Dorothy in the Poppies
A florist in a small town obsesses over a married couple who are regular customers.
Two women try to remain friends when their friend in common moves away.
We were never very close before. We had Clark in common. Six years ago Angie answered an ad that Clark posted for running partners, but I’d known him from as far back as grade school. I think the ad was on Craigslist, but I don’t remember. He pulled it down as soon as Angie came along.
“Why don’t you leave it up for a while, see if we get a nice group together?”
“Because I just want a third Yoshi. Three is the magic number.”
I’ve always been one of those people who seemed old for her age. Not mature, necessarily, just old. Like a retired librarian lady who’s still fun to be around, but also strictly by the book. Clark and I had a good time as kids, going on adventures and challenging ourselves to do things, but he accused me early on of being too serious.
“You just aren’t playful enough Yoshi.”
Yoshi, in the video games of our youth, is a dinosaur. I never thought it was that funny, but the name had a nice ring to it. And it stuck. No one calls me Prita, my given name, but my family. Even my boss likes to call me Yoshi. Clark has never called me anything but.
“Yoshi. Don’t be blue. You know I love you.”
All through school I was one of the guys. I’m a human female, but in addition to being accused of being too serious I’ve also always preferred the company of men.
When Clark, Angie, and I raced in the New York Marathon in 2008 I saw an orthodox Jew running ahead of us in an ankle-length skirt. She was smoking us. Really hauling ass with everything covered but her face. It was hot that day too. I was struggling wearing a singlet and shorts, throwing as much water on my head as in my mouth. And that head to toe lady was shaming the three of us. And we’re fit! I thought that was about the most bad-ass thing I’d seen in a race before. Clark agreed.
“You should run in a skirt Yoshi.” He didn’t say the same to Angie, who often runs with make up on and earrings in.
“I just might.”
I never tried it, but I’ve always been a lady. Not a tomboy.
When I hung out with Clark and his other male friends in high school I stuck out, and liked that. I was protected from ridicule or derision by the fact that I was Clark’s right hand. And Clark was the kind of cool where his friends hung out together more than with him. He was a loner a lot of the time, or with me, and his boys were always waiting it seemed for Clark to grace them with his presence. I was able to be a loner too, and to still strut the halls if I liked with nothing to prove.
Clark was a natural athlete. He still is, far as I know. We’re all in our thirties now (me, Clark, and Angie) but Clark moved to Japan last year. Ever since 2008 the three of us have run the New York Marathon together. Angie and I both ran it alone last year and without Clark. When he first went away she wouldn’t train with me.
Clark came out to me the day we graduated from high school, and at first I tried to act surprised, which was the only thing that surprised him.
“You’re the worst liar I’ve ever met Yoshi. Does everyone know?”
“I think most. Your mom knows.” Clark’s father passed away when he was in the third grade, the summer before I met him.
“I want you to know Yoshi that I never thought of you as a beard.”
“Jeez, I know that Clark! Who has a beard in the 4th grade!? Don’t be ridiculous.”
It’s the only thing he ever seemed reluctant to talk to me about and I’ve never understood why. As soon as he was out it became a non-issue. I had known, or assumed at least, before he told me, and it had never factored into anything. Now that the not-very-big secret was out I immediately forgot it had taken him years to get it off his chest.
He and I went to different schools for our undergrad, but kept in touch. Clark was a year at NYU before he transferred to Baruch. I stayed close to home and went to The University of New Haven. I came into the city a couple weekends a month to visit Clark. We never stopped running. Central Park was all I felt I knew of New York until I moved here for a job in 2004.
We both ran distance in high school cross country, and our usual weekday run in the city was a full loop of the park. Every other weekend Clark would make us do a second loop too, so we were ready without realizing it for years. When we finally decided to do it (on my suggestion) Clark insisted we needed a third person to stay really motivated.
