General Fiction posted April 27, 2019


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He makes a promise.

The Runner

by Tpa


I never thought I would be doing this at least not in this condition. I did, however, promised my mom before she died.

"Ten minutes," The man said into the megaphone.

My adrenalin raced through my body. Maybe, I shouldn't do this, not the way that I am. But, I loved the track, ever since eighth grade, winning gold ribbons, in high school, it was the trophies. I felt like a million bucks, and I was on top of the world, receiving accolades from my family and friends, even kisses from the high school girls in my senior year when I won the 10K. It was better than winning trophies. They were great times, even thought of training for the Olympics, but that idea was now shot to hell.

I knew this twenty-two-mile marathon would be a challenge, but after one year of running and escaping through minefields in Afghanistan, this race would be a piece of cake regardless of my loss.

I remember the day I enlisted in the Service. I had turned nineteen, a year after nine eleven. Like so many others, the tragedy never escaped my mind, especially when my family mourned over my cousin who was trapped in one of the towers. She had been there on a business trip and very anxious to go home to prepare for her wedding that was scheduled for the following week. Her body was never identified.

"Six minutes," his voice echoed through the city streets where five hundred of us began moving toward the starting line. Many of the runners were smiling and laughing, but with a slight appearance of anxiety dampened their faces while I stood there, feeling the coils of my stomach tightening.

I escaped my flurry of brittle nervousness by watching the early morning sun's radiant lines shimmered on the waters of Lake Michigan, and then looking at the massive luxurious architecture of Chicago's skyline. A sight, I thought I would never see again.

When I signed up for the Army, I felt like a teenager who had just received my driver's license and ready to explore Chicago's streets on my own with my '98 Ford, Focus but this was different I was going to be a member of The United States Army, a chance of serving of my country with duty, honor, and respect.

When I told my parents, their smiles were like precious gems and far more lustrous. They were proud of my decision in joining the Service, even though my mother appeared saddened the week before I went to boot camp. I told her everything would fine, and I would be home sooner than she thought.

While being employed overseas, I received a letter from my dad that my mother had Breast Cancer. I corresponded with her a few times through email but never had the opportunity of wrapping my arms around her one last time. I cried when informed of my mother's passing, but relieved she didn't see me return with my disability.

"Get in your positions," yelled the man who stood adjacent to the starting line, dressed in a red striped shirt and white jeans.

I went to my assigned space. An elderly woman stood next to me staring momentarily. "Excuse me for staring, I congratulate you. You're a mentor to everyone here."

I smiled back, slightly embarrassed. "I'm just fulfilling a promise," I told the woman briefly about my mother.

Then, I thought of the mentors in my life, the brave men and women who lost their lives. Luiz Mendez was on top of my list. He took a grenade while on night patrol. His body was shattered.

The previous night; Luiz was smiling, showing me photographs of his wife and their two-year-old daughter, Rosa. He counted the days of when he would once again cuddle her in his arms. There were plenty of soldiers like Luiz that went back to the states in body bags, but there were others like me returning home in a condition that our lives would be changed forever.

"On your mark, get ready, go." The man fired his gun as pink balloons were released into the clear blue autumn sky, giving tribute to all the women that lost their lives to Breast Cancer.

I looked at the sky and smiled. "Wish me luck, mom."

The race began; one I thought that I would never be capable of performing.

I thought about that night on patrol. Walking outside my tent, it felt like I stepped into a freezer. Memories of home, however, kept me warm, especially Christmas time. Mom would be baking cookies that were shaped into small balls, sprinkled with powder sugar while dad and I trimmed the tree.

Growing up, my dad always said to me that Santa ran out of toys and won't be coming to our house, but come Christmas morning there would still be a sack filled with wrapped presents under the tree waiting for me to open. Dad did this ritual every year until I was fourteen. I never told him that I stopped believing in Santa at the age of seven. I saw him having too much fun. Nevertheless, these thoughts were like fuel to a fire that gave warmth to my heart, especially the night I saw a flash of light.

I fell on the frozen ground. Stones and rocks ricochet off my body. I felt the blood streaming down my leg as my head lolled from side to side. Then, a shroud of darkness prevailed as my eyelids slowly closed. I woke up two days later in the hospital, dazed and in pain. Every part of my body ached as though I was hit with a sledgehammer, except for my legs. They had a burning sensation, and my toes felt prickly as though somebody stuck straight pins in them. I tried rubbing my legs to ease the pain, but my lower extremities were heavily bandaged. A few hours later, the doctor walked into the room and gave me the tragic news.

The race continued. Dad stood on the curb joyfully waving his arms as I moved farther behind the other runners. But, I couldn't quit now, regardless of my position, especially when dad's smile could lite up Wrigley Field. My thoughts then wavered back to that night in the hospital, and the tragic news that the doctor conveyed.

"I'm very sorry," he said with an Eastern European accent. "Because of the severity of your lower extremities, we had to amputate."

My life ended that day as far as I was concerned. My legs were gone as well as my dreams and ambitions were being stripped away by an IED. My inspiration for becoming a firefighter like my dad faded away. I fought the screams bursting inside me, but I couldn't stop the avalanche of tears sliding down my cheeks.

