I wipe the sweat from my palms onto the tops of my thighs. Not only is it hot in the white tent, but I’m nervous. There’s a man up at the front reading us a list of rules to follow, but I zone out. I’m too focused on the race to be listening. I’ve done this before, I’ll be fine. This is my mantra, repeated over and over in my head as I try to calm my nerves. This should be a fun experience, state track with my relay team, but I’m not worried about fun at the moment. I want to win, or rather, I don’t want to lose. I hate losing, and that’s all that is running through my head.
The Random House College Dictionary defines the word loss as ‘the state of being deprived or without something one has once had’. To me, it is much more than that. The feeling of loss is like a piece of you is missing. Sometimes it’s not even sadness, but more of an empty feeling. I believe that every loss leaves a void in a person, but it’s not permanent. While loss can change you, the voids are eventually filled with new things that bring our happiness back.
We follow the official that gave us the instructions as he walks out of the white tent and through a gate, across the track, and into the football field. This is where we are supposed to warm up, stretch, and say any last minute prayers that we feel are necessary. I do my usual routine of high kicks, lunges, and toe touches. Anything that will help our team win, because I refuse to lose. The gun goes off and my head snaps up. The heat ahead of us has started, bringing a new wave of nerves with it. Soon, it will be our turn.
The very first time I remember feeling loss I was in second grade. My parents were already sitting in the car, waiting patiently for me to say my goodbyes. I looked up at the cream house, with its pale red shingles, and I started to cry. I stared at the blue and green swing set, the small trampoline and the bony brown haired girl standing to my left. I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to leave my house. I didn’t want to leave my best friend. And I definitely didn’t want to leave all the memories we had shared inside. I knew we had to though. After grandpa died, grandma needed help. I knew it was selfish to want to stay, but it hurt. I slowly got into the backseat of the car, filled with all kinds of boxes that wouldn’t fit inside the moving truck. Don’t look back, don’t look back, I kept telling myself. As we turned from the alley onto the main road, a part of me stayed in that paint chipped, cream colored house; but a much larger part of me stayed with the bony girl with the tear filled eyes holding her mom’s hand.
Tori is almost to me now. I start to shuffle down, waiting my turn as patiently as I can. Once she’s close, I take off. I don’t have to think as I reach back at the exact time she reaches forward; we’ve done it so many times before that it has become muscle memory. Once the baton is firmly in my grip, my stride becomes confident. I’ve done this before, I tell myself. The two laps seem to fly by. I’m in my zone now. I can’t hear the roaring of the crowd, or the coaches yelling out times. All I hear are my spikes hitting the track, in sync with my heartbeat. Before I know it, I’m passing the baton into Megan’s hand and hopping off the track. Now all I can do is wait.
When my grandma died, I didn’t know how to feel. We had never really been close because she lived in New York. I’m not going to say I didn’t know her, because I did, but I didn’t know her well. I think that when we lose someone, our brains automatically bring all the memories of that person to the surface. It’s like having one last chance to see them; like a short movie you get to enjoy before they’re gone forever. I remember her sneaking my brother and me mini chocolate bars in the basement, or sitting outside with her as she smoked cigarette after cigarette. One time while we were visiting, she fed me too many Klondike bars, and I threw up all over the hotel room. When I first was told that she had passed, I remember feeling confused. All of my memories went through my head, and although I didn’t feel sad exactly, I felt empty. Like some piece of me that I didn’t even know I had was taken away.
Everyone is done running now. Once again, it’s a waiting game. I stand with my teammates, silently waiting to hear the results. The same man that read us the rules began to call out team names that have medaled, which was our goal from the start. We wait, listening intently, but we don’t hear our name. As we stand there, I think back on every hard workout, morning practice, weightlifting session and ice bath. All of that hard work, and we lost. I feel numb. I know it’s just a sport, just a race, but for the last three months it had been my life, and now it all ended with a loss.
Throughout my life, I have had many losses. Whether it be in sports or a loss of a person, the general feeling is always the same. That numb, empty feeling in my chest that rocks me so hard I have to pause for a second. The deprivation of happiness. But, what I have learned is that life goes on. That emptiness is filled with a new home, or some new friends. That numbness fades and you learn how to smile again. Without the loss of my old home and my old friends, I wouldn’t be where I am today. If we hadn’t lost that race, I wouldn’t spend every moment that I have working twice as hard to never experience that feeling again. The feeling of loss is not a comfortable one, it aches from the inside out, but Jalaluddin Rumi once said, “don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form,” and I believe that to be entirely true (The Life and Work of Jalaluddin Rumi).
Finally, we decide to exit the track area. Our time is over, and it’s time to clear out. We leave as a team. Technically, though, we’re not a team anymore. Our season is over, our last race has been run, but it doesn’t feel that way. We may have lost the race, but we gained a family that season. Nothing brings people closer than working towards the same goal together. Once again, I think back on every hard workout and every morning practice, but this time I think about those girls by my side the whole time. I think about every smile we’ve shared and every time that I wanted to quit but didn’t, because they helped me through it. As Megan cracks a joke, I can already feel that void created by the loss of the race starting to fill.
The Random House College Dictionary. New York: Random House, 1992. Print.
Iqbal, Afzal, and A. J. Arberry. The Life and Work of Jalaluddin Rumi. Islamabad, Pakistan:
Pakistan National Council of the Arts, 1999. Print.