The sun peeked through the trees like tiny streams of water escaping a punctured bucket. It’s rays scattered across the course as I took my position amongst the other competitors. It was early for a Saturday, but I was restless all night and idleness was out of the question.
I scanned the crowd briefly to find my mother sitting alone in her same spot, just as she was the previous time I checked. Where was he? I couldn’t help but feel pity as the other racers smiled and waved to their families. I quickly stopped myself and began to channel my attention towards the race, which I knew would be starting shortly.
I looked down at my feet, my legs casting a long shadow across the course. It was funny how much bigger my shadow looked considering it was merely a cast of myself along the ground. I stood up taller, trying to match its physique. But as I grew taller, so did my shadow, always maintaining an unobtainable range. It was then when I looked up and his eyes met mine.
He didn’t smile, he never does, but he did show up, and that was enough. I let a grin escape my mouth as he glared at me. He stood still, like a brick wall. His monotonous figure shook my soul and I could almost hear his voice saying, ‘smiling is for winners, don’t you want to be a winner like me Zella?’
When my father was young, he was a high school track star and even went to the olympics for the Men’s 100M race. His glory and fame were stopped short however when my mother unexpectedly became pregnant with me. After she broke the news, the once passionate and active man my mother knew disappeared, and in replace grew an abusive relationship in which neither my mother nor my father could bare. She used to tell him, “Cyrus, this child needs you.” However, he wanted no part of me or my mom. I’ve only seen my father upon rare occasions, but all I want, all I’ve ever wanted was for him to come back into our lives. Judging from the look on his face, it was clear to me that this would never happen. But maybe, just maybe, if I could remind him of what he used to love with such a burning passion, he might show me a sliver of compassion too.
I couldn’t bare to look at him any longer. Staring at him was like staring into the sun. With ten seconds until the race would commence, I wasted no time to get into position. Before I could finish getting situated the horn blared and the other competitors sprinted off in a frenzy, but I hesitated. Why was I hesitating? Was I crazy? He would kill me if I didn’t win this race. Snap out of it Z! I glanced at my father, he stared at me with utter confusion and urgency. I knew if I ever wanted his approval, I’d have to run the race of my life; and so I was off.
The other competitors only had a small lead on me and I had been training for this for months. Quickly, I passed a small pack of girls and the adrenaline began to kick in as I targeted my next competition. My pace was picking up and I was in a full-blown sprint even though it was only the first mile of the race. I passed another racer, and another, and another. I was beginning to think I had a chance at winning when I glanced over my shoulder and spotted a baby deer and it’s parents, grazing in the tall grass beneath the shadows of the tall oaks which lined the track. I saw how the father stood between the baby and I, as the mother directed it towards where to eat. In that moment, something broke inside me. I couldn’t keep running away from what I knew was the truth.
I never felt more alone, even though I could feel the bodies of the other runners brushing past me with each minute that passed by as I just stood there. I looked down at the ground as I fell to my knees. I felt weak, I felt small, I felt abandoned. There was nobody left to pass by, just me and my shadow. It lingered off to the side, mimicking my shape in an extravagant manner. It seemed to be just a shadow, but really it was so much more. It was everything I wasn’t, everything that everyone wanted me to be, but not me.
An insatiable craving which could never be satisfied. A bottomless pit, which could never be filled. No matter the effort I gave to try and fill the emptiness of my own shadow. The only way it could ever dwindle was by not my own effort, but that of the sun as it moved across the sky above my head, to which my shadow would begin to shrink. For there was nothing I could say, nothing I could do, but wait. And so wait I did.