"We can help you," the surgeon said with a sigh. "You might not be what you were."

The war in Afghanistan had ended for me, but a new war with new challenges had just begun. Every night I tossed and turned, tormented of posttraumatic stress, robbing my sleep. My nerves would even rattle at the sound of a garbage truck, listening for an explosion about to happen and waiting for the walls of my room to cave in.

The healing process was an antagonizing, slow period. The prosthetics given to me looked creepy. They were made of carbon and curved like I was a blade runner. Every time I wore them, the leather pads dug into the upper part of the leg, and I felt as though my whole body was on fire.

"You'll adjust to it," the therapist said.

"NEVER!" I screamed, burying my face into my hands, and wishing I was dead.

A few days passed, I remained my sulky self, refusing to wear my limbs and declining to get out bed. I became known to the staff as Mr. Grouch until I met Frank Lorenzo.

A cool breeze off the lake suddenly brushed my face as the memories from the past faded. A few miles remained before crossing the finish line, the other runners were far ahead of me. They looked like small dots on a screen like the kind you see at an optician's office.

"How're you doing?"

I turned my head. The woman who started with me now ran to my side. "I am doing okay." I smiled.

She was medium height, wiry, and a crop of gray hair.

"By the time we cross the finish line, everyone else will be in bed." She laughed.

"I could go to bed right now." I grinned.

"We are almost there," she said with ragged breath.

"I think it's sufficed to say that we lost the race." I chuckled.

She shrugged her shoulders. "Winning doesn't matter to me; it's staying in the race that matters."

"Have you ever won a race?"

"No, but I beat Cancer twice if that counts. At one time, I had enough radiation in me that I nicknamed myself Chernobyl." She giggled.

"What keeps you going?"

"My husband and my two daughters, they are always there for me."

I began thinking of her courage, strength, and fortitude to overcome the battles for survival. She also had a sense of humor that reminded me of Lorenzo.

He was a tall, muscular man, about twenty-five years of age, and had metal limbs for arms with two curved hooks for hands. I met him one afternoon during physical therapy. He extended his prosthetics to shake my hand. "Don't worry. These hooks only rip open envelopes." He smiled, as my fingers touched his cold metallic hook.

Frank had served eighteen months in Afghanistan before losing his arms and hands to an RPG. He admitted falling into a depression like a day into night.

"I realized; I was lucky in a way." He looked crestfallen.

"Lucky," I snickered, wondering how anyone can feel lucky knowing he would be a cripple for the rest of his life. I started thinking that he may have lost more than just his upper extremities.

"Yeah lucky," he said. " I came back alive while some of my comrades returned in body bags. I know that we're not the same person as we once were. What soldier is? Mental or physical, all of us lose something, but we came back. I think we owe to those who didn't. We should have the diligence to overcome our afflictions."

Frank appeared to be the brick to hit me in the head to think more clearly. I realized my pity party had to end if I wanted to achieve anything in my life.

I worked hard during the days ahead cringing silently as pain stabbed at my sides while walking with my new set of "legs." My sobs of grief lay deafened to my therapist and especially to Frank who always had a smile and gave me inspiration, telling me, 'I can't do it' are words that should be eliminated from our vocabulary. He stayed with me quite often, especially when my self-pity choked me like a noose around my neck. Frank would be my crutch of strength, bravery, and courage.

The day arrived when Frank sauntered into my room to say good-bye. Both of us spoke with lower tones and glistened eyes. He was off to New England, back to his family and friends. He hoped to pursue his education and obtained a degree in teaching.

"I may even venture to Broadway, might even get an acting job in Peter Pan." He waved his prosthetic in the air.

I laughed. "You'll make a great Captain Hook."

He smiled, gave me a salute, and walked away.

The plane buzzing above the shores of the waters returned me to the present. A few yards remained before crossing the finish line. The sun had disappeared, as well as the people in the race. A few spectators that stayed stood near the curb. They were clapping their hands, cheering us on with words of encouragement. White confetti had been sprinkled along the empty street while deflated balloons, swept by the wind, bounced along the dark pavements.

It seemed strange to me that the woman running next to me throughout the race and moved quite a distance ahead of me now stood before the finish line. She always turned her head, waiting for me to be at her side. When I arrived, she smiled. "We ran side by side throughout the race; it's only fitting we cross the finish line together." Her lips curled into a smile.

"Thank you," I grinned, as she intertwined her fingers with mine as we slowly stepped over the finish line.

A thunder of applause came from the sparse crowd surrounding us. My father appeared to be the loudest of all. He walked over to me and put his arms around my shoulders, whispering into my ear.

"I'm proud of you." His voice cracked, brushing the tears from his cheeks.

I threw my arms around his broad shoulders, thanking him for his support, and with a wink, I look up to the starry sky, giving thanks to mom as well.

I wished the woman and her family farewell. "I look forward to racing with you next year."

"Maybe we can use skates to keep up with the others," she mused.

I then walked to the car with my father.

Like Lorenzo, I realized there were many challenges to come in my life. I may be unsuccessful at some, but as the woman told me with the support and love from others, I'll be able to get through life's obstacles and learn to accept the things I can't do and strive to accomplish the things I can.







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Artwork by Bob one oldreb at FanArtReview.com

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