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Racing for two different people

Andrew Pridgen
Appeal Staff Writer

Here’s a simple exercise. Ask yourself who you are today.

Think about the last year and write down the things you’ve done, the places you’ve visited and the friends you’ve made.

Sprinkle a few enemies in there too; a couple unseemly deeds and maybe an unhealthful choice or two.

Tuck the list somewhere only you know about.

Sew it into the lining of a favorite jacket. Fold it and stick it between the pages of a comic book you bought when you were 8. Bury it in the backyard in a Folgers can (or whatever type of can people are burying in the backyard these days) – and forget about it.

It’s your list – your triumphs and shortcomings, your kindheartedness and missteps.

Because when you go – guess what?

People make an entirely different list – for you.

They include you in tall tales where you may or may not have actually been present. They talk about your selflessness like nobody’s ever gotten up from their easy chair and lent a hand before.

And all those little secrets – the car you scraped in the parking garage, but didn’t leave a note; the time you couldn’t remember your great aunt’s third husband’s name though you were mired in conversation with him for an hour; the empty envelope you stuck in the offering plate – that all gets forgotten when you go.

Sure, there may be some cosmic karmic floating orb that keeps track of it all. But, c’mon, nobody or nothing actually cares enough to keep score.

Except, for, well – you.

I usually make my list this time every year. You see, on Sunday, I’ll participate in an annual 12k run down in the Bay Area in honor of my friend, Paul Sloan, who died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.

Paul was one of those guys who was (literally) larger than life. Ivy League-educated, an offensive lineman at Brown University, a rising-star investment banker and an all-around good guy.

Paul shoved a lot of big and little achievements into his 26 years.

Suffice to say, his lists would have been extensive, and the majority of his comings and goings would’ve wound up on the plus side.

The 12k run is something he delighted in every year (running started out as a way to shed his football weight and became something of an obsession). So, every year on race weekend, people from all corners of the country join Paul’s close friends and immediate family on a San Francisco spring morning to honor him.

But sometimes, especially over the last couple years, I wonder who I’m actually running for.

Is it the guy I grew up with?

You know, the one who tackled me in a park and busted my ankle when we’d been drinking past curfew. The one who hid with me in our town’s hillside graveyard and threw eggs at oncoming traffic? The one who could eat a giant burrito in under 45 seconds by taking a big bite out of the middle and squeezing both ends into his mouth at once.

Or is it the guy I’ve come to know since his death?

The man the New York Times said was “always there for you.” The “secret crush” of all my female schoolmates. The benevolent friend of, well, literally hundreds.

I guess I’ll never know.

… Kind of like when you hear a gregarious war vet share his stories. Sometimes, it’s like he’s reading off an invisible teleprompter in his head. The story is scrolling through, but there’s no real meaning behind it … No way to prove whether he’s telling the truth, or simply remembering things the way they should have been.

Nothing left behind by the fallen to say what really happened.

And so, after I tuck my list of transactions from the last year in a small dark corner nobody’s sure to ever come across, I’ll lace ’em up one more time for both Pauls …

… The man I knew and the man everyone remembers.

• Andrew Pridgen is a reporter for the Nevada Appeal. His friend Paul Sloan died Sept. 11, 2001, in the attacks on the World Trade Centers in New York.