“Hurry up Ava, we’re going to be late!” my father yelled. There was a soft ringing in my ears, my father could tell I wasn’t fully there by looking at my wistful face. There we were right outside the kitchen, his body fixated on the front door. With his hands on his hips he said, “I can’t fucking believe you.” I didn’t know what to say, my head had left the room. “What’s wrong, Dad?” I asked with a frown. “If we don’t leave now, we’ll miss the plane!” I remembered that my dad likes to leave early in the morning, hours before the flight, so early that on our trips to LaGuardia Airport we would see the sun rise over the parts of New York that hadn’t been molested by concrete. I wondered if it was early morning. I looked outside the window and saw the brightest light I’d ever seen, nothing like the warm light of the sun. My eyes weren’t burning, they were just blinded. “Dad, where are we gonna go?” He shook his head, and he sighed at me, a sigh that echoed more deeply than any yell.
“We’re going to see Grandpa,” he said, disappointed that I had forgotten. “We are?” I looked and his suitcases were packed, but I didn’t see mine. “I don’t remember saying yes to this,” I said to Dad, his face now bright red. “What is there to say yes to?” “Well, Dad, I’m just not ready…” “We’ve been planning this trip forever, you’re so fucking irresponsible…” His loud anger became a cold disappointment, I could hear it in the timbre of his voice when he said, “I don’t even want to fucking look at you right now.” His body was stiff, his eyes were shadowed by an unusually prominent brow bone.
“Don’t you love your grandpa, Ava?” He asked with urgency, and a hint of sadness. “Of course I do, Dad… it’s just…” He waited for an answer to escape my lips, an answer that would surely disappoint him. “Grandpa is dead,” I said. The ringing in my body ceased for a minute.
“Ha, ha,” he said, looking down at his feet, arms crossed. “Don’t you think I know that?” I thought of the graveyard we always passed on the highway, the one on the way to the airport. My father opened the front door. “Dad, Dad he’s dead! He’s dead, Dad!” My dad’s sad, sardonic expression became sombre. “It doesn’t matter, where we’re going…”
I looked into the hallway of my apartment building. Where I expected murky lamps and shag carpet, there was only light. The same light that bled through the windows. It was then I knew that it wasn’t some miraculous changing of the seasons that made the light outside. I was looking at the final season, the one that never appears on the calendar, the one without happy holidays taught to children. It was no storm, it was still, as unwavering as the stars in the sky. You can never see the stars from Manhattan.
Suddenly, I was confronted by my body, my soul seemed to be kicking my heart. I was crying. Sobbing like a little girl. “Dad, I’m not ready to go.” My chin was quivering, I could feel the snot and tears run down my cherry coloured face. “You’re ready, Ava.” He came up to me and grabbed my arm. He held me like I was no heavier than a ragdoll. “No!” I cried, my body went limp, and as his hand escaped me I ran back to the fridge. “Ava, you’re not a child any more.” I cried harder. I fell to the ground, grabbing onto the floor as if it would grab me back. “Don’t you love your grandpa?” he exclaimed, “Don’t you love me, Ava?” “Of course I do! How can you even ask that?” His eyes were grey. “What’s wrong with you, Daddy?”
He looked at me, and without opening his mouth, confirmed that there was no way of winning. He turned around, he grabbed the clutch of his suitcase. “Daddy, no!” I leaped up and grabbed him. He tossed me to the ground like he was removing a tick from his flesh. “Dad, please, no, don’t go!” Finally, he turned back around. His face bore the trail of a lone tear. Turning, again, he marched into the darkness of the light, the light which enveloped his body.
When I was a little girl, and I would cry inconsolably, my father would hold me and say, “Now no matter what you do, don’t blow your nose on my shirt…” I would look up at him and then blow my nose with all my might. He’d pretend to be disgusted. It didn’t matter where we were. I would giggle, and say, “Tears of joy, Dada. Tears of joy.”
