“Come on, Kim, help me with the dishes.” Mrs. Fogaard said this through clenched teeth. She carried a boatload of dishes with the breadbasket in her mouth. I must admit it was pretty amusing. Kim stopped playing with her dog, Brandy, a Newfoundland and a Siberian husky cross. Brandy complimented the Fogaard’s personality: Gentle but strong.
I stood up from the table and shook Brandy’s head. I grabbed what was left and headed into the kitchen. Not a scrap of food was left. As an athletic family the Fogaards had a healthy appetite. They finished what they had and what was left over. The kitchen counters were full of dishes, so I leaned against the wall for a few seconds and waited for space to open up. No sooner did I placed the dishes down, did I get a face full of bubbles. I gasped, wiped the essence of soap from my eyes and counter attacked with what I had been given. The bubbles flew across the kitchen onto Kim’s head. She turned around just in time to get a second attack to the face, fully into her mouth. Kim spit out the bitter bubbles and came after me. I turned to run. Socks don’t work too well on hard wood floors, I slipped, landed on my stomach and felt Kim jump on my back wanting revenge for my well executed throw.
“If you guys break anything, I’m gonna beat you both,” Mrs. Fogaard said. As much as she was kidding she probably would whack up on top the head if we broke a dish, or worse, a bone.
Kim tickled my sides and feet as I laid helplessly face first on the floor. My arms were tucked under her knees and I had no chance of escape. As I wiggled, I must have looked like a caterpillar in distress. I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t breathe. Tickling to me was the worst form of pain.
“Ok, OK, You win!” I yelled laughing and gasping for air between words. I always thought if they used tickling as a form of torture, it could be a very effective technique in the military.
Kim got up and scuttled into the living room. Her show was on: Smallville, Friday July 13th, 2007 : Channel 62, 6:00 PM. She sat down on the curve of the couch. The Fogaard’s couch was about 12 feet long that bent in its middle, encasing the living room into a square. Andy, Kim’s older brother sat on the far side, his head submerged into “The age of Great Dreams: America in the 1960’s” by David Farber. Kim flipped to Channel 62 and was met with a L’Oreal shampoo commercial. I walked toward the TV but made a left detour into the hallway bathroom.
After Kim attacked me, my bladder became angry and needed a quick release. I washed my hands and found Kim, not watching her show but in the back foyer on the phone. Kim was sitting on the corner of the couch huddled beneath a blanket. She had tears swelling, while some rolled down the tips of her eyelashes. “That was Aaron. Tell me the truth. You? Nicolette?” Kim’s face became flushed with blood. I could see the pressures building. She didn’t want to believe it. Neither did I. I couldn’t explain why I cheated on Kim. Was it because I was weak against the temptations? Or not want to disappoint her best friend’s lust? I felt an unfamiliar pressure that pulled my arms from their sides and made my vision cloudy. I couldn’t look Kim in the eyes. Things escalated too quickly and I wanted everything to stop, to give me a timeout. “You just destroyed something that could have really lasted… Just get out. Please Leave.”
“Kim, really, I want to talk to you about it.” I didn’t know what else to say. “Kim, I Love You.”
“Leave, Please, Just Leave me alone!”
I walked out into the Kitchen where Mrs. Fogaard was cleaning the rest of the dishes. “David told us what happened between you and Nicolette. Mr. Fogaard and I just wanted to tell you how disappointed we are.”
I heard a clunk. My heart dropped. I’d rather she yell at me for being a sneaky two-timing whore. Her words hit me with a freight train packed with Guilt and Shame. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Fogaard. I don’t know what to say.” Time mixed with water and oil and seemed to swirl around me.
“You don’t need to tell me that you’re sorry. Tell Kim. We’re just disappointed.”
On September 10th, 2010 I was driving to my high school’s home cross-country meet. Maybe I didn’t have to talk to her. There are usually a few hundred people at a cross-country meet; no one had to know why I was there. In fall of 2006 I was captain of the MHS X-C and Track teams and the OCIAA’s scholar and sportsman of the year. Why wouldn’t someone like me return to support the team? In fact, it was even the truth.
It was as if I was here only yesterday. The park’s grass was overgrown except for the race path mowed down by the maintenance crew. Near the front side of the lake, the tunnel of grass transformed into a dirt path. Sometimes while you are running, you’ll step on a rock sticking out of the dirt as if the ground was six months pregnant. The race wasn’t all on grass, dirt, and cinder. The race starts on a road that runs around the outside edge of the park. It follows the road until a narrow trail appears to the right. You want to be leading by this point or you’ll find yourself fighting flailing elbows, tripping feet, and jagged tree branches. The trail can squeeze a pack of runners like a toothpaste tube. That outlet of the trail comes out to the grassy field, which follows back to the lake. Spectators line the race path, creating an effect that you are running faster than you really are. It’s a feeling of serene adrenaline that runs through your veins as you fight head to head with the runner at your right shoulder.
