My son, my executioner, I take you in my arms quiet and small and just astir and whom my body warms. Sweet death, small son, our instrument of immortality, your cries and hunger document our bodily decay. We 25 and 22 who seemed to live forever observe enduring life in you and start to die together.
— Donald Hall, 1955
Last fall, I pushed the boy to go running with me in the mornings. Five a.m. Two miles. Me, my dog and my eldest.
Lasted about two weeks. Just too hard to get up that early. Couldn’t keep up with me. Too much.
I ran alone the rest of the year and on into the spring.
Until two weeks ago. He asks to go running with me. “I think you’ll be surprised,” he says. Out of the driveway and boom, he is 10 paces ahead.
I’m going to turn 50 in 18 days. I know how fast I run. I compete only against myself. I give thanks I’m still a functioning bipedal primate with hair and teeth. I have nothing to prove. Going running with me? This is how fast I run.
So I watch him. A bun-view of my firstborn. He turned 16 Saturday.
He’s right. I am surprised. Ten months makes a world of difference. His gait has smoothed out. Less coltish and more thoroughbred. He glides instead of fights. More like a digital image and less like bad 16-millimeter. Geez, he’s tall. Lithe. Beautiful.
He looks over his shoulder at me. Begins to pull away. I let him pull away.
At 40 yards ahead, he pulls up. Runs in place. Waits for me. He looks unsure. Tentative. Like he’s waiting for permission. Or recognition. I give him neither. Just my panting, plodding presence. I neither reel him in nor let him go.
I catch up, but then he’s off again, his lanky form steadily putting distance between us. I swear I don’t know what keeps his shorts up. Poor skinny drink o’ water has no butt whatsoever.
He goes farther this time. He’s maybe 70 yards ahead before he glances back over his shoulder to find me. Or is it to check on me? Is he making sure I’m OK? Or is he wondering if he’s OK? Is it OK to leave your father in the wake of your burgeoning youth? To smoke him in a footrace? To have all the babes smiling at you instead of him?
Again he pulls up and waits for me. As I approach, his face looks a thousand questions at me. I answer none of the questions.
I catch up, and this time he takes off with a grunt. He accelerates with an effortless stride. He’s showing off.
Good. That’s what you should do with a 16-year-old body. Show off. Rejoice. Celebrate. Hell, wish I had one of those bodies. Did once. Showed off once or twice myself. I could run like the wind. The Energizer Bunny before there was such a thing. The voice of my high school varsity basketball coach floats up in my mind: “Kalas will run you right out of the gym …”
At about 100 yards, my boy looks back. But this time doesn’t stop. He turns the corner, out of sight.
I’m at once intensely alone and intensely happy. It’s eerily quiet around me. Within me.
I remember everything. How his mother wept and said “Hello” in a cracked, exhausted, plaintive voice when they laid him newly born on her chest. Staring at him and his mother, both having fallen into a sublime sleep while nursing, like shepherds once stared into a manger in Bethlehem. How he’d clutch his hair, pull, then scream because he didn’t know his own hand was doing the deed. Atrocious diapers after Gerber’s creamed spinach.
Thomas the Tank Engine. How he’s the only child I’ve ever known who requested to be tickled. He’d laugh until he could hardly breathe, then ask for more.
How, at age 6, he handed me his baby tooth, looking up at me with a gaping, bloody hole in his grin. Shortly afterward, I bet him $1,000 he couldn’t dunk a basketball before his 18th birthday, a feat I never managed.
I’ll lose that bet before this Christmas.
No sound now but my feet striking the asphalt. I know I’ll remember this moment as the moment he gave himself a new kind of permission to leave. To distance himself from me. To run past me. Farther. Faster.
Once again I am running alone.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling and Wellness Center in Las Vegas. His columns appear on Tuesdays and Sundays. Questions for the Asking Human Matters column or comments can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.STEVEN KALASHuman MattersMORE COLUMNS