Marathon

(or, Moving Toward Jordan), a YA novel

Mile 1

 

            Too many people dead, or just gone.  Or both.  Deadandgone.

            The words thundered in his head with every stride.  Deadandgone. Deadandgone.  Deadandgone.

            Sounded like a train, he thought, smiled wistfully.  Fraser wouldn’t approve of that particular refrain.  It’s supposed to be something positive, right?

            They’d been running up hills that day, and halfway through Timothy was flagging behind his coach.

            “Gotta tell yourself you can do it, over and over again,” Fraser had said, like he’d been reading Timothy’s mind.

            “What, like that book, The Little Train that Could?”

            “Don’t laugh,” Fraser said.  “A lot of people have gotten a lot done with worse mantras than ‘I think I can I think I can.’  Try it.”

            Timothy remembered running along, gently berated, quiet.

            “Are you trying it?”  Fraser said.

            “Trying what?”

            “’I think I can I think I can.’”

            “You were serious?”

            “I'm always serious, my friend.  Especially when I’m joking.”

            It was advice like that that got him here in the first place.  Encouraging, confounding.  Simplifying life even as if confused the hell out of him.

                                           *        *        *

            What are you doing out here, anyway?  Running a marathon.  A marathon, for God’s sake.

            Yeah, Fraser would have advice for that, too.  Something like, One Step at a Time.

            An awful lot of steps.  And you haven’t run in—what, two weeks?

            No, not since the wake.  Didn’t have the desire.  Not to run.  Not to do much of anything.  Hung around the house in a fog, waiting for the day to pass, so night would come again.

Mile 26

 

            He awoke to cries full of drug-addled terror. He rushed to his father’s side, tried to talk him alert, ease his anguish even when he knew he could do little for the hurt. His father was reliving some horrific event behind those clenched lids… the worst days in Vietnam? his wife’s last hours?

            “I’m here, Dad. It’s okay. I’m here.”

            “Explosions,” his father moaned, more asleep than awake. “Oh! Loud. Mannaggia! Anti-aircraft shells. Grande. Forte. Explosions.”

            He slipped a pill into his father’s mouth, convinced him to drink down the paper cup of water. A half-hour passed, the cries subsided, and both returned to sleep.

            When morning came, he welcomed daylight’s gray haze while wishing it hadn’t come so soon. He loaded the stereo with three CD’s he knew were his father’s favorites, all groups older than even Thomas. His father’s jaw unclenched and his eyes stopped dancing behind the thin skin of his eyelids.

            It was a strange energy he tapped into there, watching his father sleep or engaging in three-sentence conversations saturated with substance. Sometimes there was real understanding. Often around the concept of music.

            “Listen,” his father would say. “Listen to the trumpet. Hear that right there?”

            He held his father’s hand, sure they were hearing the exact same thing. He felt a hard squeeze on his fingers, and he knew his father was letting him into his distress.

            The ugliness of death wrestled with the beauty of it.

            Despite it being the last place he wanted to be, he knew this was where he belonged. A place of pain was a place of solace.

            They were going through this together—exquisitely alone, perfectly shared.