From the parking lot I saw a group of girls on the far side of the lake wearing Middie Blue colors. Kim must be in that wave somewhere. I looked towards the field of blue expecting to see her long silky burnt red hair leading her team. All I could see was blue, and flashes of bright orange, green, and hot pink reflecting off shoes left and right. Near the finish line I saw Coach Beam situated in the middle of the guys team giving a pep talk. Aaron was stretching near the edge of the circle. He had incredible natural running talent. At first glance his physique gave an aura of strength, and efficiency: An American Kenyan runner. Mixed emotions fluttered through me like butterflies. He’s the one who exposed me. Though he was a runner of mine and I had watched him grow into a fine young man.
The girls had finally returned and began stripping their warm-ups. Guys joked about if you couldn’t afford playboy, the start of a girl cross-country race was the next best thing. Then there was a migration of spectators from the parking lots to the fields and starting line.
BANG! The gunshot shouted, sending an eerie chill to my feet. I wanted to “go.” I longed to start with them regardless of the fact they were girls; the aspect of racing with my high school team excited me. I watched a rainbow pass by me: Purple and Gold, Green and White, Middie Blue, Red, Black, Orange and Yellow. The colors mixed together slowly. The pace stretched out the individual teams and they all blended together into a tie-dye state. You could close your eyes and imagine the pounding of their shoes as large raindrops pelting the road. To me, it was such a welcoming sound. My eyes were fixed on the lead runners. As the mob stretched further openings appeared between the once shoulder-to-shoulder group. Kim squeezed out from being boxed and escaped to the edge of the pack. She had been trapped, but now she surged toward the front. Kim reached the lead pack and settled in around 5th or 6th place. Her gait was wide and fluent. Her calf exploded from the ground, propelling her forward, not up. Her knee bent and her heel met her butt before she swung her leg in front of her. Her knee came up, foot perpendicular with the hard ground; ready to hit the ground again.
* * *
“Come on, Kim!” No matter where you were in a race you could always hear Mrs. Fogaard cheering her daughter on. Kim was in 4th. The pack came around the corner out of the woods to encircle the lake again. You could hear the slapping of their gaits change as they ran from the grass onto the dirt. It’s a more definite sound that rings in your ears. “6:18, 6:19, 6:20, 6:21…” Kim was on pace for a 19:42. She could break her PR. The lead pack circled the lake. The color of the trees mixed with their uniforms until they disappeared.
I walked over to Mr. and Mrs. Fogaard who were managing the bake sale for the meet. It was amazing how much food you could sell at a cross-country meet. Runners tend to crave sugars after a run; especially Rice Krispy treats, and home baked caramel granola bars. After a race all respect for healthy foods disappear. Hey, why not? Exploit runners at their most vulnerable.
“Well, look who it is! How have you been?” Mrs. Fogaard gave me a kiss on the cheek and a tight hug.
“I’ve been pretty good. Studying a lot.” I shook Mr. Fogaard’s hand. I always enjoyed talking to them. Over the years we have had conversations about cycling and triathlons, business techniques, problems with the education system and school board; you name it. They still accepted me as a good person. I had made a mistake that involved their daughter but they had forgiven me.
“Kim actually, applied to Binghamton,” he said. “But she really wants to go to Ithaca. I think it rang a bell with her. She really connected to the campus there.”
“Well if she decides on Binghamton I could set her up with the cross country coach.” Kim wasn’t the best runner, but she was good. She could run D1 X-C and Track at Bing. “What does she want to go into?”
“Physical Therapy” Mrs. Fogaard replied. She was a PT herself so I wasn’t shocked. “I told her she needs to focus on sports medicine.” I agreed with Mrs. Fogaard. Kim needed to focus there. That field fits her personality perfectly.
We could hear shouts form the opposite side of the field. The race had come back to the spectator area. Kim was now in 4th. It was easy to spot her. I have never forgotten the efficient glide in her stride, or the way her elbows stuck out from her sides as her arms pumped back and forth. A runner’s form was like a person’s smell. Each had their own.
The lead pack passed the 2nd mile with less runners but the intensity had grown. The pain of cramps, burning sensation of the muscles, and pressure in the lungs had set in. One wrong move could break a runner’s spirits and cost them the race. Kim looked focused and calm. You were trained not to give away how you felt through facial expressions; it breaks the concentration, creates tension, and wastes energy.
“Come on, Kim!” Mrs. Fogaard’s voice never ceased to amaze me. Its vibrations could cut through a deaf man’s head. “Come on, Kim!” The last of the lead pack disappeared once more into the woods for their last mile. A mile that takes more guts than talent.
* * *
“That was an incredible race! Really exciting! That girl led with such force for so long. It looked as if she was going to take it with ease but you really picked it up in that last mile.”
