Chasing Ourselves

July 31, 2008
I felt wild yet demure. I required some slight deviation, but what I really wanted were some muffins. And maybe a sausage biscuit. I solicited John; I needed another person with me to justify it all.

Minutes previously I ventured to the library, blindly checking out a copy of 1984, a sporadic decision, but one that critically altered me henceforth. Platform sandals threatening to blow out and an over-sized, over-stuffed, and vibrantly colored bag slung over my shoulder, I was walking like a maniac, in my characteristic way. Nothing much mattered, I just had to walk fast.

We procured our foodstuffs through no particularly interesting means, and exited the school building. The day was hot. The summer’s impending drought stifled me, the mixture of sausage, egg, cheese, and blueberry muffin in my stomach churned uncomfortably. Trekking swiftly to the wood’s solace and shade, we sipped on a shared can of Diet Coke and said little.

It was a stupid idea. We each had separate and important places to be, yet we blindly pursued my whim. My sweaty thighs slipped uncomfortably against each other beneath my skirt. The sensation sickened me. I cursed myself for carrying such a heavy bag.

In three minutes with the comparable impact of eons, we arrived at the running trail’s entrance. Trees, though not particularly beautiful ones, suppressed the heat. To our left, pine straw and weeds littered the narrow and twisting path. The school’s septic waste field sprawled out, unashamedly, to our right. A nature aficionado would scoff out our reprieve. We, however, were not this critical.

Carelessly, I tossed the bag and novel over the gnarled roots of a hardwood tree. An exasperated sigh exited my body, and I stretched my sweating limbs, suspending them until, dizzied from lack of oxygen, I swayed slightly. Wordlessly, I reached for the Diet Coke. John handed it to me, and I gulped it. Now warm and flat, it hardly refreshed me. Nonetheless, I felt tamer than I had in several minutes.

I refused to carry my bag with me during our walk. Beginning at the northeast corner of the septic field, the trail looped haphazardly for a good half-mile toward the field’s northwest side. We were walking a futile circle on a hot day, a wild little diversion through scrub pine beginning and ending in a public high school’s wasteland. This did not require one’s purse or any great literature. It was just a walk.

The novel had landed on top of my bag. Despite the afternoon’s consuming surreality, a pragmatic fist tightened on my gut, forcing slight but palpable waves of guilt throughout me. I owned the bag and all its contents. The library book, however, belonged to a less definite entity and was not mine to lose. Exposing it thus to theft violated the rights of things like educational facilities, taxpayers, grouchy librarians, and numerous people who simply were not me.

I hastily shoved it under my purse, while a composed and confident internal voice assured me I had nobly sacrificed much for public property.

I then laughed out loud. Within moments, I considered innumerable varieties of criminals, each less and less likely to spend a hot afternoon prowling a septic field’s edges for effortless theft opportunities. No variety seemed more intent on a bargain classics copy of 1984 than on an overstuffed handbag. In any larceny scenario, likely or otherwise, I’d be rendered purseless and George Orwell’s work would escape unscathed.

“John,” I managed. “Covering a library book with one’s purse is…”

He too laughed, hysterically. Our senseless fits of shrieks, giggles, and asthmatic gasps pervade the hot air. Catching a breath of humidity and allergens, I stooped down, deliberately plopping 1984 atop my purse and setting the empty Coke can nearby.

We began. I tripped slightly, my sandal warning me of its impending demise. Though I recall little of the walk itself, its sobering power haunts me permanently.

The trail reminded me of much -- summer morning runs with my dad and brother, cigarette breaks in the woods with Sandra, the time that one guy audaciously slapped me in the face at cross country practice, runs with Adeline that always ended as lazy walks and dull talks about her weight, skipping a few minutes of play practice to run wildly in heels in the cold with little Matthew. Though I spent comparatively little time on that trail over the years, I convinced myself a few anecdotes about my time spent meandering through those woods swatting off horse flies could likely provide anybody with a decent synopsis of my life, could tell just enough to reveal who I am.

I romanticized privately a bit, scripting a TV movie of a very confused teenager stuck in the disintegrating wilderness of a suburban-rural-military community, struggling to find a bit of solace with a good bit of fresh air and a nice shady place to run. It was horrible. I interjected the silence with an occasional snobbish remark or crude joke, revealing more about my general confusion than any fake TV movie could.

“What happened?”

“Sandal blew out. Fabulous, eh?”

John smiled and laughed, in an almost patronizing manner. I know he wasn’t being patronizing at all, but the combined forces of Carolinian humidity and another three-minute’s walk in a broken sandal inspired an unusual hatred in me.

The trail resembled a very spindly letter “U,” and we eventually surfaced, arriving at the septic field and facing our starting point.

We stopped. The handbag, book, and can had indeed escaped theft. Almost tauntingly, they peeked at us from underneath the tree, as if saying “Ha! We’re still here, even though y’all left us. And aren’t we so pretty, too?”

It was creepy and a little overwhelming. I half-expected to see a moments-younger John and Cassidy ambling on. When I didn’t, a foolish urge to run ahead and try to catch up to them just beyond the trail’s first curve overtook me.

I shared my silly fantasy with John -- and he saw it too.

“It’s like… We’re… Ach…” I stumbled through various meaningless words. Finally:

“It’s like we’re chasing ourselves.”

“Yes… it’s like that.”

We delved into a refreshingly odd conversation, gushingly complimenting ourselves on our neat little discovery.

Because that’s what we’re really doing, isn’t it? All of us. We’re chasing ourselves. Some flaunt it ostentatiously, others toil to conceal it. But everybody’s after themselves; we’re struggling to find those mysterious individuals who supposedly are us after all. As we stumble through life, we assume various identities, some suggestive of that elusive individual, others in vicious opposition of him or her. I question if anyone ever manages to catch up with oneself; would not the acquisition of or even the mere acquaintance with this elusive somebody dampen life’s thrill? But invariably, unquestioningly, I believe we must chase ourselves -- absolutely, unceasingly, eagerly, fervently -- as willing victims of a compulsory and vital desire.

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