CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)


HED:The shoes are small, but hold big memories

By Gary Perilloux

Daily Journal

Heavy, humid air hangs on us like an uncomfortable blanket in a fitful sleep. We aren't far removed from night.

We are three pairs of synthetic rubber soles scattering pebbles on an asphalt lane circling University Lake in Baton Rouge, La. And we have miles to go before breakfast.

A neophyte jogger, I lag behind my elders: Robbie - the thirtysomething scion of a Louisiana beer distributing family who's bucking for an LSU law degree to bolster the family fortune, and Dave - a fortysomething world traveler, Kansas native and ex-military policeman gunning for a second career in law. I'm enrolled in journalism school with a vague target of writing for a living in my sights. Dave and I live in the graduate dorm by the law school. Robbie rents an apartment nearby.

It is Saturday. In a couple of hours, I'll hop into Dave's black convertible Mazda RX-7 and he'll race the rotary engine to McDonald's, where we'll meet Robbie and his Jeep. Over breakfast, my mind returns to the morning run.

I see Robbie's wire-rimmed glasses and black mustache as he turns to Dave, a fair-skinned descendant of Scandinavia with a blond mustache.

"I think you only go around once," Robbie says between huffs, "and you grab everything you can get."

I cringe at the life-as-a-shelf-of-beers philosophy but run on in silence.

"Yeah," Dave puffs out, "That's what I believe, too ..."

Some beliefs can be fragile, though. A retired Air Force captain, Dave believed deeply in a love for a woman he met and married in Taiwan. I knew her only by Dave's affectionate moniker, "the Old Lady."

He glowed when he spoke of her attaining a food science degree, adding a computer science degree and landing a good-paying job with a major corporation in Illinois.

At LSU, I'd see Dave sauntering across campus in his boots, jeans and Oxford cloth shirts, a faraway smile on his face. The smile could be taken for a smirk. But I knew it to be the outward expression of a reverie starring the Old Lady.

Other smiles flashed across his face in the cafeteria, where Dave lingered long at mealtime as a conversation-loving elder statesman. He ate to live but he lived to break bread with friends.

When some of them begged out of joining his morning boot camp, Dave came knocking on my door one evening. I had what I guessed was the perfect excuse: no running shoes (Dave was a firm believer in good running shoes).

Moments later, he returned with a pair of his second-string New Balance shoes: high-quality footwear, just a half-size small. I nodded, sighed inwardly and set the alarm for 5:30 a.m.

To my amazement, I became a running fool. Our runs escalated from two or three miles to six, seven, eight miles and occasionally more on Saturdays.

We'd talk running jargon, of how Dave completed two marathons by willing his glycogen-deprived muscles through the dreaded "wall" long-distance runners confront.

Dave ran to spur himself through lonely studies in a Spartan dorm room. He ran to refuel his love of the Old Lady and life in general.

He could run through any wall, I thought, as I last saw Dave roar off to Illinois in his RX-7.

A few years later, a mutual friend told me Dave had pursued his dream of practicing maritime law. He hung his shingle in Florida, but the Old Lady, having left him for another man, wouldn't follow him.

That loss led Dave to end his life in a wall of self-inflicted gunfire.

A knee injury ended my running days years ago, but I dream of lacing up the old New Balance shoes and running a crisp pace to a Lawrence, Kan., grave that should be empty.

The shoes wait in storage in Louisiana. I may never make it to Lawrence. But I will never throw those shoes away.

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