— this is really happening

Archive
March, 2008 Monthly archive

Becoming a writer is a journey into remembering one’s childhood. The two go hand in hand. When I consider what to write about the experience of running the Napa Valley Marathon this past Sunday, I can’t help but return to the summer of third grade, Toby Keller’s house, getting in a fight with the boys, and a long, nerve-wracking walk home alone. Of course it was illegal, in kid-parent rules, to walk on Woodside Road by yourself. Understandably, kids had died on that road from being hit by cars, cyclists too. Aside from being the primary cross street to little Neuman Lane on which I grew up, it was the Peninsula’s favorite sports car escape route. A stealth alternative to test your newly-acquired Jag or Benz away from the cop patrolled Hwy. 280. It was a curvy, lusciously paved slick ideal for going 70 in a 35, and that day, against countless finger-waving pleads and warnings from my parents, banished from the boys’ backyard games, I had no other choice but to use it to get home.

It was my insistence.
I insisted on being included. 

This was my biggest strength growing up a social-hungry tom-boy in a very wealthy, very privileged town that honored the isolation of its inhabitants far more than the community. By way of its setting, Woodside certainly had the potential to be a Huck & Tom style Adventure Posse playland. There were creeks, fields for romping, countless dusty, dirt roads lined with tall, sand-colored grassy things, oaks, acorns galore, eucalyptus shavings, black squirrels and daddy long legs spiders, and a fantastic array of mailboxes introducing old, concrete tracks that snuck off into thousands of properties in the area. Indeed, the town had all the markings of a great place to explore and play, except for one thing: it was so damn spread out. I forever dreamed of Edward Scissorhands neighborhoods with shared lawns and heavenly late afternoon, touch football games in every cul-de-sac. But, spread out as we were, and with my uber social nature, I often struggled to find both my accomplices, and the opportunity to play as much as I wanted.

Toby Keller was one of my nearest buddies. He lived about two miles away, which in kid terms, was about six hundred and fourty-seven hours away. Because Woodside Road was always between me and any chance of adventuring with another kid, I usually relied on Mom or Dad to drive me to and from. But that one day, the day we’re returning to for the sake of the story, I remember with a vexing and hysterical grip on the memory, I was trapped at home. We kids did use phones back then so I must have called Toby myself to learn about what was shaping up, a brewing get together over at his house. Playing would happen, rough-housing, dare-deviling, whatever fort-building, ball-tossing could be mustered. It was gonna be great! I was ready to go! Next thought, where were Mom and Dad? Hm. Hm. Okay, maybe they’d be back soon.

Ten thousand years passed. Tick tock. Another ten thousand. Nope. They were not around. They had told me where they were going, I’m sure. I probably even knew when they’d be back, but, come on, time was wasting, hoops were being thrown and I was missing it. So, I did what any forthright, adventure-hungry kid would do (remember the insistence): I took my bike out of the garage, pulled it up the hill, tightened my bulky helmet around my head (don’t knock the glasses), looked back at the house, and in a nod of unrelenting craving, I rode away, heading straight for Woodside Road.

The trip to Toby’s house was easy. It was early in the afternoon and the sun made a bright and safe passage for me past the few mid-day zooming cars. When I arrived, I remember Toby’s Mom had made us sandwiches and there were still some on the kitchen counter. All the boys were out back. Bike helmet in hand, I walked to the rear of the house and stood in the doorway looking out in the backyard. The smell was faintly of barbecue from the night before, that summery buzz of floo-floo critters was circling about, there was a pile of old plastic pool toys on the ground. Out back were Toby, Jon McSwain, Tyler White, and Toby’s scary older brother who’s name I can’t remember. Everybody turned and looked at me. Jon and Toby both gave small waves, the other boys kept at the game. They were playing baseball.

