I let my dad know that I went to the Bogen house and met Mrs. Bogen. He says he felt bad he stopped going over to her house after Ferguson left for college. When Ferguson moved away, he only dropped by for a few brief visits. My dad hasn’t kept in touch with any of his high school classmates; which I find sad. He closed that chapter of his life a long time ago.
My days are filled with bewilderment and rather odd situations. I have yet to see that guy Mark, who punched me in the face. I wouldn’t say Manny Gomes and I are enemies, yet I think the threat of a smack down is a thing of the past. I see him play football, and it’s a good thing I don’t have to fight that giant. The guy is a beast.
I laugh more at school now, but I don’t participate when kids make fun of others. There is this one kid, Anthony, who gets picked on a lot. I sometimes walk back from school with him because we take the same path home. He’s not very athletic. Nor is he very “cool” or vocal. He’s an easy target for bullying. This big guy named Robert Vargas protects him from bullies in PE. Why kids feel the need to pick on him is beyond me. What would that prove? That you can pound a kid that doesn’t defend himself? Anthony has had a growth spurt, which makes him taller than me, at five foot nine. He’s still kind of wimpy, but I hope he grows out of it.
I’m really tired of bullies. I’m ready to fight anybody that tries to fuck with me, because I’m sick of their tormenting. I don’t go around looking for it, but I won’t back down if they come at me. I’ll defend myself and my friends at all costs. If I end up fighting Mark Dornet, it won’t be because I jumped him. I want Mark Dornet man to man and ask him why he sucker punched me. I’ll probably accept an apology.
Today we have our third cross country race. I didn’t realize that I’m going to run against fifty guys. The race is a 5k. We have to run both uphill and downhill, around trees and a lake. If you are going to be in a race, you might as well be outside in the brisk air around nature.
The race starts. It feels weird running next to fifty guys. Everybody tries to get around each other really fast. I just hope I don’t fall down. Sure enough, four guys bite the dust twenty feet from the starting line, giving me a head start on them. With this many guys running, I feel like I am in a fight for survival. I am running faster than my usual pace, working hard to keep up to the pack. Some of the guys that bolted out at the start are now further back with the main group. Then, you have the really good runners that have created their own little group that are now far ahead.
I am going to burn out if I keep at this pace for much longer. I pull back on the throttle. More guys are falling back after the race reaches the half way point. I want to save some energy for my last kick. I’m starting to fall behind now. A third of the runners have 1k left. I hold my burst as long as I can; just like coach tells us.
I turn on the last of my ‘reserves’ for the remaining few hundred yards. I’m able to catch a few runners and pass them. I cross the finish line without falling as I gasp for air. I am tired, but feel I finished strong. I came in 31st out of 53 runners. I know there is no medal or awards for 31st, but I got a lot of back slaps, fist bumps and high fives from my teammates. My coach, Mr. Kappler, is even more excited than me. He actually gives me a hug. I beat 22 other runners; not that bad. Either they were all the lousy runners, or I’m improving.
As I walk around and drink my water, I get a glimpse of my dad standing in the distance. He sees me and gives me two thumbs up with half a smile. He left work early, something he never does. I had no idea he even knew I ran today. I know cross country is not as fun to watch as my baseball games. It’s kind of right up there with golf.
I go over to see him. I’m glad he showed up because now I don’t have to take the long bus ride back. I tell him about my strategy and how I waited to the last minute to use my secret gear. It’s so secret I didn’t know I even had it. The biggest surprise of the day is not my finish, not my dad, but the girl on the bike watching the varsity race. In the distance, I spot Patty. She’s got her hair pulled back and wearing stretchy black pants. I get really nervous. I’m in shock. I just stare at her like I am in a coma. What in the hell is she doing here? Obviously, she isn’t here for me. Or is she? My teammate is talking to me, but I have no idea what he is going on about. Should I stay or should I go talk to her? I don’t think I ever told her I’m on the team.
She’s off her bike now; standing there next to it. This is my chance: no school, no art class - just her and me, face to face.
I can’t do it. I’m chickening out. My dad has no clue what is happening. He says that it’s time we go and for me to let my coach know that I’m not taking the bus back to school. The moment is passing me by; and I’m letting it happen. Coach Kappler walks over. He and my dad strike up a conversation as I continue to stare. I can overhear Coach Kappler going on about my big improvement.
We get in the car and drive off. The happiness and thrill of what could have been a defining moment has now vanished like the breeze. I look out the car window for one more look at her. Son of a bitch; I feel like a loser.
On the car ride home, I ask my dad if we can go see Ferguson’s mother. He’s reluctant at first because he has different plans. He wants to take me to get a burger, which I normally would be all over. When I ask him again, he senses the determination in my voice. Even if he flat out rejects me, nothing is going to stop me from seeing her eventually. He turns the car in the opposite direction, heading towards Mary Bogen’s residence.
We park in front of the house. My dad talks about the Bogen’s and the good times he had at their house. I feel excited about whole idea of Ferguson being someone who actually exists. I have imaginary conversations with him. This guy (who wrote this crazy book) does exist, and hopefully he’s somewhere out there still doing great things. I feel no different than some kid who idolizes a rock musician, or a movie star. In the end, it’s all about who inspires you. We all wish and hope that they are what we make them out to be. But I must remember; he’s just a person – like me. I should probably be idolizing some one that has cured diseases or invented something great. At the very least some sort of deity or higher being. But I’m on a mission; and it’s pretty big. This guy who wrote all this stuff was my age. That baffles me.
My dad is a little nervous, since it’s been so long since he’s seen Mrs. Bogen. He says that the thing he remembers most about her was that she was the sweetest person. She always fed all of Ferguson’s friends at the Bogen house and it was good food. She didn’t just pull out Twinkies and Kool-Aid. It was always homemade cake and sandwiches. Ferguson is an only child, so his parents allowed a bunch of kids to invade their house. My dad really liked Ferguson’s dad. He was this guy who smoked a pipe which created a cloud of cherry flavored tobacco. That smell is something that my dad has never forgotten. Mr. Bogen would be sitting behind this desk with books and papers everywhere, and he would pull pranks on the kids that came over. When you first met him, you thought he was this weird adult that you just wanted to get away from. After you got to know him, there was something about him you liked.
He never treated you like a moron kid. He would give you respect and kept asking mature questions. Then, when he was done gathering your thoughts, he would offer good advice. That’s where Ferguson got a lot of his ideas from. When other kid’s dads were driving big American cars and station wagons, Mr. Bogen had an English convertible. It was the first convertible my dad got to drive in.
We arrive at her house and I pull out a little note that I keep in my wallet; just a little something written by Ferguson. I tell my dad to wait a second as I read it to him.
“Never give up - I have given up many times and what did it get me? About a dollar short of actual finishing something. I have been working at being a ‘finisher,’ not a quitter. A quitter is an awful thing to be known for. I would get bored, or frustrated, and walk away from many things. Each time I got an ‘F’ on something like a book report or science project it’s because I walked away and I gave up. You should always strive to do better the next time. We can’t all be ‘A’ students consistently. But, if you give up, you’re an automatic failure.
After I read this passage to my dad, it looks like he has tears swelling in his eyes. I’m not sure if they are happy or sad tears. Why would he cry over this? I haven’t seen my dad cry very much in my lifetime. It’s usually when somebody in the family has died. Then there is the time he cried watching a movie about a dog, Marley and Me. It was about a couple who had a dog for fifteen years. When the dog finally died in the arms of his owner, my dad lost it and had to leave the room.
“All right Fergus, let’s do this,” I proclaim to myself as I walk to the front door.