I was fifteen years old, and I left my driveway to run up Carroll Highlands Road. Two doors up, I passed Scott Swartz’s house.
Scott and I were both three years old when he walked down to my house and asked if I wanted to play. After that, we spent the next eleven years inseparable in our free time.
His mother died when he was five. I was too young to understand the pain he must have gone through, but he adopted my family, or we adopted him; I’m not sure which.
We did everything two boys can do together. We shared our toys, made up games and played sports in our back yards. We talked to each other without boundaries. He knew me better than anyone.
After I passed Scott’s house, I ran the rest of the way up our road, and then turned left. In 1976, it was safe to run on the shoulder of Liberty Road.
I passed the gas station on the corner and the Drive-in Restaurant where Scott worked at night. I turned left at Ridge Road, and onto the property where the new Carrolltown Mall was under construction. I ran around to the back of the buildings and stopped.
I walked into what would become the movie theater, nothing more than an empty space with sloping floors, and I got down on the concrete to stretch.
There was a for-sale sign back in my front yard, and strangers were walking around deciding whether or not to become the new owners of the only home I had ever known. My parents asked if I could make myself scarce for a while.
Everything familiar was changing, and it felt like every perfect moment of my childhood was about to become a distant memory.
By then, Scott and I were immersed in the real world of high school. Gone was the fantasy, the made-up realities that used to fill our minds. Toys gathered dust.
I left the shell of the movie theater and looked around a little more, then I went back out to Ridge Road and continued my run. I ran passed the old farm with the pastures that bordered my back yard. The open space has since been gobbled up, but back then it surrounded me. For a while, I ran with nothing around me but grassy fields.
I’ve always felt deeply, which has been a blessing at times, and a curse at others. This was one of those cursed times.
If I had some sense of what came next, it might have been easier. If I could have seen how I would grow strong and fast, perhaps I would have felt better. But all I wanted to do was go back in time, bring Scott with me, and disappear into our imaginations.
I ran into the back end of Carroll Highlands, and then up towards my house. I slowed down before I got there, making sure our driveway was rid of strange cars, and then I ran home.
That summer, we moved away from my youth and to a house on Danmarth Road. It was a beautiful place, farther away from the urban sprawl, and over time I came to love it.
I can’t say exactly when I found the courage to leave childhood behind. It was more of an evolution than an awakening. My runs got longer and my workouts harder. Friday night lights shined on cinders, and running was becoming a part of me.
As it did, my confidence grew. I spoke up more and stood up for what I thought was right. I started to become comfortable with myself. Once that happened, everything else became more comfortable too.
If you run, you know that things can change quickly. You can feel fantastic one moment, only to enter a period of drudgery the next. But the opposite is also true. You can feel constrained and heavy early in a run, and totally fluid and free later. That’s just how it is.
Kids can’t understand this, at least I couldn’t. For a time, I thought I’d always be a child. And I thought my best friend would always live two doors down.
The real world eventually finds all of us, and it can be a harsh reality, until you realize that you’re strong enough for anything.
If you’ve not found that strength yet, keep running.