I’ve been reading a lot about the paranormal lately, Grandpa. Today, I finished The Sweet By and By, by Jeanne Mackin, which I
love mostly because it explores the mind in grief, the desperation to believe in afterlife, in spirits, ghosts, visitations, posthumous contact. I can see how even the hardest skeptic, Grandpa, will come around after losing someone they love dearly.
I imagine you in this space, in your home in Pittsburgh, before you died, but after Grandma passed, longing so hard you believed that Grandma was still there. Is that why you left her recliner there even after she was gone? They looked like twin seats, you the pilot, waiting for your copilot before take-off. I can feel her, too, Grandpa, sometimes. Sometimes the tin cookie cutters Aunt Hilary gave me fall from their hanging place on my kitchen wall, and though Cory tells me it has been sliding down the nail since I last replaced it, inching its way off the hook, I believe Grandma might have thrown it at me, playfully, if I’ve sworn, or messed up the gravy, or said something unkind, or perhaps argued against my conservative husband.
I wonder these things, specifically: were there ever mysteriously more ashes in the ashtray–a slow mounting of phantom ashes next to yours? Perhaps a whiff of her perfume, the scent I can still glean from Grandma’s chenille scarf you gave me shortly after she passed, the scarf that I preserve in a ZipLoc bag because of its scent, because of trace white hair, her hair, that clings to it still. Or this–a warm dent in the mattress, a dent just grandma’s size, slight and still, but warm. I wondered these things while I read this novel. I hoped you had these tiny moments of peace.
After you passed, Grandpa, Sammy was born. I keep coming back to this because in your last days, when I couldn’t see you, everyone told me you said some things about Sammy and Johnny. Everyone says it’s the promise of children that helps one approach death, though I think that’s something you alone could grasp on that day. Sammy was born the next day, three weeks before he was expected, but the day after you passed. A signal, perhaps?
Grandpa, my close friend is learning life without parents, as is my father, now, and I don’t know what to say, but you managed so gracefully, so wonderfully, beyond your own losses. I wonder if some contact from beyond guided you.
Last April, a year after you passed, Aunt Hilary gave me one of your writings–not the standard limerick you wrote, but a short nonfiction piece titled “File No. 209.” It was about Grandma’s toes, how she could use them as fingers. I remember family talk of the “Lotze toes,” characterized by an abnormally large space between the first and second toes, and wondered if it was this phenomena that had you writing this piece. Either way, I learned you had sent it out in the 60s, and that it had been rejected.
When I sent your piece out again, fifty years later, I did so hesitantly. It is one thing to submit your own work to a magazine, to prepare yourself for rejection, but it is another thing to feel responsible for the work of someone you love. For my own rejections, after the first few crying fits, they became less-intrusive than paper cuts. Rejection, in some way, becomes a state of permanent grief after tearing open the envelope, a way of saying, “Eh. I didn’t think Third Coast would want that essay,” the same way one might wake on the 417th day after losing someone they love and say, “Oh. Right, they’re gone still.” That they’ve gone somewhere without you, left you, uninvited.
When Aunt Hilary sees an elephant randomly in her day, she tells me. Or a note you wrote to Grandma in the 80s wafting to the floor from a bible she’d just picked up. Or this: when I’m hit with the smell of eucalyptus from nowhere, but in my mind, from your condo in Cincinnati.
I knew the odds. I knew the magazine I sent your writing to only accepted approximately .8% of submissions (according to unscientific data, so you probably are rolling your eyes), but I also knew this piece was stunning, endearing, but wondered if it was just our family that loved it.
Then, last week, the editor at DIAGRAM was happy to accept your piece, “File No. 209” for publication, and I thought, for a moment, maybe the worlds had converged. Maybe you were here, watching me jump and dance and scream in a way that no other acceptance has made me do, in a way that had my German Shepherd’s head cocked.
We all look for peace somehow, Grandpa, mostly in the everyday: the first cup of coffee or cigarette after rising; the shower water, once warmed; the space one hides in after telling a bad joke. Then there are moments when peace is not found, but is bestowed: your name in print as though you’ve never left; an acapella proposal that Grandma would have loved; a baby, being too patient, making us all wait on edge. But soon, we all know, these moments come like the quiet grasp of a finger.