A Race to Remember

January 22, 2010
By , Houston, TX
It was dawn, and Asher Rosen was tired. He had been running for over an hour, and his strong, muscled legs strained under the weight. He took a long, deep breath and exhaled, his warm breath swirling out into the frigid morning air. Pausing for a minute, he checked his watch. 6:30. Almost there, he thought, only another mile. He took a hearty swig of ice water and savored the cool taste as it trickled down his dry throat. “Am I crazy?” he thought. He already knew the answer to that one. Of course he was. If he had to name one other fourteen year old boy who got up at 5:15 every morning to run, he would probably come up short every time.
He used to just run for the pure fun of it, but now, it was survival, something to do that didn’t involve thinking. He grunted and pushed his sweaty brown hair away from his lightning green eyes. Taking several deep breaths, he began running forward over the sandy dunes and across the grassy meadows, finally reaching his destination at exactly three minutes before 7. Every day for the past month Asher had been coming here, to this exact spot, and for the same reason every time: to witness the sunrise. To him, the rising of the sun signified normalcy, that each day, every day, the sun would come up over the horizon just like it had the day before, and the day before that. As he would watch the canvas of sky stretch out before him in the precious minutes before day, Asher felt like his life was complete, even for only a few minutes. And boy did he need that.
Three months ago, his life had come crashing down with the tragic news that his younger sister Shannon had been diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. School and friends, once his top priorities, became almost nonexistent, and his popular status at school disappeared like the wind. He became antisocial and depressed, sitting in the back of classes and performing poorly on his tests and quizzes. His mother told him not to worry, that Shannon was improving each day, but he knew better when weekly visits to the hospital became as frequent as once a day. Perhaps the worst repercussion of his sister’s cancer was that he got cut from the track team.
Before Shannon got sick, the team meant everything to him. He had trained since he was eight years old to make that team and had even been given a special invitation from his school’s athletic director to join the team. He still remembered that day; he had just won the 100-meter dash in his very first competition and was dying to tell his mom and sister about it. Bouncing through door in his red and white track uniform, he had announced, “Look! Guys! I won first place!” “I told you I could do it! I told you!” But that’s when he looked up to face the blank expressions of his mom and sister. “Mom?” he stammered, “What’s going on?”
She looked up at him, with an expression that would haunt him forever, and said blankly, “Shannon has cancer, honey, Shannon has cancer.” And there it was, the one sentence that would remain with him for a lifetime.
He shook his head. He had been dozing off in class again, and Mr. Haren looked pretty ticked off. “Asher?” Can I have a word with you please?”
Dragging himself up from the plastic desk, he trudged to the front of the room.
“Mr. Rosen! Don’t speak to me with that tone of voice!” he exclaimed. “I mean, really, what has happened to you? You used to be a stellar student in my class! All A’s! I was even considering choosing you for best history student this year!”
Asher looked at him with a dull expression and said in the monotone he always used, “Sorry.”
“Sorry? Sorry! Is that all you have to say?” Mr. Haren scraped his chair up and leaned across the table, “Look kid, you better get your butt in gear or else your gonna fail. Got it?”
Later that day, Mr. Haren could have sworn he saw a kid with brown hair and green eyes crying inside the janitor’s room.
For the next few months, life was a living hell for the Rosen’s. Asher’s mom made daily trips to the hospital with Shannon, and with the absence of his father, who had run out on them when he was two; there wasn’t a father figure in the house for Asher to relate with. His world was falling down. School hadn’t gotten any better, and his once best friends were hardly speaking to him anymore.
The one person who made Asher feel like everything could, possibly, maybe be ok, was a classmate of his, Ivy Snow. She was very quiet, but every once and a while, she would come up to Asher and give him a warm smile, something he really needed with all that was going on. “I think there might be a cold front coming in,” she would say in that soft, thoughtful voice of hers. “There might even be snow by the end of the week.” Even those small comments, no matter how short or long, made him smile a little bit, and after a while, he began joining in the conversation.
“So, do you play any sports?” she would ask timidly. “Uh, well, I kind of, used to run a little bit,” he would say. To which her gentle blue eyes would brighten, and she would exclaim, “No way! I run too!” For the first time in awhile, Asher had found someone who understood him. More and more often he would find himself talking to her about the most random things, the things that had annoyed him that day in class or even how he felt when he was running. And more and more, he began to feel happier again.
One night, Asher and Ivy sat alone on a hard stone bench waiting for each of their moms to pick them up. It was after 7, and the two had been sitting there together for over four hours. “Hey Asher?” she said suddenly.
“Why are you always at the hospital?”
He looked at her, flustered with surprise and shock. “I, uh, I’m not at the hospital, what are you talking about?”
“It’s ok, you can tell me. I saw you going inside one time, and I talked to your mom. I won’t judge you.”
Asher, still shocked, gulped and said, “I don’t know If I can talk about it.”
She turned to him and slipped her dainty hand beneath his, and said, “I’m a good listener.”
So, he began at the beginning; how he first found out, until now, when he still wasn’t sure if his sister was going to live. “I get so sad sometimes, I mean I don’t know if she will you know…make it,” his voice broke and he hung his head.
Ivy looked at him intently and said softly, “I know what your going through, you know. A few years ago, my mom got sick with breast cancer. My dad and I were devastated, and we went to visit her at the hospital every day. The doctors did everything they could, but, it just wasn’t enough.”
Asher looked up at her, and saw a pearly tear glisten down her cheek. “Are you ok?” he asked quietly, “I mean how did you get through it?”
She glanced at him and sighed, “To tell you the truth, I still haven’t. I think about her every day, and how much I miss her. The only thing that keeps me going is that I know she would have wanted me to keep going forward, keep pushing through.” She turned towards him and squeezed his hand, “Keep pushing through, Asher, I know its hard, but I’ll be here for you.”
Winter passed, and things were harder than ever, but just like she promised, Ivy helped him through it. Suddenly, on an early spring day, things took a turn for the worse. Shannon had caught a minor cold, but because her immune system was so weakened fighting off the leukemia, it wasn’t long before the infection took over her body, leaving her dying.
In the wake of Shannon’s death, life seemed empty. The only person who was continually there for him was Ivy. She had even persuaded him to start running again, an activity he hadn’t practiced in a very long time. One day, after a particularly heavy day of pestering, Ivy stood up and handed him a piece of paper. “If you change your mind, there’s this annual marathon thing coming up. It raises awareness for leukemia and I think you should do it. It would be good for you. You could even run in her name and everything!” I know she would have wanted you to do this Ash.”
Asher sighed and looked into Ivy’s deep, grayish blue eyes. “I’m scared,” he said simply.
She smiled and said, “Well, then she’ll be with you.”
Everyone around him was screaming and yelling, but amidst all the noise, Asher was silent. He was about to run the marathon. And, although every one was saying, “Asher you can do this!” he wasn’t sure if he could. What if he failed her? Asher took a shaky breath. “The start of this year’s Leukemia Awareness Marathon will begin in two minutes.” The announcer called over the loudspeaker. Ivy was right. Shannon would have wanted him to do this, would have wanted him to run for her. And that’s when he smiled; his first real smile in eight long months. He was ready. “Runners, take your marks.”
Ivy suddenly ran towards him, yelling, “Asher! I’m coming with you!”
“Ivy, you don’t have to do this,” he whispered. “I know,” she whispered back, “I want too.”
“Get ready, Go!” The people in front of them took off, a wild stampede of hurtling bodies racing for the finish line. But for the first time in his life, Asher slowed down. He looked at Ivy, who looked back at him and smiled. “Ready?”
And so they took off, hand in hand, running for his sister.

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