Sunday, August 14, 2016

Assumed names

I wasn't myself.

Officially, I mean.

Crowds had lined the street. Some were holding signs. Some were ringing cowbells. Everyone was yelling something encouraging.

"You have got this! Almost there! You're doing great!"

A few were even calling me by name, "Patsy."

And that was the problem.

Technically, I was a bandit. And I was about to cross the finish line after running six point two miles toward a tiny lighthouse in Portland under an assumed identity.

Now, granted, the bib had been bought and paid for fair and square and the date for legitimate transfer had long since expired. It would have just gone to waste as the rightful titleholder was unable to run.
But it was the fine-print that was inside my head. Fine-print and the knowledge that there are some in the running community who devote all of their free time to outing bandits.

Guilt was getting the better of me.

It was also making me feel a bit discombobulated.

In fact, I had no idea where I was or how I got here. I knew I was in Maine, on a tree-lined street, with about six thousand people in brightly colored stretchy clothes who were checking and rechecking their watches.

I knew my friends had worn bright orange shirts, of which I'd taken careful note. It was kismet I thought since I had chosen to wear orange as well.

But I couldn't relax.

I just knew I'd never be able to retrace my steps without help. As soon as the gun sounded and the one-two beat of soles against pavement kept time, I was alone with my thoughts and my audible breathing for 62 minutes and 25 seconds.

The alarm had woken us before daylight, and I had slipped into clothes I had laid out the night before when the offer to run in place of a friend had climbed its way up the phone tree and settled in my resolve.

Hours earlier, I was still groggy and silent as my husband steered the car northwards. He was a trouper, providing shuttle service from point to point when he could have been sleeping.

The sky was a red color, orange like our shirts, and at this time in the morning the hue was not a happy omen.

Still, this was an opportunity not to be missed, a message my husband kept repeating to appease my guilt.

I had dreamed of this moment at least a half-dozen times since I took up running a few years ago and realized the premiere race is in our summertime backyard. Of course, the dream had been filed away behind other thoughts in my vacationing brain.

A brain usually preoccupied with the logistics of determining how much gear we should schlep to the beach and whether it's too windy to eat by the ocean once we get there. Sandwiches aren't tasty when they are literal.

But instead of the familiar surf, I found myself surrounded by a sea of bright orange shirts, none of which harbored my friends.

It occurred to me then that I really wasn't myself. I'd even left anything that could identify me behind. No wallet, no keys, no phone.

I could be anyone.

In my soul, I know I am still an outlaw despite an equally firm belief that the cosmos makes most of the rules we end up following. And in the grand scheme of things, letters of laws are usually open to interpretation.

I know it only takes the cosmos four minutes to shut a person out of running this race. If I'm found out, everyone in my orbit could be shutout for life.

And as much as I might like to think of myself as a robber of the rich and giver to the poor, I haven't fully embraced my inner scofflaw. How could I when I still feel slightly panicked at the thought of jaywalking?

The longer I waited to be reunited with my friends and family, the more I became convinced this deception would be discovered.

In the home stretch, now, a man high fives racers as they cross the finish line. He seems to know everyone and calls them by name as they sprint past.

My husband is smiling and waving beside him, amazed by the man's knowledge of names and faces. He hasn't caught on to the fact that first names had been printed under the numbers. (An oversight we will no doubt laugh about later).

But now I avert my eyes hoping to pass by unnoticed and unheeded. The final moment of truth revealed in a duel of differing kudos. But they both see me round the corner and yell at the same time: "You got this, Patsy! Strong finish!!!"

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