The Fear and The Fire

4 min

Jamal H. Goodwin Jr. is an undergraduate English major at Temple University. While he finds plot and character enjoyable, he believes the potency of a story is indicated by its prose. Find more of him  [+]

Image of 2019
My therapist tells me not to be a robot. But that’s the tricky thing, isn’t it? Robots can be programmed to do anything. Man, is fallible.
Rickety rattles from my screen door as it swings open, rattling like a rusty cage. Rusty red like red bricks, red brown bricks barrier my house (apartment) from the outside world. I step out. Stretch. Elbow up, reach for my back. Switch arms. Reach for my toes. Ten seconds. Good. Arm twists, ten. Nice. I’m good. Eager to get out so I go.
Off my front yard I walk, walk through the grass because our overgrown pine tree blocks the pavement. Down the steps, I am on the sidewalk.
All I’ve ever wanted was to have what I have wanted. But wanting is selfish, and fear stops me from asking for what I want or fighting for what I want or contemplating what it is that I want. Fear of the past. Fear for the future. There’s so much to do. Did I finish that essay yet? I should write some stories. Am I being social enough?
Robots don’t think. They do.
Music on. How about... Kanye. Controversial but classic. I’m a sucker for the early 2000s. How about Graduation. Those songs will be with my childhood forever... I used to hear Flashing Lights in the car when I was nine, back before I had any idea of what rap or hip hop was. But the music. Slow, rhythmic. Then, just as now, the instruments alone gave me an energy.
I hit the timer. 55 minutes. A nice jog around Mt. Airy. I can’t go all out since I’ll be so long. But I’ll sprint a few times in between when the music gets right.
I am running. Right now. Forefoot strike. Inhale through nose. Puff abdomen (diaphragm) out. Strong exhale through mouth. Stomach shrinks. Keep the pace. Keep the mojo. Stay determined.
The pavement here is rickety, rocky; sidewalk squares slope upwards and downwards haphazardly. Despite this, it’s congruent. Humble homes line the streets. Row homes. Well built. Flower gardens, though not as dazzling since it’s winter. Dry. Lifeless grass. Leafless trees.
I turn from Ellet st. to Lincoln Drive, following its wide round curve down and to the right. My calves are burning. But after all this time, I’ve learned to beat the wall of doubt.
I remember when it wasn’t so easy.
“What was THAT?”
“I... uh... what was what?”
“You just ducked your head down when those girls said hi to you.”
“I... did? Oh. I was just laughing.”
“No son. That’s not what your face is telling me. Were you afraid to talk to them?”
“I... don’t know Daddy.”
Were my legs cycling? When running, the foot should rise to the butt and fall down mid-stride. Essentially, the feet make a circle motion like a bicycle. Moving my feet back and forth in a straight line would be weak form. I check my feet and find I am halfway correct. Ankles almost reach my rear, but not high enough. I raise them higher on my next step, and my next step and keep it going.
I can’t help but admire the scenery as I run. The wideness of Lincoln Drive, cars zooming by going either direction. What did they think of me? Running as I am. Consciously carefully correcting my form. Maybe I shouldn’t look at them. I want them to look at ME. My greatness.
It hasn’t even been ten minutes yet, and yet I push it. My legs pull me faster and faster. I’m gliding over the ground. Rushing. Wind in my face. Plod plod plod plod with my feet. Perfect rhythm.
Pushing myself physically. It’s the best way to blow off steam. Running here, as I am now, I am invincible. Adrenaline and willpower fuel me. Running, my problems can’t catch up with me. But how do I deal with my problems when I’m not running?
I’m sitting in Spanish class at university. It is tremendously boring. The professor prattles on, peppy, but my cynical perception makes clear his internal ennui. No one in this room wants to be in this room.
I scroll on my phone. I am tentative. Class ends in 5 mins. What can I say to make a friend? Should I talk about how boring the class is? Email. On my mail app is an email talking about campus events... that I am too scared to go to. Too many people. How do I start a conversation? Should I mention the group project—
Class is over. The professor dismisses us and I rush to the elevator, with a look that I have places to go. But really I am waiting for someone to notice my face. To notice the urgency and say “what’s wrong?” and I would say “boy, that group project! I’m stressed!” and they would laugh and friendship happens?
I get off the elevator and ride the train home. Just another day at university.
All I’ve ever wanted was to have what I have wanted. A social life. Confidence. Someone to notice me. Those childhood prayers I made were ineffective. Something was missing.
Still running down Lincoln Drive I slow down. Keep the pace. Keep the mojo. About forty minutes left. Champion just ended, a favorite of mine. I will keep the pace steady until Flashing Lights. A bigger favorite.
Of course, having everything I want would be easy if I knew exactly how to get it. I am a planner. I write notes everyday. This workout I’m doing, has a nice home on my Iphone notepad, dated, warm-up and cooldown described. What are my goals on any particular day? Consult my notes. Ideas for a story? Google notes for you. Three physical notepads stashed at home are filled with random jumbles of thoughts ranging from self-social-encouragement to what egg combination I should eat for my Saturday breakfast. But plans don’t always go according to plan. Like self-social-encouragement. Saying hi to what’s-her-name or that-cool-guy is easy to play out in my head. But what if they’re already talking to somebody? What if they’re not in class? Should I wait for them to look at me? Obviously if I were a robot I’d have calculated the solution to this quagmire a decade ago.
I am only human. It’s frustrating. I am stronger now, but it’s still not easy. Socializing. Taking risks. Doing things I wouldn’t have done in the past. I want to have what I want.
Here’s what childhood me was missing. If I don’t work for something, is it worth it? What is life if everything I wanted was handed to me on a silver platter? If I was already fast, what would be the point of working out? Of running?
“Never let the world take advantage of you.”
“Yes Dad.”
“You don’t owe them anything. You are a light. You are worthy. Just as much as anybody else. Don’t debase yourself to fit in. Let the world see your light. Be proud of who you are.”
“Yes Dad.”
“It’s not supposed to be easy. But you are strong. You can do what you set out to do, if you only believe in yourself.”
I believe what my therapist was telling me. While I spend all my time planning for what I want, I am missing the glowing signs in my face. Campus events. Taking risks.
Running is hard. I’m 45 minutes in and feel like stopping, but I won’t. If I can do that, I can socialize. One thing will lead to another. I’ll make my dreams come true. No matter what happens, I will keep trying.
Determined, I run past Greene and Chelten.

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