I remember immediately not liking Angie. I don’t know how many people responded to Clark’s ad, but I felt like he must have picked her because we are so different. If I’m old for my age, Angie is far too young to truly be 35. She drinks too much, she swears too loud, she still dresses like she’s in high school. Before Clark left Angie would have been the kind of person who cracks jokes in a not-quite whisper from the back of a church during the christening of an ugly baby.
So it made no sense to me last year when she seemed to get so angry at Clark for taking an amazing job offer overseas. She behaved as if he was abandoning her. It seemed so absurd, but I guess I didn’t know her that well before recently. All those years of running and fooling gave me an impression, and one that I didn’t enjoy all that much, and I never bothered to look beneath the surface.
After Clark left she didn’t meet up at our usual run times. She didn’t call me for runs either. Clark had been our organizer so when I spoke with him over Skype his first month in Morioka I asked if he could get Angie to meet. I missed training with her. There was something about someone that regularly annoys you that helps a tough work out. Who knew?
“I haven’t talked to her since I left.”
“I’ve tried! She wouldn’t talk to me before I left and now she doesn’t even answer emails.”
I didn’t find her in any of our usual running spots. We stuck to Central Park, but we’d mix it up with where we started. We never counted any distance logged getting to our starting point. It was important to Clark that we all just got used to running.
“If you log every last step you’re not really living the running life.”
That never made any sense to me until Angie went off the deep end.
I didn’t find her on purpose. I’d given up. I lived in Queens by the time Clark moved away and without Angie it didn’t make sense to trek into Manhattan every time I wanted to run. I was running in Astoria Park when I spotted Angie. She was on the track. That was the weirdest part. I thought we’d all hated track work. We only did it when we needed to get an accurate as possible gauge of our speed.
She wasn’t her usual playful self. I don’t know how to describe that. She looked the same, but the expression on her face before then to me had always looked like a puppy running. She worked hard, but always seemed to have this dumb grin on her face doing it. Now she looked serious, focused in a way that was startling to see only because it was on Angie. She was monitoring her lap times. Every lap, and pushing hard.
I waved and called to her, but I got nothing. It wasn’t like me at all then, but I joined her on the track. We’d been running together for years and suddenly it was hard to keep up with her. For the first few laps she didn’t acknowledge me, and finally, as she came to a stop and clicked her stopwatch she allowed herself to ask me,
“What are you doing here Prita?”
“I live here Angie. It’s good to see you!” I was surprised how true that was. I was happier to see Angie than I’d ever been.
She gave me a funny look and I quickly asked if she was still running the marathon.
“Of course. Why would I give up on something I love because of Clark?”
Things stayed right at the border of nasty without quite crossing over for the five minutes she cooled down and allowed me to talk with her. She was logging miles, as usual, but told me she was finally taking it “seriously.” I’d always felt we were taking it seriously. It’s hard to train for a marathon every year and not feel a little bit serious. It’s work! But she said it in a way that let me know she was through with me as much as with Clark. the last thing she said to me that day was that she,
“Only have time to be moving forward.”
That was it. She picked up her pace and all but sprinted away from me.
I wasn’t quite so eager to make sense of it as I was to do something. The strongest emotion I had watching her run away from me that day was sadness. For myself and for her. I felt responsible in some way.
I didn’t have a plan at first, I just headed to the track often and waited for her. I ran the track. I’d never liked that before and it was still pretty dull to me. Finally about 3 weeks after our last chance encounter she showed up there again. She saw me, seemed to consider leaving, but then seemed even more compelled to stick to her routine. It’d only been a short while, but she looked sharp, and hard, like she’d stopped eating anything but space age food and was lifting weights more often.
She was clearly annoyed when I picked up speed and joined her. I had been running so much looking for her in the last weeks I was surprised and delighted that I could keep up. I’d never really worked on speed too much before. I’d worked to get to a 7:30 mile, but pretty much kept it there. We were running just below 7 now and I felt great. We talked, but I got very little out of her. When she did respond to me it was to say more along the lines of putting the past behind her. It hurt my feelings, but more than anything I was happy to be training with her again.
“How’s your training going?”
“Good. A little tough I guess. I had some sciatic problems the last two weeks.”
