I was almost to the beginning of the trail when I noticed what looked like a man reading, sitting with his back leaned up against a large stump. From his stained and tattered clothing he looked to
be one of the homeless who set up camp in the park. He was just off to the right of the path, where a tree had fallen the previous month in a storm. Volunteers had chucked up the timber and hauled
it away but the shrubbery it crushed had not yet grown back. It was odd the way he was seated, and he didn’t even acknowledge me as I came closer. This early in the morning on a Sunday there were
almost no cars on the street. I had chosen this spot because I assumed that I wouldn’t run into anyone on the trail. As I jogged closer to him, I kept my head down and turned up the music on my
Walkman. I would stay focused on the task at hand, and that was to lose weight, quickly.
A bead of sweat dripped from my forehead and slid down my nose. It trickled down my lips until it was swiped away by my tongue. The taste was salty and made me thirsty. It was 6 am and I had only been jogging for about five minutes, but from the dampness of my oversized white t-shirt, you’d have thought that I’d just crossed the finish line of a ten-mile marathon. With every step, I could feel the weight of my body shift from left to right. I could feel my calves tense up then release, and my muffin top follow my stride. Up and down. Up and down. I hated the idea of being sweaty in a place where complete strangers could see me, but I loathed the idea of dying fat even more.
Last Thursday I had gone in for my annual check up, which I’d skipped the previous two years. The doctor I saw was a middle-aged woman, thin, with jet-black hair and a few grey ones sneaking out around her temple. She was also married. I could tell by the red dot on her forehead. She told me that I was bordering morbid obesity, and that my blood pressure and cholesterol were far above healthy, for a man of my age. Being twenty-three and only five foot six inches, weighing 277 pounds was a deadly weight. I’d put most of it on in only a few months. She asked me in a very thick accent how I could have possibly gained so much weight in such a short period of time.
“I don’t know. I haven’t changed my eating habits.” In reality I just ate poorly. I mostly enjoyed fast food, the greasier the better.
“You should join a gym, Jeremy.” She motioned like she was riding an invisible exercise bike.
“I would love to, but gym memberships are expensive.” And I’m too busy spending all my money on cheeseburgers.
“Well, you should find sumpting that you enjoy doing. Try going jogging, that is free. Maybe try eating some veggies, as well?” she cracked an insulting smile.
I smiled back, “Sure. Jogging and veggies, no problem.”
So here I was, joggin’ my lard butt down this trail. Already exhausted, I was sure that I‘d abandon this whole exercise idea sooner or later. I passed a spruce that appeared to have been injured, leaving a smooth, dark caramel colored strip of flesh exposed. I couldn’t help but think of a foot long I’d had on a trip to New York City one time.
‘Jesus fatty! You’re on a jog and all you can think about is a hotdog? I shook my head. This is the kind of thinking that got you into this mess. Just one more triple burger. Just one more super-sized chocolate shake, with those delicious Oreo crumbs they dust the top with. God damnnit, Jeremy! Pick up the pace. How can you be this sweaty? No wonder you can’t get a date…’
My parents were young, only juniors in high school when they had my older sister. All three of them were into extreme sports, which I could never understand. They often went mountain climbing, base-jumping, scuba diving and most recently hang gliding. Soon after my nineteenth birthday, my mother made plans with my father to try hang gliding on a clear afternoon during the summer. After a beautiful launch, the wind picked up from the north and carried them toward the only patch of trees in the area. The glider got snagged on a large branch and slammed them into the base of the tree. They were both killed upon impact.
My sister, the only other child of the family promptly dropped out of college and moved in with an man she met in the internet, three thousand miles away. She works as a mortician now and calls only on my birthday and Christmas. Other than that, I work from home and spend my time alone. I don’t have a dog because my apartment wont allow it and I don’t have a girlfriend for more obvious reasons. It’s tough to meet women when you never leave your crummy studio apartment. It’s tough to meet anyone that way, actually. I’ve lived alone for almost four years now, since my parents died, and in that time I haven’t had much contact with anyone.
My friends stopped calling me to go out because I almost always declined. At this point in my life my best friend was food. In fact, my only friend was food, and now my doctor has warned me that my best friend may lead to my demise. How can I not feel doomed to fail? I’ll tell you why! It’s because I am not ready to die. I have always had a stigma with death; I am absolutely terrified of the idea that people around me will die. Not just my friends and family or strangers; I can’t even stand seeing road kill, it brings me to tears. Sometimes I will go miles out of my way to avoid driving past a cemetery. Death is a frightening subject to a man of no faith.
I reached the end of the paved path that led off into the woods. I’ve heard stories of people being attacked by mountain lions after continuing their jog alone. Having little interest in seeing a lion face to face, I turned around and started heading back towards my car. I checked the time- it was already seven; I’d been jogging for an entire hour. I felt a huge grin creep across my face. A possum crossed the path ahead of me and I started to speed up into a full-blown run. The cool air was refreshing as it grazed my forehead and I closed my eyes and imagined I was crossing the finish line of my own personal race.
Just then I felt my feet catch on something and before I could open my eyes, I flopped to the ground. Even with my eyes closed I could tell I was off the paved path because I felt the gravel dig into my palms as I crashed. I could feel the scrapes on my knees beginning to burn, and after debating whether or not I should cry, I opened my eyes.
It was the homeless man that I’d seen reading on my way into the park. He was still seated in the same position and still hadn’t said a word. I’d tripped over his legs, which were extended straight out in front of him.
“Oh my God. I am so sorry! I’m such an idiot! I wasn’t paying attention and I’m trying to lose weight. I didn’t even see you!” I pulled the headphones from my ears and let them rest around my neck. “Did I hurt your legs? Do you need help getting up?” The man didn’t even flinch. “Sir? Hello? My name is Jeremy. Is there anything I can do for you? I feel terrible.” He sat completely silent. Now I was starting to get upset.
\"I said I was sorry dude! What more do you want, you homeless son of a gun? I think it’s pretty obvious I didn’t fall on you on purpose. I’m the one who’s hurt! You didn’t even ask if I was okay. I’m the one who’s bleeding!\" I looked down inspect my injuries. This required lifting one leg at a time, while leaning forward just enough to see over my stomach, but not so much I’d lose my balance and fall down again. \"Okay, the cuts aren't deep, but they’re dirty, and they sting and I could get an infection!\" I glared at the man on the ground.
“Hey man, you look a little pale. Are you sure you’re alright?” I tapped the side of his leg with my foot. Nothing. I tapped a little harder, and with that his body slumped over, face down. Now, I could see a small pool of dried blood on the gravel next to him.
“Oh shit.” I covered my mouth with my hands. “Oh my fucking God! Holy shit!” I’ve watched a lot of Law and Order, but no actor covered in ketchup can prepare you for the real deal. To be continued! suggestions appreciated!
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