I never thought I’d love another women as much as I did in that moment; I was lucky to have a friend like Amy. We both knew exactly what was going on once that phone rang. I was in a state of shock listening to my mother talk to Penny, and Amy was just watching everything unravel. I put my head down in my pillow and lost all control. Everything I had been holding in the past few months was let loose as I sat there crying, gasping for air. The next thing I knew I felt the bed cave in next to me, and a hand rubbing smoothly on my back. I was never one for theatrics, tears, or being “mushy” in any sense; and knowing that, my best friend just sat there rubbing my back. Nothing was said; she sat there knowing that there was really nothing to say. And that was exactly what I needed. After a few minutes my mom came out, somewhat distraught, now knowing that I too knew exactly what had happened. My grandpa, her father, had passed away that night.
She came out gave me a hug and told me “Focus on what you need to do today, we can always be sad later”. I wiped my tears, gave my mom and best friend a hug and started getting ready for the competition. Getting ready was always a process with our mothers, so Amy and I always took to doing it ourselves to avoid a fight about whether our poof was crooked or not, because in the scope of things, especially today, that didn’t matter. The entire morning was a blur for me, the only distinct details being that Starbucks burnt my first bagel and had to make me a second one, and the fact that I did my hair by myself.
Since cheerleading is mostly mental my mom was worried about how I would preform under this kind of pressure. My grandpa’s death was on my mind all day, and memories of my childhood kept hitting me in waves. I recollected playing in the pool over the summer, going shopping with my grandmother, and listening to his old navy stories as my sister and I lay with him by the fireplace. My mom thought it would be a good idea to let my coach, Mark, know the situation, so he wouldn’t have to ask me about why I seemed “out of it”. He must have told the gym manager about it, because before I knew it half of my friends were coming up to me asking me if I was okay, and half of them would just stare and see how I was reacting. Amy helped deflect most of the comments about it and distracted me with anything else to get my mind off of it. She kept me calm and focused during stretches and warm ups, and did everything she could to make me laugh. As we moved backstage for my last performance of the year we did our proud circle and shimmied out our nerves into Mark’s invisible garbage bag. Before they left Mark and my other coach Dre, made sure to come up to me and give me a hug, knowing that I would be okay. Amy shot them both a look as if to say, “Don’t say anything!” which must have worked because they gave me my hug and a kiss on the cheek with a simple “Good luck T, we’re proud of you” before they left. Amy and I gathered our team into a circle, to give them one last pep talk before we hit the mat. She hugged me after the team dispersed again, shaking out all of their final nerves, and said “You’ve got this”.
We held hands as our team name was called up to the mat, and separated into our spots. Our friend Elyse called out “One, Two, Three….” And the whole team jumped into the air yelling “WOO!”. I landed clean on the mat, everyone was frozen, with our heads down until the music started. I gave our routine everything I had in me that day, putting on the best performance, for me, to date. I was so proud of myself and relieved to be done. When the routine was over I frantically searched for my best friend, sprinting to give her a hug. She grabbed my hand and we walked back stage again to talk to our coaches. I felt great, everything that I did, hit and I was ecstatic. Our coaches told us we were good, but a stunt fell at the beginning, Amy’s stunt. After watching the video everyone knew it wasn’t her fault and she did everything she could have to save it. After some final words from our coaches we ran out into the sea of parents waiting for their children, and searched for our moms. People kept trying to pull me and talk to me but Amy and I just pushed past them for our mothers. I ran to my mom and gave her a huge hug. She hugged me back and said “Your grandpa would have been so proud of you!”. That was when reality set in.
It all started in early November, just after my birthday when I had come home from practice. I remember having a horrible practice that night and being in a really bitchy mood already, so when my mom asked if we could talk my snarky response was “What now, did someone die too?”. She just looked down and said “Your grandfather is in the hospital, they think he has a bad case of pneumonia”. I instantly felt horrible for what I had said and tried consoling my mom that it would be okay. But it wasn’t. Within the next few weeks, the pneumonia medicine wasn’t working and he kept going in and out of the hospital, until he was diagnosed with lung cancer in late December. We would visit the hospital whenever he was there, and as his stays got longer our visits became more frequent. Cheerleading picked up and I was at the gym three hours a day every day almost right after school, and I wasn’t able to be there for my grandpa as much as the rest of my family. But that was okay in my mind because I had talked myself into believing that everything was going to be fine. But I could only lie to myself for so long. I realized how serious things were mid competition season in March when he was put in hospice, given six months to live, a fact that my mother could never get up the courage to say. Balancing visits to the hospital, three teams, and schoolwork every day was tough, but Amy helped me through it all.
