The week after Christmas, Jill, the kids, and I were in Arkansas visiting family. On Saturday afternoon, my fifteen year old son and his fifteen year old cousin challenged my brother and me to a one hundred yard race on the old high school track. I was wearing jeans and hiking shoes. I hadn’t stretched. And I hadn’t run so much as a furlong in over two years.
Five or six steps into the race, just as I was hitting my stride, my body failed. My hip flexor popped, my left leg buckled, and I fell to the asphalt track hard on my left side. In my imagination, I did a graceful barrel role, something like a Green Beret might do, or a gymnast. To Jill, who was watching with a mixture of humor and horror, it looked like a full-speed face plant. The only redeemable moment came when my daughter Eliza ran up to check on me. As I sat on the track, dazed and woozy, she said, “Daddy, right up until you fell, you were winning!”
My junior year in college I studied for a term in London. The year before, I had started dating the prettiest girl you’d ever seen. She was as smart as she was beautiful. If I wasn’t in class, I was spending every waking moment with her. And so, though I was excited to be traveling halfway across the world to another country, I also realized in horror that she would be halfway across the world from me, in another country. I worried that she’d forget me. I worried that some other boy would take advantage of my absence and crowd in. Mostly, I simply yearned to be near her. This was before the age of email, and during my months away we wrote letters to one another on those robin’s egg blue, fold-over “aerograms.” Even though a letter was ten days old by the time I received it, I awaited the mail each day eagerly. And occasionally the English postman would bring more than a letter. Occasionally there’d be a package, a small box full of dime store trinkets, novelties really, and none worth more than a dollar or two. But to me, those small gifts from Jill Benson—now Jill Thompson—were precious.