It has been just over a year since my grandfather died. Actually, the man I knew as my grandfather had been gone for much longer than that, but his old, stiff Grey-green body ceased to function the day after Valentines Day. I was on my way home from Gia’s, when I checked my voice mail and heard my father’s defeated, yet relieved voice tell me the news. When I got home I sat in silence with my mother and asked the usual questions about funeral arrangements, how Grandma was holding up, is Dad sleeping, how did it happen, and so forth. I agreed with my mother, who at the time looked like very dignified in that big blue chair, glasses resting on her nose, that it was good Grandpa had passed on. The last few months of watching him slowly fade from the inside out had taken its’ toll on all of us. Seeing him in the back room of their house, his body surrounded by pale yellow walls, confined to a hospital bed, yelling and swinging at demons only he could see, was how I imagined Nazi war criminals who had escaped to Argentina might spend their last days. Not to equate my Grandfather’s life to the death and suffering of millions, but I learned as I got older that he was not always the kind, gentle man of my youth.
From my first memories of him, he was nothing short of the perfect Grandfather. He had loved me from the moment I was born and never once complained or scolded me when I made fun of his bald spot, no matter how much it may have annoyed him. Or that time I managed to stuff an entire q-tip up my nose, not once did he get angry or ask me how I could do something so fucking stupid. But as I said before he was not always so caring and compassionate.
He was very cruel to my father and uncle Don in their childhood. When they all moved from Nevada to North Hollywood California, my father an uncle were noted allowed to bring any of their toys. According to my Grandfather, those were useless objects, stupid toys that serve no function. My uncle was at one time a gifted piano player, the kind that plays be ear and can instantly adapt to a style once he hears it. My Grandfather told him music was a stupid hobby and that he should get a real job. Unfortunately my uncle listened, and every time I see his face it breaks my heart a little more knowing that he could have given something so wonderful to this world, but didn’t because of my Grandfathers’ own fears.
My Grandfathers’ bitterness got so bad over time, that for many years he and father rarely spoke outside of holidays. If they did talk before Christmas or Easter, there where such long gaps in the conversation that you could have looked up the term "uncomfortable silence" in the Dictionary and seen a picture of my Dad and his father. For some of you, that might be the norm in your family, but for all 7 years I was in Chicago I talked to my parents every Sunday and did all I could to be home around Christmas. So the concept of communication with them being dictated by certain holidays was completely foreign to me.
We had always thought that Grandpa would die of heart trouble since he had heart trouble his whole adult life. But it seemed as though karma had come back around and was sitting at his bedside, laughing and making him remember all the pain he had caused. I was told that his ways old- bastardness ways were changed when he almost died in an electrical fire on a jobsite. He was covered in 3rd degree burns all over his body and the doctors thought that it was a bonified miracle that he even gained conscience again, let alone lived. I believe certain things happen for a reason in this world and that my Grandfathers’ shaking hands with death was the first step towards redeeming his past cruelties.
A few months ago I went to my Grandmother’s house because she wanted to know if I might like some of his old clothes. As I was trying on an old Nike sweatsuit top of his I felt something in the right pocket. I reached inside and found one of his old handkerchiefs. The man did not believe in Kleenex so he carried around handkerchiefs instead. It disgusted my mother to no end, but I always thought it was an old , amusing mannerism from the last century that had somehow managed to slip through into our present time like a pocket watch or a bowler top hat. I unfolded the handkerchief, stared though the almost transparent linen fabric, smiled, then instantly broke down. I held my tears silent as to not alert my Grandmother, she had been through enough I thought. I closed the bathroom door and cried for what I thought must have been hours. As I was gushing the kind of tears a movie star would fake to get an Academy Award, I realized that I was not crying for my Grandfather, but I was crying for my father.
Yes I loved my grandfather, on his death bed I had thanked him for making the man my father had turned out to be, but I was crying because for the first time in quite some time I was aware of the undeniable truth of my own Father’s mortality. He would die someday, as would my mother; and I was I strong enough to handle that fact? I could not imagine how it tore at his heart to watch my Grandfather slowly slip deeper and deeper into a place from which he would never return. I did not want to, but I couldn’t help picturing my scenario being played out in the room where I now type this passage. The computer where I type is gone, as is the ironing board, the other big blue chair, the file cabinets, and all the objects that make this room what is it are gone. They are replaced by the same yellow walls, the same hospital bed, and same sense of foreboding. I sit by his bedside hoping that karma's wrath had gently passed us by. I imagined as karma gently sat at his bedside, it gave a nudge to death and said, " be gentle with this one, he is special."
