“I Went for a Run”
By Alexandra Aste
It may be hard to believe when you see me stretched out half asleep on the couch, beginning my fourth episode in a row of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, surrounded by a veritable army of bowls and condiments, but I’m not exactly an athlete.
In fact, you could say I’m not a fan of physical movement in general.
I once spent a whole day at summer camp pretending I didn’t just break my arm because I didn’t want to have to walk over to the health center. I’m secretly jealous of people in wheelchairs because they get to sit down all the time. You know how in Wall-E all the humans are carried around in those floaty electronic chairs, and they don’t have to get up for any reason? Who cares if they’re all fat, that is basically my idea of heaven.(Seriously, why did they want to go back to earth again? Sorry movie. Though vegetables and sunshine are all well and good, pizza and air conditioning are even better.)
So, given all that, it should come as no surprise that I did not excel in the fifth grade recess games of Capture the flag. I spent each game standing around on my team’s side of the field, watching for intruders I would never be able to catch as the fast kids planned out some elaborate strategy that was sure to dissolve as soon as they passed the opposite border. After about the fiftieth day doing this, I went kamikaze. I would run over to the other the field the moment the game started, straight into the waiting hands of a member of the opposite team. I spent so much time in the jail that I developed an identity for myself as a prisoner. Every time I passed the two tiny cones marking the boundaries of my temporary confinement I would become Big feet Rhonda, a hooker with a heart of gold who had been framed for murder by her treacherous brother in law when she tried to report his embezzlement scheme to the law.(I watched a lot of soap operas back then.) Soon, sitting at the corner of the field trying to fashion a shiv out of chopsticks from the cafeteria’s Asian Tuesdays.
Two years later, my cousin tried to get me to go with her gym where, she explained, I would move my fat in a way that would make me less fat. I liked the idea of getting fit, so I trotted along with her to the big glass building across from the Wal-Mart. That day, I managed to break five machines that, cumulatively, cost more than my dad’s car; fell down the Stairmaster twice;and got so tangled up in one of the weight machines that it took four muscular men to get me untangled. Or maybe two, I could have been seeing double from dehydration. Finally I stumbled away from the gym and into the comforting arms of the donut shop around the block. And that was the end of voluntary physical fitness for me.
Then came my eighth grade P.E. class
First of all, it wasn’t not an incredibly motivating class. Every day we would end up splitting into various groups to do whatever the sport of the week was: football, softball, hockey. If I decided to join o team of boys for say, soccer, I would get to kick the ball about once before the game descended into a yelling match about how everyone was offsides and that was such a foul.
If I joined a team of girls, every time I tried to take the ball from a girl on the opposite team she would give me this betrayed look like I’d personally wounded her by not just letting her score. And if I tried to kick a goal?’ A girl on the other side of the field would practically collapse, shriek Oh my gosh, Carol, are you okay, that ball totally hit you in the hand!” and run to cradle the goalie in her meticulously exfoliated fingers. Cue glares from every female within three miles.
Despite all of this, our P.E. teacher, Jake Rogers, known as simply Coach when he wanted to drive it home that he was a serious sportsman, who never took off his wraparound sunglasses, and whose gym shorts were so tight I’m pretty sure he had to cut himself out of them every day, didn’t seem to notice that his job had about as much effect on society as a whole as a piece of gum stuck to the underside of a bus seat. Every day he would stand out in the sun and bark things at us, like ‘come on, you could do it’ and you could successfully derail the whole class for twenty minutes if you got him talking about how it was only when you were putting full all your effort, running so fast you thought your heart would give out, that you discovered who you really were.
The only thing I was interested in discovering in P.E. Class was a way to avoid it. I would come in every class with a newly forget doctor’s note, asserting everything from ‘she has the measles’ to ‘please excuse Ali, for her leg was torn off in a tragic shark attack in the middle of the 49 highway’ I would run the track at barely a skip, and I didn’t so much throw the football as sort of flick it.
I was not Coach’s favorite student.
One day, we were all gathered in the boy’s locker room, watching Remember the Titans for about the fourth time this year, since it was the only vaguely sportsy movie the school board had approved the showing of.( In case you want to know the difference between a girl’s and boy’s locker room, a boy’s locker room smells like ass. A girl’s locker room smells exactly the same, but you’re too busy choking/sneezing/gagging on the various sprays, oils, and lotions that saturate the air to notice.)
The bell rang, and the credits began to roll. Coach stepped out from the back of the room and addressed the class in his trademark bark, “Okay! Good class today! Remember, next time we run the mile, so be sure and be ready!”
The class nodded and murmured their assent. I reached down my feet for my backpack.
“Aste!” he barked. I glanced up.
“I need to see you in my office.”
Minutes later, I stood stiffly by Coach’s desk as his black sunglasses bored straight into my eyes. At least, I assumed they must be. With those sunglasses he could have been staring right past me, or through me, or at the motivational poster with the puppy in a football helmet hung up right over my shoulder, Finally he took off his sunglasses, and folded them into a tin case in the shape of a football. He leveled a firm stare at me “You’re not doing too well in my class.”
