Valhalla, IN

If Larson was predictably exceptional in any give race, then his ability approached transcendence on days when the wind’s soft, insistent presence coaxed a steady buzz out of the trees like the enveloping din of a train station. The sun alternates obscured and radiant among drifting clouds erratic enough to suggest the brewing of something that shortly would have to be contended with, barometric-wise. Days like this are not in the least uncommon for autumn in the Midwest.

He felt stronger on those days.  Inclement weather inspired in him a drive, a stubborn tenacity which competition alone failed to stir.  On those mornings where a cold, steady rain starts early and shows no intention of wavering, flying in the face of any number of practical and physical laws of natural governance, Larson disappeared further into himself for preparation.  This was hardly a conscious decision, at least at first.  Races won before had been done with little effort, autopilot by way of genetics.  These days, though, it seems when cold mornings infiltrate windowpanes at ungodly hours and its known the first thing waiting is that comprehensive chill which can’t properly be shaken but by a marathon shower at night, something within him is triggered.

For him the competition shifted, no longer one of many competitors within a surrounding but between one particular competitor and that surrounding.  It was the closest Larson had come in his lifetime to seriously approaching, from a mental constitution standpoint, what his Nordic ancestors might have endured on any number of those voyages into the haunting, frigid emptiness. While a tad hyperbolic, its not without merit to suggest that Larson shares and channels that same DNA, that his pre-race rituals are not, in fact, dissimilar to grizzled chieftains embarking upon landscapes acutely uninviting to human travel. There’s something to be said for efficacy, and you can’t choose the era in which you’re born, and so for Larson the seafaring mindset fortuitously lent itself to myriad feats of physical assessment. And as the Eriks and Haralds gazed beyond the horizon their vessels afforded and allowed themselves contemplation, they are granted an atmosphere of supreme, lucid solitude.   Extraction from this transfixion, they know, is inevitable, which ultimately conjures an anxiety so potent they lose their grip and in a cruelly ironic twist that purity of thought, only moments prior taut, begins to unravel.

The retreat to that solitude must become top priority, then, a withdrawal-mollifying narcotic. Whatever catalyst unleashed heroic expediency in his ancestors did not fail to materialize for Larson, either. It seems as if this is what he had been after even as a child, a remedy for deficiencies unrelated to protein or zinc but psychic in composition.  To watch him race in adverse weather was to witness not quite improvisational but more…adaptable greatness.  He’s Ayrton Senna in a Monaco deluge, capitalizing on colleagues’ panicked preoccupation with factors outside their control, all the while maneuvering to access and harness a unity within himself and all things.  Elemental, it could be called.

. . .

Like a bundle of dynamite, considered only by its likelihood to explode or not explode, was George Larson a runner.  As a gradeschooler his homeroom teacher, driven furious by the incessant typewriterly tapping of rubber soles on metal throughout the day, had designated a classmate each morning to tie George’s shoelaces to the mid-section of the rear legs of his desk, keeping his feet elevated while aimed down and back, as if riding a motorcyle.  Some mild writhing would shortly follow, stretching his shoelaces to their limit, his feet never quite reaching the ground to resume their paces, however.  This rebellion tightened the knot at the heart of the shoe’s flap to such a taut kernel of nylon that his same teacher, driven mad by the cacophany of rubber on metal, would have to take the scissors from her desk and carefully manipulate one half of the instrument to loosen up the lace, untie the boy and step back out of his way. Each morning for the duration of 8th grade George Larson and Mrs. Henrietta Waugh would engage in their bi-pedal tete a tete.

George was not inclined to make trouble.  Truancy and other means of academic evasion failed to occur to him in a realistic way, and so every morning he would innocuously walk in to that unthinkably bright classroom whose Eastward facing windows allowed in a disturbing amount of sunlight which the beige, essentially transparent, as far as the students could tell, curtains invited in.  Coupled with the heavy yellow layer of paint applied to the cinder block walls, Ms. Waugh’s 7:25 A.M. Reading Homeroom became what some of the kids proposed during lunch and after school as a psychological experiment in structured sadism (though at the time it was elocuted more as “they paint the walls like puke so we don’t look away from the board”).  Indeed, the educators seemed to have realized the frequency with which their children’s minds wandered and responded by dressing any surface or corner which might compete for their attention, any undefined slab of stone or cement onto which the students might project fantasies, daydreams or replays of last night’s tv shows, in a hue so intrinsically unappealing it would often enough have the same effect on the teachers.  Like the way a mother might taste a bar of soap after sanitizing her son’s mouth just to gauge the punishment’s severity, so too do Wilcott Elementary’s administrators, after enough hours of exposure to the spew-tinted walls, question the civility of their methods.

