Song & Story
By: Catherine Farid
My dad is a dead runner. When I was 14 years old, he inadvertently taught me how to run. I needed some help on my homework and he was pressed for time: he could log in five miles or explain some physics principle to a teenager who basically ignored him except when she needed something from him. In a rare attempt to compromise, I laced up my Keds and put on some shorts. "Let's go." He looked at me oddly and said my legs were going to ache for days. I said I didn't care. We ran five miles together while he answered my questions. My legs did ache for days, but I was hooked.
After that, my dad and I ran every day. When I was feeling sluggish, he'd lace up his shoes and look at me. "You sure you don't want to go?"
And I'd feel some daughterly pride: there was no way I was going to be outfinessed by some 40-year old guy. So I'd go. We'd often have our best discussions while running and by the end of the year I felt closer to him than I ever had. We were sharing something important, even though neither of us acknowledged it.
I was coming home from a friend's house one afternoon when I saw him running down the street. I waved, but he didn't see me. I went inside the house and was changing into my running togs, thinking I could catch up with him, when the doorbell rang. It was a policeman. He said my father had just had a heart attack and I should come with him. I closed the door behind me, not even bothering to lock it, and went with the officer to the big blue car in my parking lot.
At the hospital all I could see were his red shorts. They were the brightest thing in the tiny, crowded room. They made his skin look even more pale. The nurses and doctors temporarily parted to let me hold his hand. For reasons I could never explain to myself, I began to cry and said, "See, I told you running was going to kill you." My dad smiled the weakest smile, suffused with a dad's forgiveness at my gauche attempt at humor. I gave him a kiss on the forehead - he was cold and sweaty - and I was scurried out of the room to let the doctors continue with their work. I loitered outside. I could call my mother, but I didn't really want to. They had been divorced for years and I had only sporadic, strained contact with her. My dad was mine. His tragedies, his triumphs, they were mine and I didn't want to share them.
And then, five days after he went in, after major by-pass surgery, my dad came home. He wasn't allowed to run for a while, he said. No problem, I piped up, we could walk together in the evenings. We could take it slow for a while and build up together. I'd help him. Finally, my dad was my dad again.
About ten, I gave him a kiss, a hug, and told him I loved him and then went into my bedroom. I talked with my new boyfriend for a while on the phone, and then turned out the lights and crawled into bed. Hours passed and I couldn't sleep.
I heard a sharp little gasp, followed by another gasp. Then silence. I relaxed. He's okay, just a little problem. I fell into an uneasy sleep. Somewhere around daybreak, an alarm clock went off in my dad's bedroom. And it didn't stop. The irritating beep just kept going and going and going. I lay awake in bed for an hour, just listening to the beep. Finally, I marshaled my courage and went into the bedroom.
My dad was so dead. He had been dead for hours. He was on his side, and his body was blue. Our two dogs were asleep on the bed, and I took them outside.
I went back into the bedroom and held his hand. I told him I loved him and I thanked him for everything. I sat beside him - the shell of him - and I just talked. About the years that we hated each other and the years that we had come to really be valuable to each other. I talked about running. I talked about those red shorts and my boyfriend and the dogs. I talked until I couldn't talk anymore because I was crying so hard and then I called the police and, reluctantly, my mother.
The funeral was a small affaire, a difficult ceremony. Afterwards, my mother drove me to the house that I shared with my dad. "You know, there will be money," she said. "Sod off," I replied and slammed the door.
I went directly into my bedroom and found my running clothes. I laced up my shoes and went outside to the gray November day. And then I ran. I ran harder than I thought I was capable of. I started off on the same loop my dad and I ran together and about halfway through, I heard familiar footsteps beside me. I didn't dare look; I just kept running. As long as I ran, he would be with me. I ran 20 miles that day, farther than I'd ever run in my life. And when my legs were shaking and my lungs were bursting and I could not take one more step, I stopped. I dropped down onto the curb beside the Middle School and began to sob. After my tears were under control and I had caught my breath, the world suddenly seemed very quiet. And then I heard the footsteps walking away. I looked around. Of course I didn't see him, but I felt him, and that was enough.
Catherine Farid prepared to be an electrical engineer. She became a writer instead and has just finished her second novel. At age twenty-five she is married, with a new baby. She runs, paints, and writes, and eats too much junk food.
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