a happy day on a sad anniversary.

three years ago today was the saddest day of my life.

you know how there are certain memories where you can replay a whole hour of your life like a movie in your head? this time in 2009 is one of them.

life changes fast. at 9:41 am, i was happy and motivated and determined to fix things, start doing work, eat again, find some friends, and make college work for me.

at 9:42, the phone rang. it was my mom.

whenever she has bad news, she always very cautiously asks “how ya doin’?” i guess she likes to know whether she’s making things worse, or knocking me off of cloud nine.
this time i burst into a happy ramble about my great weekend and all the studying i was about to get done.
still in her careful voice, she says “well i’m really glad for you…”
i ask her if she needs something.
she says, “well, i have to tell you something.”
i knew what she meant. i just asked when it happened. she told me it was the day before.

9:44 am. in a matter of 3 minutes, life as i knew it ended.

last night i went to bed thinking about how badly i didn’t want to run. when the person who would be the proudest of me is gone, nothing seems to matter.

my granddad thought the sun rose and set on my mundane life. he never let me quit anything, and he was always on my side. i get my fierce loyalty from him. if i were to get last in a race, i know he’d be convinced that something was wrong with the course, or someone else had cheated. he’d never admit that i’m not good or suggest that i didn’t try my best or didn’t want it enough. he’d find some reason to call me the best on the team; if nothing else he’d say i was the prettiest.

this morning as i got up at 4:30, i fought away the ache around the edge of the gaping, never-to-be-full-again crater in my heart with the idea that i would run every one of those five thousand meters for him. and i would smile the entire time, because he loved it when i smiled.

the last time i saw him was about a month before he died. it was a week before i left to start school. i knew he wouldn’t be around much longer. i was sitting with him one afternoon for over an hour just talking with him, and he asked me why i didn’t smile as much anymore. i lied and said i hadn’t realized that; i didn’t want to tell him how sad i was. he said he wanted me to stop looking upset all the time.

and then he told me something i’ll never forget.

“you need to always smile. because you’re my happy girl, and you make everybody happy when they look at you. so don’t you keep that sad face on. right?”
i’d never thought about that before. but i liked the idea of making other people happy. so ever since then, even when i have to fake it, i try to let everyone else see a smile on my face.

every time people at camp comment that their day gets better when they see me because i’m always happy, i feel like i’m making granddad proud.
and every time someone at school asks if i’m tired or something, i feel like i’m letting him down. i don’t make many people happy here.

today i ran my race imagining him cheering me on. i don’t know much of what he looked like when he was younger, so it made it funnier picturing 89 year old him running beside me. and i remembered something i wrote to myself during soccer season about the people who had graduated.

just because they’re gone doesn’t make the things they said while they were with you any less true.

i knew what all he used to tell me. and i knew that no matter how i did today, if he were here, he’d tell me i was perfect. any little victories would be like gold medals. and when i thought of that, i was suddenly free to enjoy running. every little mistake stopped mattering. 2 seconds slower than i expected on the second mile, who cares. second to last on the team, no big deal. i got 54 seconds faster than my last race, and that was all that counted.

plus, someone told me that it’s encouraging to watch me run because i’m smiling anytime they see me.

granddad, wherever you went, i hope you were able to hear them say that. i miss you, my biggest fan. i’m lost and weird without you here.


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