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A Stopping Place

written by: R.E Hengsterman

@robhengsterman

 

The pre-arrival of my arrival is the loss of a mucous plug and amniotic fluid splashing onto the floral Congoleum as Valium pulsed through my mother’s veins.
The blue two-dormer Cape on the corner with black shutters and one-car attached garage screams middle-class. My mother just screams.

***

The earth tempers my exuberance with reminders. A gentle incline that becomes a long-drawn-out hill, or a pointy rock that finds the tender spot beneath my foot. Such things are easy to overcome because I have just begun my run.

***

My father brings me home a toy. He travels. It’s small, metallic, and red. I bury it in the sandbox. It’s my first and last present.
Our neighbor is Russian, and she feeds me tea cakes while my parents work. Snow piles up to the window outside her trailer as she knits and smokes. Her house is warm, comfortable, and stained yellow.

***

Ahead there’s a bend in the trail. Microscopic electrolytes shed from my body dissipate into the soil. A hard-whipping wind drives me over a soft mossy hill, and onto the flatter shrubby landscape. My shoulders encounter the constricting forest as the trail tapers into a thin ribbon of passage.

***

With a borrowed nickel, I buy three pretzels for lunch. Gap-toothed and shy, I pocket them for later. I sit in the back of the classroom and run my fingers along the pretzel rods. The sizeable coarse salt sheds leaving a crude residue that mingles with the lint.
During recess, I bury my orthotics in the sand too. I am in the process of self-discovery.

***

My pace is deliberate—becoming unpleasant. The view contradicts my body: picturesque and inspiring. Hillier, with thinning air and long gaps of absence. A second wind pushes me through the first groundswell of exhaustion. My elation is ephemeral. Ignored is my ragged breath; there is a focus on distant hued peaks. A determination to reach the thick, green ravines. I’m taking one final stab at a wild, unattainable goal. I am a runner.

***

My Grandmother makes me lunch every day, which I toss in the crawl space behind my closet. Uneaten, the yearlong collection of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches turns moldy and foul, and by winter break the pungent odor draws parental investigation and an army of roaches. Upon finding my stash, their conclusion is psychiatric therapy. The house is fumigated.

***

At Pigeon Valley and Narrow Neck Plateau, the pain subsides into security. I’m guided by something more meaningful. Sweat seasons me into a fleshy brine. The trail spreads the ache of my tired muscles like a buttery salve. The sun is resigned; lacerating the horizon with a swath of red surrender.

***

She allows me to enter her, and this is love. We are careless, uninhibited and reckless. A little boy comes ten months later. We reshuffle our priorities. His arrival amplifies our young, incompetent, anxious struggle.
He thrives despite us.
But our beginning predetermined our end. Of haste and failure and immaturity and passion and unknowing. Of infidelity.

***

I catch sight of the horizon between the gaps in the Loblolly pines. I am hungry for meaning. I follow no direction. I move within the protracted discomfort of my body. I’m willing to exchange the sacred currency of pain for clarity.
My stride expands, invigorated by the combination of elation, exhaustion, suffering, and joy.

***

I languish with occupational and social impotence. Incapable of managerial advancement or personal connection. I feel the charge of unworthiness - a robust, devastating result of my triviality. I am young, but not much an adult. Everyone around me seems to be doing better, with everything.

***

At twilight, I find my rhythm. Nimble and charged, I can run forever. I head off-path, my clothing suicidal among the briers and brambles. I suffer thousands of miniscule pricks. This trail offers redemption. My lifeblood is my sacrifice.
If I can endure this path, I can survive anything. The pain dissipates as the world unfolds.

***

I suffer the anguish of failure, from existing or, worse, not living enough. Addiction becomes my passion. All things, everything. I lack limitation and imagination. I accept I will never be enough for everybody all the time, not even for myself. Another divorce. I am mimicry.

***

My feet patter on endless repeat. As with all my addictions, the ideal dose of running escapes me. The endorphins trigger an addictive high as powerful heroin, immeasurable, even transcendental. I’ve stopped tracking my mileage. I’ve lost track of myself.

***

Relationships fail. Lives unfold. Lies are told. I become a chameleon. Flexible, insincere and lacking substance. She is all of them, and there are many. None are substantial. Nothing is real. Everything is an exercise in falsity. Wrongs mount. More lies. Some death. Much heartache. I am guilty. What will I leave behind when I’m gone? What will people remember me by?

***

The returns on the heavy burden of miles diminish, and my mind grows dim. Negativity settles. It’s daunting but natural to realize you carry your tired body and your memories in the same damaged carcass with every long run, an exercise in bipedal bereavement.

***

I am alone. Have lived alone. Loved ones have passed or forgotten or not forgiven my existence. A little boy is a man. Long grown and long gone. His memories are of absence, neglect, and insecurity. I am a reminder of the things reasonable men learn to avoid. He has been educated by the example of others. He has told me so.

***

One final push. One more incline. I have become enthralled with my dedication and servitude to this run. I have bled, vomited and hallucinated. I have pissed myself. The self-imposed crucible on this fertile ground moves into the unknown. The sufferings discarded, though, the pain returns. My soul detaches from the physical movement of my body, as I place one foot in front of the other in the pursuit of something unobtainable.

***

Do not ask me to remember. Because I can’t. Or won’t.

***

I have exhausted every muscle. My toes and feet are raw and blistered. The naked chafing between my legs and armpits irritates tender, vulnerable flesh. The wind is hot and unyielding. My lungs burn. I have exposed my irrelevance with each reverent footstep. The validity of my temperamental life impugned.

***

My final breath matches my final footfall. Soft, plumy. Last words are mystical, chiseled from one’s being. Mine are a desperate utterance to vanquish the small of my silhouette into the darkness. Eschatology can’t protest. There is no denial of death.
Floating, I have reached my stopping place.

R.E Hengsterman

R.E Hengsterman

R.E. Hengsterman is a writer and photographer who meanders under the Carolina blue sky.
R.E Hengsterman

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