Spikey grass and fuzzy, wild mint poking out from beneath a weathered split rail fence. The sweet perfume of milkweed just beyond a shed, and then lilac, artfully edging itself in, overpowering the rest with its thick, heady scent. The rhythmic rustling of birch leaves, a whispering shimmy under a warm breeze. Plums on pavement, slick nearly black splatters blanketing orphaned pits. These are the memories I have of walking home from school.
Tee-ball reveries come to life with a mixture of grape flavored Big League Chew and McDonald’s Orange Drink from a massive yellow barrel. The unrelenting dryness of hands stamped with infield dust, the aroma of oil softened gloves and cigarette smoke over stale popcorn wafting in from the bleachers.
It’s funny what awakens the memories of days gone by, and of people who have passed.
About a month ago a package arrived. It was my grandfather’s computer. The computer that for so long was my lifeline to him. I would send pictures of the girls and he would respond with brief exclamations of pride, adoration or both. I have hundreds of them, too precious to throw away, too painful to revisit. I hated the sight of the box. The assault it carried in its message that forever more my connection to him will be through memory alone. There will be no more calls. No more emails. There will be no more Grandpa outside of me. I tried tucking the package away, not ready to face the finality of its being, its existence there in my living room.
When I did finally open the first box there was an accordion file inside. Once standard issue manila, it was now muted from months and years spent beneath a window, the southern California sun baking it down to a soft buff. Bare. The corners of the file softened and fuzzy from thumbing. When I lifted the flap to peek inside it was as if my grandfather and all the moments I had with him came rushing back at me like the whoosh of air from a door slamming. Dark wood and books, the aroma of grand old furniture and the insides of book cases. Whiskery kisses and soft skin on elegantly tapered fingers. Waking to the gentle sounds of piano through the floor overhead.
I tried to close the file but a slip of paper had made its way out, resting on my wrist. It was smaller than my palm and was covered with my grandfather’s hand. A play list:
Talk of the Town
On the Street Where
I’ve Grown Accustomed
All the Things You Are
Be Still, My Heart
With Every Breath
You Go to My Head
Don’t Blame Me
The list went on, and each line broke my heart a little more. His sentimentality, his joie de vivre, his effortless charisma, once so vibrant and pure now seemed delicate. How could it be over? I tried to breathe him in again, to take myself back to sitting beside him at the piano, to watching him from across a room as he spoke, or listened, or slept. But I couldn’t get back in. Each moment the file sat in my lap, felt as if he was being carried farther away. It was only then, more than a month after he died, when the tears finally came. Holding the fragile slip of paper in my hand, my tears fell on faint stains along the edges of the paper.
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
Someone to Watch Over Me
Try to Remember
I Married an Angel
I’ll Never Smile Again
Blame it on My Youth
I gave into the collapse with everything I had and everything I had lost. The release of acknowledging, if not accepting, he was gone gave me peace, followed quickly by a vast emptiness. Gone. Quiet. Still. And then the ache of knowing that this sadness will in fact dull. The computer still sits near the door, bundled with care by ancient hands which mourned him too. I’ll open it soon, but for now, I hold his slips of paper like snowflakes in my hands, willing them not to melt, not to flutter away and become but another sparkle in a blanket of crisp white snow.