By PB Johnson
In 1967 and 1968 my Dad was a US Marine in Vietnam. In 1977 and 1978 he ran and ran on a cinder track on Sundays. Some mornings, before work, he ran up the hill where our street curved around and ascended to a place called Outer Drive at the top of the ridge. He ran on the high school track on his lunch hour and kept his sweaty clothes and headband in a gym bag in the trunk of his car. Every morning he did pushups and sit-ups on his bedroom floor and then smoked a cigarette in the bathroom. On Saturdays he worked in our yard all day and sweat out cans of beer before punching the heavy bag that hung from a thick steel chain from the ceiling.
I rode with him to the hardware store one Saturday morning to buy another chain so that he could also hang a speedbag. We rode in his blue-topped white mustang and he shifted the gears as we turned down the hill into town. From his seat behind me, Shep rested his black nose on the edge of my headrest so he could smell the honeysuckle air through the open window. My Dad spent a few minutes looking at the chains and selected a short few links of a thick silvery one. Later that day I watched in the garage as he alternated between punching bags, dripping wet with sweat that turned his eyes red. He didn’t have his headband on.
He kept a detailed journal of his exercise and the various physical aches and pains that it brought on: “Left Achilles tendon quite sore still, right knee pain again, left testicle pain remains.” He kept no such log of pain, physical or otherwise, brought on from one year in his life ten years prior. He pushed shards of Chinese metal from arms and legs more than once while I sat on his bed and watched. He didn’t write anything down about that. He didn’t talk to anyone about it either, the pieces of metal or the things that happened the day they became part of him.
Forty years later he doesn’t ask me why I still run, even though I’m typing into the running log on my iPhone all the corresponding aches and pains brought on from nights pounding the street after my kids go to bed. He understands running. It’s 2018 and there’s metal in me from 2007 that I haven’t been able to push out yet.
My son can run. I’m happy he seems to like it. I hope he always enjoys the feeling of running alone at night under the stars or streetlights or passing early morning quiet driveways or with the sun rising in the corner of his eye over water. Wherever his life takes him I hope he finds the peace that running has brought me. Hopefully it won’t be necessary for him, though, in the way in which it was for me or his grandfather.
PB Johnson was raised in the Southeast and now lives in Illinois where he has worked as a police officer for more than twenty years. His writing has appeared in Gravel Magazine, Hoot Review and on Chicago Public Radio.