I run on the UNM North Course with Abigail because it is the only open green space that is close to me. Running is something I do for my mental health. It is one of the coping mechanisms I have found to keep myself level-headed and under control.
Normally I confine myself to the trails that go around the golf course, but on occasion, such as when the sprinklers are on, or there is no one in the vicinity, I run out across the grass. It is not that unusual to run on the grass. The university hosts annual X-country meets on the North Course, and any damage done to the grass by runners is negligible compared to the golfers’ divots.
Because I am familiar with the game of golf, I am very aware of the dangers posed by errant shots. While running with Abigail I am continually observing where people are situated on the golf course, both for our safety and also to avoid obstructing play. I know the golf course is not a park, and that I am a guest. So I act accordingly. I am always mindful of play, never leave any trash or waste, and keep away from the greens and bunkers.
On this particular morning, it was drizzling. Only a handful of golfers were on the course.
As I neared the water fountain by Indian School Road, where I was headed to fill a container for Abigail, a man in a cart called out from behind me.
“Hey, you run on the outside of the course.”
I raised my hand to acknowledge him, and continued running the road to the water fountain. I was calm. I had seen him near the green on the 3rd hole, knew that there was no one on the 2nd hole—tee, green, or fairway—and had crossed the fairway well behind him in such a way as to cause no obstruction or distraction with his playing. I saw no need to engage with him. Get your water and move along, I thought.
But then he called a name to my back which I see no need to repeat here. It is sufficient to say that I immediately changed direction and found myself running towards him calling out, “There is no need for that, sir.”
Simultaneously, the man changed the direction of his golf cart so that he was moving away from me at his top speed—10 miles an hour or so.
I will not lie. My immediate sense of what I was going to do was not pretty. I meant to twist one of his golf clubs around his neck—not so as to hurt him in any way, but just so that he would be faced with the inconvenience of playing the rest of his round with a golf club wrapped around his neck. Plus, he would be denied the use of that club. While twisting it like a pretzel around his neck, I meant to repeat, “There is no need for such language, sir.”
But as I ran towards him, and as he continued steering his golf cart away from me, I looked at Abigail running at my side, and just like that, as abruptly as that—I came to my senses.
I was not going to teach that old man a lesson that morning by wrapping a club around his neck like a pretzel. For one, it would be traumatic. For me. The whole time I would be worried about hurting him. But it was Abigail I worried about most. It would be traumatic for her. And Abigail was there to protect me. To keep me safe. To keep me calm. Safe and calm.
So I stopped running. Just like that. I spun on my heels and Abigail and I went right back towards the water station as though the altercation had never taken place. I filled a container of water for Abigail, and then drank myself.
When I looked up I could see the man had stopped his cart half-way up the hill and appeared to be on his phone. As I found out later, he was calling the authorities. Which in this case turned out to be: Richard. Richard from the clubhouse. Richard who I know. Richard who knows I painted the clubhouse when I was a student, who knows the legacy of my war is holding myself together with masking tape and safety pins and long runs around the North Course.
So Abigail and I continued with our run: Up along the trail beside the 4th fairway, out towards Stanford, then back towards the 2nd hole. The course was nearly empty. Whenever I could, I ran in the grass. When I got near the clubhouse, I bumped into Richard parking a cart. I told him what happened. He assured me he would have a talk with the name-calling curmudgeon. Good enough, I thought. Abigail and I were safe. We would stay safe if we kept moving. Keep on moving.
We pressed on together, me on my two legs, her on her four, desperate running animals, fugitives from comfort—across the parking lot to Lomas—over to the Duck Pond—past the Memorial Chapel—across University and through alley after alley after alley all the way to Roma, Martin Luther King, and home.