Summer House: Ch. 7

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My anachronisms were at loose ends. Turtle raced along the fence, Dixie dug holes, and Crystal leaned against my legs and sighed.

“They need a purpose,” Shingo suggested.

He had a point. A dalmatian, a water spaniel, and a bloodhound–a coach breed, a hunting-retriever, and a scent hound: These dogs were bred for tasks. When they roamed the beaches as strays, survival kept them focused. But once health and strength were restored by the basic care I provided, their need for activity surfaced. I could walk them all day, and they’d still long for challenge.

“I don’t need a purpose,” I told Shingo.

He poked me. “That’s because you’re in Shangri-La.”

A few days later, he pulled up in a borrowed pickup truck, the bed loaded with shiny odd-shaped things.

“It’s an agility course,” he said. “The county fairgrounds had an auction. They’re getting a new set.”

We hauled out the aluminum and plastic poles, hoops, tunnels, and platforms and set them up in the back meadow.

“It’s solar-powered,” Shingo said.

“What do we need it solar-powered for?” I asked.

“The lights?” Shingo replied. “You’d like a plain wooden one better, wouldn’t you? We can get some old fencing and porch floors and make one. Use this in the interim.”

“I like it fine,” I said. I would have liked wood better, but it wasn’t for me. And it was a kind gesture.

Crystal sniffed each pole as we snapped it in place.

Dixie trotted around every structure, and Turtle ran the circumference.

“Do you know how to do agility-course training?” Shingo asked.

I didn’t. Neither did he.

He wandered off to paint, leaving me and the anachronisms in the meadow.

“All right,” I said.  “Who’s first?”

Crystal crawled under the platform, stretched out, and napped.

Dixie sat, cocking her head at the tallest hoop.

I called Turtle, who was still racing the perimeter.

I gestured with my hands, weaving them in between the poles. “Like that, Turtle!”

She balked at the lights.

“I wish I could turn these things off,” I said. Solar-powered. No on-off switches.

“OK. Watch.”

I ran through the course, between the poles, up and over the A-frame, across the dog walk, over the hurdles, through the tunnel. The only thing I couldn’t figure out how to do was the hoop, but it didn’t matter, for Turtle was there, jumping and pouncing when I emerged from the tunnel.

“Your turn!” I said.

Off we ran together. I snapped my fingers, she jumped. I gestured to weave, she ran between the poles. Up the see-saw, off the jump, onto the platform.

“Now stand!”

She took a bold pose, as if she were on the back of a fire truck.

“You’re very noble,” I said. “And a very good dog.”

Dixie had watched it all. She was trying the weave poles.

“Good dog!” I walked with her. That was all she wanted to try the first day.

Crystal ventured out from under the platform and leapt on top of it.

“Good dog!” I said. That was our first day’s training.

We train every day now. Turtle has taken to it almost naturally. She jumps so gracefully, and with the training, she’s become sleek and muscular.

Dixie loves the tunnel. I can usually get her to run the complete course, but sometimes she refuses one or more obstacle, more out of principle than ability or inclination. She likes to assert her independence.

Crystal loves to be with us when we train. She thumps her tail while watching the other two. When it’s her turn, she skips at least half of the obstacles and often turns back around to repeat the one that’s her particular favorite for that day. But what she lacks in ability, she makes up for in attitude. She practically grins the entire time we train together.

This morning, Shingo and I sat with our coffee and conversation on the back porch while the dogs played in the meadow.

“What are they doing?” Shingo asked. “This isn’t random.”

It wasn’t, not random nor unstructured. They have invented a game that they play on the course for hours at a time. One of them sits on the platform–usually Crystal, but they take turns. The other two chase each other through the course until the dog on the platform barks, and then they switch directions. When they get tired, they all jump on the platform and lie down in a heap until one of them gets up and they begin again.

“Did you teach them this?” Shingo asked.

I didn’t. They developed it themselves. They build onto it, adding variety, taking away steps, adding new ones. The transformation in them has been incredible. I see them thinking sometimes, Turtle, especially, who will often sit gazing at the course.

