Track and Fled: I Never Stopped Running.
Caught without you, I’m thinking about all the times I ran.
On the 3rd of July, the summer after my freshman year, my friend picked me up from UCLA to celebrate the 4th with her family out in the 909 — that would be LaVerne, California, a small town at the northeastern tip of LA county with a university named after it that no one has ever heard of.
That night we met up with a group of boys our age, boys who wore flannels, which was the most interesting thing about them. We were smoking weed on the train tracks that ran through the back of the university when two campus cops pulled up in their golf carts. Flashlights beaming in our faces they asked, “Are you smoking weed?”
Rather than answer, we ran, disappearing into deserted nooks and crannies around the campus. Of course they chased us. And although I’ve always been fast, not knowing the lay of the land I made a wrong turn only to find myself at a dead end with two wannabe uniformed campus cops bearing down on me, yelling as though I’d just robbed the Wells Fargo, “Why did you run?”
Even then I recognized it as the kind of night I would talk about like it was way better than it was. Cornered, all I could think to yell back was, “Because I’m a woman!”
In the third grade, my neighbor and bestie Jenna and I sneaked into a Coleman farm that was just on the edge of my family’s five acres. I can’t even tell you why we did it, probably the thrill of the adventure, but when the neighbor’s boyfriend came out onto the back porch for a smoke in a woman’s robe, we decided to spy on him.
The first time I’d ever heard the word divorce was when I asked my father why I never saw Mr. Coleman anymore. “She divorced him,” he said. And then, looking up from the board he was cutting as though eavesdropping on their final conversation, “Yup, their marriage is over.” He said it plainly and matter-of-factly, never having to put down the skill saw as the wood chips danced to the ground.
“Would you and Mom ever divorce?”
“No. I’d never leave her. And I’d never let her leave me,” he said with that side smile I inherited.
The boyfriend heard us in the tall weeds, disappeared for a minute, and came back out with his shotgun. I knew he was bluffing, knew he didn’t know for sure if we were even there or if it was just deer in the field. I wanted to stay low in the grass and wait it out. But Jenna, who was already 5’4’’and the tallest third grader you’ve ever seen, couldn’t wait. “We gotta run, Grace!” she yelled, knowing she couldn’t hide.
So I did. Half-running, half-crouching, my own little compromise. Yelling at her the whole time that she ruined everything.
There’s freedom in being able to run like the wind, and I suppose I should have asked you, but never did, if you’d ever laid down rubber like that. If you ever felt your adrenals start pumping out the cortisol until Bam! You’re off. God it feels good.
There was that other time, freshman year of high school, when Kayla and I didn’t buy tickets to the local public school’s homecoming football game, and so we thought we’d just jump the 12-foot fence to get in — which we did — our Converse getting stuck in the diamond links until we made our way to the top, climbed halfway down and then jumped, when we realized, Mrs. Carlucci, who worked lunch duty at my middle school, came running at us, yelling the same warning she always had back in the day, “Not on my watch!” like throwing away half your lunch was something she could not abide.
Mrs. C was fast for a mom, but we outran her, and Kayla turned to me while we hid behind a dumpster, “We almost didn’t make it, Grace.” I turned back to her and said, “Whatever, I go to private school now,” and then pausing for a moment before adding, “I don’t even care.” But I did care. I would always care.
I’ve always had a smart mouth. For as long as I can remember. And when I was younger, my dad used to tell me that I was lucky that my smart mouth was accompanied by two legs that could run like the wind.
In 8th grade, I set the middle school record for the half mile. I breathed a sigh of relief when in freshmen year my club soccer team season overlapped with track and I didn’t have to compete for the school. I could leave it all behind, at least for a moment.
At the end of 8th grade, I stuck a sign on the school bully’s back, “Caution. This vehicle makes wide turns,” after she flipped me off on the last day of school with a “You fuckin’ nerd,” hurling off her lips. She chased me all over campus, but I knew she couldn’t sustain it — I was sailing to her plodding, and she soon lost steam and quit.
Sources say that she still claims to have my head if I ever walk into the Jo-Ann Fabrics next to the Target off of Rohnert Park Expressway where she’s the Asst. Manager. Idle threats. Better luck next time, Harley L. Hit me up on Instragram if there’s a sale in notions.
In 6th grade, I was double dog dared to do two extra laps around the go-cart track at Scandia. Never one to back down from a dare, Jenna and I did go two extra laps around. After the first one, the attendant jumped into his own go-cart to chase us down and force us off the track.
When we finally pulled over and jumped out, we ran for the closest fence, our third friend catching up half-laughing, half-yelling back at the attendant, “You’ll never catch us!” He was read with rage, screaming, “You are never allowed back at Scandia again!”
To the kids in line that day, two boys whom we both had crushes on, we were legends. Legends for running. For getting the hell out of there and never looking back.
Which is what I did to you. You, who I loved more than anyone else. I wish I could tell you that it’s just what I do, it’s what I’ve done my whole life, it’s what I’m best at. And I tried to explain it to you. That one night, two years later, sitting on those red leather bar stools. That I was sorry. That I was older now. That I had changed. But you saw right through it, didn’t you?
Except for that one moment, do you remember? When you looked at me longingly with those eyes I used to get lost in when we stayed up and talked about things that made us laugh and the writers who did it right without the bullshit and nepotism? You wanted to believe me, and you almost did. “I won’t do it again, I promise. I messed up, and I’m sorry. I’ve still never met anyone like you, and I never will.”
But it didn’t matter anyway, you were with someone else by then. Someone safe. Someone who wouldn’t run.
I threw up before every track race. I didn’t want to mess up. I could not stand to lose. And I remember my father turning to me before I got out of the old grey Volvo to head into a meet. “You better run like your ass is on fire.” I always did. The problem is, I never stopped.
Grace Harryman grew up in Sonoma County, California, and attended UC Santa Cruz. However, she left early to attend the 12-month conservatory acting program at Edgemar Center for the Arts in Santa Monica, where she discovered her love for writing, improvisation and sketch comedy. In 2016, Grace passed Writing Lab at the Groundlings Theater. She regularly performs and writes for Top Story! Weekly at I.O. West. Grace is a member of the Improv Diary team at Westside Comedy, mentioned three times as ‘One of the 10 Best Things to Do During the Week in Los Angeles’ by LA Weekly. She regularly produces, writes and stars in her own videos. This past spring Grace performed her one-woman show, Claim Jumper, at the Fringe Festival. The show won the coveted Encore Producers Award. She is an avid meditator, and believes in the power of intention. You could follow her on Instagram.