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Pieces of him, Pieces of me

A lot of my life I have been piecing together different parts of my dad, like a puzzle but without all the pieces. Well, a puzzle made up of more puzzles, different sets of contrasting colors, styles, and moods to form a picture that doesn’t quite look right. Or doesn’t really make sense, though I see there is beauty at the heart of it. Maybe each piece doesn’t “click” - and some pieces have been jammed together - but it's its own type of collage.

He would run into anything. Granted, he’d also run away from everything.

Where was he running to? What was he running from? After a fateful collision, it was now up to me to decide who I was going to become.

My dad loved the outdoors, he was constantly trying to garden (albeit failing), hiking, fishing, and was overall absorbed in nature. When I was younger, I remember him digging and setting stakes, struggling to make the most of our tiny backyard. He nurtured plants that just wouldn’t grow. The seeds he planted stayed buried in the dirt, but he never gave up. It wouldn’t surprise you that he was an environmental lawyer.

Sadly, to support our family, he started working for a pretty evil oil company. The pay in environmental science isn’t great, and when you have a growing family of three, soon to be five - you have to do what you have to do. I can proudly say he hated working for the oil company, and that I now share his passion for the environment.

In his memory, I went on to partner with Outward Bound, a backpacking and outdoor adventure company for teens, to create day trips and a week-long program for those who have lost a parent or sibling. Because the outdoors helped heal so much of my pain, I wanted to bring that opportunity to other kids who have experienced similar grief. As a founder of the teen advisory board for the charity Hope for Grieving Families, I helped arrange group discounts and we are actively fundraising for a scholarship program so everyone who wishes has a chance to go.

My dad loved to run. Every day, like creaky clockwork, he would get up, stumble about, and grab his running shoes. He’d smile, maybe, at my mom and me before he was out of the house and up with the sun. He was a triathlon and ultramarathon runner. As a kid, I never understood the appeal of all that running.

Years later, however, in quarantine, when there wasn’t much to do to stay fit, I gave it a try. Soon I was hooked. Running is a way to decompress from the world. When you're running, it's on you to go as fast or slow as you want. And when you're racing, there is no better feeling than leaping bounds ahead of everyone else.

For me, I only really feel at peace when I'm running, and I believe it was the same for my dad. He had specific trails he’d take every morning, and I’m lucky to be able to run the same paths and know he’s with me. We spread his ashes on those running trails, so it’s truly a sacred place. Unfortunately, he became obsessive about running and exercise, and pushed himself to the point of physical breakage.

My dream one day is to be an ultramarathon runner, just like he was, but in a healthy way. I'd rather not overwork my body to the point of damage and will make sure that my mental health is on par with my physical health.

He was training for an IronMan when he died, and unfortunately could never complete it. I hope to complete an IronMan for both of us one day.

My dad was a kind, quiet, and charming man who everyone admired. Me? I'm not the kindest, not very quiet, and my charm is debatable. He also was very depressed and had schizoaffective disorder. These mental illnesses heavily affected my family, and sometimes I worry that because I share a lot of the same interests and traits of my father, that I will become him. I also struggle from depression, and every day it's a battle not to go too far over the edge...or else.

My dad died when I was eight. Now I’m fifteen, and a work in progress. I probably won’t ever understand all of my dad’s choices and contradictions, and as I grow into an adult woman, I can only wonder what I’ll become.

For me, I think the right path is to accept the best pieces of my dad that are inside me. And, to live in balance.

Anais Joubert,15, is a resident of Alexandria, Va. She is the 2nd Place winner of Esther Productions Inc.'s Discovering Me...Without You Personal Essay Contest for Teen Girls 14-17.


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