Right before I left for U.S. Finals, the week before he died, my mom and I went to their house, where they had an in-house nurse taking care of him for the time being. I gave him a big hug while he laid in his favorite recliner and helped him in anyway I could have. We talked about school and cheer like we always do, and he wished me good luck at my competition. It’s always upset me that that was my last goodbye. I always thought last goodbyes are these big important moments of your life and that you just know when they’re going to happen, but I didn’t and it was just like an ordinary day for my grandpa and I. And maybe that was the best last goodbye, at least for me, because although not knowing hurts, I feel as if I had known that would have been much worse.
Two days after the fastest eight-hour car ride home from the competition, was the funeral. Something that I thought I wouldn’t have to face for quite a few more years. Walking into the cold weird room with my family was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do. It appeared as something straight out of one of my worst nightmares. After seeing the pained faces of my family, especially my mother who was in hysterics nearly the whole time, the reality hit me. I couldn’t be in that room any more. How could the rest of my family expect me to be here for such a sad, morbid event? I had to excuse myself to the nearest bathroom where I could just sit down and collect my thoughts for a few minutes. I needed a distraction, I didn’t care what it was but I couldn’t be in that room alone. After a few minutes of collecting myself I went back into the room and sat with my sister. She was always the “emotionless” one. I always admired how she could keep herself together at times like this. I looked to her to help keep my mind from racing. Our conversations were helping, but soon people from our other side of the family kept coming up to us and talking about it. They clearly didn’t know how I handled things like this. No one did.
I tuned out of the conversation with my sister and my dad’s parents and looked to my mother, who had appeared with the person that I needed most. I ran up to Aim for a much needed distraction. Amy and her parents were all here. I was ecstatic. The second she walked in we immediately started talking about our teams rank in the country. Since we won first at the competition we had just got back from, we were likely to place first overall in the country, against the other branches of competitions. She was telling me how she checked all the scores on line and how we had had the highest so far in our division, and we were most likely going to be awarded the banner for being the best team in the country.
Interrupting our conversation, a small, older man that appeared to be in his fifties announced that he would like to say a few words about my grandfather. The man was with my Grandpa’s chapter of the Knights of Columbus, which my grandfather never attended, because he hated everyone there. I sat with Amy, and my sister, Katy, as we listened to the man speak. I was somber the entire speech until the man said “Richard was a very honest man with respect for the law”, that was when my sister and I lost it. My mom must have heard us because I saw her shoulders move up and down repeatedly, as I tried to maintain my own laughter. My grandpa was known for always taking a few extra screws from Home Depot and putting them in his pocket before he left, or eating a couple grapes from the counter at the grocery store. Not that he ever committed any felonies but he most certainly did not have “the highest respect for the law”. I slowly regained control of my laughing fit with my sister and told Amy that we would tell her later when it wasn’t so obvious. After the speech Katy and I filled Amy in, as my mom came over to us and yelled at us for making her laugh during the man’s speech. The service was nearly over and people were beginning to leave, but Amy and her family stayed longer than most. Before she left she gave me a big hug and told me she would see me later at practice that week. Her parents gave their condolences to my mom and dad and they left us alone with the rest of my mom’s family.
That was definitely the hardest weekend of my life, and I’ll always remember what Amy did for me those few days, and the weeks leading up to that weekend. Whether it was the silent gesture of just rubbing my back when I found out, or completely distracting me at the service when I needed her most, she was my rock. I honestly don’t know what I would have been able to do without her at the competition and at home for the next few weeks. After all, you never forget losing someone, that I’ll always know. Ever since that day, May 1st 2010, I’ve been taking the time to appreciate the people I love more, because I’m so lucky to have them in my life. Especially my best friend, who knows me better than anyone else, and who I love more than words can describe.