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Running in Place
Germs. Floating, infesting, breaking down and diving into my eyes. If you don’t pay attention the priest will come back and spank you. This is the Catholic Church. This is the building that I awake too early to attend every Sunday morning (the challenges of preschool; I can’t keep up. It’s killing me). These are the lonely wooden pews where I scratch forlorn drawings of people and places and things that I cannot fathom on dilapidated pads of paper left over from the Martin Marietta Research Institute. A woman with frosted hair grimaces at me, shooting a look as if to say disrespectful spawn of Satan. All for drawing and keeping quiet. Good Old Catholic guilt. My mouth is sealed not with insubordination of the Church, but with promises of the basement.
Stale donut holes and watery coffee are offered in the church basement, gifts more effective than musty hosts to sate the women ripping checks from faded leather books. Whining child-mouths are glued shut with sticky processed glaze. Mothers gossip and catch up on memories of days apart, glossing over minor sins committed, too inconsequential for Confession.
After eating my own stuffy chocolate donut hole, I hasten to play tag with the Big Kids, resplendent in their five-year-old glory. My legs, the toddling ones of a three-year-old, are perhaps not quite up to par with those of my playmates, but time has never spent itself for me; I have always had to search for things to fill it with.
Being chased by the big kid is always somewhat terrifying, whether the big kid is a monster from a dream or a serial killer from a horror film. For a toddler who can’t quite run as fast as her counterparts in the game, being “it” is a downright horrendous fate, never ending and futile. Determination to stay in the game as a mere flightful participant drives me to run…
Run… straight into the solid-hollow pole supporting the church floor, so much more malevolent than the pole down the street that I once ran away to, stuffed cat in tow. I don’t see stars but I wish I did; that is what always happens in Saturday Morning Cartoons. I see no celestial bodies, no dancing yellow birds. I see red hot sticky, perhaps runny strawberry jam, in my eyes my eyelashes smell it in my nose and now it is touching my lips.
When I was a freshman in high school I joined the track team. This was a notion unprecedented by any fixture in reality other than my sister’s participation in the sport during her underclassman years. In the weeks before the start of the spring season, I ran each day on the treadmill in my basement, getting in shape for hundred-meter sprints. The day before practice began, I ran four miles without pause or winded breath.
I sprinted my way through the frigid March air, Charlie Horses, and fatigue, only to finish last in each practice lap. I was one of three people to never have been on track before, and the only one to have never played a sport in high school. Despite my shortcomings, I showed up on the track each day at 2:45 and ran my warmup and sprinted my sprints. In the days before my first (and only) meet, I managed to stay caught up with the rest of the team during all of the sprints.
“Great job keeping at three-quarters speed. You need to be saving your energy for the meet.” Pardon? I’d been running at full speed, so proud of myself for keeping up, and everyone else was cutting their pace back twenty-five percent. So much for improvement.
Still, I persisted. I persisted onto the bus that took us to Long Reach High School. I persisted onto the bleachers where I sat and watched everyone else run their races. I persisted onto the track for my first race, where I was to run the hundred-meter. I persisted skin-first roly-poly scrape cut gravel jab two lanes over seconds after I’d began racing. Then I persisted all the way to the finish in twenty seconds, a possible county record for losing.
Track is the only thing I’ve ever stopped participating in and considered it quitting.
Someone is screaming, and it is me and I am it and she is we and we are all together. Father Bonadeo rushes over; my mother precedes him. One of them, perhaps both at once, siphons my bloodied face with Catholic napkins, oh so holy and pure and white and blood-spattered.
I am, without journey, at a nameless stark-white sterile-faced hospital deep down in Baltimore City and my sister is reading books and playing with toys at the neighbor’s house down the street. I am screaming and shouting and crying and wailing and hurting and fearing and being strapped tight hold steady into a straightjacket and she is playing with my best friend Max. Needles are going in out
Of my forehead
and leaving a scar and she is eating a popsicle. She is sitting on a couch wondering if her baby sister is dead and worrying that we will never come home and I am eating mashed potatoes.