Friday, February 4, 2011

The Fear of Running

As a child I lived with my family on the near east side of the Capital Hill District of Oklahoma City.  We survived, as did our neighbors, on a marginally subsistant level. In such neighborhoods, God fearing families intermingle with the underbelly of society and both groups tend to leave the other alone.

Neighborhood children spent their summers outside on dusty ball fields in pick up games or playing war in overgrown vacant lots long since abandoned by their owners. Each day of the long hot summers we either divided sides and played baseball or staged war games like those we saw on TV or at the movies. 

In August of 1960, I found myself crouched low waiting to ambush my unsuspecting playmates walking down a path in a wooded lot overgrown by years of neglect. I imagined I was an indian waiting for the colonists to walk into my trap.  Silently, I pulled my stick knife from my pant loop and slowly rose from my hiding place ready to strike a fatal blow into the back of a child colonist.

Suddenly, I felt a crushing blow to the side of my head. I fell to my knees and light temporarily faded to darkness as I fought to stay alert. I looked up to locate my bushwacker friend but, was stunned to see a heavy set older man in baggy overalls standing over me with a knife in his greasy right hand. He snared and swung wildly attempting to slash my head with the knife. I ducked as I scrambled to regain my footing. He grasp my shirt and pulled me close to him, I felt the blade of the knife pressed to my neck.

My friends, alerted by the commotion, began to gather and scream at the old man to leave me alone. He yelled back that this was his place and to go home or he would kill them, too. As the others fled, he shoved me to the ground. He came toward me as I rolled and rose to my feet.  I bolted and ran as fast as I could toward the edge of the lot. 

Fear overcame me as I ran past my friends, into the street and onto screeching traffic. On I ran until I burst into the house, heart pounding against my ribs and eyelids stuck open with fear. My friends rushed in after me and we sat breathless on the floor. My mom came in and ask what was wrong. 

"Nothing,"  we answered,  "Nothing."

I never went back to that lot. I always walked across the street watching for the old man when I had to pass that way again. My innocence was stolen that day. It was my introduction to the underside of life.  I dreamed about those moments for years. Occasionally, my mind flashed the pictures of what could have been. Gradually, sleep returned and the nightmares faded, helped by my family moving to a more stable neighborhood.

I learned a lot about myself that summer day. Fear can paralyize you physically, but, it can also release within you the instinct for survival. I found out on that day I could run with reckless abandon. Running freed me from a potentially horrible situation. Running was my release. I have been running ever since.