Gym and lunch granted him short reprieves, but otherwise those nylon straps atop his feet held him in place.  Physically restrained though mentally undaunted, the race continued in his mind: hurdles cleared, finish lines crossed, competitors overtaken.  There was a race to be run and if others around him couldn’t realize it, then they’d just have to be left behind.  In August, before his freshman year of high school, George appeared at the first optional practice of the Cross Country team.  “Appeared” is how it’s phrased it looking back while we, his teammates and coaches, recall him showing up with the unbridled manic ferocity of a fugitive.

“Is everything alright?!”, Coach Williams asked, as the boy stampeded into the clearing where the other guys were getting loose.

“Sure”, George innocently replied, no trace of uncertainty or deception.

Nobody was chasing him, he wasn’t late.  This was his life’s pace.  Those early practices had their share of growing pains for teammates who found the spectacle of his suicide-pace default setting quickly transform, in their eyes, from novelty to showmanship.  The coaches, naturally, were intoxicated by it.  They had found the absolute model of a competitor, someone who views warm-ups, stretching, cool downs and lifting sessions as totally essential, activities to be attacked with total absorption. In hindsight, Larson would admit to me that the total immersion he displayed in supplemental activities was simply fueled by the need to get back to running.  The sooner he finished his bench session or got his hamstrings warm, the sooner he’d be back in that trance, powering through the space before him because he could, because, as he would say, “he had to”.

. . .

In only the second race of the season, our first of two trips that season to Westfield Prep’s exquisitely manicured sylvan labyrinth, there was a moment, one which has been regaled to us at nearly every available opportunity by coaches, parents, and all racers in the vicinity.  I could only make out from a distance what seemed to be going on, but I’ve no doubt of the anecdote’s veracity.  Season concluding banquets, pre-race inspirational fodder, ammunition for particularly uninspired afternoons of practice; the occurrence would go on, in various interpretations, to serve as rhetorical gospel for years to come.  The nucleus of all versions of the story is how Larson, the lone Laurens beacon in a shroud of Westfield racers, got bottled up in some kind of bush league trap tactic. Along the serpentine path leading up to the two-mile marker, each attempt by Larson to burst through the cluster of Westfieldians was stymied by some (apparently coordinated) obstruction blueprint.  The inside tracks were perpetually occupied.  Any effort to escape to the outside was met with the corner-hugger sprinting up to maintain the lead while rear members of the group would move up along the edge of the path and fill in any gap relinquished by Larson’s push to the outside. When it became apparent after enough of these repelled advances that Larson wasn’t going away, the boy ahead of Larson decided to simply slam on his brakes. In the hubbub of the ensuing collision a pair of Westfield’s finest heaved Larson out into the surrounding bushes Breaking Away style and rejoined the pack, the entirety of them galloping off. What transpired afterwards is known only to the race’s participants, and since teenage conspirators are seldom chomping at the bit to recount lies publicly (much less one requiring solidarity and mental coordination, uncommon in your average high school boy), the remaining eye witness for this particular account was Larson himself, a kid whose garrulity on his best day would be described as “dispassionate”.

The press conference (for genuine lack of a better term – ordinarily I would say dungeon-chat, but the implications of that are too varied and troubling that it’s easier to grant the school’s recreational facilities this rare metropolitan treatment) was as without suspense or excitement as to personally offend those gathered.

“George, what happened out there?”

“A race, sir, and a darn good one it was.”

“But the Westfield kids, something happened, didn’t it?”

“Yes sir, they won.”

“There was a fight though, right? Something took place.”

“Sirs, and I can’t emphasize this enough, the only thing that took place today was a darn good race with some fast and tough kids. I hope they consider me one of them, cause that’d sure make me and my family proud.”

Somewhere John Glenn smiled.

Back and forths of this nature continued for about twenty more minutes. I couldn’t believe it, leaning in the corner, waiting for something, some sign of my teammate. Is this guy really this ice cold all the time? If those punks had tried something with me (in my dreams, I don’t pretend to think I hold their attention for more than the most fleeting of instances) they would’ve known what happened, there wouldn’t need to be some kind of recap to sort out the details. Those kids would be returning to their camps with spike indentations in some of the more heinous locations, eliciting rolling-pin-grabbing reactions from all but the most placid of mothers. But Larson didn’t betray a thing – it were as if he just wasn’t the fastest this go round and that wasn’t that big of a deal to him.

