Some Time Before
I’ve gotta see my shrink. David repeated this mantra several times a day. The repetition produced a soothing effect; he knew what needed doing and if he didn’t do it he at least knew he knew. There were always reasons to wait. Cost, time, the long journey of self-discovery that he made available to others but resisted for himself, the embarrassment of telling all he had to tell, the consequences of hearing someone else say he was doing himself harm and had to change his way of life. Change? Act? Why change if there’s gain to be had? Why surrender what brought pleasure and excitement. It had its own dimensions, separated from the stream of conventions that eddied all around him like the others who passed by as he held his steady pace through the park.
Couples, men, bikers and those with roller blades and skateboards; baby carriages, some two abreast whose mothers—really just women who had brought life into the world with little clue what such an act was all about—chatted on about their children, fellow runners—distinct from the lumbering joggers, often in their sixties and beyond or younger but encumbered by bodies grown bulky and engorged—they all came and went, floating toward and away as he churned ahead. No one else knew the pleasure he felt coursing up from his feet and calves and thighs, accompanied by the pump of hands and arms, the steady forward movement of his head and the firm, strong throbbing of his chest as it rose—his pectoral muscles plowing away the inert air—and fell, the unseen molecules of oxygen converted and expelled in favor of yet more of this vivifying elixir. He was in his element, not as an exceptional runner, but as someone moving to his own rhythm, apart from the pulsations of other lives he did not know, alive, active, on a path of his own devising.
I have almost an entire hour, time enough to go around the lake and back, time enough to reach that magical plateau of steady, constant movement and breath, heart beat and rhythm. Those gulping acts of inhalation that set me on my way subside into the hum of routine, foot landing, leg surging, calf propelling, thigh lifting and thrusting in the one-two pattern of the long distance runner, able, it feels, to go on and on in perpetuity, only to readjust as I begin the gradual incline up to the lake with its central island and circumscribing path, weaving around a slower moving couple and past an elderly man with his bag of crumbs to feed the geese.
The back of my neck recognized presence before my eyes or mind acknowledge it, a mass of energy compressing air and space behind as if it were preparing to clip my stride and surge up along my back. I hear the rush of air expelled, the slap of foot to ground, a firm, solid landing and rapid transition to yet another slap and then he is alongside, passing, moving with a swifter, stronger stride, a man around my age, perhaps a bit younger, salted hair and solid build but limber in movement, without the clumsy strain of those whose musculature has stiffened and hardened into something for display. His body is clearly maintained for use, for motion, action, the exhilaration of engagement not repose. His dark blue T shirt bears the fire department insignia; perhaps his job, but shirts often proclaim desires and destinations; their ontological assurances call for grains of salt even though his strength of features and resolve of motion affirm the possibility. He is past me, his finely shaped calf muscles knotting into a dense, contracted ball as each leg pushes off and ascends forward. They are the perfectly tapered calves I envy: that sharp demarcation line bursting into view as the upper head of muscle contracts and shapes itself against the supporting shaft of bone and tissue. He swivels to his left around a baby carriage approaching, straightens, eyes forward, arms metronymic in their strong and steady swing.
Did I close the page? The thought bursts into awareness and brings a falter to my stride as if I ought reverse myself and dash back to the house. But just as suddenly the tide changes, memory arises, the click and close return as proprioceptive certainty. Not yesterday but this morning, yes, I did it, the feel of finger to keypad, the disappearance of my image and my words, not a fade but erasure, vanish, gone. Ready, though, for return with yet another click. Tucked away beneath deceptive cover names. She mustn’t know, wouldn’t understand, and I’ve read my Raskolnikov and have no need to undo myself, to play the mouse who just might get caught if cat waits for an inadvertent lapse, an unintended yet inevitable clue. A raft of ducks swing out from shore, six ducklings guided by the drake and mother, paddling away from the noise of my approach, out into the calm water of the lake where food is scarce but distance greater, a temporary interruption that will soon be unnecessary. The rhythm of my run resumes. The tingling surge of adrenalin from that disquieting thought dissipates into the synchronized movements of my unpanicked motion, my claim to life and the pleasure of well-made effort.