Napo 16: Early Morning Run in America

I can't stop thinking about this moment, a few years ago, when I lived in Baytown, not exactly a safe town to the east of Houston. I'm a runner, and Baytown is more of a lunch bucket kind of city. No trails, no running club, a good bit of homelessness and crime. I lived on the "good side" of Baytown, whatever that means--an overpriced apartment complex filled with skilled refinery workers and some teachers, who were also well-paid in Baytown thanks to funding from Exxon. 

At any rate, I'm a runner, and I wanted to get my runs out of the way early in the mornings while B was still working, though it made me feel a little on-edge. And I never went too far from home, either, which was frustrating because I was training for a marathon and loved big open long stretches of trail or sidewalk. I digress.

One morning, I was finishing my run, and a Black man is walking my way. Immediately, I felt afraid. I couldn't really tell in the darkness, but he was dressed in running gear, too. Just like me. And at the sight of ME, little old me who weighed like 100 pounds, HE looked afraid too. His eyes wide open. A nervous smile. A stutter. 

He tells me good morning, and my heart beats hard hard hard. This is everything I've been taught to fear. But it turns out, he was new to the neighborhood, a runner too, and was just looking to find out where's a good place to run. 

He was just. like. me. Both of us runners. Both of us afraid of one another because we're taught to be afraid of one another. Me, because the media and movies and culture tells me to fear Black men because they're criminals and rapists. Him, because I could be that Karen who calls the cops on him for invading her neighborhood and gets him killed. 

But neither was true, though I had to swallow my fear because I could have become that Karen monster. I felt her deep in my gut wanting to come out. 

I, we, all of us, need to reckon with that. We need to see one another as human beings. Systemic racism is a systemic problem that requires systemic solutions, yes. So is rape culture. But we're all a part of that system, and it's on me to do my part to, at the very least, not to perpetuate either.

Early Morning Run in America


She finished her pre-dawn session

of running by light of flare stacks,


and rounded the corner of her neighborhood

smiling. The first rays of sunlight peeked


over the horizon, framed the shadow

of a man, approaching. He had risen


to pound a few miles of pavement

before his shift, the only way to feel


human before he became machine

in the industrial paradise. His dark skin


blended in with the morning. Hers,

light, shined like a beacon or a warning.


Both saw each other and swallowed fear

Down their throats. She grew up running,


Her legs like a gazelles, long and made

for fleeing men like this, a predator.


He grew up running, too, away

From the beasts her siren scream


Could summon in an instant. This

American showdown ends his hand raised


In a wave, a good morning, the first

Of many between two human beings.