The only thing which made me think it was an act, and maybe this was nothing, but it’s stuck with me ever since. His feet. Sitting across from George on countless benches and bus seats, I’d always noticed how he carried his feet with an angular grace, each foot pointing away from the waist at what had to be a perfect forty-five degree angle. This barrage of questions, silly though it was, apparently had an effect on him. Whereas his feet would normally anchor him and his spine into a picture of desired posture, at this moment, fielding these sadly earnest inquiries about a high school race, his right toes were digging into the laces of his left. An arrhythmic swiveling ensued, like drilling a fencepost. I wanted to ask him about it before the session disbanded but all at once the coaches descended and kindly requested everyone head home. The next day the papers had plenty of theories, but they were predictably ordinary and uninspired, though in the schools some kids swear they spotted hoofprints in the dirt when they caught up to the scene. In accounts following the race, more than one rival team invoked Four Hoursemen imagery. For once the hyperbole rest with the kids themselves and not some local columnist’s sensational creation. These kids had messed with George up close and personal and, results aside, I don’t think they liked what they saw. As far as they were concerned, Westfield #1 was about to take its place alongside Bunker Hill and Thermopylae.

. . .

Lifting amounts normally reserved for defensive lineman, George exhibited an atypical runner’s build.  The length was there, standing 6’4 and with some chance still to add another half inch, but the mass is where he truly separated himself.  The gangly, rail-thin upper body, characteristic of the great distance runners, was foreign to the young man.  He possessed roughly hewn and rigid arms, a logger’s arms.  These hung from a wide and protruding chest; indeed, that year George was the lone freshman able to properly fill out his shorts and singlet.  Safety pins were used for the rest of us, whose massive inherited shorts lacked elasticity enough to stay on the boys unassisted.  This development also, or, rather, primarily, quieted those initial complainers who were in no rush to challenge the specimen to a match with one arm behind their back holding up their trousers.  When alone, the boys were curious about how this could be: If there’s always freshmen coming in who hadn’t yet physically blossomed, and the upper classmen are wearing the larger sizes, why are there no shorts that fit?  The articles really were decrepit.  Laughably so, until one boy put forth the notion that these disgusting shorts might have actually been around for so long they were a testament to a time when even the smallest kid could fill them out, which drained whatever nervous laughter remained in the room.  It was as the group of us (less one), grasping and sizing up our unwieldy uniforms, were staring at cavemen: unable to deny the lineage yet not quite comprehending it.  Puberty, or lack thereof, is hard enough by itself.  It’s made considerably worse when you learn you’re apparently supposed to evolve into a relic.  I would catch George glancing over now and again during these confidence pow-wows, grinning to himself and fidgeting with his spikes. It was important to see him smile now and again. So often his ability had an inverse effect on social circles that these brief glimpses of humanity, reminders of personality and joviality, helped ground the kid who months into high school was being elevated, fairly or not, to legendary status.

. . .

It doesn’t take him long to arrive at the mode of thinking he demands of himself on race day, though it’s tricky to maintain.  In the park, repeated challenges to concentration seem to manifest themselves in fifteen minute intervals.  ‘Good lucks!’ and ‘atta boys!’ from parents and family members are unavoidable, to be tolerated with a smile and the odd handshake.  There’s horsing around from lower-rung teammates not expected to participate, which often takes the form of some kind of tag/dodgeball hybrid with pinecones and acorns.  These distractions make for a merciful wash when a parent or sibling would inevitably take an acorn to the temple.  Hands-in-pockets, staring-into-the-distance whistling unsuccessfully conceals the culprits as mothers and fathers angrily corral their nuisance-makers, excusing themselves from conversation with transparent gritted-teeth politeness.

Free of all this, until the next interruption, he can lean back against the railing amid the unending mist.

. . .

