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On the Outside This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.


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I rested my hands on my knees, my shallow panting slowing into deeper breaths. The frozen air stinging my bare face contrasted unpleasantly with the sticky heat of my back, covered in layers of sweatshirts and Spandex. Squinting into the glow of the porch light, I could make out my dad, arm resting against the door frame, glasses steamed up with sweat, a mirror of my exhaustion. I trooped up to the house behind him as the throbbing in my legs subsided. “Good run,” he said with a smile as he held the door for me.

I can't remember when I started running with my dad, but it immediately became a tradition. On weekdays after my dad came home from work, or on weekends after our breakfast had been thoroughly digested, we'd pull on our shoes, stretch the stiffness out of our legs, and head for the roads. The first few steps were always spent debating which route to take. Then we'd settle into a pace.

Some days were hard, and we'd converse only in heavy huffs and thumping strides. But usually we'd talk. I'd narrate the drama of the school day, from the momentous (becoming an attorney in a mock trial) to the trivial (who sat at my lunch table). I'd whine about the Reds' most recent loss. I'd speculate about my weekend plans. I'd sing. And my dad just listened.

As the months of running accumulated, I began to notice a curious trend: my dad always ran on the outside nearest the cars. In our town, the streets don't have sidewalks. Running in the breakdown lane nearest the cars is always undesirable. Preoccupied drivers are liable to zoom mere inches from the outside runner, leaving his mouth full of fumes and his thoughts shaken. Also, the white painted line designating the edge of the shoulder can be slippery. Even worse are the streets with no shoulder at all, leaving no buffer between that runner and the traffic. Yet despite this, my dad always took the outside. It was never stated explicitly, never even hinted at. He never drew attention to his ­sacrifice.

On a run several months ago, I began to reflect on all my dad and I had experienced together, his pounding footsteps serving as the metronome for my thoughts. There was the run on unplowed streets in the aftermath of Ohio's heaviest snowstorm, which culminated in an icy slip-and-slide up the driveway; the run in record-book-cold January weather, the biting wind numbing even our gums into silence and the several layers of sweatpants reducing our strides to mere inches; the run on a muggy August Sunday when it was too hot to go anywhere except the community pool; the runs on darkening weekday nights, so numerous that the success or failure, discussions or silences blended together into a mix of years on the road with my dad. And he was always on the outside. How could I repay the countless hours he spent listening, matching my pace, running on the outside?

This aching question began to nag at me in stabs of alternating guilt and admiration. I needed to find a way to return the favor, but I was at a loss. Each plan felt simultaneously too insignificant and too excessive. On one hand, he had taken the outside for years, shouldering the burden to which I hadn't even given a second thought. On the other hand, there seemed to be a tacit understanding that my dad expected nothing in return.

Finally, I could no longer stand my own badgering. One run, after talking about the day was exhausted, I turned to my dad. “I noticed that you always run on the outside,” I said, my heavy breathing awkwardly punctuating my equally awkward statement.

“Do I?” my dad answered with a tone that suggested that he was unwilling to talk about this. Then, before I could answer, he asked, “So, what were you saying about your art project?”

I could have been taken aback by his abrupt change of the subject, but I wasn't. I launched into a detailed discussion, all discomfort melting into our usual compatibility.

I never mentioned the subject to my dad again. There was no reason to. He wanted no thanks and he wanted no praise. He wanted to prepare me for my turn. And now, as I face the rest of my life, I am ready – not only for my children, but also for my classmates, my coworkers, and my friends, I too will run on the outside.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the May 2011 Teen Ink Nonfiction Contest.




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Qualmsoffyre said...
Dec. 23, 2012 at 12:41 pm
Wow! You're a wonderful story-teller! Your writing is great. Thanks for sharing this story, it's very good!
 
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