the first mile

The thump of my heels on the sidewalk.

The splash of my water into my parched mouth, and on the back of my neck.

The smell of freshly-cut grass.

The distant drone of a lawnmower.

The nearby buzz of a leafblower.

The cool shade of an oak tree.

The diesel exhaust of a truck that passes.

The warm rush of air in the draft of the truck.

The swirl of dust and leaves.

A quick wave to another runner, coming toward and passing me.

Pushing myself to keep running up a gentle incline that feels like a mountain.

“Passed one mile in twelve minutes, thirteen seconds.”

The first mile is always the hardest.

Nine weeks after I hurt myself, five weeks after I wondered if it was an injury I’d never recover from, and two weeks after I started seriously rehabbing it, I’ve been back on the road every couple of days, going a little farther each time, running a little longer without stopping, making my comfort zone a little bigger.

Today, I ran a little over 5280 feet in about 12 minutes, but this particular first mile took about three months.

The interrogation of my dogs when I return to my house.

Their tails wagging against my legs when I gently push them away.

Their noses on my shoulders when I sit down to stretch.

A cool glass of water.

The fizz of an electrolyte tablet.

Catching my breath.

Sweat running down my back, down my face, down my arms.

The heaviness of exhausted leg muscles.

The joy of finishing the first mile, which, if measured in actual time distance and, was much longer.


portraits hung in empty halls

The casting director looked over her sides at me, and waited. The casting assistant looked away from the camera’s built-in monitor, and tilted his head to one side, slightly, as he also looked at me.

What an odd detail to notice, I thought.

To the casting director’s left — my right — a handful of producers and executives sat in chairs, some with arms crossed, some with legs crossed, all looking at me, expectantly.

I tried to remember my lines, but I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t even know what project I was in this callback for. I could remember that I hadn’t adequately prepared, but I couldn’t remember why. This was an important audition, for a project that could change my life, and I hadn’t properly prepared. I felt cold, and my stomach felt weak.

I decided to improvise, to say the lines that made some sort of sense to me, based on what the casting director had said.

“I understand your concern,” I began, and there was a knock at the door.

Well, not a knock, exactly. It was more of a thump, followed by a scrape. I tried to ignore it and stick with my plan. “I understand your concern,” I began again, “but I th–” there was another thump and a scrape.

Why aren’t they stopping the audition? I thought. And that’s when I knew that they knew that I knew that I had no idea what I was doing, and they were enjoying my struggle. The problem was, I was in too deep now, and I had to stay committed. I would do such a good job with my improvisation, staying true to my interpretation of the character, that they’d have to give me a chance to go learn the lines, adequately prepare, and come back.

Thump. Scrape.

“Will you let the dogs outside?”

The cold I felt vanished, replaced by the warmth of my bed.

It was a dream. Another goddamn stress dream, but at least it was just a dream.

One of our dogs, probably Seamus, hit our bedroom door. Thump. Scrape.

“They’re fine,” I muttered. I rolled onto my side and tried to stay in sleep’s softening embrace.

Some time passed. Whether it was seconds or minutes, I couldn’t say.

Thump. Scrape.

“They need to go out,” Anne said.

Sleep released her comforting hold and I opened my eyes, expecting to see the cold grey light of dawn outside our windows. Instead, it was the deep dark of night, the blue-tinged glow of the moon barely touching the edges of our blinds.

Thump. Scrape.

I exhaled heavily, and sat up in bed. The covers fell away as I swung my feet to the floor. Seamus and Marlowe were both on the floor. Marlowe sat up, ears perked up atop her head. Seamus was near the door, settling into a Sphinx pose, his ears back. It was as if he wanted to say, “I’m sorry that I woke you up, but I gotta go.”

I got out of bed and walked toward our bedroom door. I took two steps before both dogs stood up, tails wagging. “Okay, you two. Let’s go outside.” I said, quietly.

I opened the patio door and they ran out into the yard. Air that was just above freezing rushed through me and into our house. I closed the door, leaving just enough space for me to peek through it, and watched them run up into the darkness. The sky was pitch black, a few bright stars shining with a brightness that only happens over Los Angeles in the cold, still air of our winter sky. The moon was about a quarter full, as bright as a headlight. I looked away from it, and it left an afterimage in my vision.

The dogs came back to the door, and pushed past me into the house. More frigid air spilled around me, and I imagined it like a wave, crashing through a crack in a seawall during a storm.

I locked the door, and shuffled back into my bedroom. Marlowe had already claimed a spot between Anne’s pillow and mine, curled into a tiny ball that shouldn’t be possible for a 53 pound dog. Seamus was on his side, and when I got back into bed, he leaned his head over to rest it on my hip. Marlowe nuzzled at the side of my face, and exhaled. I leaned my face against hers.

The cold I’d brought into the house was scrubbed away by the warmth of my bed, and I fell back into a dreamless sleep.