What should I wear? I am terrified. I am far from the coolest guy in the world. Tomorrow is my first day of school.
I remember that feeling like it was yesterday despite the fact that it happened 26 years ago. I am getting dressed to go running with the Passaic High Cross-Country team and having feelings of déjà vu. Only this time, I am not only feeling uncool, but old as well. I am looking through my running stuff trying to find the outfit that will least make me look like that old guy with the dress socks pulled up to his knees and the Rockport walking shoes with the Velcro straps; to them and to me. I rule out the shirts that say anything about marathons. They seem like too much of an effort to show that I have running cred. Truth is, like with my first day of school, I am most likely to be ignored anyway. I am probably putting too much thought into this decision. I get dressed and head over to the park.
I stand off to the side waiting to be noticed, like a 12 year old at my first dance and finally, after what seems like ages, the coach says “so you are running with us?”. I nod trying not to seem scared. As the team starts to warm up, one of the guys looks at me and smiles in a not entirely comforting way and says’ you might want to stretch a little”. The coach informs us that we will be running six miles at half speed. Of course, he means half speed for them not for me. There are a couple of young guys in the back who are going a bit slower having done a tough workout the day before and, in an act of self-preservation, I decide to stick with them. One thing I know; if I don’t finish this workout, I am finished. They will never accept me.
Surprisingly, I keep up. Two out of the four guys in our subgroup drop out, so it is me and one other runner. We run on silently, breathing hard. Finally, I introduce myself as Marc, not wanting to stand out more. by using my Jewish name. His name is Luis (or is it Louis? I am too embarrassed to ask). As we get to the steep hill by the cemetery that I euphemistically call “Death Hill” I realize that this is my make it or break it moment. I have stopped part of the way up the hill before at a slower pace. This time, that is not an option. Then, because I have no choice, I make it to the top. Luis and I even pass one of the faster runners who is struggling a bit.
I think I’ve passed my first test. What do the other guys think? That remains to be seen.