Former 2:24 marathoner, now in my late 40s and hoping to maximally flatten the curve of my slide into senescence and mediocrity • Magazine writer, book editor and author, and commentator on the sport of distance running since 1999 • Adviser and confidant of other perambulators • Paradoxical hater of exercise fanatics • Chihuahua whisperer Sentence-fragment impresario

Monday, February 13, 2017

A boxcar of despair

I was almost halfway into a ten-mile run yesterday afternoon, about to start a challenging section of the workout, when I saw a dead cat in the roadside ditch.
I wandered down to take a look. Why, I don't exactly know. I don't know whose it was. There was no apparent trauma. It was a dark-but-not-quite black creature, lying on its right side and facing away from the road. It didn't look to me as if it had died peacefully -- its eyes were cracked open and its lips were slightly bared in what could have been a mortal snarl -- but to me this is never the case anyway. Most death is peaceful only in the inevitable aftermath. Life is a struggle to the end.
The cat lay among a bunch of broken eggshells and other detritus. I don't think these had anything to do with the cat's death, but my mind immediately began assembling scenarios around this possibility: Someone didn't like the cat stealing eggs from a local chicken coop, so he poisoned a few and left them for the unsuspecting animal to eat. Or maybe someone poisoned it just for the spite of it, one of the local pissants.
Before today I never noticed just how much garbage peppers this particular ditch. I don't often glance down. There's little traffic here. You would almost have to go out of your way to litter it with cans and wrappers and the usual detritus. Offenses born not of neglect but of stupid aggression. People are such motherfuckers.
Standing there, ten feet below road level, I felt as if I had left a comfortable afternoon narrative by jumping into an boxcar of despair. I kind of wanted to stay there. I always notice the wind in these moments, and the clouds. This afternoon there happened to be lots of both, but I would have experienced them anyway.
I wanted to pick up the dead cat and do something with it, but there was no point. I wanted to knock on a door but the nearest house doesn't look like the type that welcomes either felines or human interlopers. It's got one of those "NO WARNING SHOTS - AMMO IS EXPENSIVE" signs of hillbilly property-pride. I run by it a lot. It's usually patrolled by a half-spavined boxer who does his barking duty but looks like he'd rather he out running with me instead of pent up in a yard with a collection of comically rusted automotive corpses from the Carter administration. Maybe the boxer was the cat's friend.
I wanted to be angry at someone or something, but I was just sad. No collar, no identity, just dead and a few hours away from its first dark dead lonely-ass night in a trash-filled fucking ditch.
I took its picture, because I could, because it was going to rot soon. To me it was still a cat. Maybe someone or several someones loved it, or maybe it spent its whole life clawing its owner (if it had one) and torturing mice. Maybe both. But it was a beast that was born, grew from cuteness into a strong hearty animal, ate, slept, carried on and was above all blameless.
So I went back to worrying about the crucial cosmic difference between covering miles on foot faster than six minutes at a time and covering them more slowly.
I'll probably see it again. I almost hope so but not really, because I want to know someone cared tonight or tomorrow morning, at least enough to get it out of the ditch and away from the garbage.
Some days this kind of thing affects me far more strongly that it does at other times and my reactions never seem to scale with what's going on in my everyday life. If anything, I'm more upset by events like these when I'm in a solid life groove. I don't mind being bunted off a mental high perch and having to look at how inconsequential most of my sources of disarray and irritation are, though. I can form realistic perspectives on the world,  but maintaining them has never been one of my strong points.


  1. You'll go get the cat. Bring a bag or something.

  2. We aimed to be calloused and tough about our running and racing, but I think it's important to avoid becoming calloused generally.

    Maybe tomorrow you'll find a little guy you'll be able to help.