I honestly never expected him to make such a lasting impression on me after so many years. I didn’t really know anything about him except his first name, and all the assumptions I made up in my head about who he was, where he came from, and how he probably treated other people. I had relegated him into the “creep” category just because of how he looked – skinny, hair slicked back, a certain intonation in his voice that told me everything I needed to know about him. Or at least enough to keep my distance.
There we were, in those awkward, unforgiving junior high years when this was the way you chose your friends. (Or this was how they chose you.) This was how you decided who was cool, who was forgettable, and who was just a flat-out creep. The truth is, I wasn’t so cool myself. But he was less cool, and that made me feel better, so it worked for me to keep thinking of him that way. Until he humbled me, proved me wrong, and sort of changed my life.
We were in physical education class together. We stood on our assigned numbers out on the cement and did our jumping jacks to the count of our P.E. teachers as we admired how they could stay so tan, so fun, so cool, even at their ripe old age of 20-something. On this particular day, they were going to time us as we ran four laps – one mile – around the track. We were nervous and we were out to impress each other, out to impress ourselves.
I am goal-oriented, and I push myself hard to reach my goals. This is my nature now and it was my nature then. I wanted a really good time for that mile. I was mildly annoyed when too many classmates were in my way and I had to take extra steps to try and get around them. I looked at people ahead of me and made up little goals in my head to try and get in front of each person, one by one.
And then I saw him up ahead, running alongside a girl. She was heavy-set and was clearly struggling to keep running. He was trotting with little effort. As I approached, I heard that voice that I was always so quick to condemn as the creepy voice.
“Come on, Christy, you can do this. You’re doing a great job. Keep running. Look how far you’ve come! Great job, let’s keep going!”
I ran past them and finished my mile. Somehow I didn’t care nearly as much as I thought I would about my time. I took a few steps to cool off, and then I sat on the benches as I watched him trot the remainder of the mile with her.
The world suddenly looked very, very different.