I nodded, transfixed by his tan lines, which were so exaggerated that it looked as if he had white sunglasses painted over his eyes.
“By which I mean bad. Really bad.”
I nodded again. The exposed eye skin was the exact color of virgin snow.
“By which I mean you’re failing”
I wondered if he used a special sunscreen to keep then that way. It couldn’t just be glasses.
“Aste!” he barked. I jumped and looked two centimeters upward into his actual eyes, “If you don’t ace this run, I’m going to give you a big fat F. Now, I don’t want to do that.”
I gulped. Failing P.E.?Oh, damn it. How lame can you get. I’m pretty sure I could have passed by not even showing up.
“I’ll do well” I promised.
Next class was a scorching hot day, and sweat was already beading up on my skin as I approached the starting line. I was ready. I could do this. Just five laps. I’d rested, eaten, had water…wait, had I had too much water? How much was too much. Oh crap, I was going to cramp up, wasn’;t I? And my left sneaker was tied too tight or was the right one too loose? Oh well, at least I wasn’t the girl who had forgotten her sneakers and now had to run in ten inch heels…
I looked up and saw the rest of the class had already started to run.
Mumbling to myself, I set my eyes on the very tight running shorts of one of the more athletic boys in the class, lowered my head and charged like a bull.
Step-step. Step-Step. My legs fell into a rhythm as I ran, my breathing did not. I sounded like a donkey choking on a chew toy. I winced and continued to run, passing the halfway point, passing coach passing the finish line. My eyes stung, my lungs ached, and I was pretty sure I was breeding an all new breed of rash on my thighs.
I took a deep breath and went even faster. Sweat gushed down my face like water over Niagara falls. My Knees wobbled, and my heart was crawling into my throat. I don’t know what a pancreas is, but I’m pretty sure mine was sore. I crossed the finish line for the second time.
I sped up even more, and the pain became blinding. I could smell purple. I could hear the endless screaming of the oppressed human soul, and there was a taste in my throat like pickles. Civilizations rose and crumbled before my eyes.
And then, a phrase broke the spell.
“Come on, Aste” I head Coach bark, “At least try to keep up.”
I looked up. All of my P.E. class stood behind the finish line staring with bland curiosity as my body jerked and flailed towards them.
The girl who’d had to run in her heels limped over the finish line.
I let out a deep breath, relaxed. My pace slowed, first to a jog, then a trot, then to a walk.
Coach’s eyes bugged out, “What are you doing.”
I strolled along the track, reveling in the sunshine. I hummed a happy tune to myself, “Da de da da da.” My sweat was beginning to dry.
I looked out over the campus. A smile lit my face as I admired the sloppy red paint on the walls of the science building the science building. The impressively twisted form of the railing that would be fixed ‘as soon as the funding came in. The wrappers and papers and half eaten scraps of food that swirled in the breeze around the lunch tables. The way the sunlight caught the bird crap plastered to the windows. The graffiti smeared over the walls. The smell of B.O. and cheap cologne that swirled in the air. The scent of my people!
After two more minutes of my stroll, the bell rang. The class started to go in, but oh no. It was school policy they couldn’t leave a student out here on the track.
Now it was not just Coach that was angry. The entire fourth period P.E. class encouraged me with hurled projectiles, and by shouting some words that I had never expected to hear from my distinguished classmates. Didn’t they know they were at school?
Twenty people held their breath as I approached the finish line. I gave the campus another appreciative look, smiled at the coach, and skipped back to the halfway point to pick a beautiful daisy that had caught my eye.
Twenty minutes later, I crossed the finish line. Coach roach called me over, “Aste!”
I trotted over obediently.
He opened his mouth, closed it. “Nothing…Just nothing.”
Coach was different after that day. He stopped trying to teach us new sports or fire us up about his football days. He would give only the limpest encouragement, and even his admonishments were blander . I’ve always wondered about the moment when teachers lose their spark. You know, the one thing that made them wake up one day and say , “instead of something lucrative or easy, I’m going to teach high schoolers”. Their passion, their drive. When do they go from starry eyed dreamer to angry misanthrope just hanging on until requirement?
For him I think, this was that moment.
It’s nice to know how even the smallest action can change someone’s life.
When I got back to the locker room girls from all corners of the room paused from cramming their thighs into overtight jeans to glare up at me. I met their glares straight on. Maybe they were right to be angry. I had made them late after all. Or maybe they should have found it within themselves to forgive their fellow classmate, the free-spirited girl whose only crime was enjoying the world when she was supposed to be flinging herself down a track. I found it didn’t bother me much either way.
According to the Facebook status of the boy I liked in seventh grade, it was ‘Nick Machavelly’ who said ‘it is a far, far better thing to be feared than loved’ Well I don’t know about that, but I think it’s better to be hated than miserable.
And anything is better having to run the mile.