During the summer between 10th and 11th grade, I was in training. After playing junior varsity soccer for the first two years of high school, it was time to try out for the big leagues: the varsity squad. The varsity coach came from a track background, so part of the tryouts was a mandatory run. We had to do the 800m (twice around a standard track) in something like 2:20. If you couldn’t do it, you couldn’t make the team, simple as that.
So I spent the summer going periodically for runs. I would lace up my shoes, run down the road for a while, then run home. I did this kind of a lot, I don’t know, I mean it felt like a lot. I absolutely hate running. When we had to run on the JV team, these long cross-country 5k type runs, I would hide behind a car with my friend the goalie after the first turn took us out of eyesight. Then we’d just catch up as the group came thumping back around. The junior varsity coach, Gilbert, was something of a space cadet.
Running for me, in all the sports I played, was never connected in any meaningful way to being successful in games, scoring more goals, whatever. I’ll compete until I collapse, but when I run it’s just me and this little voice on a loop in my head: “this hurts, I can’t breathe, this hurts, I want to stop, let’s stop.” It was something I was forced to do, all the god damn time, for soccer, hockey, baseball, lacrosse, every god damn thing, and mostly by men who were overweight balding alcoholics, men who enjoyed yelling like drill sergeants, men whose own glory days had ended with their proms. Maybe that’s not fair. The point is I hated it. I still hate it.
That summer wound down, and eventually it became the week before tryouts. An old friend of mine, a year older, happened to be at the track one day when I showed up to run. He’d made the leap to the varsity squad last year and knew the deal, so he offered to time me. As I came around the home stretch, he held up the stop-watch and started yelling out encouragement, and I found myself running like I’d never run before, rounding the final corner, gulping breaths like a drowning man. When I crossed the finish line I crashed down and collapsed, helpless, on the red rubberized track. From my wheezing vantage point on my back, unable to speak, the look in his eyes was worrying. When I caught my breath and managed to ask, he told me, tactfully, that I wasn’t even close.
A week later, at tryouts, I tried. Really I did, but what I had learned that day was that this run required basically sprinting the entire 800 meters. To my genuine surprise, the jogging I’d been doing all summer had been woefully inadequate. Given my apparently lackluster training routine, I simply wasn’t physically capable of it — without a time machine, it wasn’t going to happen. So I tried, and I failed, and I packed up my things, and I went home. For the last two years of school I played tennis. The tennis coach didn’t give a shit about running.
I say this a lot, and I’m sure my friends and family think I’m being sort of a dickhead every time, but I really believe it: there is metaphor in everything. It’s the great gift I’ve taken from writing, a wisdom that extends beyond poetry, the idea that there is connection and meaning and symbolism everywhere, not just in art, but in life. Awareness cuts both ways though, and metaphor doesn’t discriminate between happy or sad, good or bad; these are human concepts. Metaphors are just connections, lines between two points. This one really haunts me.
I think I’m trying. I really do, and I find this life incredibly difficult, every day is a struggle inside myself. And yet for all that striving, there’s precious little to show. I’m 31 years old, living in an un-insulated room, with no career, a handful of crumpled dollar bills, and a pile of little arts that I find beautiful but nobody sees. When I reflect on that honestly, there is a part of my brain, a part that I hate, that wonders:
am I just… jogging?