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In The Press

The First Chapter






I heard the cop yelling behind me, but I kept on running. If I could just make it to the beach, I was sure I could throw myself into the Gulf of Mexico and swim for it.

The cop must have wondered why I was so intent on getting away. What was I running from? What was I hiding?

It was two days before St. Patrick’s Day, 1991. Earlier, I’d finished my shift as a waiter at a local breakfast and lunch café, a block away from the Gulf of Mexico in Naples, Florida. My shift manager, John, had asked me if I would stick around after closing to do some prep work for the next day. “We’ll get a few beers afterwards,” he’d promised. Sounded good to me. I was thirty-five, living as if all was well and that I’d be around forever.

When the time came, John suggested I run out and buy a six-pack but I thought, what’s better than a six-pack? and came back with a twelve-pack instead. We put on a homemade CD of Jimmy Buffet, started prepping for the next day, and talked and drank. John was a good guy, one of several friends I’d made since I’d moved to Florida from Boston four-and-a-half years earlier. I made friends easily. Drinking often helped.

With our prep work completed, we left the café in John’s Jeep and had a couple more beers at a local hangout and then John brought me back to the café’s parking lot so I could get my bike, which I had ridden in on earlier that morning. It was right around 9:00 p.m. on a Friday night and neither of us was in a hurry. We were each still working on a beer as we sat in John’s Jeep, headlights on, the only car in the small parking lot. This apparently looked suspicious to the cop who happened to be driving by and he pulled in.

“Here,” John said, handing me his beer can, “get rid of the beers. I’ll talk to the cop..”

I exited the passenger side and started walking, dropping the beers between the two buildings we were parked in front of. The thing is, I could have walked back to the Jeep and everything probably would have been okay. We weren’t toasted, really. John was an amiable guy who would have merely explained to the cop that we were just finishing up work for the day. He was the shift manager at the restaurant; I was a waiter. Simple enough. “Have a nice night,” the cop probably would have said.

But I didn’t walk back. I started walking away.

“Sir,” the cop said, raising his voice. “Come on over here..”

I kept walking.

“Hey!” he repeated, a bit louder now. Then, in a commanding voice, “Come here..”

F—k it, I thought. I’m not going back. Then I started walking faster until I walked right into the bike rack, flipping over it and landing hard. It happened so fast that it felt like I’d been shoved from behind. The sensation panicked me and I got up and started running. I stumbled once or twice, a result of my adrenaline. I wasn’t in great shape despite the fact that I’d been racing in triathlons for eight years. I had a nagging knee injury that had been pissing me off, keeping me from training the way I liked. Still, I felt that if I absolutely had to run, even two or three miles, I could do it. Of course, this was a different kind of running. I was running from a cop. I was running to escape. I was running for my life. And it was unfolding fast, so fast that I couldn’t even take it in, couldn’t grasp what was happening. All I knew was that I needed to get out of there. I needed to get away.

“Stop!” the cop yelled, chasing after me.

On the other side of Gulf Shore Boulevard, the main drag that ran along the beach, was a grassy park that separated the street from the white, sandy shoreline. I knew the park well from many an early 5:00 a.m. meeting with the local running group I belonged to. If I could just get through the park and then make it through the beach, I could hit the water. I’d be okay then. I could swim away and the cop would never catch me. I’d keep swimming, farther and farther out. The worst case scenario was that I’d drown, or maybe a shark would get me.

I stumbled a couple more times and the cop started gaining on me. My mind was racing but all at once, through the confusion and panic, three very clear thoughts came quickly into my head.

The cop could open fire on me. That was the first thought. He could shoot me in the back. And that would be all right.

The second thought was that I knew I had to deal with everything. I had to deal with my past, with my secret. That was now clear. I could run no longer from it. I could no longer keep it hidden. The running from the cop was as symbolic as it was real. It was senseless and irrational. But so was running from my past.


On the other hand, I could not expect that I’d be able to simply stop, turn around, face the cop, and reasonably explain this epiphany to him. This was my third thought. I was screwed. It was too late to say, “Sorry, Officer. I know now what I’m running from. Isn’t that great? Let’s just call it my mistake. Sorry for the inconvenience..

And so I kept running. I could now hear the breaking waves of the Gulf. I was getting closer. But I stumbled one more time, which was just enough for the cop to catch me.

As clear as the three thoughts were to me only moments before, once the officer tackled me and tried to keep me down, I kicked, clawed, scratched, and punched at him, screaming “Get the f–k off me!” until I no longer had any energy to fight anything or anyone.

I surrender.

The officer had called for backup during the chase and soon another cop showed up and before long I was in handcuffs.

Later, as the fog of the incident began to lift, I thought of the pure irrationality of my actions. Even if I had gotten away, by running or by swimming, how long would it have taken for the officer to have ascertained from John my name, my address, when I was due to show up at work again? Five minutes.

The running was nonsensical, except within the context of it. And it had nearly killed me. But I knew it hadn’t just been tonight. It had been my whole life.

But now I was done running. And the real journey was just beginning.

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