end of Breath

This is the second and last part of the story in the last post.

I felt good and military adhering to the discipline I’d outlined for myself. I felt like Mishima or something. That summer I read a biography of Mishima and Sun and Steel, his essays, which I’d found a used paperback copy of in the Dekalb Junior College Bookstore, and I felt that here was a darkly attractive figure who understood balancing the death drive against the life drive, and how that required a regime of spiritual and bodily exercises. So ‘military’, which had always meant something bad to me - stupidity, blind obedience, repression, Coach Sick’s crewcut - meant something different for me that summer. It meant strength, purity, will. Since this time I have been in a lot of protests - against the secret war in Nicaragua, against the Persian Gulf invasion - but I have always had a secret understanding of why people have such admiration for the military, unlike Julia and her friends, who are the people who get me to go to these demonstrations and sign petitions and do phone calling and contribute pieces to anti-war shows. I am clued into the erotics of control, of explicit systems of command and obedience. So there I’d be, I’d get up and get out around six, with the sky still shadowed by night, and I’d run my route. I went down from our court into Gladstone Drive, turned left on Verona Park and turned left on Shiloh Mill, ran a half mile down to the Shiloh Mill Baptist church, ran across the church grounds, jumped the creek that separated their property from the Salem Golf course, ran in the path that snaked among the pine trees around the course, hit Dial drive, then took Naman’s Way back to Verona Park proper, which by this time was showing a little activity - a white haired man in a blue suit would be sucking leaves out of the swimming pool with a long hose behind the big chain link fence to my right, and he’d raise one arm straight up, like he was pointing at something, and then he’d drop it, which I took to be a wave. I considered myself practically home at this point, I simply crossed to Verona Park Road and licked on up to my subdivision, and this last half mile I tried to hightail, I’d kick into my baddest ass run and run my breath out by the time I reached my driveway, when I would stop, then jog around the circle, letting my legs and arms simply shake, gearing down, and then, in the lawn, I’d bend over and hold my ankles and let pant hotly into my t shirt.

I concentrated, as Coach Fregee told us to, on breathing, the in and out, and I also tried to hold a certain balance within myself of energies, thinking that I was being very samurai. I liked to hold back and hold back the moment when I finally had to mouth breath, as opposed to nose breath, then I’d coordinate my rhythm to the way my lungs felt, thinking of them as two living animals inside me. My goal was to prolong nose breathing while I picked up my pace a little more each day, so I tried to cut off mouth breathing as soon as it occurred. The first incident of mouth breathing, I’d change my pace, get back to nose breathing, then speed up. I concentrated just on these things, I tried to keep my mind from straying beyond the confines of my immediate body situation. This, too, I thought of as somehow very Zen. I would concentrate sometimes so much on my body I’d feel like I was going cross eyed.

I’d chosen my course to give me a variety of landscape. Long ago, during a phase in the six grade when I went around with an almanac and was always pulling it out to mull over random and insignificant statistics, I learned that Atlanta was exactly 1,050 feet up in the air (although, admittedly, I wondered whether they had just averaged out heights and depths, or whether that was the highest point, or what, since obviously there were dips and rises all over the city). That meant that Gladstone, as a suburb, was about that high or higher. Coach Fregee, who came from Chicago, said that the times in Chicago were almost better on the average by a minute than the one’s in Atlanta, because of the altitude difference. So I was aware of that. I turned left on Verona Park each morning because I wanted to hit the hill there as soon as possible, thinking that it was sort of a merit. I was really convinced that I gained virtue every day just by making my body do things that put stress upon it, that required will on my part. Although I knew enough to see that there was a paradox here - I asserted my will over my body in order, eventually, to submerge myself in a balance of energies. The threshold to that energy situation was shucking the idea of will, or of individuality, or of the possessive “my” , as in “my body”. There was only the balance, the weighing of light and darkness, the Zoroastrian dimension of dawn and twilight, the hard muscle, the readiness to use it. It was like I was going to become a gunslinger, instead of a mediocre cross country runner.
I liked to compare, while I was running, the effort it took me to get up the hill to getting up it in the car, as I had done hundreds of times. It was then that I discovered what I didn’t like about cars, what in fact I still don’t like. In the car, I was divorced from the power of the hill. Now that power, I thought, was in the set and of the type of the power I wanted to feel in my body, my planetary membership, so to speak. I’d been shaped, in a way that went beyond the metaphorical, out of the earth - certainly out of the earth’s elements. I was not born an astronaut, in some manufactured suit, supported by some elaborate, artificial system, floating in space, but I’d been born out of the earth and I carried the earth with me, I would carry it with me if I were to become an astronaut, I would never be able to transform myself into the substance of any other planet. So I figured. So I began to get very Luddite about the whole thing, about technology and such. I would trot up the hill (step nose breath step nose breath) and realize that when there is nothing resistant about the hill and the power there is broken, one’s body’s power is injured too. I didn’t ‘realize’ this in so many words, but by the end of the summer those were about the words I would use to describe what I’d found out. The car is never quite as germane to one’s body’s issues as the hill, the valley, the stream, the meadow. It was a matter of exposure, I thought. To put myself against the hill, to bend to it, to experience it and remember it in my legs and thighs and with my lungs, with the air that I had to take in and give back, that seemed to me a human necessity. It was taken away by the car, you were stripped of your own power, thinking that power was at your fingertips. So you traded in muscle, all you have, in the end, to keep you respectable as a beast, for speed, which ultimately rushed you into a life where you never had any time. Eventually you’d get fat and lose the ability to run, which in turn would make you susceptible to panic, which in turn would make you defensive and reactionary. I saw it all, I was vouchsafed that vision, in increments, that summer.