Dad led a pretty unfortunate life for all his later successes. It seems that most of his stories end in a half-assed punch line.
He ran track. He lived in quiet, damp, locker rooms before and after school and at the start and end of lunch periods. He knew few things as well as the drip-drop of a football player’s empty shower stall after the team had vacated with their towel snapping in tow leaving the hallowed room for the scavenger sports like track.
He scuttled in sideways and awkwardly like a crab or an insect wary of a fly swatter, aware, with feelers to feel out the silence of a peaceful locker room where no taunts would be thrown and he could quietly dress in and out of his track clothes.
Mornings were a holy time. He would wake up a whole two hours before he had to so he could shower, dress, and eat a light breakfast before the sun came up. He would catch the world in between the unrepentant life of the night rats that slept off heroin hangovers in dumpsters around the school and the bitter day-to-day of the working crowd. His world would be at peace. The sun was bright and the sky cold as steel and just as gray when he stepped from the locker room cave wearing his Ontisuka Tigers in school colors (burgundy and gold) with matching track shorts. He would greet the day like a monk with a short—nearly unnoticeable—bow to the sky.
After an hour spent on the track when most would be too weary to commit to school he would dress out before the football players had a chance to get in and question him about his strange habits. “I didn’t see anyone chasing you out there… why the fuck do you run so much?”
As the day wore down and he got to the last period before lunch he would catch the jitters thinking of bologna sandwiches and maybe a snackpack to eat in the moldy locker room as he dressed out to mess around with all the track and field equipment that the coach let him, and only him, use on his lunch break.
And when he returned to the monotony of afternoon classes he would daydream of mornings spent in solitude running through the sun while the rest of the class dreamt of genitals or something like that, he wasn’t so sure what they dreamt of. His wholesome self-confidence was wearing thin in a weak onslaught of paper airplanes and spitballs by the time two o’ clock rolled around.
The girl next to him draws a square in the air when he glances over because he nailed the last question about Alexander Hamilton but he pretends not to notice this tortuous blow. He is tapping his pencil on his desk dreaming of the afternoon when he will pop into his personal homeroom and sometimes domain of solitude—the locker room—and dress out for a run around town that after an hour or two will bring him home and to the comfort of a room filled with books and his older brother’s abandoned folk records.
The wind had picked up and ripped a year’s worth of handed back papers from a backpack, littering the yard with the life and times of Angel Morales. No rain fell yet but it was coming. Kids seemed to balk at the edge of overhangs as if fearing the open sky above their heads. It kind of looked like one of the squalls he’d seen on a road trip to Kansas with Grandpa. It looked like fear, like imminent demise, in the form of incoming black storm clouds but he would run anyways.
The sun had gone away and taken with it some of the joy he derived from running around town hurdling rosebushes and hedges as he went. Still there was the contentment of the silence and solitude as he ran for the highway that ran along the side of town.
He ran along the highway because he knew exactly how far a one-way trip next to the highway was but when he got lost in the labyrinth of residential neighborhoods dead ends and cul-de-sacs it became impossible to calculate how far he’d run.
He was running towards the west where a strip of blue sky was still visible as if he might outrun the squall. He was fast and he knew it but this one was probably a little bigger than him. He ran for it anyways, in his mind racing a massive storm staying on the very edge where the raindrops fell sparsely like scouts for a greater war. He wanted to run fast. He wanted to catch that blue strip. He thought he would.
And then the skies opened up and let the water really fall. It smelled like factories left to zombies of industry, it smelled like a freeway left to rot in the elements, it smelled like his dad after a day at work, it smelled like urban regret, it smelled like Los Angeles in winter. It was all in the rain.
In the downpour dad imagined himself a soldier caught up in a sudden shelling, machine gun fire and general war. The cold felt like flame and the patter sounded like rifle fire from the sky aiming to take him down. When he looked up, pushing back an imaginary helmet, with the look of grit and morbid determination veterans had he saw that the blue sky had disappeared and everything was splattered and soaked in a state of war.
