I'm still not finished telling stories
about you. I was talking to a new friend today and I was teaching them about Fado
and it reminded me of you so very much. You should know what I am feeling here is nothing new
; no newer than the wind or sunrise. But it's there burning at the bottom of my throat right now, wanting to get out.
You used to play the accordion and smoke cigars. I can't remember the brand but I remember the smell, it is etched in my mind forever. Big thick cigars and Old Spice, those are the smells that sometimes permeate my memory and cause me to almost choke with grief. I remember you and one of your friends would have little singing challenges - rhyming back and forth while he played the coimbra. Oh how I'd laugh until tears were streaming - laughter like the kind where you just can't breathe, you're just wheezing out the laugh, and you feel like you're going to die from it but that's ok because it's a good feeling.
I remember that time that you shot your dog for me. Remember that? Rex. You had kept him tied up and trained him to be mean, to protect Grandma when you were on one of your many trips across the country. And it worked - the minute I went to pet him, sure enough he lunged at me, bit my arm, shook me off. I dropped to the ground and rolled away. My cousin yelled "you're not on fire, stupid!" and then immediately felt bad for it when she saw the blood pouring down my arm. And I was trying to be all stoic for you (yes even at five) and you took one look at the wound and your mind was already made up. I wasn't around when you did it but I knew why, and I cried for poor Rex, but I knew why. You didn't want anything to ever hurt me.
Oh grandpa, how you wounded me when you died.
I still remember this so vividly - we were late for the final goodbye. I never saw your body in that casket - is it selfish to be glad? The funeral was a blur - a lot of tears and it was all in Portuguese and I understood it but in my grief I just didn't care. It washed over me. Grandpa, there were so many people there. You touched so many, many lives and did you even know it? Men that hadn't seen you in years showed up to pay respects. They sang and laughed and cried afterward, sang old songs and traded crazy stories about you.
These memories were all mashing up together when I was above the empty hole of your grave, matching the hole in my heart - big, deep, cold, unforgiving. The flowers we ordered - big giant loud flowers. Tiger lilies as big as my head. Black-eyed susans. Daisies. Orange-colored roses. Tulips. The brighter the color, the better. You were a clamor of colors when you were alive - loud and boisterous and cheerful. Then the cancer came and slowly your colors faded, bit by bit. It was too much to bear. So looking down in that grave, I tore a tiger lily from the wreath, kissed its petals and let it slip from my fingers down into the hole, and I stared at that gleaming box for a very long time. Kiss to the lily, I would feel your lips on my brow no more. Your massive hand touching my forehead, massive arms tossing me into the air. Grandpa please wake up. Grandpa please. Please.
And I remember falling to my knees and being wracked with a grief so strong I thought it would crush me there. Oh grandpa. And there was my husband (though we were not married then, we may as well have been) that poor man holding my child, only 3 months old then. He was holding her and gently shaking my shoulder and saying "love, we have to go" and "Grace, I'm sorry but we really have to go". And gently pulling me up and taking my hand he led me back to our car, and I was blind to it, I was blind to everything. We got to the funeral home and I couldn't see anything or anyone. People kept coming up to me and hugging me. "I'm sorry, Grace." Usually this was accompanied by "I know this is bad timing, but happy birthday too..." and they'd give me this look of such pity and regret, and I could cheerfully have slapped every last person who wished me that. But I didn't because I knew that was the grief talking. Aren't you proud of me for that? I held it together for you the best that I could.
We got to my aunt's house, and there was food and stories and abashed laughter. It was all around me as I sat at the table and stared at the wood grain and counted the lines. I needed to focus on something, so I stood up to go find my daughter. My father, your son, sat me down again. "Grace. Take this." And he held in his hand a glass of scotch with ice and he said "Drink this, please, drink this and toast him." And I did it, I choked on it but I did it. And he held me so. And he never cried - he left that job to me. "Gracie I'm sorry. Gracie you know we didn't want to do this today of all days. I'm sorry. I love you."
Later that night, my husband held me and didn't know what else to do to help carry me through it all. I initiated sex and it was so fierce and angry and it welled up from somewhere I had never been before. And he didn't know what to do with that but he understood that I needed that and that the fierceness was my own, and had to be honored. I was crashing against my own mortality, goddess ritual of creation, the sex was my answer to my grief. On the 22nd anniversary of my birth, I had to acknowledge both this and your death. What other way?
And the tears spilled and when my heart finally slowed apace, all I could do was quietly say goodbye to you in my head and shut a little door in my heart and hope that it would keep shut a while. I was a mother now and a lover and a daughter and a woman. I needed to continue and press on and be these things; doing any less would dishonor what you were all about.
It's been almost nine years since that day. And now I am my own larger-than-life, bold colored chaotic noise in my own little way. My daughter sings and I hear your voice. My son laughs and winks at me and I see your eyes. I sing to them. I sing with them. I listen to the sound of my heartbeat and remember that little door. Every once in a while it cracks open and the memories flood and I am fierce and angry again, but I live through it. I will live through it. I will sing. I will dance. I will live.