by Cynthia Bugert
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As he plunged his fork into the crisp fresh vegetables he had long ago learned to like, Justin let his mind wander to another time and place.
It was fourth grade and he was once again faced with his inability to finish the one mile run in an appropriate time. It took him over twenty minutes to complete the task and when he finished he felt as if he was going to fall over and never get back up. He sat on a bench and gasped for air.
Steven, the only person who was ever kind to him in any way, came jogging over. He plopped down beside Justin, "You okay?"
"Yeah, I guess."
Steven gave him a pat on the back, stood, and walked back over to his group of friends. Justin forced his body to stand up and go to the locker room. He prepared himself for the onslaught of cruelty coming his way. He had gotten used to their jokes and was pretty good at covering his anguish by just joining in on the assault; laughing as if he was proud to be the only kid in school that could down a full box of snack cakes and follow it with a half gallon of milk.
He shook his head as his fork deposited the last of the salad into his mouth, "Glad that's over," he mumbled as he rinsed the bowl and placed it in the dishwasher. He grabbed his water bottle, checked the schedule on the refrigerator, and headed out for his run, "Five miles. Piece of cake."
During his run, his mind wandered back to his freshman year of high school and the horrible physical education teacher, "You are worthless. No one who goes around looking like you do deserves the chance to even take up space in this world. Get out of my class. You already failed. You will not pass. Period. Good-bye now."
The words and then the dismissing wave had put him over the edge.
That's all he remembered of that day. He awoke in a hospital room three days later. Mom was sitting in the corner sound asleep when he opened his eyes, "Mom?"
"Oh thank You, Jesus for saving my little boy!" She grabbed his hand, "Justin I'm here. We're going to get through this. Whatever we need to do, we'll do. Okay?"
"Get through what? I don't even know why I'm here."
Mom pulled his hand a little higher, so he could see the gauze wrapped around his wrist. "You don't remember? You lost so much blood by the time your father found you. We thought you wouldn't make it, but we never stopped praying." She started to cry, "Oh Justin, please give us another chance to be good parents. We've failed you so and we are sorry. We just didn't realize how much our poor eating habits affected your life."
"Mom, it's okay. Thank you for being here now. Help me, please. I don't want to remain here."
"We're going to help you. We've already talked to some people. We have things lined up as soon as you're well. And we are committed to taking each step with you. We love you so much."
He still didn't remember the rest of that fateful day. It was presumed that he was so traumatized by the teacher's words, combined with all the hateful comments that had been directed toward him over the years, that he had decided to end his life. The life he felt wasn't worth living. The life that was now his motivation to keep working hard.
"Only five miles. Piece of cake," He said to himself with a smile, "Wow, what a thing to be able to say."
Chandra came jogging up beside him just as he was about to finish the last mile, "Hey best guy ever, I just finished your shirt. I think you're going to like it." She held it up so he could read it.
"He held my hand on the road I never dreamed I could run. His love keeps me secure until this journey is done." He threw his arms around her, "Thank you, Chandra. I'm amazed at how you could completely capture my heart in those few words."
She nodded,"You're welcome. Hey! Guess what," her eyes twinkled as she unzipped her jacket, revealing a shirt identical to his, "I can't wait to cross that finish line with you!"
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