It’s not on prompt but it’s been on my mind all day.
On my run this morning I slipped in some mud and it reminded me of another time I slipped in mud. It was my first run with my college coach. He was 25, fresh out of grad school. He was handsome. He wore a Louder Than Bombs t-shirt. I was 19, happy to run any distance he could set for me, and I was the only person on the team to recognize his shirt. We connected instantly.
For some reason I’d missed his first run with the whole team so he and I went out on our own a few days later. I wasn’t the fastest on the team but I could run the farthest distance. He wanted to see how far I could go. Around the ten-mile mark I took an amazing dive and was covered in mud. I was mortified. I was so uncool in front of this guy. He laughed, helped me up, and made sure I wasn’t injured. We were close to the school so we called it a day.
We had a scorching affair. Or an awkward one. Or one that ended badly. Or we lived happily ever after together.
Nothing happened between us. He was engaged to a woman he couldn’t stand, but wouldn’t break up with because they had been together so long. I was dating my way through the best runners on the men’s team. I was too naive to do anything about my attraction to Coach.
Or so I thought. After I graduated, teammates started asking me if Coach and I had been having an affair. I was surprised by the questions and rumors. At first I thought they were joking. “Seriously?” people said. “He spent more time with you than with anyone, including his fiancée.” I had no idea. I was clueless. Our close relationship as friends and our mutual love of running, the same music, and the same sports teams had led people to believe we were more than coach and athlete. We stayed up late having long talks in his office. When the team traveled we almost always sat together on the bus and in restaurants. It’s difficult for me to say now whether there were romantic overtones to our friendship back then or if my memory is altered because I want there to be.
I went to a Catholic college. I was no longer Catholic so sex as a sin wasn’t really on my personal radar anymore. It mattered to some of my friends, though, that the thought of Coach even crossed my mind a few times. At 19 so many of us are still carrying the marriage and monogamy ideal around and if you did anything to stray from the party line, it didn’t matter if you weren’t Catholic. The names still hurt.
Years later it was confirmed by my friends on the men’s team that Coach had been in love with me then and remained so for several years afterward. After I graduated our timing was always off. He was engaged or I was seriously dating someone. We were both single but living on different coasts. The crestfallen look on his face when I introduced him to my husband broke my heart a little.
I don’t regret not doing anything with Coach when I had the chance. Sometimes, though, on days like today when a memory of him comes back so strong, I do wonder what might have happened.
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