Day 7: Write a story with the words: tree, box, grandfather and toothpaste.
“And therefore I will love. Blind, boundless and never-ending. ”
He left me something. I don’t really understand why, I never knew him all too well. I don’t know why I consider it important. Why should I care about feelings never had, never transmitted, never known. It can’t matter now, so why should I care? I haven’t cared for 27 years of life. Then why do I care now? But I do.
I didn’t cry. I’m not a person who cries a lot. I don’t see the point. Why cry over something that is lost? Why cry over something that will never return? We walked inside wearing all black. Me and my mother. My little sister had never known him, she was too young. My father had never wanted to. There’s a lot of history between them. I don’t know why I came. Maybe to keep my mother company. She cried. I don’t know if she was sad. She never knew him well, none of us did, but as the music started she teared up. There were a few people I had never met, a few people whom I had heard stories about and a few people that I had met me when I was younger. I wonder if he knew them well. They told me that he had been distant and inapproachable. During the service I sat in the back, I held my mother’s hand. Through a sea of black suits, black veils and white tissue paper I could see the right shoulder of the priest. Just beyond the preacher’s stand I saw a glimpse of grey hair and the bright blue velvet upholstery inside the casket. He hated blue, I learnt that later.
I found it when we cleaned out the house. There was a musty scent throughout the house. Somehow everything there was mismatched. The sofa didn’t fit the table. The rocking chair was wine red, but the cushions were bright blue. The pattern on the table lamp suited horribly to the table. The paintings in the living room varied from expressionistic art to portraits of naked women dating to the baroque age. At first it looked like a horrible mess. I cleaned all of it. The dust wasn’t the worst part, but I found a rotten sandwich under one of the chairs. The style was awful; no one could have come up with it intentionally. The wheel of a bike was hung against a wall. I am still not quite sure if he intended it as a piece of art, or that he had forgotten to fix his bike and left it hanging to remind himself. Somehow every room was ugly, yet it felt like a home. It felt warm. I can’t figure out how my mind has formed a homey image of random collections of every sized garbage, yet I couldn’t shake the pattern on the table lamp and how beautifully red it was. I kept it. Everything felt warm, but I knew it to be lonely. There were no pictures. There was no need. He was never in pictures. The house felt warm, but the dust was a clear signal. He had died alone.
It took a full day to clean out the house. I had nearly skipped the last door, as it was hardly distinguishable from the wall. I found the key in the kitchen drawer and at first I wished I hadn’t. The attic was covered in spider’s webs. I found the remaining pieces of the bike as an answer to my question. I found a mountain of boxes with mostly nothing in them. I found a lot of things with little or no meaning to me, but I also found what I had never thought about. I found out who he was, as a person, as a husband, as a grandfather. Everything of his I found in a small box under the staircase. The box itself was the only wooden box in the attic. Small, yet precious. It had a carving on it of a bird with spread wings. The wood of the box had a reddish glow with a dark striped pattern. The key was already in its lock and I felt that I had found a treasure. I was right. Mostly I found out that he was a writer. I found stacks of letters, notes and scratch papers with vaguely formulated sentences. I found everything. Feelings, thoughts, adventures. My grandfather wasn’t a very organised man. He didn’t have one diary, but he just had his whole being stacked in this messy pile of papers. I found his deepest thoughts on a shopping list.
- Instant noodles
- My family back
He wrote about the daily things, he wrote stories, poems and songs.
“James asked me today if I still cared. I told him to mind his own damn business. No way the town baker gets to know my thoughts. Of course I care. But I’m tired. I know that people think I’m distant. The truth is that I don’t know how to feel. I know that one time that I felt, and I felt everything. I felt the wind through my hair, I felt the rain on my skin. I felt every step I took, I felt air enter my lungs and leave again. I got tired of feeling, so I stopped. I felt everything when she left. The love of my life. Alongside my kids and their kids. Of course I care. I should really get to fixing my bike today. I might be old and alone, but I’m sure as hell not gonna be old, alone and fat. (2005)”
He had gotten fat later on.
“There is this dream I’ve been having. It’s nothing special, but it’s special in that way. There is a small house in the mountains that has my name on it. It’s a small wooden house near a lake. There are some trees, some plants and there’s a small waterhole nearby. I spend my days farming, making some music, staring at the sunset as I drink a cup of tea. Of course I’ll have a dog who keeps me company. I’d go on long walks in the surrounding nature and I’d pluck some flowers along the way. I’d collect them and keep them healthy until the next time my granddaughter comes to visit. She’d like them, I’m sure. That’s the life.”
I never went to visit. Should I have? When I found these notes I had started liking him more. Funny, since I had never known him well. I started reading and I kept reading. Before I realised it was morning. That’s when I found it. There was a picture of me. I hardly recognised myself as there were few baby pictures of me. In the picture a younger version of him was holding me. Grandma was right next to him. He tried to look in the camera, but he was clearly focused on me. His hands were wrapped around me as he tried to hold me steady. The wrinkles around his eyes were less deep, but he looked tired. The thing that struck me was his smile. I had never seen him smile. We never hugged. We were never close. Still, in this picture he held me so tight and his eyes. It looked like love. I have seen love in other eyes and this is what it looked like. It really made me wonder. If he had smiled like this at one time, if he had loved like this, where had it gone? Why was it gone? Why do I remember a distant man with little love, while here I saw someone who cared?
There was a note on the back of a picture. It was actually a letter. To me.
One day, I promise. One day when you can walk and talk, we’ll walk and we’ll talk together. I’ll give you a bunch of flowers, and you’ll love to see their colours. I’ll give you a flower for every year. We’ll walk together in the forest. We can build a tree house together. We’ll talk about everything, you can tell me everything! One day, I promise, we’ll be best friends. You’re going to get a little sister, I just know it. We’ll run and play and have fun, just the three of us. I’ll get a dog and you can name him. Dear Emma please grow up quickly, because I am getting old. Please grow up before my legs won’t run and my hands won’t draw. As you grow up, know that I love you. Seize the day, live, laugh, love! If I’m not there, still know I love you. I will always love you. A flower for every year that I still love you.”
I cried. Not because he broke his promise. Not because I never knew him. Not because he seemed to never care. I cried because he cared. He cared at one point in time, and that was enough. I don’t know why that matters, since the lost time cannot be gained. My tears were not of regret, knowing what I had lost. My tears were those of joy, realising what always been there. That moment of caring, that moment of love was worth more than all the years not knowing.
I continued cleaning. I found 27 flowers, dried up in a book. I stopped crying and I started smiling.