There are stories and then there are stories. There are stories that are neat and tidy like a gift, wrapped and tied off in ribbons. Happy Birthday. Merry Christmas. Stories like that. And then there are stories that seem simple and complete but in time unravel like a tightly tied running shoe lace that comes undone.
There are stories that you build tight and solid like Lego blocks; the parts fit snug and at the end stand firm. Other stories look the same but then a flaw, a gap and a story that of a sudden is no longer complete.
I wrote a story two weeks ago about a runner in Paris, about his near death and about two women who came from the pack of runners and saved him. Two anonymous women doing CPR on an anonymous man on a warm spring day along the Seine River. It was a story about a man dying and then, miracle! Not dying.
Death and dying and young men lost were on my mind. We’d visited Omaha Beach days before and the American Cemetery where 9,000 Americans lie under white crosses on the high ground over the beaches of D-Day. Maybe that was in my mind under the high sun on a Paris morning where a young runner in a white shirt lay near death. It was Palm Sunday; perhaps that was in the mix of thoughts that day with that man who lay dying.
“What are the odds? A runner in Paris; my article in a Wisconsin newspaper; two women in New Zealand.” -Mitch Mode
There were loose parts in that story: Who was the runner? Who were the women? What became of him? But overall it was tidy enough; sometimes answers are elusive even as questions are rock solid.
I sent the piece to the paper; they ran it on Sunday. I had a few people comment on it. Then it was over and done with.
Until it wasn’t.
Until a week or so later I got an odd request on Facebook Messenger, a friend request from a name that meant nothing to me. This was the day that Google got hacked and the web was buzzing with warnings about not clicking on things that seemed familiar let alone things that seemed suspicious.
Here was a request from a name I’d never heard next to the box that read: “Accept”.
I looked at it for a while, kicked it around, hesitated. Then moved the cursor arrow over the box and clicked: Accept.
A message: Was I the one who’d written the story about the runner in Paris and the women who did CPR to save him? The neat story, the tidy story, the one with a beginning and a middle and an end. That story. The one that was complete as it stood.
I wrote back: Yes.
And the story that was complete became something else.
The woman, Robyn, who wrote me had her own story to tell, the story of her best friend who was running the Paris Marathon and saw a runner down and stopped and performed CPR until his heart started. She did this without fanfare. Then she continued on her way and finished the race.
She got home and told Robyn about it, said it was not a big deal, didn’t want any interviews, no attention. She’s a nurse; said she was just doing her job. And I thought, Just doing her job? Tell that to the guy on the ground looking up at the blue Paris sky as it goes black and the world fades away.
Robyn’s friend was one of the women who I’d seen. She messaged me, her friend, and told me her story.
Her name is Mary. She’d been having a difficult race. Two bad knees, slow time. Thought about dropping out. Saw the guy on the ground and worked on him. She’s a hospice nurse; she’d done CPR before. The other woman was an anesthetist from the UK. They saved the guy.
He was a young man, looked late 20s, maybe 30, from Japan. Each runner has a number and on the number is their first name and their country. His name started with K. That’s as much as she knew.
Oh, and he wore a wedding ring.
That last part really bothered Mary. Was his wife waiting at the end of the race? Was she watching along the course, hoping to cheer him on? When you run distance your mind sometimes in goes strange directions. And the wedding band, that haunted Mary.
She finished the race. And she wondered: What happened to the man?
She got home and told Robyn about it and Robyn started looking online and came across my story and wrote me. From her home. In New Zealand.
I read all this and thought: What are the odds? A runner in Paris; my article in a Wisconsin newspaper; two women in New Zealand.
I wrote back and we, all three of us, started to search. We looked for news stories that might have mentioned the death of a runner. Nothing. That was the good news; he’d not died afterwards. We searched for injury reports. Nothing. I found a passing mention of him in a runners’ online forum in the UK. The writer had run past the downed man, saw the two women doing CPR, wondered what happened. Nobody knew.
I checked newsletters from Japanese running clubs. I woke in the middle of the night with new ideas and chased them down in the light of day.
It’s not happened. We have not found the answer. We’ve not found a Japanese runner with a first name starting with K who nearly died in the Paris Marathon.
We keep looking. But the story that looked neat and tidy now has loose threads, unanswered questions. Some stories are like that you know. They start out solid but then the end frays like a braided rope come undone and you are left in the dark of night with questions and no answers and a story without an end.