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The Flower that Grows in this State - Part 1

Mike Baker, June 2017

It started a few days ago when I stopped taking my get along pills. I just forgot to take them one day and then kept forgetting. I always know I’m in trouble when I find myself descending into mild weepy sadness over the smallest things: the movement of the elevator as it rises, or the quality of light out of my office window.

I got to the trail this morning and remembered I had them, The Pills, in the car, so I took them.  I hadn’t really wanted to run.  I’d been drinking a lot more than usual for a few weeks and I was hungover.  I was exhausted from my dream the night before.

I was trapped in a trailer, in the dream, with a woman and there was a killer sulking around outside the trailer, peeking in and I had to dial the police while she held the door shut with her body’s weight because I wasn’t strong enough to hold the door.

I kept waking myself up all night.  I’ve gotten pretty good at that.  I can’t direct my dreams quite yet, but I can alter things slightly, move the narrative.  What I can do is make myself leave the dream at will, but when I fall back sleep, there I’d be right back in the trailer, the killer still hunting us, me too puny to do anything but worry.

This morning though, the guys all arrived at the the same time at the trail. I used to be the first runner at the trail, back when it mattered to me to be first because I had time to empty my body of all the fear welling up inside it.

I had that rare chance to leave before anyone arrived, or better, no one might show up and I could just go home and try and sleep some more, but today they all rolled in, one after the other, like a convoy of the disturbing kind.  They are my friends.

“Get on your shoes, find your hat, take your damn pills,” I thought.  Each thing was a step toward running.  Bill said something.  It’s whatever it is he says first thing in the morning and it’s always the same thing.  Then Gordon grimaced and Gary said, “Hey bud.”

I try not to run with Gary these days because I’m drunk too often, and fat.  It scares me to think about running fast and hard with him on the trail or the road, the shame of having to slow down or giving up because the pills I take have somehow taken my will to fight and that is all a runner has, really.

We walked to the trail head.  The run was starting and I couldn’t stop it. I laid in a few excuses for a mile down the trail when I might use them, the excuses, to turn back, bagging on the run to go home and get into bed again.

We started running slow at first.  It’s always slow with these boys because they have almost a 100 years of running between them and they know to start slow and warm the legs and lungs up.  The first mile is up hill anyhow, which means it’s going to be rough.

Then there’s Myles Johnson Road, a series of rolling hills getting bigger and bigger until the last massive climb.  We were a quarter mile into the road when politics came up and a friend’s sudden passing and my head was already a horror show of knotted and cracking, crumbling things around me.

My job pays bills, but it is slowly chipping away at the last pieces of ever being anything other than what I am right now.  My running, a collapsing rusty trailer in the woods off the road, that I am noticing less and less as I pass by it. They are all things I can’t stop from happening.

I have been in three car accidents this year.  I break rules because I can’t fight them.  There are tickets and bills and worry about all the things in the barrel pointing in my face and suddenly I’m up ahead of everyone, building a gap, running away from all of it.

I’m not fast.  Bill and Gary just came back from the Grand Canyon and are running on dog tired stumps and Gordon is, as most days, reveling in the canopy and the sweet morning air.  It is fast for me though and I am pushing.

You know you’re pushing because it hurts.  Your legs hurt, your lungs ache, you want to vomit, you want to cry, you want to quit but I wasn’t quitting; I wasn’t giving up.  I wasn’t heading back to bed and then up behind came Gary, jogging, really, but right then it didn’t matter because it felt like the old days.

The two of us were dog fighting up a hill, snarling and barking out joy at the the gift of misery God had given us and then we were at Maxwell’s, drinking water from the lead pipe tap and then Bill and Gordon rolled in and we were headed back unable to wait any longer to start running again.

We headed back to toward the trail, all of us fighting the hills together, everyone silent and then talking at once, all the jokes were about our imminent deaths because we didn’t care that it was coming for us all whether we wanted its company or not.

That’s the real joy of this game, when you know, really know, how close to death you are and you just run through it like a fog, your body radiating heat as you run though cool, wet, thick air and at that moment your body suddenly cools too, grows clammy to the touch and you are uncertain if you are even alive.

The last mile is downhill.  It’s smooth and it’s the time you can lay back because all the work is done but not today; today, we pushed like the racing men we were and maybe still are right now.  Gary kept tugging us ahead.  I’m sure he could have gone faster.

I am sure Gary hung back just for me.  He would pull ahead and I would catch up, over and over and over, until we were done.  Finally leaning on the fence rails sucking up all the air our lungs would take and heaving out all the weakness left in us; there was nothing left quit.