On the way to our cross-country meet at Bristol Agricultural Regional High School — Bristol Aggie to those in the know — I remember reading a Spanish dictionary. This was a practice I never fully mastered and it certainly never benefited me in any meaningful way. That is not to say I haven’t quit it; throughout the years I’ve turned back to various dictionaries in various languages several times since, each time reaching the same conclusion. Tom, who doubled as a varisity footballer and runner, and who used to throw me before each match for his good luck, pulled the book away and, after some introductory conversion, concluded that I should go out and sleep with as many people as would have me. I was, after all, only young once.
Wanting to avoid the topic, Tom, and now Ryan, our captain who had by this point entered the debate on Tom’s side, I turned out-numbered and over-powered to Rachel. She explained that the only word she knew in Spanish was cebolla, onion. Years later, Rachel would earn her degree in Russian literature. Tom followed his own advice, eventually resulting in a pregnancy, a wedding, and a divorce.
Finally, the bus drove over the iron bridge marking the boundary of the school’s grounds. Our coach Mr. Langanthal readied us for the meet. He was an odd man. During practice he once asked me how old I thought he was. I believe he was about thirty-two. Despite his being the school health teacher, rumor had it he smoked. I never had any evidence of this. He did have two children, one boy and one girl. Whiel I can’t prove it, I believe each time I met them they were different children. Everytime the team had an off practice, he forced us into a game of ultimate frisbee. We were never on the same team. Take this as a metaphor for our entire relationship. In fact, I don’t remember anyone who really liked him. Everyone blamed him for Rachel’s knee injury. He had pushed her to run on a bad knee. Then it got worse. Donald [not DJ] was so angry that he spray painted a swatstica on the side of Mr. Langanthal’s car. Langanthal is a Jewish name.
Before the league meet at the end of the season I told him when asked that I had “no expectations” for the race. He was mad. He accused me of always having an excuse, that way, he explained, I wouldn’t be disappointed if I did poorly. I told him that I choose my motto so that I would be even more excited when I won. And I did win, but never at the league meet. I won at Bristol Aggie. But not that year. Later, after Tom and Rachel and Ryan had graduated.
Bristol Aggie has a very distinctive course. First of all, it is full of gopher holes, especially near the river by that rusty iron bridge. Secondly, the smell from the stables wafts through the air, alerting the everyone of the horses well before any could ever see them and causing some runners to gag.
Even now, in the autumn when the air is cold but still heavy from summer and the grass is yellow and scorched, and the crests on the river are solid white like ice rather than foam, my stomach drops and I get those pre-race jitters. I should’ve stuck with soccer instead.