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The Perfect Day
I sliced through the water, which was icy cold against my warm skin. My arms guided me through the surreal calm, my muscles going taut with each stroke. As I propelled myself to the bottom, my eyes glimpsed a tiny goldfish darting away, its scales shimmering in the early morning light.
The water pushed at my head and my lungs screamed in the desire for air, but I continued pulling myself down. When my fingers finally grazed the murky, muddy bottom I pushed my feet off the slimy floor and popped back out of the water like a cork. Reaching the bottom was something I did the first time I went there and had become a ritual for every time after that.
Gasping for breath, I laid on my back and let myself drift with the gentle ripples of the water. My breathing returned to normal and I closed my eyes, imagining I was a baby being rocked in her cradle, softly, sweetly, listening to the coos of a songbird. I began to lose grips with consciousness, gradually losing the battle to the wispy tendrils of sleep. It was absolutely serene and magnificent.
When my eyes finally flickered open the sun was high overhead, reflecting the bright sunlight off of the water's surface. My stomach grumbled, so I swam lazily over to the dock where my lunch was waiting for me. After hoisting myself on, I leaned back contentedly with my feet still in the water. Spending half of the day at my favorite place in the world was just short of heaven, and I wanted it to last as long as possible.
Just when I began munching on my PB and J I heard feet pounding down the well-worn path leading to my pond. I turned to see my little sister skid to a stop on the wooden dock, gasping for breath. Her eyes were wide and her hands were shaking, and I knew something must be wrong. Still, I sat there and kept my mouth shut because I didn't want her to say anything that might ruin my perfect day.
She finally spoke. "Leah...it's Grandpa. He...," she broke off, her voice trembling just as much as her hands.
My throat constricted. There couldn't be anything wrong with Grandpa. I had seen him the day before and we went hiking in the woods. He was fine.
Her eyes darted all around and she seemed desperate not to look at me, but we ended up making eye contact. Hers were brimming with tears.
"He died, Leah. Grandpa died this morning."
A stunned silence filled the air and even the birds stopped chirping. A suffocating pain strangled me and I felt as though my heart had stopped beating. My world was suddenly crashing down on me, cruelly choosing a moment when I was completely unexpecting it. I began drowning, drowning in a hurricane of memories that crashed down on me.
I couldn't remember ever not having my grandpa. His sea green eyes, crooked smile, and messy snow pile of hair had always been there for me no matter what. I had grown up with him and even though my other friends teased me for it, he was my best friend. He had taken me everywhere and shown me the treasures of life. We had even found my pond together. Our pond. It was impossible for him to die. In my mind he was immortal.
My sister's voice snapped me out of the trance I was in. "Leah?" she asked tentatively. "Are you alright?"
I could see the pain in her eyes. I knew she was trying to hold herself together for me. I knew that, like me, sadness was tearing at her heart. I knew I should've gone over to her and hugged her tight. I guess, though, grief does funny things to us sometimes.
I glared at her, the messenger of the worst news of my life. "Am I alright?" I snarled. "Am I alright!? How could I possibly be alright?!" I jumped to my feet and dashed past her, pushing her to the side of the narrow dock, not caring if she fell in the water.
I ran down the path in a blur, the world a montage of soft greens, delicate blues, and cheerful yellows. Nothing matched the thunderstorm of dark and sadness roiling inside me, so I dropped down onto my knees and stared numbly into the horizon, defeated. Time passed slowly as the harsh sun finally went down, leaving the air cold and unforgiving. Still I sat there, frozen, knowing that if I went home I would be forced to face the truth.
A warm hand settled gently but firmly onto my shoulder from behind and I looked up into my dad's deep green eyes. They were so much like Grandpa's. He sat next to me and I clung to him, the tears finally flowing out until I was so empty that all that was left was a dull aching inside.
I summoned up a big, shaky breath and croaked out, "Can I walk home by myself?"
Dad nodded, rustling my hair and giving me his coat before silently walking away. It hurt to watch him go and I wanted to run back into his arms like a lost child, but I withheld myself. Instead I turned my back to him and walked into the moonlit night, simply thinking about my grandpa and how much I would miss him. I thought about how I could never go back to our pond again because it would hurt too much.
I went home that night to comforting arms and soothing words, but it still hurt. Weeks passed and everybody seemed to feel better but me. My family was worried, but I couldn't help it. Sometimes I forgot and I caught myself planning adventures that we could never go on together. I felt like there would always be a piece missing from me that I just couldn't get back.
One uncommonly warm day in September Dad caught me staring out the window at the path I could have travelled in my sleep. He must've seen the longing in my eyes and told me, "Go. It'll make you feel better."
I didn't really believe him but mechanically did as I was told. I packed a PB and J and a Coke in the old brown picnic basket and set out on the dirt path. About halfway there my body seemed to shut down and I couldn't move another step. Every nerve commanded me to stay right where I was. Closing my eyes, I disobeyed and brought my right leg forward, then my left, even though each step felt like I was wading through quicksand.
The air suddenly went still when I entered between the trees, just like on the day that it had happened. I gazed at the pond, which looked just like it had in early summer except for a few more cattails. A salamander basking in the golden sunlight skittered away when I stepped on the creaky dock. I had forgotten how much I loved that pond and each step toward the water made me feel a little happier until I stopped again, suddenly angry with myself. I realized I had wasted a whole summer away from my pond because I had let my anger take control. I was crazy, blaming the most innocent and beautiful place in my world for what had happened. Grandpa never would've wanted me to abandon something so special. I felt an uncontrollable swell of happiness and a deep yearning to be with my old friend. Sprinting to the end of the dock, I dove deep into the water's welcoming embrace, knowing Grandpa was smiling down on me from his own beautiful oasis. One that he definitely deserved.