I imagined my father telling me how much he loved me and how proud he was of the man I had become. I told him that I was scared and that I wasn’t going to be able to go on without him. I hadn’t even painted that landscape he wanted, he couldn’t die until I finished it. I pictured him laughing , the crow’s feet forming under his crazy, mad scientist eyebrows, and telling me things will be ok. He told me that I was stronger than I knew and that it was just part of the life cycle. Strong? Me? You must be close to death dad, because you are talking crazy! I am not strong you crazy old man! I am always on the brink of losing everything. Most times it takes every muscle, every joint, and every brain cell I have fired to its fullest capacity for me to simply walk down the street and not collapse under the weight of self-induced demons.
But as he gently held my hand, I did not tell him what I was thinking. I kept it together and smiled at his Grey eyes the way he had smiled at my Blue eyes when I was born. By holding it all together, was I proving him right? Was I stronger than I knew? Or was I just packing away my insecurities like one does Christmas decorations? I imagined I didn’t care at that moment and would instead focus on making his last few moments with me gentle ones. He squeezed my hand again and told me that he loved me and I did the same. Then I imagined him taking his last breath , his giant hand slowly loosened its’ grip and then slowly descended to the mattress. And there I was, cold and isolated, having just watched one of the greatest men to have ever lived leave me alone in a world that at any moment would eat me alive.
But as the tears began to lessen, I realized that although my imagined scenario might very well come true, one aspect was false. If one has loved and been loved then one is never really alone. Whenever I heard a preacher or some well to do religious person declare that the soul lives forever, or the person is kept alive by the memories of the ones who loved, I always though, " Easy for you to say asshole, it’s not your dead relative in the coffin." Advice to me always seems less valid coming from someone who is in a greater vantage point than the person who needs it. What if this is it? What if there is no afterlife? No Heaven?
No hell? No Paradise? No Nirvana? What if this is the only shot we have? Why do the good always die young? Why is there so much suffering in the world and yet there is so much wealth? Why hasn’t anyone bitch slapped Paris Hilton yet? There are some many questions that need to be answered, but I digress from my point.
I realized at my Grandfather’s funeral when my dad spoke that the soul does live forever. The preachers and clergymen I had always heard spew out the same speech were right. We are never truly dead if we have lived our lives the way God intended us to and people remember the love we gave to world. Although my Father will die someday, I will not be alone or scared because I carry on the love he gave to me and I can live my life knowing that I regarded has him as one of my heroes.
As I exited my Grandmother’s bathroom, I had a huge sense or relief settle over me, like the feeling you get after a long run. I met my Grandmother in her backyard, hugged her gently, and asked her how the roses were doing. She said they were coming along and asked if I found anything I liked. " I found some shirts, and this, " I said.mShe turned to see the Nike jacket. "Oh, that’s nice, he loved that," was her response. I reached into the right pocket and pulled out the handkerchief and said," Look what I found."
She smiled that old grandmother smile and said, " How about that! He’s laughing somewhere." I agreed. At that moment, I felt a warm breeze pass by and knew that my grandmother was right.
Sunday, October 23, 2005
I will be leaving for Chicago to participate in Bare Walls 2005 the first weekend in November. On one hand I am excited to be doing some traveling, seeing Joe, Harmony,and Matt; on the other hand I am terrified. I have been practicing as you can see above with the iris, but I still don’t like painting in acrylics, it just doesn’t feel right and it comes out looking like shit. And painting in front of people with the pressure of having the work done in 8 hours in unnerving. For me, painting is a very private solitary act not to be shared with others. The end product and how I get there is viewable, but the process of mixing, scrapping, drawing, mistake correcting, analyzing , thinking, and the frustration is for me alone. It is my therapy, my escape, and the reason I get out of bed in the morning. Or maybe I’m making too much of the whole trip. It will be a great chance to network that is for sure…