"Keeping Pace" by Dimitris Voulgaris
The sun is bleeding. Bleeding on me in clear salty blood that drips down my brow, over my nose, along my neck and onto the rest of my body. It’s clean river-like lines sting my eyes and glare themselves against the bright hold of its hot gaseous body. I’m in near silence, an absolute discomfort of mine, as the only sounds which echo alongside me are my heavy and constant footsteps against the concrete. The concrete itself seems to go on and on ahead of me but to my right, it dips down into a loving embrace with that dribbling sad excuse of what I guess we call a river. And as I stare out at its run, I continue on my own forward and onward.
I run in pursuit of no game, no beasts to hunt, and no treasures to chase. Bored of it all I sometimes imagine myself on the side of the great Tiber or the beautiful Volga running to freedom. A fleet of guards is chasing me, a deserter by ridicule and trade. I could not prosper the perils of battles as I shied away from the sight of blood my own and our enemies. My sandals are slipping below my feet and my sword is jangled near loose as I run on and on. A fantasy-like so though is hard to manage in such a desolate expanse of gray. And so I decided that I am not that criminal. I am not an old soldier cast in the shadows of old atrocities. I am a boy in a suburb running for his own sake.
And just what is my sake? Why do I run on what I’ve heard is one of the hottest days of my Southern California summer? Is it because I used to run a lot more? I mean my high school days saw me do so almost every day to build that incredible endurance that I was told over and over again should be put to use in a sport that demands it like cross country. Today though I am in no such sport, I am a writer and hedonistic one at that. My legs are no longer strong branches of my trunk and my body no longer craves the elusive but fulfilling runners high. Dejected, however, I decided that the past much like a fantasy holds no bare over me but to mock of suns shining in the past. So I close my eyes against their many coronas and keep putting feet to the pavement. Running somewhere for some reason that I still don’t know.
My low cut tank and runners shorts stick to me as I move ceaselessly on and I pull at them desperately to free them from this embrace. The thing I call myself which they drape and cling over is tired. My breath is heavy like that of an animal in heat and my lungs are burned by years of relaxation or misuse depending on your opinions of self-care. My legs are tired from a mere two miles journey and aside from the distractions all I can feel is my want to give them their rest. But in pursuit of reason, I carry on despite my body crying out otherwise.
If wrestling in high school had taught me anything, it was to quiet these screams. Working out, running, and of course, wrestling itself was as my coach had said a matter of mind over body. So with my best attempts, I continue to distract myself from the aches, the heaves, and of course those long snail trail drips of clear blood the sun keeps falling onto me.
It’s the frivolous things of my journey that I find the easiest to take my gaze outward, and the one thing I must give this run is that it at least has beautiful trees to see on its way. It, of course, has those strangely tangled masses of green that mark themselves as the staple of any good suburb. Those forgettable trees that a loving family might hang a swing from or that a sweet if not naive couple might carve their initials into. More interesting than these though is the occasional tall pine or redwood like a tree that reaches far higher into the sky with its arms almost begging to scrape the underside of telephone wires and low flying planes alike. Their branches and leaves are by a slight margin more interesting than the others because of a strange uniformity that makes each so specifically the same and yet different altogether. But these giants pass behind me giving way to a stretch of what is by far my least favorite of the trees. Those impossibly tall sticks in the ground with only the slightest plumage on the top that my city has decided to plaster on almost every street corner. Palm trees are a tourist’s Los Angeles dream sight as they embody the skinny spectacle that is this dazzling county. Tall, boring, and all too full of themselves maybe they just remind me too much of myself, and I find that easy to hate. Then just as their picturesque melancholy is about to cut my pace short I see the objects of my desire. The soft purple visions of a better run, the jacarandas. Their periwinkle petals are strewn about the ground tempting a younger Dimitris to bend down and squeeze the milk like nectar from their pulpits. But on my seemingly never-ending pace, I stomp past them finding my feet quickly upon them hoping to see some of this sweet syrup spurt from them with my step. Distractions are beautiful but in the end, they must end and as I pass the last waving purple hand of them I am left once again with myself and my run.
I’m back in my body and I can feel my heart punching heavy blows against the cavity of my chest so just for a moment I start to walk. Always a mind for the trivial however I decided that I’ll resume the torture at that old telephone pole some hundred feet ahead. Giving me just enough time to question once again why the hell I’m running. As if I was able to outrun it all at first my thoughts, my body, and those pesky Roman soldiers all seem to catch up to me at once. I nearly collapse tripping over invisible obstacles in my way as I can feel myself giving to, under the weight of my own body. This is a fruitless endeavor. I know that it is. My body has always been a lean twig-like ordeal that neither bulk nor fills from exercise and exuberance. This run won’t make me stronger. It won’t undo the last three years of lazing about a dorm indulging in junk food and other vices. It won’t quiet the cacophonous songs of my head. And it certainly won’t make me a better person. My last few steps before the pole are slow and longing for it to grow its legs and run far further from me giving me more time to break. But step then step, and like that, I'm at a runner's pace again.
I don’t understand it. Meaning runs faster than I ever could. But in pursuit of that gentle touch, that loving kiss, that hard sock to the face of it; I keep on running. Maybe along the way, I will see a jacaranda tree and maybe I will stop there to sleep.