the barrel of my snub-nosed Glock against the roof of my mouth. The bitterness drenched my taste buds, and lingered like the aftertaste of stale coffee. I gingerly slipped my finger over the trigger.

As my finger warmed the cool black metal, an image flooded my mind. I saw Caleb and Ceci standing at my grave. I witnessed their somber, anguished faces as they watched my casket lowered into the darkness of the earth. I felt their inquisitive teenage hearts cry out and ask me – why?

I pulled the gun away from my mouth, and spat the bitterness onto the bathroom floor. I decided that in spite of my own personal misery, I would not burden my children’s journey through life with the millstone of my suicide.
The next day at breakfast, they threw me a lifeline.

“The school is sponsoring a fun run to raise money for its sports programs, and we are all going to participate,” said Ceci. It wasn’t a request. Caleb gave a forceful glare and nodded in agreement. “It’s only a 5K, but we need to train,” said Caleb. He handed me a piece of paper. “I have a training schedule right here. We start tomorrow morning.” I took the schedule and complied with a quiet nod.

At 6 AM the next morning I heard a loud knock at my bedroom door. Ceci and Caleb were dressed, and ready for the run. I rolled reluctantly out of my bed, stumbled to my closet for my running gear, and shuffled to the living room. They quietly waited as I tied my shoes.

After the accident, I thought I would never run again, but my injuries had healed, and I found myself plodding along the trail, grinning with each step. I was out of shape, but an odd sense of euphoria enveloped me as I struggled to keep up with my kids. The early morning sun, the silent togetherness, the protective green trees that hovered over us along the trail, the daily new beginning transformed our running into therapy. Each day we traveled a little further. Each day we traveled a little faster. Each day I finished the run feeling a little more whole.

As the day of the race drew near, my muscles felt strong, tight, and ready to run. Thanks to our daily time together, my relationship with my kids was on sure footing. Hope had become my running partner, and I was ready to continue life’s race, but I was still avoiding any trail that would lead to companionship. That emotional trail was still grown over with weeds of bitterness, tall grass of anger, and prickly bushes of self-doubt.

The race scene was like a carnival - lines for T-shirts, various booths advertising their running wares, and loud upbeat music blaring out over the crowd of energetic runners and spectators. As I milled about at the starting line, a woman about my age caught my eye. It wasn’t her long brown hair in a ponytail, or her lean legs exposed by the running shorts that captured my gaze. It was the look of private pain I discerned on her face. I knew that look. I saw it every day in the mirror. She glanced at me and saw me staring. I gave her a weak smile, and a manly nod.

The gun went off. I started fast, but then settled into my pace. Caleb pulled ahead, and Ceci fell behind. Spectators cheered and encouraged along the course. At the end of the first mile I was ahead of schedule, and began to slow down, but then I saw her out of the corner of my eye - she was passing me. Our private race began. She pulled ahead at first, and I fell in behind her. When she slowed down, I passed her, but I could feel her on my heels. As we approached the last half mile, she pulled up beside me. I gave her a sideways grin and sped up. She matched my speed and grinned back.

About 100 yards from the finish line we were neck and neck. The crowd of cheering spectators grew thick along the sides of the course. It felt like everyone was now focused on our private race. She pulled a few steps ahead as I sucked air over my teeth and fought for more speed.

A bright pink ball bounced out of the crowd and on to the racecourse in front of us. She must have been so focused on the finish line that she didn’t see it. Her churning feet hit the bouncing ball. She tumbled, and frantically tried to catch herself, but sprawled across the grassy course on her stomach. I heard the air rush out of her lungs even over my own breathing. I stopped.

“Are you all right?” I asked between gasps. She moaned and rolled over onto her back. “I think I’m okay. Nothing hurt but my pride.” I extended her my hand. “Let’s finish this race.”

She grabbed my hand and pulled herself up. She winked. “Race you to the finish line!”

The crowd let out a roar as we crossed the finish line together. We both laughed. For just a moment self-doubt, bitterness, and anger melted away, and I extended my hand to her again. “I’m Dom, short for Dominick.”

Her pale green eyes sparkled as she extended her hand for the second time that day, and I knew that I was ready for another race.

This entry was posted on Monday, August 16, 2010 at Monday, August 16, 2010 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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