Don't give up the fight

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

Don’t Give Up the Fight


I was running. My legs were burning, and when I looked down, they were on fire. Literally. The finish line seemed miles away. Then my clock radio turned on, and my mind shifted, happily, to reality—but only for a moment. As Bob Marley’s voice sang “Get up, stand up,” my mind drifted back into the dream. Now the finish line moved farther away, and my feet could barely lift off the ground. “Don’t give up the fight,” Bob Marley sang, his voice ringing out. But my mind returned again to the dream, and suddenly I fell into a hole that appeared in the track out of nowhere. “Stand up for your rights,” Bob Marley sang. This time I sat up in bed, blue sheets twisted around me. I rubbed my eyes, finally clearing my head of the weird nightmare. Listening to the rest of the song made me think back to my dad’s comment of the night before.


 He had asked about the track team, and I had commented that the boys seemed to hate me. My dad had been watching baseball, sitting in his brown leather easy chair. He laughed and said, as a joke, “Beat them up. Slap ’em around. That’ll teach them something.” I laughed and said, “Yeah right.” Remembering the conversation I repeated those words, “Yeah, right.”


  I glanced out my window: clear—or as clear as it gets at 5:00 in the morning in April. I pulled on blue nylon shorts and a smiley face t-shirt, grabbed my running sneakers, and snuck down the carpeted stairs. My parents didn’t mind my morning runs, but I didn’t want to take the risk of waking them up this early.


Once outside, I sat down on the old deck and pulled on my sneakers. My legs were itching to run.


Quickly I tied the laces, then jogged down our gravel driveway. Once I hit the sidewalk, I picked up my pace. I had a track meet Saturday.


Soon my mind was filled with nothing. My pace set, my feet hit the sidewalk steadily as a clock. I passed my friend Lindsay’s house; it was painted white, like most of the houses in Morgan. The grass was mowed, and a well-tended garden grew in the front yard, just like at my house. I spied Lindsay’s silhouette through an upstairs window. I waved but quickly turned back toward my house. It must be six o’clock if Lindsay was up, and the bus came at seven. As I turned the last corner and my house came into view, I spotted my chocolate lab, Hershey, chewing my mother’s rhododendron plant in the front yard. When I jogged past him, he barked a greeting at me and continued chewing.


 After school that day, at the Morgan High track, the team gathered around the high-jump mat. Mr. McCoy, our coach, started the roll call.


 “Ava?” he said.


“I’m here,” I answered.


  “Good,” said Jacob, a runner. “We couldn’t live without you.” He laughed like an evil superhero, while Mr. McCoy continued to call the roll. The rest of the boys snickered at Jacob’s comment and slapped fives. I stared down at the black track as my hands curled into fists. I tried not to punch the thing closest to me, which happened to be Coach McCoy.


“Now, as you know, we have a track meet on Saturday. I would like all of you to practice your events. But remember, boys, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose. Just do your best on Saturday.” Coach McCoy continued his speech about winning and losing, which nobody, including McCoy himself, believed. Along the way he kept addressing us as boys and men. It happened every time, but still my stomach hardened and I clenched my teeth.



  “Ava, to the triple jump. Mark, to the javelin. Curt and Adam, to the discus. Jacob, Greg, and Kevin, to the track for the 100 and 200. The rest of you, find an event. I’ll come around and help you,” Coach McCoy ordered. I walked to the pit, found my mark, took a deep breath, and ran, my ponytail streaming out behind me. When I got to the second mark, which is called a bar, I hopped, then took a step and jumped. I landed well, with my hands forward. I walked back along the newly sprouted grass to try again.



“Nice jump, Ava,” Mr. McCoy commented. I turned around.


“Thanks, but I’ll have to do better than that to win Saturday.”


“You will have to do better, to beat the West Pine ladies. They’re pretty tough this year, especially for girls.”


“Oh, I see,” I said with an edge to my voice. I felt my body tremble, and my hands once again curled into fists. I wanted to scream at Mr. McCoy. Why did he, of all people, have to be my coach?



“I’ve got to go see Mark now. Bye-bye,” he said in the saccharine voice he reserved especially for me. When I was angered I always jumped better. I should have thanked him; I beat my distance by two inches, which is pretty good, for a girl.



When I got home I grabbed a Granny Smith apple from the fridge and ran up to my room. I flung my backpack onto the floor and flung myself onto my bed. I wished I had Lindsay’s punching dummy, so I could imagine I was beating up Coach McCoy and the boys like Jacob. But I couldn’t explain any of this to Lindsay. She had tried out for the team with me, but only I had made it. Whenever I talked about track, Lindsay’s face fell. But she would have been the perfect person to talk to. She understood me so well.



