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Running for Grandpa
The day of the race dawned bright and early. I awoke, a nervous wreck, pulled on my favorite gray sweats and a T-shirt, grabbed a pair of socks, and headed downstairs.
As I slipped on my sneakers and stretched, I took deep breaths, trying to calm myself down. But it was only when I stepped outside and began my slow jog that my jumping stomach began settling back in its rightful place, and it was only when I felt that all-too-familiar snap in my ankle that my muscles began to loosen. I lost myself in the world where only I existed, the birds, the trees, and steady pounding of my feet hitting the pavement. That was what I liked about running. It was so orderly, so precise, and so unlike my own chaotic life. Every step came after another step, and my breath went in and out, my arms pumped back and forth, and everything, with its own beat, came together to form a rhythm, a song that was beautiful to my ears.
After some time, I was completely relaxed and stress-free, so I made my way back home. It was when I stepped inside the house and let the screen door slam shut behind me that I realized I wasn’t alone.
“Liz,” a voice said behind, and I spun around to see Anna, my neighbor. Her features, while usually so bright and cheerful, were pale and grave. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered.
I stared at her, confused.
She swallowed, and then, glancing at the floor, mumbled, “Your grandpa’s in the hospital.”
It was only later, when I was holding his thin, bony hand that my brain began to slowly, mechanically, click things together. My grandpa was sick. He was in the hospital. I was with him. The most important race in all of Wellington County, where the best runners each town had to offer would be running, was in an hour.
I looked back down at him, so weak and feeble, taking in the tubes that snaked around his face, the IV that was hooked up to his arm, the blue hospital gown, the white walls, the spotless white tiles, and suddenly, everything sunk in. I burst into heart-wrenching sobs, burying my face in my hands, wondering how everything could go so wrong.
When I finally raised my tear-soaked face from my hands, wiping my nose on my sleeve, I noticed something. At first, I thought I was hallucinating. “Grandpa?” I said, grabbing his hand and leaning forward in my chair. He looked at me, his brow furrowed, as he, struggling, mouthed the word “Go.”
I looked back at him, not quite computing anything yet. “What? Where do you want me to go?”
Again, he struggled, but when he opened his mouth again, sounds actually came out. “Go,” he said in a hoarse voice. “Race.”
Then I realized what he was saying.
“No, Grandpa, I cannot do that.” I said firmly. He just looked at me, his brow still furrowed, and what seemed like a frown was forming on his chalky white face, for what seemed like forever.
I hated disappointing him. “Ok,” I squeaked. “I’ll do it.” I started toward the door, then stopped and ran back. I hugged him as well as I was able and planted a kiss on his soft, papery cheek. “I love you,” I whispered, “More than anything in the world.”
At the doorway, I looked back. He mouthed something, but I couldn’t understand. “So much,” I whispered, then ran out of there before I started crying again.
I was at the race site, a long, gray street that was temporarily closed. I stretched, thinking of everything I had been trained to do. I went through my plan, again and again, but my mind kept slipping back to my grandpa. I couldn’t concentrate, even as the starter’s pistol rang out and the runners charged forward. I started slowly, like I had been trained to do, but it was so forced, so unreal. I was in the middle of the pack, in the middle of the street, when I realized what he had been trying to say.
“Do it for me.” That was what he had been saying.
A strange feeling rushed through me, starting from the tips of toes and rushing toward my head. Everything had been hazy, but now my vision cleared, and I zeroed in on the guy in the lead, determination swirling around inside me. It was there, in the middle of the race, that I found the rhythm.
Nothing else mattered but me, the pounding of my feet, the swinging of my arms, and the bobbing #21 that was growing smaller with each second. I surged forward, struggling to break through the mob of runners and catch up with him.
I don’t think I’ve ever run like that in my life. I doubt I ever will again. I ran so fast, lightning fast, I was flying. I could barely hear the crowd or the runners. I could only see my grandfather’s lips mouthing “Do it for me.”
And I did. I burst into the hospital room, panting, then softly set the first-place trophy beside the sleeping figure. “Look, Grandpa,” I whispered. “Look. I did it for you.”