For a freshman, Larson had enjoyed a phenomenal season.  Truth was he enjoyed a phenomenal season for anyone.  It took our coaches only until the finish times were announced after the first meet to invite the wunderkind to the varsity squad, an invitation which was never rescinded.  Larson managed personal bests in consecutive races for the duration of the season.  Such an accomplishment is common amongst freshmen who, with enhanced endurance, strength and conditioning as well as improving technique, typically improve by leaps and bounds those first few months.  For Larson, the bar had been set so high in that first race, though, that the idea of consistent, calculated improvement was simply irrational.  The coaches discussed in closed door meetings what to do when Larson finally comes back to earth.  They would take the young kid aside.  He’d surely be a little spooked at a personal meeting as a freshman, and they’d have to tell him right away, reassuringly, that the other freshman weren’t invited because they didn’t have to even think about this because they are not at his physical level.  He possesses gifts that even the veterans on the team haven’t been able to develop, and so in the coming weeks, maybe even days with the number of miles he’s logged, a let-up in performance is inevitable but nothing to be concerned about.  Once his endurance comes around and his technique becomes polished enough, he can be the best runner in the state.  Encouraging words, but they must toe the line carefully.  He has to be informed of his talent level and its absolute rarity without giving way to fawning.  These distance lifers know the danger of ego, especially in a pursuit as solitary as running, which makes stoking that fire a touchy subject.  What these current coaches, and coaches and teammates and reporters down the line consistently overlooked was that George Larson required no motivation.  Motion coursed through the young man’s veins at an elemental level.  Like a cadmium rod absorbing and maintaining a reactor’s enormous flow of energy, his feet pounding grass, dirt and cement kept his body manageable.

Larson’s teammates did not possess the same combustible fuse, though for their part they were steadily improving throughout the year. One of George’s actual friends on the team (the solitary path that accompanies those blessed with enviable gifts at a confusing age did not elude him), another freshman, Owen Sinclair, had managed to position himself just on the perimeter of the varsity squad, aiming to be a letter-man for the next three years.  Available as an alternate should one of Wilcott’s seven be unable to race, Sinclair accompanied Larson when training continued beyond the regular season and into this stretch of county, region, state and, potentially, national tournaments.  In these later portions of the year when the scheduled meets are finished, management of the team, though at what many would consider its most vital period, becomes exceedingly laissez-faire.  For some unknown reason the myriad demands facing a high school student’s time can be meticulously arranged so long as a concrete schedule of locations and times exists.  Once those dates take on a fluid quality obligations are subjected to triage wherein county and state-wide meets, opportunities for success worked towards the entire season, somehow become afterthoughts.  Coaches become blue in the face contending with the irony of preaching the importance of journey over destination and having it thrown in their face in the capricious manner unique to a high school athlete. The team tried their best to run together, though allowances were made for Larson’s, what local newspapers termed, “eccentricity”.  As a result, the days leading up to a major meet witnessed along the parks and streets of Wilcott townspeople united in support of their distance denizens, though an impartial observer might quickly note the distinct contingent of six (five varsity plus one of two alternates) running in unison, meanwhile finding Larson hurtling down an avenue or up a woodchipped hill, his pace-man (in title only), Sinclair, in breathless pursuit.

. . .

In late October, Laurens High hosted their conference championship meet.  Historically, Wilcott County featured the premier runners in Indiana, once or twice a generation actually producing Olympians, yet, with more regularity and somehow even greater local pride, producing Greater Midwest Group III High School Cross Country champions.  While athletics had demonstrated susceptibility, what did prove resistant to cyclical greatness was the eclectic array of goods and wares offered on the course’s interior perimeter.  All manner of booths, benches, tables and awning’d flatbeds peppered the plateau, offering hand-knit sweaters (always a favorite on a November Indiana morning), watercolor landscapes, lovingly rendered pine birdhouse sets, glass, metallic or stone jewelry – an altogether overwhelming display of heartland miscellany finally culminating in a stand where, it appeared, customers can present absolutely anything and have it deep fried.  The offer is most typically redeemed on hot dogs or chicken, with the odd pretzel or pizza slice plunged into the grease.  It’s not entirely unusual, however, to catch a wandering spectator, after an extended visit in the Hoosier Horseshoe, leaving behind a trail of flakes.

An embattled troupe of Wilcott’s former pride, members of the Hoosier Horseshoe arrange their tailgate in the eponymous symbol and commence to drink themselves into a furiously nostalgic back and forth of tales and yarns.  In the manner not uncommon to people whose promise and accomplishments intertwine at an early age, a game of bitter one-upsmanship almost immediately commences after the fifth beer.  In no reasonable way can it be discerned how an argument would 1) lead to such an action, or 2) how the resulting action has any bearing on a meaningful disagreement (though at this stage in the afternoon it’s more than fair to assume the disagreements are no longer meaningful, if they ever even were), but along with Wilcott’s sporting ineptitude and Marjorie Anderson’s sweater boom, the annual spotting of a Hoosier Horseshoe member whose boots have been crusted over and now sport a lightly golden, deep fried hue has become standard.