The only way to ease this anger was physically. I punched my pillow. My fist hit it with a whap, and the pillow sagged. I can’t deal with my coach any longer, I thought. Tears of frustration escaped my tightly closed eyes. I took a deep breath and focused on the blue spirals on my bedspread. They wove in and out and around each other. My mind drifted from my coach to thoughts of sleep.


  “Ava, Ava?” my mother’s clear voice woke me.


  “Yeah?” I rubbed my eyes.


  “Dinner time.” Mom opened the door to my room. Had I really slept until dinner? I looked at my clock: 6:27 pm. Outside the sun had almost set.


“Were you sleeping?” my mom asked, tucking strands of long brown hair behind her ears.


“I guess so. Track must have worn me out,” I said, surprised, as I sat up in bed.


“Wow, tough practice? Anyway, wash your hands and come down. ’Kay?” Mom said. She sounded surprised. Track didn’t normally wear me out. I figured I was emotionally exhausted. I sighed. Thanks,

Mr. McCoy.


Each afternoon’s track practice became more and more unbearable as I received less and less encouragement from my coach. Even when I came in first in practice runs, Mr. McCoy celebrated only the boys’ accomplishments. Mine were completely ignored. I felt as if I could have fainted dead away and the rival West Pine coach would had been more likely to help me up.



But when I ran, my problems floated away and I focused on winning. My mind shut down except for the running part, and for those few seconds I just ran, stretching my legs and striding forward as though my worst fears were behind me. And they were. My teammates were ready to attack as soon as I made even the simplest mistake. Running was my escape. It was then that my mind melted into nothingness and I could float away. Or when I jumped: for that split second when I was in the air, my problems left me then, too, only to greet me again when I landed.


“How is track?” Mom asked. She was sitting in my dad’s armchair, watching a game show.


“Okay,” I sighed, slumping into the couch.


“Only okay? Don’t you like track anymore?” Mom said, eyebrows raised.


“No, no, I like track. It’s just that Mr. McCoy bugs me, that’s all.”


“What does he do to you?” She seemed worried now. She hit the mute button on the TV.


“Nothing physical. He just bugs me. Don’t worry about it.” I didn’t want my mom to get involved.


“It’s just I am the only girl on the team, so it’s harder.”


My mother smiled. “But you’re good at track. I bet you could beat Mr. McCoy in the 100. I wouldn’t worry about it. Mr. McCoy needs to spend more time working with other runners, who aren’t as talented as you.” Yeah, I thought. According to him, everyone was as talented as me. Or more so. But again she smiled and cocked her head to one side. “If it bothers you that much, I can talk to him . . . ”


“No, no, no, that’s okay. Please don’t.” I shook my head, picturing the consequences.


“Why don’t you write him a letter, or explain how you feel to him? I’m sure he’d understand. Now, up to bed. You have a meet tomorrow.” I sighed. I should have expected this typical parental response.



  I stormed out of the room, filled with anger at my mom. Couldn’t she understand Mr. McCoy? Why didn’t she realize how important track was to me? Didn’t she know it was the only thing that could make me completely happy and the only thing that could make me cry? Didn’t she understand I needed to get better at track? Didn’t she understand anything?



  The bus ride to West Pine High School was hot. The whole bus shook as we turned onto a back road. My bare limbs stuck to the vinyl seats, and my cool lunch box rattled against my leg. The bus radio was tuned to some unknown station, which only the bus driver, Rick, was singing along to.



  I reached into my backpack for my book, but when I straightened up to read, I ended up staring at the back of Mr. McCoy’s head. He was wearing a Yankees baseball cap. I suddenly hated the Yankees. I stared and stared at that cap until I felt like I knew every line, seam, and crease.


“Hey, Ava,” called a voice from the back. I turned to face the voice. It was Jacob. He was sitting in the very last row with Kevin. He smiled. I immediately turned back around and tried to read my book. The words jumped around on the page as the bus lurched over yet another bump. My heart was beating fast. I hoped that he would just leave me alone.


“Ava,” Jacob called again, pretending to be worried. “Are you dead?” At that the rest of the team sobbed and shed fake tears for my fake death.


“No,” I called back over their sobs. “No, I am not dead.” My face turned red as I realized I had just given Jacob the satisfaction of responding to him.


“Shucks,” said a voice different than Jacob’s, probably Kevin. “I thought we’d get lucky.”


“Wow, she’s tough,” laughed Jacob sarcastically. I almost yelled at them. But as the snickers and laughs from behind me continued, I knew I wouldn’t. Then I heard a different laugh, a sort of belly laugh, not like the snickers from behind. I saw the Yankees cap shake. It was then that I realized that Mr. McCoy was laughing, too. Laughing at what Jacob and Kevin had said. Laughing at me.


