Wednesday, April 21, 2010

You Came in 14th Dad. How Great Is That?

Many of you know my tired little story. I was laid off in November, 2008 along with 150 of my closest friends. I'm told it's part of life. "Not my life," I frequently think. Nothing bad ever happens to me.

My wife, Katie, reminds me, however, of my days spent as a single parent in the mid '90s, after my divorce. Days of "situational depression" where I laid, huddled in a corner, too depressed to get out of bed, thinking of the hand life had dealt me.

My son, Corey, who was nine at the time, had chosen to live with "Todd, I mean Dad" instead of with Mom and our daughters, Erika and Julia. Corey would come into my room and say. "Hey Todd...I mean, Dad...we need to worry about us. Not about Mom and the girls. Get up. We need to go live."

I'd get up, and go shave and drag a comb through my hair. I'd shove some tooth paste in my mouth and "go live."

From "living" I struggled to find a new job, as my "wife" and I had gone into business together publishing a monthly "feel good" magazine. When I stopped feeling good, the magazine stopped too. When my marriage died, we put the magazine down.

I started a new job making "$6.93 an hour," a number that is forever etched in my brain. It was about 20 percent of what I had made previously, but I was working again. I was out of bed and I had started to "live."

At lunch, I'd go outside and take a walk around the building. I would wear big steel-toed work boots and jeans. Hardly exercise apparel. But I'd walk. And think. And think. And walk. When the 12:30 bell rang, I'd go back inside. And work. And think.

I'd think about my kids. My man, Corey, who was thrust into adulthood at the age of nine. My daughters, Erika and Jules, excited to go live with "Mom in her new house." I'd think about not being able to tuck them in. Or wake them up by throwing their shades open wide. I could still hear them sing "Butterfly Kisses" to me. Only now I couldn't feel their eye lashes brush against my cheek.

The bell would ring again. It was 5:00. Time to leave, pick up Cor at the babysitter, make him supper and go outside and play some ball with him.

"Hey, Todd...I mean, my curve. Did it curve, Dad? Did it curve?"

"About this much, buddy," I'd say to the little man, motioning. "How was school?" I'd ask as I turned and twisted, a la El Tiante.

"Have you heard from Mom?" he'd ask, totally unaware I had ever asked him a question.

"Does this curve?" Corey would ask, totally unaware he had asked a question.

On weekends, I'd drive to Worcester to pick up the girls. As I got closer and closer to their "house," I'd get nervous in the pit of my of gut. Not sure if it was excitement to see my "Big girls" or the anxiety that comes with meeting "Mommy's new friend."

The girls would look absolutely beautiful as Mom sent them out of the house, dressed like little princesses. Erika was six and Jules was three.

We'd drive up to New Hampshire and the girls would sing to me. "Every breath you take, I'll be missing you," they'd sing, a la Puff Daddy's tribute to Notorious B.I.G. While they were rapping, I was fighting back tears. I still cry a bit, 15 years later, when I hear that song.

The girls and Corey and I would do our best to make everything seem OK. We'd spend mornings that fall at Corey's soccer games. One of my favorite moments of my entire life was taking the girls behind the shed in Hooksett, NH to pee pee and not understanding that "girls are plumbed different than we are."

In the spring, the girls would come up every Wednesday night and every other weekend and hang in the stands while Corey played baseball. They were there on a Wednesday night, when Daddy lived vicariously as Corey turned an unassisted triple play against the "Expos."

That spring we joined karate. I'm not sure if anyone but Corey climbed above a yellow belt. It wasn't important. We all learned the "star block set" to defend ourselves against "left, right, up, or down" strikes. (I actually used it in a fight I got in a few years ago in Antigua...Thanks, Sensei).

By now, my lunch time walks turned to jogs. No longer in steel toes, but in a $29 pair of running shoes I bought at K-Mart. I'd strip out of my work clothes in the men's room at work and jog one telephone pole at a time.

As I'd get from pole one to pole two, I'd literally pat myself on the back in an effort to rebuild my shattered self esteem. Tomorrow, I'll try to make it to the third and then the fourth on Wednesday. I'd run out, and run back...if I could.

My pay climbed a bit. And Corey and I fixed up the house. We had curtains now and I promised to make him a hot supper each night. We had separate rooms again as he thought, "It's time for you to sleep by yourself, Todd...I mean Dad."

That Wednesday, I picked up the girls a little earlier than normal and whisked up Rte. 93 to Derry. It was the night of my first race. The Derry five miler. The most I'd ever run at work is 45 phone poles, or about three miles. "What's an extra two?" I thought. That was until I passed the three-mile mark.

There were 27 people in the race. I felt like I could see 26 of them in front of me. Reality was, I was in the middle of the pack. A place I had spent most of my life in nearly every sporting endeavor in which I had ever participated.

As I turned the final corner I could see Corey, Erika, and Julia. They were still about 150 yards away. I could see they were holding a sign. I was gasping for air as runner No. 14 was gaining on me. "Second wind?" I thought. I used my second wind back at mile 3.5.

I plodded. Runner 14 gained. As I got closer to the three munchkins, they were jumping up and down. I'm not sure if I could read the sign or hear their voices. "Go Dad, Go!"

I'm sure No. 14 didn't know what happened. He was on my heels and I was failing fast.

"Those kids saw 13 people ahead of their Dad. I'll be damned if No. 14 passes me too."

I suspect God picked me up and carried me the last quarter mile. I'd never run so fast. No. 14...ate my dust. I crossed the finish line and they gave me a Popsicle stick with No. 14 written on it. It belonged to me. Not him.

The lady at the finish line tried to take the Popsicle stick with No. 14 on it out of my sweaty hand. I clutched it tight. "It's for my kids," I panted. The lady looked at me and looked at my smiling kids. She nodded and smiled as if knowing what kind of a life race we have all been through.

"You came in 14th, Dad," Erika screamed. "How great is that?" Julia added.

Pretty great, kids. Pretty great.

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