“They’re a little bit obsessed,” I admitted.

“But it’s a healthy obsession, right?” Shingo asked.

“Sure.” And I was sure that it was, like any obsession that develops body, mind, imagination, and teamwork. I kind of miss that feeling. Maybe I need my own agility course.

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Septemus 60

Singular Separation

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I miss my pagotogo so much. I didn’t think that this time of training would be hard for me. I thought that I would develop discipline, resolve, skill.

I suppose I have developed all those things–but at what cost?

I feel cut off. Alone. Mastikopo.

I have been trying to connect with the people in our neighborhood. It’s not going well.

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There are some exceptions. I met a new girl from school, walking along the promenade. She showed me photos she’d taken during her walk. Crooked branches of live oaks, draped with Spanish moss. The sun reflecting off the green water. A yellow rose petal floating in a puddle. It made me smile. She was so earnest, so enthusiastic. For a moment, I felt I was looking through her eyes and finding the world around me a place of beauty and wonder.

“You have an eye for color and composition!” I told her.

“You think so?”

I absolutely did.

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But some of my other classmates aren’t quite as engaged with life. They seem perpetually bored. I am never bored, and so, they seem to have decided that I am not cool.

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At least I have Octavius, my own little mopagoto. He has grown so much. He is walking and learning to talk.

I am teaching him Vingihoplo. Sokloboska was his first word. We mostly talk-inside, but when he speaks out loud, his tiny echoing voice is so cute.

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Somehow, Dr. Zest found out about Octavius.

“This brother of yours,” he asked me, “does he have these same abilities?”

“And what abilities would those be?” I asked.

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Of course I know that Dr. Zest has been trying to investigate inside-talk. Pabatuotuo alerted me to him.

“You’ll find that all the Sevenses are brilliant!” I told Dr. Zest, hoping that my bravado would throw him off course.

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He left shortly after. I took a photo of him walking away. I want to send it to Pabatuotuo-maybe make a meme out of it: “The Retreat of Deceit” or something.

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It makes me sad to think that we have to keep our talents hidden. When I was a kid, I thought we all had this ability, that everyone could talk-inside, and that they chose not to, as part of a game.

I thought that one day, a grown-up would wink at me, to let me in on the game. “Oh, yes! We are all really aware! We simply pretend not to be!”

But now, I see that no one is pretending. Each person really is as cut-off as they seem.

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I saw Lucas for the first time since Octy was born.

He looked good. I felt the same softness open inside of me.

“Lucas?” I said. “You look happy? Life’s good?”

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“Not so much,” he said. “You know. Same-old, same-old.”

I don’t know what same-old, same-old he was talking about, but he followed me home, invited himself in, and now I’m recognizing my own version of same-old, same-old. His feelings are not hidden from me, no matter how impermeable my cone seems. He sits across the room, feeling all the same attraction and affection as I do. And he pretends it doesn’t exist. That’s same-old, same-old.

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I think it is time for me to come out of training. I think I need the connection of my gotogo. I’ve learned all I need to about being cut-off.

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Shift 45: On the Town

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Deon called me up and asked if I wanted to meet him at the lounge. It was Saturday, end of track season, and just a few weeks before the end of school. He invited some of our friends, too–Clara Bjergsen and Adriene. It was a type of celebration.

They serve food, so I was allowed in, even if I am a minor. I smiled, remembering when Deon showed me that place that served free tapas all those long years ago. Feels like another life.

It had been a pretty successful track season. I didn’t break the mile record, but I got to compete. I set a few track records, and I won a lot. I also lost a few times–or, rather, placed second or third. Once, even fourth. But I’ve qualified for States at the beginning of summer. And Tracy and the USM coach told me they’re proud and looking forward to next year.

I’m doing OK in my classes, too, if you consider all A’s OK. Which I do. I’m not graduating Valedictorian or Salutatorian. Nadja is the the valedictorian for her high school. She’s gonna deliver an awesome speech. She’s been practicing it on me.