“You guys are so funny,” Mr. McCoy congratulated them. I squeezed my eyes shut as tightly as I could, hoping with all my might that my tears would not come. I knew my eyes would look swollen and red, but when I opened them, there were no tears. My wish had been granted.


“Okay, everyone, we’re here. Let’s win some ribbons,” Mr. McCoy yelled over the squeaking brakes, as we came to a stop at the West Pine Memorial High School track. I breathed a sigh of relief and left the confinement of the horrible, hot, sticky bus as quickly as I could.


We were late, thanks to all the back roads Rick had managed to take. It was already time to sign in to the 100 meter.


“Your name, please?”


“Ava, Ava Clark,” I said breathlessly. I’d had to run all the way from the parking lot to get to the start on time.


“Okay, you’re in the third heat, second lane,” the official said. Yes, I thought. Second lane was my best. I walked up to my spot and breathed in and out evenly. Finally I caught my breath. Mr. McCoy’s laughter still echoed in my head. I tried to forget about it, but inside I was shaking with anger. I knew I needed to concentrate on my running. The distance was short, and I hoped my run from the bus would leave me with enough breath.

“Third heat up. Remember, girls, you can’t move until the gun goes off. On your mark, get set . . . ”

He paused. My thighs were shaking, ready to run. Bang. The gun went off. Energy burst from my legs, and I was off. My legs pushed, and my arms pulled. All I could think about was running. Then, so quickly, it was over.


“Okay, young lady, stand here.” A young man stationed me on the first mat. It struck me then. I had won. I had come in first. I felt like hopping with excitement, but I was too tired, so tired that I didn’t hear my time. But I felt so wonderful, I didn’t care. I sighed, feeling perfectly happy.


“Congratulations, Ava,” said Jacob snidely. I didn’t have to turn around to know it was him. “Too bad you didn’t win.” My wonderful mood burst immediately. I had to respond.


“I did win,” I said, in what I hoped was a confident voice. But it came out sounding like a kitten’s meow, helpless and scared.


“Oh, yeah? Ava, from here to that tree, does it look about a hundred meters?”


“Yes,” I said uncertainly. It probably was. It was hard to tell because it was close to a hill.


“If you beat me to the tree, I’ll believe you,” Jacob challenged. My heart was pounding, and my stomach felt like it was shaking. Why did I even have to talk to this jerk? I had just won the race, and he knew it as well as I did. I didn’t want to race him. But I knew if I won I would show him I was fast—faster even than him. Then maybe he would shut up and leave me alone. That was all I wanted.


“Okay . . . ” I muttered. I was scared but determined.


“On your mark . . . get set . . . go!” Jacob said. But as we started to run, out of the corner of my eye, I saw his arm come shooting towards me. Before I had time to move away, I felt his hand on my shoulder.


Suddenly he pushed me, hard and strong, and I lost my balance. My reflexes signaled my hands to strike out to cushion my fall. As soon as I landed, pain shot up my wrist like lightning. Ahead of me I saw Jacob. He was almost to the tree, and he was laughing, jogging now because he knew he had won.


I tried to get up, but the pain in my right wrist was too harsh. It just hurt too much. I held in my tears, so many tears I wondered if there was an ocean waiting to be released inside my head. I sat on the ground holding my wrist. When Jacob jogged away, laughing, the ocean was finally released.


The tears rolled down my cheeks, all the tears I had not cried before—tears of anger at my mom and Jacob and my coach, tears of outrage from the teasing on the bus, and now tears of physical pain. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t tell Mr. McCoy. I knew that was useless. My wrist was badly hurt, at least sprained and maybe even broken. By now it was numb with pain.

Suddenly I remembered something. My mother was going to stop by the track on her way back from the school where she worked. She wanted to see me jump. I had told her to come at around eleven-thirty. I glanced at my watch. It was eleven forty-two. I sighed with relief and struggled to my feet.


When I found Mom in the crowd, I ran into her arms and hugged her tightly with one arm. My eyes stung with the beginning of new tears. I closed them, relieved, as I nuzzled my face into her shoulder.


“Ava, what happened?” she asked. I bit my lip, thinking. What should I tell her? I looked into her eyes. They were full of love and concern. I smiled weakly at her. I felt horrible lying to her, but I couldn’t let her know the truth. This was my problem, and it could only be solved by me.


“I fell,” I sniffed.


“Oh, sweetie,” she began, touching my arm in different places, asking if it hurt. And it did.


“You need to see a doctor. Oh, I am so glad I stopped by. Just think what would have happened if I hadn’t.” Her voice was full of worry.


“Okay, Mom.” I wanted so badly to tell her the truth as the tears rolled down my cheeks. But this was a battle my mother couldn’t help me win.


