When I look in the mirror I see my grandpa Ben sipping green tea while listening to a radio baseball game (Mets) inside an open garage. A memory of New York City is in the background. It's orange and black. Mostly traffic and yelling, but also Charlie Parker and a car thrown into the East River. The washing machine spins. On the lawn deer chew New Jersey grass. His fingernails click.
This is happening right now:
You died this morning at 10:05 am New Jersey time. I was on my way to work, in the passenger's seat of my car with a broken knee propped up on the dusty dashboard when my mom told me you were gone. And though I was expecting this news, and though you left this world peacefully without any suffering, I was still clobbered by grief. Obviously I'm still grieving. I'm grieving the pieces of you that inevitably seeped into my everyday actions and spirit, and the other mysterious parts I'll never know.
You had a long life Grandpa. 89, nearly 90 years old. It was a rich, complex life that I was lucky to be a part of for more than 36 years. First as a baby, then as a child, then as a young adult, and again as a parent. You were there when, while gliding around the driveway in roller-skates, I fell flat on my face and knocked out my first front tooth. You were there when I accidentally broke your favorite antique guitar chair (and though I knew you were upset that it was broken, you never yelled at me). You were there the day before I left the country for India, so proud of me for traveling to other parts of the world. You were always there. Sitting outside, next to your basil and tomato plants, reading the New Yorker or The Nation, plays by George Bernard Shaw, or a biography of someone you were fascinated by at the time. Reading, reading, reading until eventually your eyes started to fail and you couldn’t read anymore. And despite how devastating the loss of your eye site was for you, you never complained. You just adopted a new series of rituals. You refocused your eyes to your ears and listened to NPR and baseball games, then later CSPAN on a giant, glaring TV. You listened carefully to the world around you, watching, enjoying, with a subtle smile on your ever-handsome face and a dapper hat atop your sweet mostly-bald head.
Right now, your voice is in my ear. It says, I drink a cup of green tea every afternoon. It says, I never voted for Republicans or Democrats. I only support the Green Party. It says, Are you still living in Brooklyn? And, Dorothy, where is my coffee? And, How’s your novel coming along? And, You are looking good kid. I can smell the pipe tobacco on your sweater. I can feel a lull while listening to you play something that sounds like a slower version of Django Reinhardt on your guitar. I run my fingers along the spines of your books. I flip through their pages and sniff each one. They all have secrets tucked inside their pages. Random ephemera, ticket stubs and dry cleaners tickets, New Yorker cartoons and drawings made by me or my sisters. I hear a plethora of stories about your travels to Europe, boat rides in Sicily (your homeland) and your rascally youth in Brooklyn - dancing and dealing at underground jazz clubs, refusing to speak Italian with your mom, sleeping on the fire escape on hot summer nights and pushing cars into the East River with friends.
Thank you for being there for me grandpa. Thank you for living your life fully and presently. Thank you for inspiring me to travel, and read and play guitar. Thank you for always rooting for the underdogs. Thank you for giving me your eyes and nose. Thank you for showing me true gentleness. I love you in my heart. In my head. In my broken knee. Everywhere. I love you.