This last week or ten days, I feel as if I've been slogging through the dead marshes from Lord of the Rings. I was eagerly looking forward to getting out of town this weekend, going to the Sea of Cortez and opening up, letting go, but weather had a different plan for me. I had a dream last night that bulldozed me, sucker-punched my heart and this morning I want to kick in the teeth of my subconscious.
Today would have been my grandfather Herbie's 81st birthday. He passed way nine years ago. He was my mother's father.
My grandfather was an immigrant from Puerto Rico, he moved to New York in 1950, sending for my grandmother, his childhood sweetheart, shortly thereafter. They married and struggled through the shit that it was to be poor and Puerto Rican in the 1950s. My grandmother moved back to the island for a time then returned to the city. My grandfather was an alcoholic, albeit a functioning alcoholic. My mom moved to San Diego in 1975 with my father.
The day I was born my mother called my grandfather in NY to tell him he had a granddaughter who looked exactly like him. He went out and got shitfaced drunk. When he sobered up he realized that he didn't want to be the drunk grandfather, that he wanted to see me grow up. My birth prompted him to stop thirty years of drinking, cold turkey. He always said I saved his life. Maybe that's where my ridiculous and stupid savior complex comes from.
I was seven months old when we met. There are great pictures of this day. My parents took me to the airport and when he got off the plane, even though I had never seen him before in my life I put my arms out to him and he grabbed me and we hugged.
All through my childhood my grandfather, 'Ampa, as called him, was my best friend. We were so alike, solitary, contemplative. We used to sit together in the backyard for hours, looking at plants and not talking. He would drive me to the library every day after school and fall asleep in the children s section, snoring on the small orange sofas as I lost myself in the stacks. No one ever loved me the way he did. His advice to me was always the same: Don't give a shit about what people think about you. He painted wrought iron for a living and always told me how wonderful it was to work alone, for yourself. I have followed in his footsteps, though I've taken the work to a different level of artistic mastery.
Losing him was hard. The day he died I went to the hospital with my grandmother. He was not conscious, struggling in his sleep, shaking. I helped my grandmother take out his false teeth. I lay down beside him on the hospital bed and I sang to him. I barely remember what I sang but I remember touching his face, kissing him, telling him that he could go if he wanted to. When I was singing he calmed down. My mom and aunt arrived and I left. They tell me he died as soon as I left the room. My grandmother has always told me that my singing to him was the best gift I gave him. I've always had peace about his death, I gave him my permission. I knew he was suffering and that he hated having to depend on others. I would have wanted to go too.
We took his body to Puerto Rico to bury him. Comedic circumstances surrounded his funeral, a story I hope to publish one day. I remember sitting on the porch in the late September stink of heat, humidity and island decay; I was crocheting. My grief wasn't the hard grief of everyone else in my family, I was at peace with his passing. But I remember thinking no one will ever love me like that again. Even if he was family, he was a soul mate. No one ever knew me the way he did because we were so alike, from our ears and prominent noses to the strange shape of our feet. Our desire to self sufficiency.
I miss him. He taught me to drink coffee. I was a baby and he would fill a mug with milk and out in a splash of coffee. The older I got there was less milk and more coffee. The day after his funeral I left everything. I took a backpack and a one way ticket to Mexico City and began the great adventure that everything else in my life has stemmed from. When I got to the airport in my Mexico City I was terrified, worried I was making the wrong decision. Then a mariachi band in front of me began playing 'Ampa's favorite song and I went on with the adventure.
Happy birthday Viejito. Te quiero y extraño every single day.
(stupid stupid video for a great song.)