I’m just gonna walk the aisle, take my diploma, move the tassel to the other side, and throw my cap up in the air.

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That’s enough.

It’s enough that a kid like me made it this far. I’ll be graduating high school. I ran track. I got accepted into college. I got a place lined up to live in San Myshuno, sharing that flat with the violinist, and I’ve even got money to pay my share of the rent, which isn’t much, because of the YOTO connection, but still, it’s something.

My days of free-loading are over.

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At the lounge, when I took my guitar out to the courtyard, that really buff woman from the San Myshuno gym showed up.

Man. She’s so awesome. Her arms are sculpted. She wears a men’s hair-cut, like me, but then she wears all this buff jewelry and a long skirt and a little shirt that shows her incredible abs.

I can’t imagine myself ever having the confidence to dress like she does. But that’s OK. I like my style.

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While I was playing, a bunch of other people came out to listen.

“This is Jenny Trevalyn,” she started telling them. “If you follow track, like I do, you’d know her. This girl is going places. She led the San Myshuno High team this year, and next year, she’ll be running with USM. Take my word for it. That’s the team to follow.”

I felt really shy and embarrassed.

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But I also felt so proud.

I went inside, and Adriene was asking Clara about opportunities for older, nontraditional students at USM, and suddenly, it hit me. I’m Jenny Trevalyn. I’m gonna be a student at USM. I’m on the track team. I’ve got a life.

“How’s that protein drink?” the bartender asked me. “I heard you’re an athlete. You still in training?”

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“It’s good,” I replied. “And yeah. I’m still in training. I gotta feeling I’ll always be in training.”

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Shift 35: Negative Splits

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Winter break ended, and the new semester started. Clara Bjergsen told me that this semester was the important one, since I wanted an athletic scholarship. Though the official signing with a university team didn’t happen until fall of senior year, it was in junior year that the scouts would be checking out all our track meets and the coaches would offer verbal commitments.

I felt scared and excited, and I wanted to do everything right. I had to keep up my grades, of course, too.

I asked Aadhya for advice, of course, like I always do when I want to do my best.

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She got quiet for a moment.

“I’ve been watching you, Jazz, since you first arrived here nearly a year ago,” she said. “You always work so hard. You’re a straight A student, and anyone can see you’re fit as can be. Just stay healthy, don’t work too hard, keep your life in balance, and you’ll do great!”

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I wish I had her confidence in me!

When I went out for my weekend runs, I tried to believe her: Just keep my life in balance, and I’ll do great!

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But when I ran, my mind kept thinking. I kept on breaking down the splits I’d need to shoot for in order to break the record.

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4:35.42. That’s the number I’m aiming at.

I’m going for negative splits. During cross country, our coach really drilled that into us, and I like it. It feels like the way I approach life, starting out slow, holding back some of my capabilities, and then letting it all loose as I near the finish line.

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The hardest part for me is holding some back. Even in practice, once I’m on the track, I want to start full out. So, during my training runs on my own, I work on running within myself. I try to feel if I’m running at two-thirds capacity, one-half capacity, three-quarters or full out.

I try doing a quarter mile at each.

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Donnie said he wants to run with me. He wants to build up his wind so he’ll do better at wrestling.

We ran together one day. He kept up during the first mile, and nearly kept up during the second, but when I let out during that last 200 yards, I left him so far behind.

I know I shouldn’t feel good about it–I mean, he’s not a runner. But it still felt really good.

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He was an OK sport about it–a little mad, but that’s to be expected, I guess.

The feeling of pulling away from him when I hit the home stretch felt so great. I tried to remember all the sounds and sensations: our feet hitting the pavement together, the cadence of our breathing, then the rush of adrenaline as I pushed forward, and the feeling of breaking away. This is something I love.

This is freedom.

I’m going to start trying this at practice –running with the pack, the pouring it on, and feeling that opening that happens as we reach the end, and I leave them all behind.

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