The circus that is the Wilcott County conference championship grants Midwestern race aficionados an opportunity to take in the proceedings while shedding children and money at regular intervals.  Tracking a particular runner through a race becomes in itself a spirited competition.  Dodging children with faces painted like big cats is second nature after twenty minutes or so, anticipating their erratic movements and, if necessary, employing a 20 percent effort Heisman stiff-arm to keep half of that still-drying cheetah from gracing your sport coat.   Of course, every other fan is doing pretty much the same thing, leading to a scene of practiced, disciplined running along the course at the perimeter by the actual, you know, racers, and fevered, hectic, sometimes colliding bodies in the center of all manner of spectator – as if the boys were circling sheepdogs and the fans their manic cargo. And so while the greater Wilcott area again basked in its annual craftawre boon, Laurens continued to find itself mired in a severe talent and title drought, each year more openly resenting the ongoing success of neighboring schools.  The freshman specimen figured to change their fortune.

. . .

Distance runners are not the fighting type.  At least not fist fights.  The boys stand with wire thing arms and nothing more than the canvas where a chest might emerge, like conscripted ancient soldiers awaiting what could only be laughably over-sized armor but are instead just sent out into the world.  The only region on their bodies where mass congregates in any long-term capacity are the foot and a half stretches between hips and knees.  Take an Olympic speed skater with the comic-book size quadriceps. divide that by about 2.5, and subtract any notion of this person having encountered a bench press ever in life, and you’ve got the build of a great distance runner.

Which is why Larson’s presence in these events inspires such cockeyed looks.  In our part of the country, a fella with his constitution should be fully padded and pursuing wide receivers with considerable hostility, but here he was, beguiling and majestic, absorbing the deep wet chill of the day.  Whether or not his size contributed in any way to his efficacy on days like this is difficult to determine.  People react differently to temperature based on factors as innate as genetics to more controlled variables such as diet and nutrition.  Focus and mental preparation (Buddhist mindfulness practices being decidedly in vogue at the time) could also account for the sterling performance of kids whose negligible body fat percentages made them candidates for contracting pneumonia in the dairy section of most local grocery stores.  Larson just didn’t look the part, to put it mildly.  And that’s fine, cross country squads always end up resembling some kind of alternate universe dream team: the sympathetically overweight, the painfully uncoordinated, reluctant asthmatics with questionable parenting…  Being an inclusive activity, unburdened by strictures of roster size which plagued football and baseball, running ultimately becomes a random assortment of personality and body types.  In that broad sense Larson fit right in, another curious addition to an ever growing cast.  Except that he was good, very good, unnervingly good, and in that season was quickly challenging previously held opinions on what someone of his makeup should be doing during the fall months.

George tossed his sweats in a pile next to his bag beneath the elm tree housing the rest of his teammates’ gear.  After jogging to his desired area on the line, off to the left to anticipate the first ninety-degree into the wooded path, he had to elbow his way into the preexisting group.  Sometimes he’d get a reflexive push back where the guy didn’t even bother to turn and look.  On these occasions, when he’d wedge right back in a moment later, the guy would finally turn around to meet the face of the insistent jerk and almost always lose the color in his face, now having to entertain the idea of Larson’s arms performing any number of half-nelson variations on himself.  Then, in a saving face manner he’d squint his eyes in annoyance and turn to look straight back out toward the opening stretch.  Despite this surface level cold-shouldered display of moxy, any reasonable observe could detect that where before had been an impregnable stretch of racers a noticeable gap in the line had appeared.

. . .

What these children discover at early ages is difficult, courageous, borderline dangerous performances can be wrung from their bodies by subscribing to one banal yet formidable thought: “This is expected of me.” It is the albatross for children born into privilege or family industries, the pervasive restrictions of a surname. The burden makes itself manifest in several areas of life, quite commonly in sports.  Significant physical thresholds are encountered and cleared all due to inferences children make from those five words.  The mind reprioritizes and, in a reason-eschewing manner, finishing a six-minute mile pace performance on a bruised heel sits perched atop an inverse hierarchy of needs, peering down at lesser considerations like pain management and general logic.  So much can be coaxed from adolescents, who by definition are unsure of their own selves.  Even more can be gained when you implant the notion that although difficult and frightening things lie in their path, the expectations of others don’t waver.

