In life some people are turtles and others are rabbits, bounding ahead...
The Tortoise and the Rabbit
I’m not much of a runner. I'm not even much of a walker, but my friend talked me into doing a race last week.
“It’ll be great fun,” she said, “and it’s for a good cause."
I didn't say anything. I'm never one to want to do stuff like that. My idea of exercise is turning the pages of a good book.
That would have been the end of the suggestion, except Tammy went and told my mom!
"Hey, Mrs. Carlisle," Tammy gushed the very next day, "guess what Susie and I are going to do."
Mom and I looked at each other. I shrugged. I hardly even remembered the conversation by then.
Then Tammy told my mom how I'd volunteered to be in a charity run.
After my mother stopped praising me and later my dad got all excited and pledged a hundred bucks, I was trapped. Talk about guilt trips! Sometimes, you just can't back out.
Because of that, Tammy forced me to get up early for the next month to practice running. I wouldn't have done that except she kept telling me that I didn't want to be embarassed on the day of the race. She had me there. It would be horrible to pant before I'd gone a block!
All too soon, however, the day arrived for the race. Water bottle in hand, limbs lingered up, shorts exposing legs still the color of undyed butter, I stood at the starting line and tried to pretend enthusiasm. All around me athletes in assorted bare-minimum outfits, shiny with tanning lotion, revved themselves up like bulls pawing at the ground. I sighed and thought about my warm bed. It was 6:00 in the morning. I wondered if it was too late to head for home.
Then Mom called out, "Good luck, Susie. I'm so proud of you."
Dad just waved, but there were tears in his eyes. There was no way I could back out then.
Some lunatic with a pistol announced the “Go” signal. I almost dropped down to the ground, fearing the worst, but the stampede carried me along. I ran like I hadn’t known I could – I was honestly afraid not to. The tension all about me carried me forward. My heart was racing from the gun shot, from the excitement, from running two blocks . . .
I allowed myself to be moved to the side of the group and then happily edged towards the back. No one fought for my decelerating position. In fact, smiles flew my way. I think I’d found the way to instant popularity!
Tammy had bounded forward. She was a jack rabbit, running with long-legged leaps. I was a turtle, with legs about the same length and a body formed similarly. Sleeping under a tree until the sun rose into a more normal position was my kind of activity.
The spectators were giving me the eye. They looked ready to start jeering. I wondered if it was too soon to drop out. Then I saw Mom. She and Dad had bought little flags and were waving them.
I leaped forward. Soon there were other stragglers beside me, slow turtles just like me. All of them looked pretty much like I probably did – red-faced, panting . . . practically crawling.
Still, I kept plodding along. I felt proud about reaching the half-mile marker. I was still standing up, still running with a group – even if they were all turtles.
We jogged by the city hall. The tulips were in full bloom – bright right red ones, looking like tubes of lip-stick, still pursed together like kissing lips. The yellow ones, for some reason, were already opening, starting to smile at the rising sun. I figured that someone must have planted the tulips in stages – yellows first, then reds, then whatever was still hidden inside the green-leafed "praying" stocks.
The city fountain was shooting out water from spitting dolphins. It was our town emblem – the dolphins, not the spitting. Dolphins don’t actually spit; it’s baseball players who do. I think the people at the factory must have gotten confused about the two images.
I jogged on past the fountain. Three of my fellow turtles dropped down onto the stone benches surrounding the dolphins. I was no longer part of a group then. Two sagging runners up ahead of me were all that kept me from being the lone straggler at the end.
I made my way past the fair grounds onto the trails near the beach. The waves were kicking up a frothy, bubbled mass of spume. The waves pounded at the sand, echoing the noise of my feet hitting the asphalt trail, beating over and over the rhythm of my fatigue.
I wondered if Tammy were still running strong. Already I’d made it past several racers who’d dropped out. They were bent over, rubbing aching shins or lying stretched out on the sand, moaning. I kept going, occasionally sipping at the water tied to my belt.
The mile check-in came and went. I was so tired I didn’t stop. I couldn’t imagine my arms not pumping the cadence, my heart not beating the rumba, my legs and side not aching. I kept on going because to stop would have meant to collapse; it would have meant the world coming in around me, burying me in the pain of arms and legs and straining muscles.
As I ran, I recited poems and sang songs: “The owl and the pussycat went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat . . .” The boat was sailing on the seas of restless surf, sailing away across waters so tired they lost their sparkle and slipped underneath into the dark of the depths . . .
“Twas brillag and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabes . . .” The sea gulls took on the appearance of the frumious bandersnatch. The surfers were the Jabberwock, and I was the father’s son setting off to kill my foe. Each step was my perilous journey. My arms swung right and left with a sword so great and magical the Jabberwock cowered in fear. His surfboard wiped out amid the wabes of slithy toves . . .
“Fifteen barrels of root beer on the wall, fifteen barrels of root beer . . .” I sang inside my mind, as I watched more fallouts from the race. Was it seventeen I had counted, or was that man with the dreadful limp and the agony in his face, eighteen? Counting root beers made it hard to remember.
The path ascended. The back of my legs was on fire. I ignored the blaze. I was on a quest. Jabberwock was up ahead. I heard his voice, wiffling through the tulgy woods. Yes, and there were my people, everyone was shouting, cheering me on . . .
Dad and Mom were there, waving those silly, little flags. Their faces were all excited like I'd brought home straight A's. Their eyes were brimming with tears. A lump in my throat, not one from thirst, but from their expressions, made me feel like crying.
I could hardly believe it, but I had made it to the five-mile finish. I almost couldn't stop, though. My parents and Tammy halted me by throwing their arms around my neck. Tammy had, of course, finished hours before. She'd managed to get there before the timers were in place, so they'd disqualified everyone and said that the race would have to be run again. Tammy was enraged about that, but I didn't care. I just collapsed, dying into the beach sand.
Almost immediately my father and Tammy forced me up and made me walk. That's when I thought I'd die. I was ready to crawl into a hole and let them bury me in sand.
There are a series of races scheduled for the months ahead. The next one runs through the city of Los Angeles, and Tammy's training for it. She's getting up at 4:00 A.M. and running until 7:00 every day, and then she goes off to school. Of course, she wants me to be her running partner. But I’ve had enough. I earned a certificate proving I ran the Ventura Race. I’m proud of that, but for all future races, I’ll be a spectator.
My parents were good-natured about the end of my running career. Dad laughed and patted me on the back. "It doesn't matter," he said. "I'm proud of you for what you did."
Mom said more or less the same thing, but she looks at me differently now, almost as if I grew about a foot. She's even given me permission to stay out an hour later at night.
I guess all in all it was worth running the race. I brought in one hundred and fifty dollars for a good cause. That's awfully cool. I'm going to try to get that many pledges for the next race, but those pledges will all be for Tammy. You see, next time, I intend to sleep late and meet her at the finish line.