1997: Training to Win

“Jenny if you want to do this cross country shit, it isn’t gonna be like last spring when you ran track. Daddy’s going to be your coach. No more galloping like you’re a motherfucking horse. That’s not running.” Dad shakes his head in disgust.

“Dad I had shin splints.”

“No wonder! The way you ran.” Well maybe if I could have done a sport before sixteen years old…maybe then I wouldn’t be the 7th grader afraid of playground slides, and the 8th grader who couldn’t stand up on roller skates, and now the girl who can’t run.

“Don’t worry, if you really want to do this thing, Daddy’s going to train you my way. The Marine Corps way.”

I glare at him and avert my gaze. I’ll just do it according to my real coach.

“You’re going to have to make Daddy a promise though: You can’t tell anyone that you’re training. If one of your friends asks, you tell them that you haven’t been practicing. Loose lips sink ships, you know.”

Jesus. I’m not that competitive. I just want to run. I want to be with my friends. And not totally suck.

I nod to satisfy Dad’s terms.

“B—but you can’t run with me, Dad.”

“Of course not. Daddy’s too old and fat now. But back in my younger years—you can ask your mother or any of your sisters—Daddy was fast. Man could I run.”

I stare at him confused. You’ll have a heart attack if you run with me now.

Dad winks and grins. “I’m going to ride my bike alongside you. That way I can time you. And make sure some fucking psychopath doesn’t try to kidnap you.”

I try to envision Dad riding his bike slow enough to keep pace.

“Don’t worry about your Father. I’ll manage the bike.”

I walk past Dad and head for my room.

“Where are you going, Jenny?”

“To my room.”

“Training starts now.”

“Umm-okay—well.”

“Nope. And Daddy’s no easy trainer. But better than my drill instructors. The bastards used to throw a 50-pound foot locker on Daddy’s chest.”

“For today, because I don’t have weights for your ankles and wrists, you’re going to run with a backpack on.”

“But—coach said…”

“Fuck the coach. Daddy knows how to make you a winner. You need the extra weight. That’s how they train champions.”

Dad loads up my knapsack and we go for a jog. Four loops around the block. One mile.

When I turn the corner toward the complex, my face begins to burn. My stomach turns.

“Don’t slow down now. Harder. You have to push really hard for the last bit. Come on! Daddy knows you can do it!”

Shut up, you bastard. I’ll push harder. Pretending I’m running to the ends of the earth. Faster. Anything to escape you.

My feet don’t stop when I reach the front door. I push into the brass letter “C” with my right hand.

Holy shit. You’re going to die. Or throw up.

I bend over. Grip my abdomen. Wheeze unevenly.

“Jenny, what the fuck are you doing? This is the most important part. Stand up and breathe normally! When you feel like it’s going to kill you, you have to breathe normally.”

One day, I’ll kill you. Lay off!

I attempt to stand and take breaths. Shit. It’s actually helping.

“See. What did Daddy tell you? And your time was great for our first run together. Just wait until you start school next month!”

God this is going to suck. But you know how this has to go. You have to do it his way. And then you can have something. You can fit in. At least a little bit.

I turn the faucet on cold and fill my glass with water. Gulp. Gulp. Guzzle.

“Hey. Watch how fast you’re drinking that water! You’re stomach is going to blow up huge!”

You’ll never do anything right. Get used to it.

The phone rings. Dad picks up before the third ring.

“Oh hi, Nancy. Yeah Jenny’s here. How are you doing? That’s good. And how are your parents?”

Poor Nancy. Just give me the phone already.

Dad, sweet as a peach says, here’s Jenny!” to Nancy. He glares at me during the exchange to remind me of our deal.

“Hi Nancy.”

“Hey what’s up? I just got my cross-country letter in the mail from coach today. It’s early this year.”

“Oh really? I didn’t get mine yet.”

“Probably because you’re new to the team. I haven’t started practicing yet. I’m lazy this summer and I like it that way.”

“Haha!”

Dad glares at me through the divider slats as he rocks back and forth.

“So have you starting running yet, Kambie?”

“Oh, um—well—no.”

“Oh thank God. Yeah. I’m not going to start more than a couple days before we start practice. I just want to make sure you’re not going to practice. Or else we could practice together.”

Fuck. Lying is the worst. And you’re bad at it. Thank God this is over the phone.

“Hey. No. That’s a good idea, but I’m lazy too. Maybe in a few weeks.”

Dad motions for me to get off.

“Okay, Nancy. It was good to chat. Listen, I gotta go. But I’ll call you soon.”

“Good, Jenny. I know you don’t understand me now. But one day you will. You’ll understand everything.”

Yeah. Yeah. This better not be like that middle-school class-president shit. The shit that made all of my friends hate me.

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1997: Chinese Push-ups

Dad hangs around at my cross-country practice often enough that Coach offered him the assistant’s position. Mostly it provides a legal reason for Dad to ride on the team bus.

Today, we compete against Johnstown. While the team waits for the bus on the side lawn, Dad approaches the guys in their most Gumby-like states.

Please let him become a mute like Steve Martin at the end of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. I chuckle at the thought, but I know humiliation looms.

“Hey boys, I calculated how everyone of you could beat the opposing team by a minute and a half.”

My teammates barely raise their heads. I know what they must be thinking. Old man, go away. And stop standing over me while my groin is exposed, too.

 “Hey, Mark, I know you want to hear Mr. K’s ideas about how you can beat your old time.”

Mark, a former, well actually, current crush, responds politely. “Sure, Mr. K. But, I don’t think I stand a chance against Jim, the best runner at Johnstown.”

“Don’t say that until you hear my genius idea. I actually did the math on this.” Dad pulls out a piece of folded paper from his back pocket. Could my luck be any worse? Nine other girls on this team all have normal families. No wonder cute guys never want to date me.

 “Look here. I calculated all this with a complicated mathematical formula. If each one of you boys lengthens your stride by a tenth of an inch each time, then you’ll win the race easily.” I catch Mark staring back, dumbfounded. Brilliant idea, Dad. I can’t believe our real coach with the Harvard degree missed that one! And who made you an expert mathematician all of a sudden? Just last week, you told me that one plus one doesn’t really equal two. So I had to derive the proof for you.

Zero interest in Dad’s scheme causes him to press the boys even harder.

“Alright, I bet none of you boys can do a Chinese push-up like Mr. K.”

Kevin’s ears perk up. “What is a Chinese push-up?”

Dad grins mischievously because he knows he has them hook line and sinker. “Oh you guys never heard of those?” Yeah because you made them up! “Well Mr. K wasn’t always a fat old man, you know.” Kevin smirks.

“I’m serious. Mr. K won a contest for doing the most Chinese push-ups back when I was in the Marines. And I’ll bet not one of you can do them.”

Mark speaks up. “Show us one Mr. K.” Before Mark can finish, Dad’s already belly down on the grass explaining the rules. “Okay, now you can’t cheat! You have to put your arms and hands stretched out completely in front of you like this. And then push up.”

With the attention of the entire team, Dad pretends to strain a little before pushing his way off the ground.

Kevin and Mark want to prove themselves too. Give it up, boys.

You’re going to die single. Probably squeezing his feet until the last breath.

 Within a minute, they’ve all failed, and probably pulled a muscle, thereby diminishing their chances of winning the actual race. Mentally, I envision Dad marking the checkbox, Winning, suckers!

 Once the drama dies down, Coach makes a few announcements. While we board the bus, I hear Kevin whisper to Mark, “Dude, he got off the ground because he used his fat stomach. No one could do one of those stupid Chinese push-ups.”

Fuck. A new personal low.