Monday, October 6, 2014

When You Can't Go Back Home

It was 8th grade track practice and i had just mastered my first four-stride hurdle. That was really a high-high point in the day, as it turned out, because as i rounded the hurdle practice zone, i saw my mom walking out onto the field wearing sunglasses. Grandpa V. had died suddenly, she said, and it was time to go.

Later we were in the blackness of our late-80s Astrovan, us three girls allegedly sleeping in the back seats. We were driving in the dark to get us back to Dad's family, who lived 9 or so hours from us now -- a relatively close distance compared to just months before, when we'd been living across the Atlantic from almost everyone we loved.

Dad and Mom had been quiet most of the trip, but then Dad spoke up, probably thinking none of us in the back could hear. He said he'd been dreaming, and that in his dreams his father had entered, waved, and said a simple "goodbye." I rarely see my father choke up -- this military officer, the head of the family and farm boy used to hard things -- but in that moment his voice caught. I never told him i saw or heard.

In the 23-odd years since Grandpa's sudden passing, our family has never completely been at peace with it. Why should he be taken from us so soon, from a heart attack, while ironically driving other war vets to the VA for treatments? It's never been fair, not least of all to my Grandma, who talks of him as if he just left the room. Or talked, i should now say.

Last night my Grandma V. went to join the man she called her "tall drink of water." At 89 she'd been slowly declining this past year or so, and eventually her organs just stopped working. For the past few days she's been surrounded by her 10 children, her many grandkids and greats, doling out advice and encouraging everyone to get up one last game of pinochle. She talked until she couldn't talk anymore, and then she was gone -- her mind never leaving her til nothing at all was left. Days ago i talked to her on FaceTime and she was blown away that we could do that. Me too.

She married my Grandpa in the Hathaway Chapel in Vancouver, Washington in the WWII era -- just a few miles from where i now call home (when i'm not here, of course). She worked as a hair dresser and worried and took care of his twin baby girls while he sat in the bottom of a plane and dropped bombs on Germany -- a place he would later visit as a tourist in the last years of his life, when he came to visit us in our home across the Atlantic.

I am so happy for her now, that she gets to be reunited with him. We missed him, but she missed him most.

Still, i can't get over my own selfish feeling of being cheated out of closure. I look out my window at baby banana trees and palms, thinking about how i should be watching the first flakes of snow fall on southern Minnesota. How if i were living in my own country, only lots of land -- and the prospect of driving over Rocky Mountain passes -- would keep me from being there, instead of frontiers known to strike fear into North Americans called Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala.

But i am not going. Can't, rather. In this self-imposed cloister i have to rely on modern technology to get to commune with my family -- and i know it's all my own doing. This time there is no big military commander putting an ocean between a family and everyone else who loves them. 

There is only me and my desire to raise this revolutionary with some sense of the world; its faults, its pleasures, and the exquisite feeling of getting to go back home again -- sometimes denied.


Emily said...

Dang...thanks for the tears you...

Jack said...

"Who mourns for the cocoon when the butterfly has flown?"

Black Hills Ash said...

I know how hard it is to mourn when you are so far away. My grandma and grandpa both passed when I was in India. I'm sure they would have wanted me to stay, and im sure your grandma would think the same.... sending you love!