The Best Day of My Life

You might think the best day of my life would be the day I got married or the birth of any of my kids. You might even think it was the day I signed my first publishing deal or recording contract. Don’t get me wrong, those days were fine and everything. But they simply cannot hold a candle to one summer day in my hometown of Roseau, Minnesota.

The year was 1990, and I was nine years old at the outdoor swimming pool.

I don’t know about you, but when I was nine, I didn’t think of myself as particularly cool. I had three sisters, and my mom made my clothes. She even sewed my plastic pool pass onto the front of my swimming trunks so I wouldn’t lose it.

That day, the line for the diving board was longer than the Great Wall of China. But I had finally reached the front. There were only two more kids. Then it would be Matt Helgeson. And then it would be me.

Before I go any further, I must first tell you about Matt Helgeson.

Matt Helgeson: The Coolest Person in the Entire World

Matt Helgeson was in junior high or high school and the undisputed coolest person in the entire world.

He had long hair that he whipped backward after his head emerged from the water, causing a messy pompadour that, as hard as I tried, did not seem to be replicable.

But Matt Helgeson didn’t just look cool. He did cool things. For example, he was a diving board master. Back flips, front flips, double flips, Gainers, you name it. He created massive splashes that soaked the lifeguards. He used moves like the Sleepy Sam, Jack Knife, and Watermelon. And the sound was always perfect. Two big thuds, one lower, then one higher, followed by a brief silence just before the long swish of a mini waterfall.

While I’m here, I should also mention that he had a move where he made a giant V shape with his arms, pointing toward his groin area. He pumped the V-shape twice before entering the water. I later learned, much to my disappointment, this particular move was inappropriate for a nine-year-old to be doing.

The last thing I’ll say about Matt Helgeson is he never came to the pool alone. He always had a friend. I don’t remember his name, only that he was obviously the second coolest person in the universe.

The Moment of Truth

There I was, in line for the diving board just moments away from my turn, standing behind my idol, when this aforementioned friend came up to Matt Helgeson, passing a procession of kids, and said, “Hey man, can I cut behind you?”

In my mind, it was as if every human had frozen in time and turned their heads toward Matt Helgeson. Reporters were standing by with video cameras and film crews. Presidents had stopped their speeches, and even Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates had stopped receiving ticket holders into heaven. A line was being drawn that would divide everything before and after this moment. In the future, a common question would be, “Where were you when Matt Helgeson spoke?” And everyone would have an answer down to the last detail, such as the clothes they were wearing and what they ate for lunch. Because an event so significant would not just change the world of a nine-year-old Aaron Espe, it would change the world.

Matt Helgeson turned his perfect messy pompadour head, his eyes slowly scanned the line of dripping children from the back all the way to the front, finally landing on me.

And then Matt Helgeson said five words that will forever reverberate in my mind. Five words I could at any time cling to in the future when all self-doubt and insecurities came my way. Five words that set the world back in motion and made it, and my place in it, better.

Matt Helgeson looked at me, then looked at his friend and said, “Nah, this kid’s pretty cool.”