He was still a ways from home but figured with the way the raindrops lashed and beat his exposed legs and arms he should make a general course for home before things got worse and it started to hail. He was thinking of getting back to his warm home, thanking god that it was only a pretend war and that he always had a nice warm shower waiting for him at home.
Running up Garden Avenue, he started to think of the dirty, moist, warmth of a discotheque’s dance floor and dancing next to a girl. He couldn’t put a face to the legs. He could only imagine the disembodied legs dancing across the colorfully lit floor with him. He was dreaming of doing the hustle.
He had visions of a college town away from urban decay, a place where thousands like him could go to be themselves and stop daydreaming for a few years and just to become. Become what? What would running in an Oregon green and gold uniform do for him, anyways? What was it in college that would necessarily transform? How could he know?
Gilda Farrior had a thought a few minutes after the heavy rain began. She knew that there was no way she’d be able to stand the next few hours of the rainy racket without a cigarette or two. Who would know? It couldn’t hurt anyone.
She slipped into her shiny gold, sequined, track jacket and grabbed the unread newspaper from the television stand to cover her dyed dark, crispy, old woman’s curls on the way to the car. She kisses her fingers instinctively walking out the front door and presses them to the picture of a man who died some years before.
Gilda drove up Balboa Street headed for Garden Avenue roughly going the twenty-five mile per hour speed limit while the rain beat a deafening and confusing rhythm down on her full sized American sedan.
She hit a speed bump very hard not having seen it in the generally disarraying gray of the down pouring rain. “Oops!” she declared feeling the loose grip on her cigarette vanish as it slipped from her two fingers held in the air in an awkward, practiced position and fell to the floor. She hadn’t cursed since she was very young and still would not though she felt like it.
She took one glance over her tall steering wheel before slowly and feebly moving down to feel on the floor for the burning cigarette. As she reached further down her foot pushed a little harder depressing the accelerator and the car imperceptibly pushed forward raising the speed on the speedometer as it moved blindly up Garden Avenue.
A car crash is like a heart attack, seconds of complete loss of control and the knowledge that anything may transpire in the next few moments depending on whether or not you die.
The rain was still coming down when Gilda finally came to a complete stop and she focused enough to see that there was a large spider web of cracks on her windshield. She was hesitant at stepping out of the car. Meanwhile, the cigarette continued to burn into the floor sending up smoke signals detailing its location to the roof.
Moments later an ambulance surged through the confusing, repeating streets to Garden Avenue with its siren blazing through rain. Blood was washing away towards the gutter. Dad’s broken body lay motionless in the road and Gilda was just barely sure she hadn’t killed him. She was struck by the youth of the broken thing with his legs forced into impossible positions.
When the paramedics came and got out they surged into their civic wet dream of saving high school track runners and taking control of the situation that had an old lady nearly in tears muttering something about Newports and inflation.
His blurry vision slowly snapped back together in a red whirl of ambulance lights.
It was raining? The last thing he remembered was waking up in the morning and running through the sunshine. And that was when he stopped remembering all together and the searing pain came to him. He began a mumble that became a whimper and broke into a scream that rose above the pounding of the storm and floated across the chimneys of the family neighborhood.
“I assure you all the damages will be paid. We do things that way in this family. I don’t want you to lose a moment’s rest over this unfortunate mess.” Grandfather said as grandma stood in her very pious stance surveying the scene staring at the blood still washing away although her son was already gone, carted off some place.
“I just don’t know…” says Gilda with a dejected kind of guilt grandfather mistook for concern in all that rain. “…He just came out of nowhere.”
Disappearing off Garden Avenue and making for the highway where the rain was still coming down albeit somewhat softer now Dad was given an injection of some painkiller and the rest he doesn’t remember except for one thing the doctor said as he examined the compound fractures in both legs. “I suppose you’ll have a lot of important questions for me about your future…”
“Yeah I do…”
“Well as far as running for the team goes…”
“When will I be able to dance again?” He interrupts in a daze.
“You dance?” Asks the doctor surprised and much more concerned with the school’s athletic success than a track star’s love of dancing.
“Not yet… but I think I’d like to.”
Read more about Margaret here.