When He Was Five
When he was 16, he wanted to get his license. It scared the daylights out of me. Not that I didn’t trust him or think he was responsible enough. Those things were all right. I trusted him fine. But he was 16. He was subject to peer influences like every other 16-year-old, and that’s what worried me. But we talked about it.
“Dad, I signed up for a driver’s test next week. You have to come with me. Saturday morning at 11 AM.”
“Maybe I’m busy.”
“Yeah, right! You just don’t want me to get my license!”
“How’d you know?”
“You’ve only been telling me that since I turned 16!”
“Oh. I guess you’ve been listening. But you seem to be going ahead with this anyway.”
“Well, duh! Are you going to buy me a car?”
“A car! See that? First a license, then a car. What’s next? A couple motorcycles, maybe a dragster? Something lowered and tricked out with custom paint and ground effects?”
“Hey, yeah, awesome. I didn’t know you’d go for that stuff!”
“I won’t. We’re just talking. But you don’t need a car. What do you need a car for?”
“You need freedom?”
“Now don’t get like that. I don’t mean it that way. But being able to go where I want when I want without having to ask you to drive, that would be awesome. And I can help you with things. You want a bag of potatoes when you’re making dinner, now you have to stop and go get it yourself. With my car, I can do it for you.”
“If I’m cooking dinner, it would seem to me my car would be available for you to do this errand and I’d save $15,000 in the bargain.”
“Maybe that was a bad example.”
“I sort of liked it.”
“Well, I wasn’t ready to talk about this yet anyway. I want to get the license first. We need to leave here at 10:15 Saturday morning. Just letting you know.”
So he took his driver’s test. He said he was nervous, he said the test administrator didn’t like him. He said a lot of things after it was over and he was waving his piece of paper saying he’d passed. Most of what he said sounded an awful lot like ‘Yippee!’ to me.
He drove home. He’d been driving on his learner’s permit for several months, so him driving me home wasn’t unusual. He was an excellent driver. I didn’t know 16-year-olds could be so considerate, so careful, so focused. He was. I’d been impressed with his driving almost from the beginning.
The first time he took the car alone, I was still scared, though I did still trust him. It was just a big step. I thought about it some and realized it was more than the possibility of an accident that was scaring me. It was that he was growing up. I wasn’t going to have him too much longer. I’d got used to having him around. Thinking about this wasn’t good for me. Thinking of this made me think back, think of a little boy standing next to me on a beach, long ago.
“Dad, why are you just standing there, looking at the wall?”
“And your eyes are watering. What’s going on?”
“Nothing. Just got something in my eye. Don’t worry about it. What would you like for dinner?”
“I’m eating out with a couple kids. I’m driving them. You said I could take the car, remember? It’s going to be great. I’ll be back by 10.”
He’d taken up running. He was on the cross-country team. A lot of kids in other sports joined cross-country to stay in shape or get in shape, so many of the best athletes in school were on the team, and it was pretty competitive. Tyler wasn’t interested in the other sports, at least not competing in them, but he loved running, and loved cross country. It was the only sport he participated in, but he was very good. Very. He was the best one on the team.
He’d get up each morning around 5 AM, do some stretching and warm-ups, then go running. He’d leave the house about 5:20 and come back around an hour later. Then he’d stretch again, shower and we’d eat breakfast. I didn’t have to get up that early, but liked to cook breakfast for him and eat with him. His early run made him talkative. It was a good time each day, those breakfasts.
His team did well in their meets. Then the boys whose best times bettered the city-wide qualifying standard were invited to compete with the elite runners from all the city’s high schools.
It was a brisk autumn day when the city championship was held. There was a 6 mile course through some of the streets and mostly through two city parks. It included some hilly paths with both uphill and downhill stretches. Tyler had one of the best qualifying times, so was in the front group getting off. I was at the starting line watching when the gun went off. I watched as Tyler was among the first three runners out of sight.
I was at the finish line watching as the first runners came back into sight. There were two of them, and they were running hard. One of them was Tyler. His blond hair, which he wore a little longer than was fashionable, was tied in a ponytail and it was fluttering behind him. His early morning workouts had made him lean and strong. He didn’t look like a little boy any longer. While he was still slender, his arms and legs had lean muscle definition, his chest was large and hard, and there seemed no fat on him at all.
As the two boys got closer, I could see both were sweating hard, and both showed the effort they’d expended. The boy that wasn’t Tyler was darker skinned and looked like he was maybe Mexican or Latino. He had his mouth open and was obviously panting and gasping for air.
Tyler was still running smoothly. As they reached a point about 100 yards from the tape, the other boy put on a burst of speed. Tyler stayed with him, running stride for stride with him, arms pumping, legs gobbling up the ground.
When they were maybe 60 yards from the end, Tyler suddenly went into a hard sprint. The other boy made a brief attempt to stay with him, but he couldn’t. Tyler pulled ahead, and won.
At home, I asked him how it felt, winning the city championship, being the best high school cross-country runner in the city.
“You know, Dad, what I really liked was the end, running with Antonio. Not the very end, that was just racing. But about a mile from the end, we’d moved out pretty far in front of all the others and were both running easily. We both knew then one of us would win. I glanced over to him, and he looked at me. I grinned at him, and he smiled back. His eyes were sort of flashing at me. That felt really good. We were both trying to win, trying hard, but it felt good running together like that, being part of something together. I felt bad at the very end when he couldn’t keep up. I would have liked him to have, so we could have crossed the line together.”
“I saw you waited for him and hugged him when he came in.”
“I told him he’d run a great race, and next time it would probably be him and I’d end up second. He was going to say something, but was breathing too hard and couldn’t talk. But he smiled at me. I liked that.”
“So running side by side with him, sharing that experience, was better than winning a trophy for the school and getting your picture taken and all that?”
“Yeah. That stuff doesn’t mean anything. Having a moment, or a few moments, where you’re really in synch with someone else, you’re both running as fast as you can and are together and both of you are feeling the same things, that’s what’s special.”