“I hear jogging backwards can help that.”
She bristled up at any suggestion of her needing my advice and told me,
“I don’t jog Prita. And I only move forward now.”
She didn’t talk to me for the remaining laps and left without looking at me. But she made one crucial error. She’d told me her training schedule. It’d been half a boast I think, but I knew then where to find her and had come up with a plan.
The next morning I went to our old meeting spot at the Met, then into the park. Angie would be doing the loop today she’d said. I was jogging in place on the grass beside the loop. I didn’t have to wait long. She came out of the grass exactly where we all used to and spotted me ahead of her. She seemed determined not to engage me in any way, which was what I expected. I moved to the pavement and kept jogging in place. When she passed me, I started after her, backwards.
I was scared out of my mind to be moving that fast backwards. I’d run the loop so often at that point though I felt as comfortable as you can be running backwards somewhere. I kept telling myself that blind runners did the marathon every year so it was possible to determine your surroundings without having to see them.
I made it the first mile without issue. I ran into a few people, but no one was too upset. Angie got ahead of me easily though and I was tempted to call it off, but kept moving. I did the whole loop, wiped out once and had some seriously skinned elbows and palms to show for it. I didn’t see Angie anywhere.
The next day I showed up at the track in Astoria with some old elbow and palm guards I’d had from when roller blading was the thing to be doing. I was already running backwards by the time Angie showed up and she stopped and angrily spiked her water bottle when she saw me. She took an even longer time to decide if she was going to leave and was even angrier and more determined to run in spite of me.
It seemed like a game to me now and after two days of running backwards I’d stopped feeling like a fool. I was even starting to enjoy it. It was playful and stupid and dangerous but it made me miss Clark and being a kid more than I thought possible. I didn’t know if I’d get anywhere with Angie, but when I saw her I loved and missed running with her.
She continued to be faster then me moving forward, but people got used to me at the track and the park and I was getting the kind of attention as a runner I’d never earned with speed or grace. Everyone wanted to know what I was training for and while at first I didn’t answer I eventually got around to throwing it down for Angie.
“You know that hardcore runner that’s always timing her runs here?”
They didn’t. That wasn’t specific enough. So I told everyone that asked.
“I used to run with my friend Angie and our friend Clark. We had a bit of a falling out and I’ve decided to run backwards until she comes to her senses and we’re friends again.”
I don’t know if it ever got back to her, but I kept to her schedule. I stayed motivated because despite my shenanigans, she kept to her schedule too. We were training together again without having anything to do with each other.
With tens of thousands of participants there was no way I’d see Angie unless she wanted to see me. I was all out of poetic gestures, so I called her. She didn’t pick up of course, but I left a message with all the inspirational speaker I could muster. It was forgettable.
I ran the race backwards for six miles, before slipping and breaking my ankle in two places.
When I was able to return to running many months later I was done running backwards, and found Angie at the track. My stomach dropped out from under me and I thought about heading home, but when she spotted me she stopped. It all played out like the final standoff in a Western. I was going to leave her be, but she trotted up and asked how I’d done in the marathon.
“I haven’t seen you out since then.”
I told her about my injury and that I’d had to drop out.
“You weren’t running backwards were you?”
I said that I had been and for the first time since Clark left, maybe the first time ever, I saw something like affection on her face.
“Why were you doing that Prita?”
I laughed, because it seemed funny now. “I think I was trying to show you that moving forward wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
She teared up a little and I felt uncomfortable so I added.
“I guess I missed running with you Angie, more than I ever liked running with you to begin with.”
She wiped away her few tears with the kind of wide palm and swagger that only the most macho crying men in movies do. She gave me a hug and said,
“Clark is suck a jerk,” in a way that was completely an expression of affection.
“I miss him too Angie. but maybe we’ll get lucky.”
“Maybe he’ll get fired.”
A florist in a small town obsesses over a married couple who are regular customers.
A lonely girl in the city is adopted as a project by her crazy, elderly neighbor.
A penniless hipster makes a new friend in a homeless mensch.