In sixth grade, I was the gangliest thing that you ever saw. All knobby knees and elbows. My eyes took up the top half of my face, I looked like one of those pictures of those sad bubble head kids you see in the dentist’s office. I didn’t weigh much, because I didn’t start eating real food until, oh, about eighth grade. It was all cereal, peanuts, grilled cheese sandwiches, Cheetos, and my mother banging her head on the stove, convinced everyone in town was talking about her malnutritioned daughter, and blaming my mother for it. (It wasn’t her fault. I was a very stubborn child.)
I was also running cross country in the sixth grade, and hating every single minute of it. We didn’t have an official cross country track team. It was more like there was a Cross Country Running Club, their course was out by the old abandoned airport, and it seemed like all the other athletic kids in sixth grade were doing it, so ever the sheep, I followed along.
While the other kids would grow up to seriously pursue cross country as a sport where their team would win state championships, they’d get scholarships to college, and battle anorexia, I knew instantly that cross country running was NOT for me. It was too far. It was a mile. A mile was too far for me. There are two types of people in this world – the ones that run outside, and the ones that stick with the ellipticals, because they can fool their body into going just as far as the Outside Runners, since they’re staying in one place. I am that fool. My body is that dumb (but with an amazing ass ☺ )
But in sixth grade, I had gotten myself into an impossible situation. I hated cross country, but to drop out would subject me to sixth grade scorn and ridicule about how I just wasn’t strong enough, to hack it. And damned if I was gonna let THAT happen.
So the last race of the year was a mile run competition, and I’m pretty sure it had a stupid name like Spring Fling or Fall Chase. They divided you up according to your grade, fired a starter pistol, and off you went. For a mile. And scattered among you would be the older high school runners. They didn’t get out too far in front of us, they stuck to the middle of the pack. They weren’t competing, their job was to be our Pacer Rabbit or something, there for Buck Up Little Camper words of encouragement.
So here I am, knobby knees and elbows, running as fast as I can simply so I can be done with it, because it’s the last race of the year, and next year when I hit seventh grade I am NOT running cross country, I’m gonna run regular track, where the distances are 100 meters, 200 meters, maybe even try hurdles, but never again a mile run.
I also happen to be in first place currently.
The girl who had won previous mile run competitions was a Miss All Around named Priscilla. She was pretty, popular, smart, and was unconscionably nice to everyone. This was also going to be her last mile run, as when she hit seventh grade, it was Cheerleader Country all the way to high school graduation. There was no question about it, she was a Bright Shining Star and everyone knew this to be her destiny, that she would continue to be pretty, popular, smart and unconscionably nice about it while she picked up nearly every single title one could have in high school: Class Representative, Beauty Court, Homecoming Queen, etc.
But right now she’s somewhere behind me on this mile course that I really don’t wanna be on.
I can’t remember where I had placed in previous runs, but it wasn’t anywhere close to top ten. I’m Amy The Writer, I just won a sixth grade poetry contest with my stunning entry that began “Time is a funny thing, it flies like birds, but without wings.”
I’m Amy The Writer, not Amy The Runner. And here I am, pounding the dust with my shabby Nikes, following the trail as it darts in and out of the woods with strange dips and turns, and everyone’s behind me, which had never happened before.
If I had started the race with a burst of YES! LET’S GET THIS OVER WITH! I’m now fueled by SHIT! I’M IN FRONT!
I can’t be this far in front and not stay there. It will be embarrassing to let up, even a little bit. It will hurt if Priscilla blows by me, never mind the fact that she’s supposed to, that everyone’s expecting her to. I’ve been running this race for three minutes now, and I’ve been in front the entire time. And while nobody knows that I’m only running this fast to put this whole cross country nonsense behind me once and for all, the fact that I’m in front when by all accounts I shouldn’t be, means I have to stay there, or risk ridicule from my peers about how in the world did I think I could really snatch away the victory from Priscilla that was supposed to be hers practically by birthright.
That’s when I notice a Pacer Rabbit coming up next to me. He’s a high schooler. He looks like he’s going too fast to be a Pacer Rabbit, he’s probably training for something else, like running a mile is an appetizer for him, his main course will be a 10 K tomorrow or something.
“You’re doing great!” says Possibly Pacer Rabbit as he lopes along. Two more seconds, and he’ll be ahead of me, and I can chase the back of his shirt for the rest of the course.
And while I’m huffing and puffing already, I manage to get these words out.
“Will you run with me?”
“Sure I will!” Definitely Pacer Rabbit replies cheerily, and slows his pace to match mine. And for the next three and a half minutes, he runs with me.
There’s not a lot of conversation. I remember as we came up upon the tricky last bend, the one that looked like it would only take 15 seconds to get around when it really took a minute and a half, he said, “I predict victory for you!” to which I wheezed, “Don’t jinx it.” He also said he was gonna let me run the last 100 yards on my own, which I remember wasn’t surprising, I think all Pacer Rabbits had to drop back at that last thoroughfare. I thanked him for running as far as he did, and he smiled and said no problem.
I’m thundering down the last 100 yards, and the crowds are cheering, and I sense Priscilla practically at my elbow, at the edge of my peripheral vision, and now I’m REALLY running, dear GOD help me, bring that f’ing finish line closer, get me out of this already.
Running so fast that everything blurs, and I can’t see anything, not until a race official grabs me around the waist to stop me, and hold me upright as I wheeze and wheeze and wheeze for breath, my cheeks, lungs, and heels of my feet on fire.
To this day, I don’t remember what Definitely Pacer Rabbit looked like. I don’t remember if he came up to me at the end of the finish line or not. But I remember that he was there.
It’s a comforting memory. And even if Definitely Pacer Rabbit really was honestly and truly a real high schooler, and not an angel like some sappy people would think he was, I don’t mind using the memory to illustrate how I think my walk with God/and/or/Jesus is like.
It’s not footprints in the sand, it’s not dewtracks in a luscious meadow. It’s me scared out of my mind, running for my life, pounding down the dust in a race that I didn’t want to be on in the first place. But I’ve got a Definitely Pacer Rabbit who slowed down to run with me when I asked him to.
That makes me feel better. It would make me feel better even if I hadn’t won.
But I did. ☺
Enforced Secret Joy #50 - The Gospel Brunch at House Of Blues. All You Can Eat Southern Buffet, bottomless glasses of Mimosas, and the Holy Rollingest Gospel Choir you're ever heard (lead singer looked like she belonged on a weddding cake in the middle of Mardi Gras, another singer had the longest red talons you've ever seen in your life and they stayed on the entire time.)
We were singin', praisin', wavin' our napkins around. There was joy in that place and I had a big stupid grin on my face. How can you not love a choir who belts out, "Aint no party like a Holy Ghost party!" I totally reccommend it.