A Race to Remember

“Just take a deep breath,” I hear from my coach behind me. I finally open my eyes to see a line of people waiting for the start lined up along the right side as if they were waiting for the grand opening of an amusement park. Somewhere in that crowd I knew my parents were there. In the middle stands the official wearing all black dress pants and a black and white striped shirt with a whistle hanging around his neck. One hand is holding a gun with one finger on the trigger. It has nothing but blanks in it but he is holding it as if he was about to shoot someone, a grip that is very strong and no one would be able to separate his hand from that gun. His other hand is holding a red flag on a wooden pole. The wind is blowing so hard the flag looks completely motionless as if the flag was frozen in time. To the left is another line of people, but they are angled in toward the other line creating a giant funnel towards a tree line. About where the two lines appear an entrance to a path big enough for maybe two people to walk side by side can be seen. From this distance it looks like a dark tunnel. The official blows on his whistle and everyone steps up to the white line in front of them.

An alarm goes off. One of those really annoying ones that gets louder and louder the longer you don’t turn it off. “Good morning,” I hear, “you are running late for school.” I force myself out of bed and stumble around in the dark as all the muscles in my body ache in pain. Being the last one up has it’s advantages and disadvantages in the house. Being the last means I can stay up later and sleep in; however, the shower is always cold and never warm enough to be a hot shower but not cold enough to be a freezing cold one. It’s more like a lukewarm shower that nobody likes. I get dressed in a hurry throwing on a pair of jeans and whatever shirt I could find and was clean because a sweatshirt was going to cover it all day anyway. I found out later when I changed for practice that it was an orange shirt which happened to be my favorite shirt. I jumped in the car and headed to school as any teenager would do, never below the speed limit and reckless the whole time. Life was the same as every high school student for me at Southwood. I had my standard classes: math, English, science, history. On top of that I had a weights class and a study hall. Weights class was by far my favorite class because I knew the stronger I got the faster I would be able to run. The only thing different about me from everyone else was that I didn’t fit in. To be one of the ‘cool’ kids at school you had to play football and I wasn’t exactly meant for that at all. I was never into contact sports and so because of this I was harassed and bullied by the football players on a daily bases for doing a sport that wasn’t a sport according to them. However, I loved to run and so that’s exactly what I did. I ran all summer training for the cross country season. We ran hard, long runs in the extreme heat to get our bodies primed for the start of the official season. Being a senior this year I wanted to go out with a bang. My junior year I went to regionals but missed going to semi-state by a couple people and I knew I was getting closer and closer to the school record. This year I was going to go to semi-state and break the school record.

The school day was a normal day for me. After school I had what we called a standard Don cross country practice, because our coach had certain practices that he kept every year and we ran them at least once a week. Which for today was a long run for 50 minutes without a watch so we had to guess how long it had been. The difficult part was for every five minutes we were over or under we had to run an extra mile. Today was a beautiful fall day to run. The sky was completely clear not a cloud to be seen in any direction. The trees just started turning colors. There was a light breeze that could barely be felt but could be heard by the rustling of the leaves in the trees. It was almost like a dream. After practice I got into my beat up car and I drove home to just relax from the day.

When I got home I ravaged my house for food. I checked all the cabinets first then resorting to the fridge for food. As the leftovers from the night before redolent the whole room, I got out all of the textbooks from school and started to work on homework. The microwave dinged and almost frightened me because I had forgotten I was making something to eat. I opened it open and instantly got the aroma spaghetti and meatballs. As I sat back down and began to eat and work on my homework I got a strange feeling and kind of got sick to my stomach.

The phone rang and once again I was frightened. At first I just thought about letting it go to voicemail but I finally picked it up at the last minute. “Hello, this is the Greene County police office. Is this Isaac Ford,” the voice on the line said.

“Yes, is there something wrong?”

“Are your parents John and Catherine Ford?”

“Yes, will you please tell me what this is all about?”

“I regret to inform you that your parents were in a car accident…”

“What happened? Are they going to be ok?”

“They were hit by a truck driver who apparently fell asleep behind the wheel. Your parents are dead.”

There was just silence for the longest time. I didn’t know what to do and he didn’t know what to say. Finally he spoke again, “I am really sorry son if you need anything, you can call this number anytime.” And just as the phone call had started, it just ended. I sat there for a moment not knowing what to do. I wanted to sit and cry, wanted to stand and scream to God, I wanted to do nothing because I was too sad to do anything, and I wanted to punch anything I could all at the same time.