He was gone. He had left me. There I was, rocking myself, my body a crib for my little heart. I sat, looking into the void, the void looked back. Suddenly, I heard a familiar voice. “Don’t go back to sleep, Ava,” said the voice. I looked up at the white of the ceiling, “Don’t go into the dream—”
Alone, in bed, I parted the curtains of my window. Pink sky greeted my eyes. Unpaintable gradients of yellow and purple adorned the atmosphere. There I was, awake. No more vibrations in my body, only the calming rattling of the air conditioner. I wondered if that would be the last time I’d hear my grandfather’s voice. And as that dreadful worry caressed my mind, something worse came. There would be a day my father would leave the front door for the last time. Out there in the light with his father, his brother, and his mother whom I never met.
This dream was my wish. My wish that when I cried, my father would always be there to console me, to make light of the saddest of things my little heart could feel. My dream was that when he left, I would leave with him. My nightmare: even in dreams, this could never be true.
Less than a week ago, I went on a date with someone I will probably never see again. Someone who was rather intimate over text, a person who seemed to have read all the little letters I’d written to myself over the past 18 years. When we had dinner, we talked about family, more specifically, my family. “It’s good that you’re so close with them,” they said. “I just love them a lot.” I looked off into the distance, and thought of my uncle. “You would’ve loved my uncle,” I said. “Oh yeah?” “He was a great musician…” I said. My mind lingered. “He always believed in me, I think maybe he still does…” I could see on their face not sympathy, but maybe intellectual disagreement. I felt I had something to prove, that maybe if I opened up my heart a little more they would understand. Understand the way they had seemed to understand so deeply over their text and phone calls. “Would you like me to read his last words to me?” I asked. “Sure,” they said. Suddenly I was reading aloud my last letter from my uncle Pete. My last interaction with him. I was almost ready to cry.
I can’t remember what they said to me, sometimes I black out after I say or do something vulnerable. All I remember was asking, “was that too much?” And then receiving some kindly response that I can’t quote verbatim. It’s not because I wasn’t listening, I was, but my heart wasn’t in that spacious Upper East Side diner, it was now far away. A place that I don’t fully understand, a place that I am scared to go. After a few minutes, they decided to leave, and exited the restaurant before I had gotten up from the booth. The waiter came up to me. “They’re gone,” he said. “Thanks, I know.”
They came back of course, but I knew it was probably done. I didn’t know the person I’d shared my sorrow with, and I now knew that they didn’t want to know me. Hours later, when I got home, I listened to the playlist I’d made for them, and thought of the words my mom had said to me after looking at my dating profile: “‘Do you want my heart now or later?’” she’d said, in a brilliant impersonation of me, so good that so much was said in one sentence. There I was, talking to someone who knew me, who loved me with all my flaws, someone who worried about my little heart. More than someone, my mother, my first home, the one who gave me life and decided to stick around despite all my mistakes and misgivings. If this conversation hadn’t been over the phone, I would’ve hugged her.
My uncle Pete was the person who talked to my grandfather every day in the last years of the old man’s life. The one who let my grandpa talk his ear off about how the nurses were scheming against him, and how he killed Hitler in WWII—all while my uncle suffered chemo and copious surgeries from a less than decent hospital. We had no idea that those would be Pete’s last years as well… at least, I didn’t.
My uncle Pete was the one who dealt with all the details of my grandfather’s cremation. He died before we could have a proper burial for grandpa Murray. The plan had been to hold a ceremony after my uncle finished his cancer treatments. My dad and I don’t know if Cheryl, his wife, knows the details of which mortuary holds my grandfather’s ashes. Somewhere, they lie in wait. We haven’t asked. It doesn’t seem like the right thing to ask a woman who just buried her husband. My uncle’s ashes are in England with his wife, I don’t know what she did with them, either, but I know that it was whatever Pete wanted—through all this tragedy, he was able to spend the last portion of his life with the love of his life, a woman who proves that family is more than the people you’re born to.
My grandpa’s ashes are somewhere in Pennsylvania. We never had a funeral for him because we wanted to wait for Pete and Cheryl to be able to bury Grandpa in person. Every day I think about his ashes, how even if we did find them, Grandpa left no note on what he would want done with them. Grandpa was not one to stare into the void, he was one to leave the world kicking and screaming, with a million stories, paintings, and inventions in place of his small and mighty body.
“I think you’re an optimist,” my date said to me last Thursday. Maybe they really did see me. Maybe that’s how the people I love live on—through my need to live and make art like they did.
That and the chronic sinus infections.