Now, it would be completely acceptable if you were really beginning to wonder what all this has to do with running the Napa Valley Marathon. Indeed, the story doesn’t seem to line up at all. Toby wasn’t even running, I had a bike, baseball was being played, Woodside Road had fast cars, and I was a naughty kid for going it alone. But, this day stayed with me. It was a pivotal moment in my years of childhood sports. It was the day I was kicked out because I could not keep up.

Because there were four of them already, I was an automatic outskirt by being the fifth. It’s hard to make an even game with five. Some immediate jokes were made about my addition to a team not really counting (the girl reference), but I shrugged it off, and was quickly assigned to one team. The tall trees swaying around us in the backyard field, we stayed playing for a few hours as the afternoon grew cooler with the setting sun. I could hold my own in baseball. I knew how to throw fast and hard. My catching wasn’t quite as solid, but I wouldn’t say I sucked. Our team ended up winning, I remember, which made Toby’s older brother sour, an event that lead to our next activity, the one where I was jettisoned.

The boys wanted to race. [Sidenote thought. Kids are awesome. Can you imagine now, just heading out into the street, throwing a couple of sweatshirts on the ground as markers, and racing back and forth with your friends until you could no longer see because it had grown dark?!] Me, I was not so inclined to race. For one, I was slow. For two, actually there was no two; I was slow. Of course at that time I didn’t know that my strength would lie in distance running later in life, that keeping a slow and steady pace and a natural, measured breath would come quite easily to me. No, when you’re ten years old, running is only about one thing: speed. Measured breath is hardly a concern.

Again, we divided into teams. This time, my previous team made gesture to the fact that it was the other boys’ turn to have me, the girl. [Another sidenote thought. I’m wanting to add that these boys were generally nice guys. All the girl references were mostly a matter of their conditioning. Get any of them alone and none of this girl-boy shit would come up. But there in the midst of the competition, and in front of each other, they all bowed like little sissies to the social gender pecking order that Robert Bly so aptly condones in Iron John.] But it was hard, I was full of insistence to be included, but I knew I was a weak link. I lasted a few rounds before Toby’s older brother, the nameless scooter who acts as our antogonist in today’s story, yelled at me for losing my fourth or fifth race in a row. I think he made fun of my glasses and called me a peacock. Really. A peacock. Who calls anyone a peacock?! What does that even mean? But that’s what he called me, and it stuck, and I was devestated.

I was in such a state I left my bike there. I ran off (now with great speed) barreling towards the main drag. Panting, I knew I would have to walk home on our big, burly Woodside Road, but I had no choice, it had to be done. The walk home was long. I stayed close to the shoulder, alert as a deer. While passing the trees and wooden street signs I had pedalled by only hours earlier, my head was spinning. I left Toby’s that day with a huge message of athletic failure punctuating a sonic boom in my little head. I could not run. I was no runner. My parents did find out I had gone to Toby’s. I’m sure I left a note. I’m sure they were outraged I had left the house. I’m sure there was grounding mixed with some consoling about my being kicked out of the group. That part of the memory is less clear.

When we fast forward now to the events of last Sunday, we do so with a lar
ger picture, I suspect. Turns out that running (and most topics that kids glaze over with brave naivete) is a very deep subject. There are many ways to run. Training for a marathon is one of the largest physical hurdles I can recall. And as my blessed friend EK would say, there is nothing miraculous about it. You show up. You run when you don’t want to. You learn what is possible by doing what you otherwise would rather stop doing. To be a philosoph romantic about it, the training ground is less about becoming a runner, and more about realizing that you already are one, despite what you may have once learned.

image_server.cfm.jpgI cried when I finished the Napa Valley Marathon. I held on to a chain link fence near the finish line, shaking it with grit and dignity, and I cried and yelled out, "I finished! It’s done! We did it!" I really did remember Toby Keller’s house at that moment, too. Earning the rights to do nothing for weeks if we wanted, I hugged my comrade through tears and aches. Triumph is a real, palpable, visceral thing. Sunday was a day of redemption, and I hope it resonates with me and continues to wake me up to what is possible for as long as I live.

Anything friends, anything.

Read More