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Two Runners

Updated: Oct 21, 2021

Without word or gesture, the two runners passed each other on opposite sides of the street, silent ships in the pre-dawn darkness.

In seconds, Lakeview Lane stood empty again. Reflections from the street lamp glistened on the wet asphalt.

Jamison Parker, the younger and faster of the two, had already turned right at the corner, picking up his pace toward home. The other runner, a man named Corson, breathed heavily as he labored up a steep hill past oversized colonials, then down the access road, straight to the front porch of his aging farmhouse.

Neither man gave a thought to the other.

The next day, the scene repeated itself. On the third day, due to a freak power outage, Parker overslept and skipped his run.

But every day after that, for weeks without interruption, the two men passed each other at some point during their daily jogs.

After a time—who knows exactly when—the men began to acknowledge the coincidence: a casual wave of an arm, a nod of the head.

One day, puddles from a thunderstorm forced Parker to run on the other side of the street from his norm. It was the first time the runners passed close enough to see into each other’s faces. It was the first time they spoke. “M’rning.” “Hey.”

Across the next several months, the men saw each other frequently, often every day of the week. If they’d kept notes to compare, which they did not, they would have learned that the only events preventing these brief encounters were doctors’ appointments, teeth cleanings, business travel, vacations and, once, an orca whale of a hangover.

Over time, gestures of recognition became more pronounced, eventually evolving into silent fist pumps, mutual statements of respect, one runner to another. Once, when the two were blindsided by a sudden monsoon forcing them again to the same side of the street, Parker impulsively lifted a palm in passing, and was met with a solid high five in return.

* * * * *

It happened on a Tuesday, a couple of years after the two runners had become a fixture in the early morning life of the neighborhood. Parker turned onto Lakeview Lane, ran through a pile of wet autumn leaves, and felt his foot slip. He went down hard, turning his ankle violently on the way.

The twist was severe. Parker closed his eyes, fighting through the first waves of pain, wondering if he’d broken his ankle. He reached quickly for his cell phone, felt an empty pocket, experienced a brief moment of panic before recalling that his wife had taken it from his jacket to download pictures of their kids.

Gasping from the pain, Parker rolled to his knees, and tried to stand. He collapsed immediately in a spasm of agony.

“Jesus, what happened?” The voice reached Parker through a fog. But he knew immediately who it was.

“Slipped on the leaves,” Parker grunted. “Twisted my ankle, maybe broke it.” He tried again to stand, and winced aloud as the pain shot through him.

“Hey, hold it,” Corson said. “Stay down. Let’s call for help.”

“I don’t have my phone,” Parker said.

“Crap,” Corson said. “Mine’s at home, out of juice.”

Then Corson asked, “How far do you live? I can run home and get my car, but it’ll be twenty minutes. I don’t want to leave you.”

“We’re only a block from my house,” Parker said.

The two men looked at each other, silently weighing options. “Let’s give it a try,” Corson said. He reached down, slid his hands under Parker armpits, then lifted him to his feet. Parker cried out, then managed to stand unsteadily on his right foot, gripping Corson’s shoulders tightly with both hands.

Together, slowly and clumsily, they hobbled to the end of the block. Parker felt woozy from the hurt, but kept going. Three houses from his driveway, Parker gasped and told Corson the pain was too much. Corson didn’t hesitate. He bent his knees, lifted Parker into a fireman’s carry and trudged the final short distance to Parker’s front door.

Parker’s wife shrieked when she answered Corson’s knock, helped him get Parker inside, frantically called for an ambulance. Corson stayed until the medics arrived. Somehow, amidst the bedlam, Parker’s wife and Corson managed to exchange contact information. Until that moment, Corson had not even known Parker’s name. Later in the week, Parker’s wife sent Corson a fruit basket as a thank-you.

It was fifteen long weeks before Parker healed well enough to try jogging again. Corson saw him, saluted with a big wave; Parker returned the acknowledgement with their customary fist pump.

Suddenly, Corson halted his run, turned and yelled, “Good to see you on the streets, Parker.”

“Good to be seen, Corson.”

“You’re a badass!” Corson shouted, then turned and continued his run.

Parker smiled to himself.

The next day, the fist pumps were more pronounced.

* * * * *

Several more years and multiple pairs of worn-out running shoes later, Parker entered the funeral home, still in shock from the obituary he’d read earlier that week. It reported that Randolph Corson—whom Parker had last seen running the previous weekend—had died suddenly, leaving behind a wife, five daughters and many grandchildren. Donations to the American Heart Association were suggested.

Parker surveyed the room, recognized no one, then joined the line to pay his respects. Someone asked if he was close to Corson. “Not really,” Parker said. “I knew him, but not very well.”

The line to speak to the family moved quickly. Parker soon found himself standing in front of a young woman who was obviously one of Corson’s daughters.

“I’m so sorry,” Parker said. “I didn’t know your father well—we were running buddies, kind of.”

The woman’s expression turned curious at Parker’s words, then animated. “Wait, are you, are you Jamison Parker?”

Parker’s face showed his surprise.

“Stay right here,” the woman said. “Please.” She left Parker, rushed past other family members, then whispered in the ear of an older woman standing nearest the casket. The young woman pointed toward Parker.

In the hushed environment of the funeral parlor, Parker heard the older woman’s voice clearly. “What? He’s here? Tell your sisters.”

Parker watched as the older woman murmured something to the next person in line, then held up a finger in the universal gesture of excuse-me-for-just-one-minute. She stepped toward Parker, initially extending her hands, then impulsively wrapping her arms around him when she drew close.

“Thank you for coming,” she whispered. “One of the girls was supposed to call you, but, with all the chaos . . .” She shook her head. “I’m so glad you made it.”

Parker stared at the woman, bewildered.

“I’m sorry—have we met?” he said. “Are you Corson’s wife? I’m just surprised . . . Corson and I didn’t know each other all that well . . .” Parker’s voice trailed away.

“Of course, we know you, Mr. Parker,” the woman said. “Randy never had many friends, but he spoke of you frequently. Years ago, he called you ‘The Speedster.’”

“Please,” she added, “stay a bit.” The woman hugged Parker again, then hurried back to greet other guests.

Over the next thirty minutes, Parker spoke with all five daughters, each one coming up to introduce herself, each one providing some comments about his connection to their father.

Parker considered leaving when the funeral director announced the rosary, but something made him stay. He chose a seat in the last row of chairs. After the prayers, he decided to stay longer for the remarks of family members.

Two daughters spoke of their father’s addiction to running, one mentioned Parker by name. Another retold the story of Corson carrying Parker after his fall. The youngest daughter choked up as she described hearing about Parker for years, then meeting him that morning in person. She called him “Daddy’s Running Compadre.”

When the service concluded, Parker remained seated. Guests filed past, one touching him gently on the shoulder. Soon only family remained, talking in hushed tones in the front of the room.

A young boy, maybe ten or eleven, broke from the group and walked directly over to Parker.

“You knew my grandpop,” the boy said.

Parker nodded. “Yup.”

“He told me you were his best friend.”

“He did?” Parker asked. “He said that?”

The boy nodded, then asked, “Were you? Were you best friends?”

Parker hesitated, balancing countless runs and fist pumps but very few words against the weight of a simple, complicated question. After a moment, he spoke with conviction.

“You know what,” Parker said. “Your grandpop was right. We were best friends.”

“That’s cool,” the boy said. And then, in the manner of pre-teens, he walked away.

Parker watched him rejoin his family, then stood up, turned to leave. He paused at the exit, looked back toward Corson’s coffin, then spoke aloud but softly.

“I’ll miss you on the streets, my friend.”


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