“You will feel terrible. You will be unsure why you chose this path. It will seem easy to stop.  Don’t.”

The child naturally should ask “Why?”, but doesn’t.  Fear might govern the lack of inquiry, but mostly the question is unwarranted.  At some point early enough in their training a series of adults engineered these children not to question their tactics, and now their imprinting is crystallized.  Any time a doubt might manifest itself throughout a run the thought is halted, intercepted and rerouted back to the reservoir of guilt coaches had dug months and years earlier, each time arriving at a dead-end of fear and shame at which their conditioned mind can only ever muster the same responsorial: “This is expected of me.”

Without this established standard, who knows how many racers would forfeit, never to continue?  A distance race is pain.  It’s full body assault as feet pound earth.  Ankles are overwhelmed by normal force until mercifully handing off the shockwave into muscles better suited to absorb it – calfs, quads and thighs usher the rippling up into the waist which is about where it tends to dissipate.  The torso is hardly spared in this debacle, though.  Acute shoulder strain migrates across both planes towards the neck and more or less congeals there, sending pulses of nerve action up to the brain stem or down to the ribs, varying its frequency enough to keep the shoulders locked up tight in dreaded anticipation.  Naturally such posture only worsens the strain and so this song and dance settles into its routine of spontaneous discomfort for the duration.  And all the while, with the physical barrage well under way, the mind, in its never ceasing capacity for lucid introspection on multiple topics at once, goes to town.

Coaches yelling quarter mile splits provide a brief epiphany, rescuing the occupied mind from considerations of what’s for dinner, tomorrow’s history midterm, the news that Sarah and Steve are apparently dating now?  Heretofore wise-decision making Sarah… An itch develops along the left calf and on any other day it’d be dealt with by a delicate scrape of the right foot along the back, but metal spikes on race day are a different animal and best not to risk it.  Not to mention that for some reason when I run I develop this OCD element, which either is non-existent or mercifully dormant in other realms of my life, and so if I scrape my left calf with my right foot, you better believe the right calf starts to expect some reciprocation.  On race day, that makes it at minimum 2 metal-spike swipes that I’m rolling the dice with.  I say “at minimum” two because if on the ledger-balancing one I happen to graze the calf with either too little or too much effort compared with the first, there remains a disparity and now a graze must be made with intensity less than the initial, enough to make up the difference, but not too much more than the gap otherwise left calf has been scraped 1.5 times, while right calf somewhere between .9 and 1.1.  And since the last time I checked mid-race calf scraping is not an exact science, this could go on for some time.  So I deal with the itch. What’s one more confused body part in this gangly mess?  We haven’t had meatloaf in awhile, I wouldn’t hate that.  Get some of this cold out of me.  Ugh, the parents section of the course.  They’re the most well-meaning bunch of people you’d ever want to meet but my God, do I want to smash something or scream profanity when I go past them.  Hearing urging chants and calls from people wearing coats, sipping coffee and cocoa while my arms and legs are windblown and raw…it is enraging.  And I know it makes no sense to get mad about it.  Were they standing there in swimsuits it wouldn’t change the essential facts of the situation that ricochet between my synapses:

I’m running this race.

It’s not over yet.

I’m the only one who can make it be over.

Just keep running.

Too often this was the race-day inner monologue I’d contend with for five thousand meters of mud and rocks and invasive branches.  I lament that I never got to approach George about his preparation firsthand, none of us really could.  It’s possible I knew even then that it would prove fruitless.  As if asking Willie Mays to diagram his catches makes them any more comprehensible, much less repeatable.  It would be nice then at the very least to run into him again, maybe Homecoming.

. . .

It is a dimly lit morning.  The light contracts and darkness ink-blots the sky at first suggesting thunderstorm then dials itself back, holds, maintaining this heightened pall for some time.  There is a cool pleasing breeze drifting through, licking at the face and neck, rippling shirt fronts back against stomachs.  A gentle reminder of things bigger than yourself, that unmistakable double down of latent epiphanies, occurring in rapid succession, that you are alive and unknowable forces outside your control have allowed this to happen. Now firmly in place along the line, George, with the rest of the Greater Midwest Group III High School Cross Country entrants, awaited the pistol.