It’s a dark, cool morning before school and I remember thinking to myself, ‘why the hell am I not in bed right now?’ — minus the hell because I was about 12 and still maintained the youthful innocence of Grease’s Sandy before she met Danny.
It’s about 5 degrees Celsius and I’m jogging in my usual attire – long black tights and a turquoise long sleeve T-shirt. Both are too short for me, but they’re what I usually wear and I don’t dare change my pre-running routine.
My dad is beside me, practically jouncing in one of his varying James-Bond-type workout outfits: black, slick and subtle. He seems as comfortable as a dog on a walk as he glances at the scenery that he has jogged by so many times before.
But I am not savouring the moment in quite the same way; I’m calculating.
We passed niche-de-corner about three minutes ago (we named this corner after the upscale furniture store Niche Décor, which landed at this popular intersection for several years). At the corner, that’s one kilometre, when we pass mom’s old house that’s another kilometre. So that means I have about 3.8 kilometres to go before I’m done this run. Hooray.
We’re jogging five kilometres today, which is a molehill compared to the mountainous 15 to 20 kilometre runs we would eventually complete together. During some of our longer jogs in severe weather (sometimes three feet of snow or plus 30 degree temperatures), even my dad would falter and I would grunt words of encouragement that I myself would barely absorb.
Today, it’s he who notices me faltering, which is the more frequent scenario. My brows are furrowing, my eyes are getting misty and I say the words I know he hates hearing: “I don’t know if I can do this.”
It’s a mind game he says – my body isn’t actually tired, it’s all in my head. ‘Well, I’m feeling pretty damn tired,’ I think to myself (the curse word was probably there this time).
“Come on,” he says. “Don’t stop. You’re not a quitter. You’re going to quit now?”
He repeats phrases like this as a form of mock tough-love, meaning them only for encouragement. I know he knows I can finish the run, but I don’t know I can.
Sometimes his words help me, but often they produce an irritation so grating I feel it in my throat as it tries to escape my mouth in the form of a scream.
I have felt this same insatiable irritation consistently throughout my life. I felt it when I tried out for every sports team in elementary school, even though I will never be good at team sports. I felt it countless times during the first half-marathon I ran with my dad. I felt it when climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, stopping part way to cry from mental and physical exhaustion. I felt it when receiving any grade under 80 per cent in high school. I felt it when forcing myself to participate in cross-country until Grade 12, even though I dreaded every race.
I feel it now when I write any story I know is going to be good. And if something bothers me enough to produce that irritation, I know it’s going to be good.
You see, my dad knows me better than anyone in this world; we share the same humour, the same passion, the same anxiety. We share the same determination.
So as we jog while the sun rises on that cool fall morning, we don’t know yet that we would both cling to this determination when he develops a rare heart condition several years from this time. And we can’t know that it would be the same irritating perseverance that would save us during his agonizing, two-year recovery that took him through severe mental and physical peaks and troughs.
But we don’t know any of that yet. And today, just like every other day we run, he lets me sprint ahead of him for the last quarter-kilometre before we reach our finish line.
“Ok dad, I’m going to go.”
“You go for it, sweetie. Love you, kid.”
“Love you, pops.”
He holds his fist out to me and I bump it – once on the top, once on the bottom and once on the side. That’s our routine.
And then I sprint.