I’m substitute teaching at the high school a block from our former home in Geneva, Illinois. The streets look the same as they always did. The giant cottonwood tree on the corner of the block was a favorite waiting place with my children as we paused to let traffic clear. We lived there for ten years, then moved to a town five miles down the road. Started life all over again.
Yet one never leaves a place called home completely. Just past the high school, about a half-mile from our old house, sits the outdoor track. These days it is surrounded by an eight-foot fence to deter unwanted visitors. Many years back a crew of kids built a four-foot-tall BMX dirt mound in the middle of the football field. One has to admire the panache of that act. Surely it was some sort of territorial statement against the traditional domain of jocks.
In any case, that act of defiance led to the tall fence and the end of my using that track for training. I was angry at the time because my history with that oval goes way back, into the early 1980s before I was a father and a homeowner. My rented carriage house was a prized haven for pot-smoking friends. At the age of 23 I was dating a 33-year-old woman who loved getting high. She never understood why I liked running so much. The only time she saw me train was a warm afternoon when my best friend and I ran a set of twelve 400s together while she sat in the stands smoking a joint. After the workout, her main observation was that our legs seemed to move in perfect synchronization. It was true. We’d felt that during the workout.
I also ran plenty of solo workouts on that track, but was not always completely alone. One evening the high school cheer squads were practicing and I covered dozens of laps to the sounds of teen spirit.
On another night I was running a set of five one-mile repeats at 5:00 per mile. After the second mile, a crowd began to gather in the stands and a soccer match startup up soon after. I completed my workout to the initially curious stares of the fans. As the mile repeats continued, a few voices began to be directed toward me. “Way to go,” one woman called out. “Nice pace,” another said. When I was all done running and jogged around the track to cool down, a couple player on the opposite team gave me the lookover. One nodded his head as in, “I can see you were moving.”
I don’t know why I remember these incidents and old haunts so well. They are part of a fabric that seems to move around with me through life. Live in one place long enough and the world around you is a quilt of experience and a tapestry of time. Some of it eventually fades in color or depth––but not all––if one brings the memories alive on occasion.
That track is still surrounded by an eight-foot fence, but it can’t keep out the sense of home I felt while circling that track again and again. A part of me is woven into that space forever, and it into me.