Excerpt from On the Road to Find Out
I pumped my arms and covered ground with almost no effort. I was Superman. I was Nike—not the shoe company, but the winged goddess of victory. I could practically hear Bruce singing that tramps like us, baby—well, you know.
For one and a half blocks. That’s the part he left out. We may have been born to run—but not very far. After two blocks, everything started to hurt. I couldn’t get enough air and each leg weighed about eight hundred pounds. Great Lake–sized puddles lurked at every corner and I stepped in all of them. When I tried to leap across, I landed—splat!—in the deepest part.
I hadn’t expected to see so many people out on this dreapy holiday morning. It took only a few minutes for me to realize my New Year’s resolution was typical, ordinary, and uninspired—just like me.
The boulevard was buzzing with runners, all trucking along in their tight tights and sporty vests, their long-sleeved shirts with the names of marathons or colleges or clothing brands plastered across the front, their baseball hats from professional football teams and their nondescript black beanies. Some had on backpacks and belts studded with water bottles, as if they were going to be traveling for days. Some people ran alone, and some were in groups. Those in groups chatted as if they were using no more energy than it would take to hoist a latte to their lips. When they came toward me they’d nod and raise a gloved hand.
Which reminded me I was not invisible. I hadn’t realized—when I squeezed into the jeggings my mother had bought me years ago (but that I only got to wear to school twice before my best friend, Jenni, told me they were already tragically unhip), donned a long-sleeved T-shirt from an unfortunate family trip to Disney World, and layered on one of my dad’s plain old slightly tatty sweatshirts—no, I hadn’t realized the superpower I would most want when I set out for my first run would be invisibility.
Each time someone ran past me from behind, splattering me with dirty sidewalk water, I straightened up, went a little faster, and tried to hide how hard I was breathing.
And each time someone came toward me I’d look up only for a second, raise a paw in acknowledgment, and think: Don’t look at me. Please don’t look at me.
My feet hurt because I had secretly borrowed a pair of never-worn, slightly too-small running shoes I found in my mother’s shoe room. Yes, my mother has a room just for her shoes. Other people might call it a closet. But then, as Dad likes to point out, other people live in houses with less acreage than the space dedicated to my mother’s footwear. She’s a material girl, my mom, a doctor who earns enough jack to pay for everything she needs and wants, and a bunch of things that I neither need nor want.
My eyes never stopped watering and I had to constantly wipe my face with my sleeve. I’m sure I looked like I was sobbing throughout the whole thing. It might have been the wind, or maybe I was really crying.
My calves cramped up and I felt dizzy. On the other side of the street I could see a huddle of teens smoking cigarettes. Or something. They yelled an insult, or maybe it was just a whoop, a holler, and I thought again: Make me invisible.
My feet still hurt. It felt like my arches had flattened into the shoes. Some jerks drove by in a pickup truck adorned with a Confederate flag and honked their horn. It scared me so much I jumped and landed funny and that made my feet hurt more. I wanted to scream, Go back to your cave, you howling trolls, but I didn’t say anything.
Then came the panting. I was breathing like a prank caller. My arms were so heavy I could hardly swing them.
And then a guy with long legs, floppy hair, and a dog that looked like Toto with trashy blond highlights passed me.
Hear this, people: I got passed by a dog who was off to see the Wizard. The little dude trotted fast on his abbreviated limbs. He held his head high—as high as you could hold a head on legs only about four inches tall. He wore a harness with a camo design, and his leash had rhinestones on it. His mini-legs were going like crazy.
The guy took graceful strides and did not seem like someone who would have a little dog dressed in camo at the end of a sparkly leash. Toto dogs go with blue-haired old ladies who smell like Cashmere Bouquet body powder and maybe the faintest hint of pee. People and their animals usually look right together. These two didn’t.
The guy was around my age. He was attractive. He was so attractive Jenni, a small girl of big appetites, would have referred to him as a tasty morsel. He glided along, his head straight, his arms tucked in neat by his sides.
I struggled to try to keep up with them and did. For about ten seconds. Then they pulled away.
I had been chilly when I left the house, but my body soon equilibrated (yes, I paid attention in honors chem), and I sweated through my layers. I stopped for a second to wrestle out of the sweatshirt and tie it around my waist, and looked up to see another pair of runners coming toward me, a guy and a girl. The girl had her hair pulled into a long ponytail and as she ran it swung from side to side, a blond metronome. She was smiling and he was smiling too and he said something and she laughed and she turned and socked the guy with a playful punch to the belly, and he bent over—all while they were still running—and when he stood up straight again I saw the sweatshirt he wore.
It said, “YALE.”
The burn rose from my stomach and settled in my throat. I could feel my face flush. I choked up.
The happy couple passed by me without a wave, without even noticing me, and I thought: Right. In some ways, I am invisible. I am nothing.
I slowed to a walk. My nose was full of snot and I didn’t have a tissue. I felt like throwing up. On this day, January 1, I had kept my New Year’s resolution and gone for my first run ever.
It was over in eight minutes.
For about seven and a half of those minutes, around 450 seconds, when I had been concentrating on running—on how much my body hurt, on what other people saw when they looked at me, and even on wondering what that hot guy was doing with a Toto dog—I had been able to forget that I, Alice Evelyn Davis, top student in my class at Charleston High School, champion taker of standardized tests, favorite of teachers, and only child of two achievement-focused parents, had been rejected Early Action from Yale University, the only college I ever wanted to go to.