He sat on the edge of his bed with his chin cradled in his hands. The green glow from the digital clock read 4:45 and he decided to wake up and get his day sorted. There were lunches to pack, presentations to go over and the familiar routine that he and his wife had established with twelve years of marriage.
Dominic Spencer was used to routine and actually enjoyed the conformity and expectations that living a mundane, responsible adult life entailed. Even as a boy living in the midwest, he dreamt of becoming older and free of the burdens of puberty and learning lessons the hard way. In grade school, Dominic was studious and charming in a geeky kind of way. His friends thought of him a reliable and loyal kid that could keep a secret and not judge them from their adolescent shortcomings and the women thought of him as mysterious and troubled.
He dreamt of a life when there wasn’t fork in the road and his path was more determined by the pile-ups on I95 than a sudden change in Taco Tuesday.
His profession was also indicative of the choices and risks he didn’t take in the life. Dominic always enjoyed math and the certainly and absoluteness of digits and their value made him less anxious when he was at school. Just like any other boy, he was pressured and tried to engage in team sports. He found the the variables and patterns of scoring to be stressful. As an accountant, Dominic found that his clients were not team members, but professors who judged his work and gave him accolades by how much money he could find them and graded him on how many loopholes he found in the new tax codes.
His firm was called Finch and Spencer. Ray Finch was his boss for over a decade and recognized his talents early in his career and took him under his seasoned wing. When it came to proteges, Dominic was recognized early as a quick learner and honest money maker and his attention to detail was superior to his peers. With the sudden passing of Donald Grand, the firm of Grand and Finch was left without a partner, Ray knew that Dominic’s internal scorn and external reputation would make him an ideal partner moving forward in Donald’s absence.
He leaned over to put on his running shoes. His trim body and curly dark features were not hard to work on, in fact staying fit and young was in his genes and it made people his age sick. His greek parents once told him that he was related to Adonis and that his olive skin would always be something people would envy. Lately, he had been growing out his hair as if to test the gods, just asking for some grey, but they never touched his perfect dark mane. He stumbled to find his other shoe as he mindfully thought of the day ahead.
He slid on his running shoes, extended his skinny legs across the floor and stretched out the nights slumber until his toes cracked. He hopped up on his long feet and went to the bathroom. He closed the door and turned on the light as to not disturb his wife.
The sun was still still sleeping and Dominic started out on his six days a week marathon training workout. Today was Monday, so that meant an easy six mile trot with hill intervals and carb loading. The rest of the week was just as disciplined and Dominic felt pride that he hadn’t misdeed a day of training in over a year. Snow, sleet, rain and even a wildfire, never stopped him.
Dominic was not as fast as he use to be, but he could match any younger athlete in distance. He simply could block out any distractions or discomfort and become totally mechanical. Running, for Dominic wasn’t about winning or losing, it was a way to shut down his body and blaze through his thoughts without worrying about places to go and other interactions he had to negotiate.
Lately the thoughts of insecurity had been particularly dense and he spent most of his trips listening to TED talks and trying to find value in himself. He suspected that most men in his age range go through there things. Waining feelings of being happy that wash over with failure as soon as they crest and retreat until something better washes up in a few. Dominic was just exhausted of ups and downs and would rather just stay immobile and depressed or flying high with feelings of grandeur. Running gave him the sustained contentment to be in a good place to figure it all out, but so far he had come up with nothing.
The biggest problem that he needed to sort out was his wife. She wasn’t happy and she wasn’t sad, she was just present like a houseplant. Not even a houseplant that you have to water everyday. Dominic’s wife was a snake plant that fills a corner to make it pretty. It’s living and flourishes with little to know care or attention, but it’s slowly dying. You go a few months and won’t notice anything until one day you come in it’s wilted and can’t be resuscitated.
He came up to mile two and turned toward the east and ran toward the sun. He caught a morning breeze that smelled like fresh ivy and asphalt and he slowly leaned toward the steep incline to get to mile three. He felt the burn in his calfs and looked down at the rhythmic beat of his feet. He thought about progression and trying and thought about how running a hill is a metaphor for marriage. Not is a cliche, “we all have hills to climb” sort of way, but what the actual feat represents.
If you tell a novice runner to run a steep incline they all go too fast too soon and burn out half way. If you ask a seasoned runner, they usually have already mapped out the run and have a predetermined mentality on how to use carbs, inertia, gravity and breathing to hit the hill at the right way to make it up without hardly breaking sweat or stride.
This was Dominic’s second marriage and he felt that, despite it failing fantastically, he had the unique insight of what went wrong and how to adjust his behaviors to beat his last record of 2 years. Planning his route accordingly, keeping his head down and steady strides would surely lead to a lifetime of happiness and dopamine highs.
Dominic’s first wife Rebecca, was a sprint really. A fight or flight reflex with the latter prevailing. When Dominic reached 35, he was overtaken with fears of living life alone. Being the last of his class to be single, Dominic felt the pressure and panicked to do what everyone else was doing, so he floundered his limbs and frothed up the dating pool until the waters cleared just enough to lead him to Rebecca.
Rebecca Townsend was one of his co-workers at his old firm and she was way out of his league physically. She was 6”2’ and unnaturally enhanced with silicon and jelly -like materials to be the most fuckable thing on the planet. Before they started dating, Dominic called her the six million dollar woman and would actually analyze and determine how much money Rebecca had spent to make herself “perfect” with the rest of his male counterparts.
One night while working late, the two grabbed drinks and realized they were both in the same race. Rebecca had made herself too perfect and put herself in an echelon of unattainable standards that intimidated and irritated men. Over three martinis and a night cap, Dominic realized that she was just as fucked as he was and the two started running relay.
A year later, Dominic and Rebecca wed right before his 38th birthday and made it two years before realize they were going at different speeds. She wanted kids, a mortgage, a white fence and a golden retriever - a completely legitimate and age-appropriate response to creating 40, but Dominic realized that to make her happy, he had to stop racing.
Dominic did try to stop and be happy. He pulled over long enough to give Rebecca two of the four things that would make her feel complete. They adopted a golden retriever/collie mix named Baxter and gave birth to a son.
Now at 45, Dominic felt that he at least had stop and pursue a sedated and stable life. Maybe it wasn’t a race anymore. Maybe, he thought, it was time to slow down.
He paced himself at a 5 minute 34 second mile. Slightly slower than last week. He attributed the decline in progress to his last interaction with his wife. Their bickering was in his head and he tried to force it out by turning up Steely Dan on his earbuds. After “Reeling in the Years”, his progress was inconsistent so he pulled over, released his iPhone from his arm band and put on the big guns. Phil Collins kept him below 5:30 and stayed with him the rest of the run.
At the end of “Take Me Home”, Dominic tried to make it to the driveway before the song ended. His steady pace broke into long strides and then a sprint as he rounded the cul de sac and headed toward his last few hundred yards.
He didn’t make it and that failure stuck with him the rest of the day.