I fell asleep right away when I got home, after resting my arm, in its cast, across my stomach. When I woke in the morning, I was hungry and cold. I felt awful from sleeping in my clothes and on my back. Today was Sunday, so I just lay in bed, thinking about what I might have done and said to Jacob. If only I had stood up to him or ignored him and not raced him. How different would things be? Would I be lying on my bed with a blue cast on my wrist? I couldn’t stop thinking about the what-ifs. But I also couldn’t cry anymore. It seemed to me that maybe the ocean in my head had finally dried up.


“Ava, dear. Ava, are you awake?” my mother asked, quietly interrupting my thoughts.


“Kind of,” I said, yawning.


“Lindsay is on the phone. Do you want to call her back?”


“No, no, I can talk,” I said. Gosh, I hadn’t injured my mouth. My mother handed me the phone.




“Hi, it’s Lindsay. I heard what happened. Does it really hurt?” she asked.


“No, not really. The painkillers haven’t worn off yet,” I said. Lindsay laughed.


“So, you want to come over today? You don’t have to. I was just wondering.”


“I want to. I don’t know if my mom and dad will let me though.” It would be so good to be with her.


I hadn’t seen Lindsay in a while, I had been so busy with track. I missed her.


“You don’t have to ask. I already did. Sorry. So it’s okay if you come. Your mom said it would be.” I loved the way Lindsay talked, her voice so full of energy and life.


“Great,” I smiled. “When do you want me?”


“How about now?” I could hear the smile in her voice.


“Okay. I’ll walk over as soon as I have breakfast and get dressed.”


  I decided to push thoughts of Jacob, my wrist, and Mr. McCoy out of my head. I ate and got dressed without much difficulty, though putting on a shirt was hard. I said good-bye to my parents and left for Lindsay’s.


Lindsay was the best friend I’d ever had. We understood each other so well. Often we didn’t even have to speak. Just a simple nudge or a second of eye contact would be enough to say I hate him, or let’s go. When I reached her house, her mom and dad greeted me at the door, crowding me with questions about my “fall.” The crowding was nice though; it was a sign of concern, not mere politeness. 


When Lindsay and I finally escaped to her room, we flopped down onto the floor and laughed at nothing.


“How’s track? Besides your arm,” she asked politely, after our laughing attack. I don’t know—maybe it was the sincere concern in her voice, or maybe it was the result of having kept a secret from her for so long, but I began to sob. Lindsay looked surprised but quickly put her arm around me.


“Are you okay?” she asked.


“No.” It felt good to say even that much.


“Do you want to talk? Please tell me.” She had the kind of urgency in her voice that only best friends can.


“Yes. I do.” I took a deep breath. And another. In and out, in and out.


“You don’t have to tell me right now, only when you’re ready.” After a moment I was ready. I described the teasing at practice, the lack of acknowledgement, Mr. McCoy’s laughing at me. A couple of times I cried out of pure frustration.


“Ava! Oh, my gosh, you need to tell someone this is horrible Mr. McCoy should be fired how come you didn’t tell me does anyone else know I feel so bad are you okay?” Lindsay blurted. Her run-on sentences became a blur of oh-my-goshes and are-you-okays. I sniffed. “I’m sorry I got carried away.” She reached over to give me a hug. “Are you okay, Ava?”

“Sort of. But Linz, what should I do? What should I do?” We moved closer, settling down forehead to forehead. I felt like a spy plotting a secret strategy.

For two hours straight we talked and laughed and planned and cried. And I wondered why I hadn’t told Lindsay about all of this long before.


When I went home that night and climbed into my bed, I lay there sleepless for a long time, nervous about tomorrow. I thought back to the morning a week ago when I had awakened to Bob Marley singing “Get Up, Stand Up.” My dream that morning had been awful, with my legs on fire and the yawning hole in the track. But now I realized how much my dream was like my real life. In my waking hours I was angry and hurt. The longer I kept my secret, the farther away the solutions to my problem seemed, like a finish line I could never reach. But Lindsay’s friendship had awakened me, and now the words of the song pulled me out of my hole and set me free.


The next morning I arrived at school twenty minutes early and did what needed to be done. When I reached my homeroom, I was a couple of minutes late. Mrs. Schafer glanced at me and pointed to my seat, where I promptly found my place next to Lindsay. People around me asked what had happened to my arm. I simply replied that I’d broken my wrist, which seemed good enough for them. I didn’t want to talk. I tried to pay attention to Mrs. Schafer, but my mind was elsewhere. I bit my lip in anticipation.


“While the . . . ” Mrs. Schafer began. She was interrupted by the intercom.


“This is Mr. Hilton speaking. Would Mr. McCoy and Jacob Stone please come to my office immediately?” Lindsay nudged me and let out a whoop, but I just smiled.


Get up, stand up. Don’t give up the fight.




Submitted: May 24, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Makayla keene. All rights reserved.

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