Of Memory and Orphans

It’s rather like living within someone’s idea of a world, rather than a world unto itself.

It’s not particularly easy, being what it is, a pace that demands suppleness, strength, and a healthy dose of cunning. Airports and interstates and trains and the like; rented cars and boots that are literally wearing apart at the seams. I am a leaf on the wind.

One of my best friends has been suffering from the anxiety and the hardship of composing her college thesis while her grandmother weakens, for which I have supplied all of the sympathy and support I can muster. It has become a contest of will and sheer righteous determination for her.

Another beloved friend, an ex-, has been taking care of her dying father, commuting between Portland and southern California on a semi-monthly basis. We have only a very meager few opportunities to speak with one another, but those moments are always warm and penetrating. As time goes on, this is a template I’ve grown more and more accustomed to from more and more of the important lights in my world.

There is no imminent death in my family’s circle right now, thankfully. Everyone’s safely accounted for, tucked away in their lives, snugly. Grandma Sol means to visit the Philippines again, with my half-brother escorting her this time. I was honored and much gratified that she asked for me, but my puppets and the children must detain me stateside for this round. To tell you the truth, I am relieved my brother can make the trip this time. I think my heart would burst if I crossed that ocean again, so soon.

But lately, I’ve been looking in the mirror and thinking of my Grandpa, gone for almost two years. I helped to care for him in his last years, and especially his final days, cleaning and medicating him. I’ve been present at the deaths of each of my grandparents save Grandma Sol, who is all we have left. (When did we all become so orphaned?) I’ve long been something of an albatross in all of my families, a harbinger of profound changes, a scion of hope and unwanted ramifications all at once. No one is ever qualified to be anyone’s child. I suspect this may be why my heart, like my place in these families, resembles a clenched fist, sometimes.

I look in the mirror and I see his chin, his eyes, the forcefulness of his brow. I share with my cousins, my uncles and my father the same set to the shoulders, the same pitch to the hips and the knees when we walk purposefully while seeming to walk casually. Some of us are better at things than others; some of us carry more of Grandpa’s charm, more of his dash, others are blessed with his brave eyes, just smart enough to dare, and not so smart as to lose the name of action. We think and eat and drink and love like epic Greeks, quick to agonize, and yet there is more reserve, more control beneath the bluster of large-heartedness than you would expect. Grandpa was a great one for secrets and plans, intentions held close to the (admittedly loud, Ft. Lauderdale-chequered) vest.

I’m quietly surprised at how vivid his voice still is in my memory. One of the first things I noticed after my Mom’s stroke, was how quickly my memory of her voice slipped away, and with her voice went any semblance of her before. That which she was before she was broken into so many sharp-edged shards, the whole-ness of my mother, is now little more than a photograph in my memory.

Grandpa, meanwhile, is alive and thriving there, constantly measuring, quipping, pottering about, eating, poking things, teaching me how to play chess, making faces, even more of a patriarch now than he ever was. He sprawls on his couch in the house we sold a year ago, he watches my plays from the center of the house, loudly cracking pistachios, he looks out of my dull eyes in the mirror. The lush and manifold qualities of his voice still inform my inflections, faintly coloring all kinds of things.

He is my trickster, my guide, the demi-urge that hankers after long shots and risky prospects, the subtle perk of curiousity that convinces me to look past the next rise. Always proud of me, always just a tiny bit dissatisfied.

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