The People in My Neighborhood: The Big Dogs

Why do we have friends? Do we keep them around to prevent from being lonely? Do we have them because they make us laugh? Is it because they keep us sane? Because they bolster us?

I think all of my friends are incredible people. They’re all beautiful and they all have something great to offer, even if it is just something as basically vital as a voice on the other end of the line.

But in many ways, my friends are so vastly different from me. Like, my friend Kate is a really good literary agent, but that’s not something I’d ever want to try. And my friend Aileen is a die-hard classic New Yorker, but I don’t know how to be one of those, really, beyond loving the city and knowing it. My other friend Kate is a really good outdoors and travel journalist–something I always thought I wanted to do, but which proved not only outside of my ken, but outside of my area of interest, no matter how much I tried to force it.

So you see, I think of my friends as silos–perfect in their individual pursuits, which may not be for me.

Sport does bind us together. Jim and I have many friends that we’ve either followed into a race or friends we’ve tried to get into racing in some way, shape or form. But I was always more support crew or guide: “Here, you should try this sport. It’s super fun. Don’t worry, I’ll be the slowest on the course, so I’ll look out for you.”

Here’s proof:

Of the ten people in this photo (October 2001), only two did not race. I’m one of them.

Anyhow. I’m sure part of this is self-defense. I know I’m not willing to put in the time to train to the point where I can do a marathon in 3:30, or even 3:45. And I know I’m not a gifted enough athlete, although I did have some kind of competitive streak when I was younger. (Have you seen it lying around? I’d kind of like it back, please. Kind of.)

But last week, while I was mucking around in Surrey with Lara and Jody, I caught a flutter of feeling something new in my chest: aspiration.

It happened while I was chugging up a hill, chasing Lara and Jody. Jody’d just completed a fifty-mile race over the Grand Tetons. Lara is, in general, a conscientious and meticulous athlete. Both are stronger than I am by leaps and bounds, but both are generous with their abilities: they invite me places and whenever Jody comes to stay she invites me to run with her. When I went to visit her in North Carolina, where she lives, she encouraged me to “bring trail running shoes.”

Perhaps I should be more obvious: Jody is a four-time Ironman. Between her first Ironman and her second, she took an hour off her time. Her regular marathon time is well below four hours.

Lara’s first Ironman time was around 13 hours. She’s remarkably gifted on the bike, as far as I can tell, and manages her six-foot frame like grace incarnate. (Why, yes, your friendly local short and stubby over here is jealous. Thanks for asking.)

Anyhow. So there we were, mucking up this hill. Me, panting. I don’t know what Lara and Jody were doing because I could only just see them cresting the thing, and then waiting for me, ponytails mussed in the most chic of ways, pacing, looking not at all like running dorks, but rather like people who were inordinately comfortable in their own bodies, while I, overdressed and sweating up a storm, clomped and chugged like a pregnant sow waddling to the trough.

And then it hit me. I want to be up there, with my friends, where I belong. And where, apparently, they think I belong. although they’d never pressure me to be more than I want to be.

We did a 10-miler that weekend, a part-pavement part-trail race that had Lara elated and me and Jody muttering over the fact that we had to run over plowed farmlands.* I couldn’t help thinking, what a formidable set we’d have been, the three of us, if I could keep pace with them, egging each other on, running smoothly.

It used to be that I longed for a Girls’ Night Out group. It would be me and my girlfriends, walking swiftly down the street, an updated, better-looking female version of the Monkees.

Here we come/Walking down the street/Get the funniest looks from/Everyone we meet

And we’d get the funniest looks not because we were the Monkees, but because people could not believe how much fun we were having together. The looks would be looks of envy: Goodness, look at those girls. They can depend on each other. They are good friends. They are each others’ wingmen.

And then I had that for a brief shining year or two in New York, and it was beautiful and wonderful and everything I thought it’d be.

But I want more. I want to transfer my Monkees image to the race course, or at least to the training sessions.**

It occurs to me that this is why you have friends: They make you want to be better than you’ve been before, more than you’ve been before. I speak of this not only in sport terms; I speak of this in all walks of life: one of my friends has been through more this past year than can possibly be expected of a normal functioning human being, and yet, she’s worked through it, and moved on, with aplomb and good humor. This kind of attitude you just can’t buy. I don’t have it. I’m a moper; I wallow. Not for long, but I wallow.

And the other has a sh*t ton on her plate that I’m not sure I’d even know how to begin to handle. She looks at herself with a sharp, critical eye. She never sees her own skills, but that’s okay, because her friends do see them, and we remind her regularly, when she lets us.

Jody and Lara waited for me at the finish line of the 10-miler. Jody looked for me about a quarter mile before the end of the race course and ran me in, and I think it was then that I finally puzzled it out: My friends are my pack. As in any pack, there are alpha dogs and regular dogs. The difference in my pack is that all the big dogs want the regular dogs to grow up and be big, too.

*Jody did it with a stress fracture in her foot.

**The latter is somewhat plausible with these two. The former is nigh on impossible, but I’m okay with that.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

3 Responses to The People in My Neighborhood: The Big Dogs
  1. hugo walker says:

    Loved the essay. (DAMN IT IT’S AN ESSAY!) Makes me miss you and Jim and Lara and Jody….
    the whole lot! What race was the group photo from?

  2. Aileen says:

    I’m so lucky that you are my friend.

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