“I guess…I just…felt…good.” As Kim said this to me, she stole tiny sips of breath between her words. “I think, I’ll go for a long walk and cooldown. My legs are shaking.” Kim chuckled at herself, still feeling tired, but more composed and obviously pleased with herself. She gave me a kiss, pressing the sweat that lined her upper lip onto mine.
Kim and I took a barefooted walk on the beach. It was quiet. We knew what the other was thinking; feeling. Hand in hand we walked as our feet felt the soothing coolness of the sand beneath our toes. The sun was still high in the sky and glimmered out over the calm water. For a moment, I caught a reflection of the sun that highlighted Kim’s red hair. Her hair flowed down the middle of her back, quietly rubbing her exposed skin around her sports bra.
Kim’s face flourished an expression of fulfillment. She looked relaxed, and so content. She had done so well today and I knew she was pleased with herself. I looked into her eyes, feeling warmth, and solitude. I wrapped my arms around her waist and hers around my neck. I could feel the sense of the Cross Country season. It was the smell of autumn; a sweet, crisp smell that could wrap its arms around you and pull you in close.
On the way back to the parking lot we passed the maintenance crew dissembling tents and water stations. Parents talked to each other in little clumps scattered between their cars. Kim’s best friend, Nicolette, skipped over to us. She looked as though she was soaring through her mind. “Congratulations on your great finish Kim! That was awesome! God knows I can’t run for shit.”
My mind wandered as Kim and Nicolette spoke in female tongues. I had the State Championship next week and thought how great it would be to win; Running at full speed through the grass, heart pumping harder than ever before, pushing my body to its limit. I saw Nicolette standing there and thought how cute her hips followed her outfit. Her eyes were bright and energetic, so inviting.
“…can bring Nicolette home?”
I snapped back to reality. “Um, oh, yeah. Sorry tuned out for a second.” The girls hugged and Kim turned to me and gave me a long kiss and a smile. She sped off to her parent’s car. Nicolette and I walked toward the edge of the parking lot where my Corolla sat.
Nicolette broke the relaxing silence, which I was enjoying. “That was a great performance Kim had today.”
“True. She’s doing well. In a couple of years she’ll kick ass at states.” I wandered back to winning states. Nicolette and I talked about all our school stuff on the way home. We sang in chorus, played clarinet in band, and worked together in the performance of Beauty and the Beast. I parked in her driveway and we kept talking. After a half an hour we realized the sun was setting.
“Thank you for the ride. It was much better off than walking two miles home.” Nicolette leaned in and gave me a hug. We separated but stopped when we could see each other’s eyes. I felt the most inviting tension to kiss her. A forbidden lust. She felt it also and moved closer, our lips separated by mere slits of air. They swayed up and down, controlling the urge to press forward. The tension snapped. Our lips connected in inflamed judgment as my conscious became impaired with a cloud of lust. I felt her hands move toward the back of my head. Mine caressed her back with the night sky blanketing the outside air.
* * *
It wasn’t until years later I discovered the smell I associated with cross-country was actually the smell of decaying leaves. The colors of the trees in New York during the fall were so different than any other place in America; they were forgiving and understanding.
The pack came out of the woods for the last time. Their race had picked up, its runners were using sheer mental power. Kim was in 3rd with 4th close behind. The first and second girls were having a race of their own and had broken away. Kim turned the last corner, her arms pumping harder to keep up the pace. I could feel every last pain she was experiencing, the deteriorated muscle power, the out of body experience, the feeling of genuine mind over matter. The 4th place runner from Newburgh challenged Kim on the stretch. Kim fought back, increasing her turnover and lifting her knees. Her form had become inefficient from the lack of muscular power, the power that was used to sustain the fierce pace during the race. Kim drove toward the finish, recruiting every muscle fiber her body had to offer. The Newburgh girl surged past Kim and took the finish first. 19:41.7
Though she lost her 3rd place finish, she destroyed her own personal record by 12 seconds. She walked around the finishing area to catch her breath and restore the natural balance of her body. Coach Beam ran over with an ear-to-ear grin to show Kim her time. I watched as a wide smile crossed her face. Her body was trying to right itself after working to failure. Kim shook her arms out, then her legs, and stood straight up.
Our eyes met for the first time. I felt the meet around us had stopped, disappeared into the non-existent. We were alone, together. I wanted to hold Kim as I had done so many years before. I wanted to ask forgiveness for my actions. I wanted to exile my regrets from this world. My stomach knotted with unease as my mind stretched towards her. The only comfort I received was a gentle half smile given from Kim’s pursed lips. I smiled back as if to give an understanding of the times that had passed and the feelings we shared; a resolute gesture to what we had become. Three years before, on Friday July 13th, 2007 I had learned everything in life happens for a reason, though you only exist to find its purpose.