After a couple minutes of talking to the officer, I called my grandmother and told her what had happened. She tried to say I will be there in 10 minutes to pick you up but it was hard to hear what she was saying through the sobbing. When she arrived I got in her car and we made the long quiet ride to the accident. By the time we got there it was dusk and you could see the flashing lights from a mile away. We got closer and traffic started getting backed up almost bumper to bumper. We finally came to a standstill in traffic when I jumped out of the car and sprinted towards the flashing lights. An officer, whom I later found out was the one that had called me, tried to stop me but I was too fast for him to stop me. I got to the car which I once remembered taking road trips across the country in and almost didn’t recognize it. The hood was twisted and contorted to fit the front which was completely smashed and twisted so you could see the engine in it. All the windows were broken and the glass was all over the road. The two front tires were bent out of where they were supposed to go and where angled as if the cars last motion was swerving out of the way. The back passenger tire was completely off the car and lying somewhere in a ditch. The driver side door was lying about 100 feet from the car. The whole passenger side was crumbled like a piece of office paper that you crumble up and shoot into the trash can. I could see oil, gas, and other fluids dripping out from underneath the car and making a puddle on the ground. I turned my head to the right and dropped to my knees. There on the side of the road I could see two white bags big enough to hold a body and I knew what was inside them. I began to weep when my grandmother came up from behind and placed her hand on my shoulder. After about five minutes like this we both got in the car and rode in silence back to her house. When she told me to use the guest bedroom to get some sleep I obeyed, but I did not get much sleep that night.

The next morning I went to school like normal. I didn’t tell anyone what had happened so no one really said anything or bothered me about the accident. I didn’t want them to because I didn’t want to go through it the first day back. After school I went to practice and walked into coaches office. As I walked in, I closed the door and told him what had happened. “I am so sorry to hear that Isaac,” he said when I was done explaining everything.

“I don’t know if I will be mentally able to run at semi-state tomorrow coach…”

“Isaac, this is your senior year. You will never be able to do this again. I know that this is really hard for you but I just know your parents would want you to run tomorrow.”

“Coach, I just don’t know if I can. They were there every meet and I just can’t run if they aren’t there.”

“That is where you are wrong. I just know they will be there for they are within you they always will be there and I know they would come down here and kick me in the butt if I don’t let you run tomorrow.”

“You are right. I have to do it for them. I will run tomorrow coach and I will show everyone what I am made of.”

The official raises the flag and the gun at the same time pointing upward. The gun goes off and the flag drops at the same time and the race has begun. It sounds like a stampede as over 200 people dart for the woods. The better position you have before the woods the better you are because there is no place to pass in the woods. I knew this was my last race as I headed my way into the woods. I knew that it was semi-state so I was going to break the school record but more importantly I knew my parents were in the crowd somewhere watching me run. I was going to make them proud.

I was almost into the woods and I knew I had to pass just a couple more people. I threw in a surge and next thing I know I was in second place going into the woods. As we ran through it, I was on the heels of the person in front of me every step was almost in unison. I knew this pace was faster than normal but I kept pushing for my parents. The trees were all dead in the woods and the trail was compacted for lots of practices and meets before this. As we ran, it was like tunnel vision because the trail was clear and all the trees looked like a blur. We got out of the woods and you could see the finish line 800 meters dead in front of us. It was much like the beginning with two walls of people making a funnel to a finish line. There at the finish line, I could see the official with the gun in the holster and the whistle around his neck. The day was much like the day I had gotten the call that they were gone, but I knew they were in the crowd yelling at me to get that kid just barely in front of me. I looked at him and I knew he was mine. I engaged my sprint and started to gain on him. My legs were dead and I felt like I was going to throw up. I didn’t think I had it in me to stay with this kid but I knew I had to make my parents proud. 400 meters left and him and I were side by side. We both wanted it and neither one was going to give up. 100 meters from the finish line I started inching my way in front of him. I knew that he was done and I couldn’t show any weakness. I crossed the finish line just barely in front of him and as I tried to slow down I just collapsed to the ground completely exhausted. I was swarmed by people and photographers and my coach looked at me and said, “You broke the school record! You will be running next week at state! Your parents would be so proud of you!” Finally after a couple minutes I stood up and looked at the crowd and there just in the back along the tree line I could see them smiling with pride.

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