Page 30


on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday spoke for themselves. To comment on the matter would have been utterly superfluous, like wearing a green shirt and saying to the first person I saw, “Hi, I’m wearing a green shirt.” Back on Staten Island, I exited the port-o-can with nothing to prove, a starting gate to find, and an ironic motto to chant: “WarningOveruse may lead to unsatisfactory results.” Announcements came over the loudspeakers-10 minutes! Mark went to one gate, Ward and I to another. We lined up… the gun exploded… and we stood there. Ten minutes later, we still stood there, now aware that we were likely the last two people in line. By mile three, however, the delay mattered none. We were warmed up in the borough of Brooklyn, keeping our backs straight and arms moving, dutifully obeying Gilbert’s syntactically twisted but anatomically sage advice to “pick them up high the knees!” By mile eight the runner’s high had set in, and our legs were moving as if set to a metronome. We ran and talked, turning the event into yet another bull session, solving the world’s problems with every mile. At mile nine, we were undergoing a thorough condemnation of the Iraq crisis when rendered temporarily speechless by a young man running on prosthetic legs. Small acts of heroism registered with unusual emotional power, and the scene was incredible. New Yorkers lined the streets three rows deep, cheering and playing music, reading poetry and proffering drinks. When Brooklyn was about to give way to Queens, a cranky old man stood on the sidewalk and screamed out the message scrawled on his sign. His imperative was refreshingly direct: FINISHING IS YOUR ONLY FUCKING OPTION! When we crossed the Queensboro Bridge and turned onto First Avenue in Manhattan, the roar of the crowd \(it was as if we were Lance be the gentleman’s blunt statement. By mile 21, though, the cheers were meaningless, the people were distractions, the scenery grim. All I remember about the Bronx was slowly coming down from my high and realizing that the human body is not designed to do what I was doing. The pain defied words. “Overuse may result in unsatisfactory results… Overuse may result in unsatisfactory results…” Suddenly the port-o-can sticker wasn’t so funny. Back in Manhattan, on Fifth Avenue, the exhaustion had in fact become metaphysical, but I stayed sane by recalling the inane: I remembered that Gilbert, as a young Tutsi, had survived a Hutu raid on his Tutsi school. I remembered, from reading his autobiography, This Voice in My Heart, that Gilbertjust a boyhad hidden under piles of dead bodies to escape the butchery and burnings that killed his classmates. I remembered that he was the sole survivor. It seemed kind of cheap to draw strength from another man’s genuine suffering. But that’s what worked in the fog of delirium, and by mile 24 that’s what I felt, delirium. Ward had hit his stride and actually looked to be having a load of funin all of our training runs he always bloomed late in the gamebut I felt myself being crushed. There was only one thing left to do: “Drop the bomb!” That’s what Gilbert always yelled as we neared the last stretch of a run and, at mile 25, that’s what I heard, and that’s what I did. With Ward 30 yards ahead of me in Central Park, I dropped my bomb. Granted, it might classify in most people’s judgment as a firecracker, but at 26.2 miles, next to Tavern on the Green, Ward and I crossed the finish line together. In the split second between crossing the finish line and realizing how badly my legs hurt, I felt unmitigated bliss. Finishing a marathon is much like leaving a great, long movie and heading back to the parking lot. Reality, which had been so convincingly suspended, suddenly crashes down. Cell phones go off, discussions ensue about grocery shopping, people drive off to grapple with the next task in life. After the race, Markwho finished well ahead of us was nowhere to be found. Ward and I tried in vain to locate the truck carrying our warm clothes. Ward’s daughter finally found us and announced that their hotel had canceled their reservations. The wind was whipping down Central Park West, and I was cold again. I headed south on foot back to my friend’s apartment. Halfway back I realized I needed to pee again so, as every tourist knows to do when you have to pee in New York, I found a Starbucks. I ordered a “tall” and waited in line to use the facilities. After entering the bathroom, I looked in the mirror. My face was drawn, stressed. I did my business, noted the “employees must wash hands” sign, cleaned my own hands, and walked out. Maybe it was the dried salt covering my face, but no one was kind enough to even give me a hug. Former recovering marathoner James E. McWilliams will be running in the Austin marathon in February. Got opinions about what the Legislature will do this spring? Want to make yourself heard? Please join us for rf#4 Women’s Legislative Days Uniting women for fairness and equality January 28-30, 2007 Austin, TX [email protected] DECEMBER 15, 2006 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31