Episode Four - Abuelita y el orso
Dear bear in the sky with diamonds,
This is long overdo but I couldn’t bear to do it sooner. I had a dream about you last night. You were dying, then you were dead, then you were alive again, then I was saying goodbye to you while another you interrupted me from the other corner of the room and I screamed at you to let me finish saying goodbye to you. You were wearing that burgundy sweatshirt that I took from home after you died. In the coffin you were dressed like Pavarotti. Black suit, white shirt and you had a red carnation pinned in your chest. You looked like you were ready to perform but you were ready to die.
I don’t miss you everyday cause I don’t let myself think about you. When you pop into my thoughts, I do my best to not sink into it. I banish you and I’m sorry but I can’t seem to have it any other way. If I remember you then I have to think about you and if I think about you I draw your face in my mind, your hands, the way you walked, the things you used to say. The past week I’m haunted by two moments, two goodbyes. The first one is when I moved to Bucharest and the second is when I left for Ireland. You remember.
I packed my bags and said goodbye to everyone back home. You were playing at the restaurant in the park that day. I got in the cab and I stopped by before going to the train station to say goodbye to you. You were waiting in the back, smoking. I got out and I hugged you and kissed you and you were doing your best to hold back your tears, as was I. I don’t know if you know, but it was hard for me too. I didn’t cry in front of it but I did cry. I always cried when saying goodbye to you but I never let you see me.
When I left for Ireland you were sitting at the edge of the bed, your belly overflowing, your head down, your eyes more green than their usual brown. I saw the top of your head, your hair gray and thinning, your big hands holding each other and your lip. That lower, pink lip that seemed bigger than usual, was quivering despite all your efforts of stopping it. Tears were pouring down your soft cheeks and you looked like a tree - all your branches were heavy with sadness. I hugged you and kissed your wet cheeks and pretended everything was gonna be ok and that it’s not a big deal. You were too sick to get out of the house those days, you were getting dizzy and it was hard for you to walk so you didn’t take me to the airport. I remember the dogs being outside, all 6 of them and before we left you asked mom to at least let one of them in. It broke my heart. I felt how lonely you felt and it broke my heart. It stays broken to this day, it’s ripped to pieces right there in the left corner and I can’t fix it cause I’m a lousy sower.
I don’t know what hurts the most. The image of you on your dying bed, helpless and hurting, just like you never wanted to be or you at your best, your most loving, your most cheerful and knowing that I will never be in the presence of that again. Ever. Choosing has never been my strong point. I anticipated that coming home for the one year requiem would be a nightmare. I expected every day to be reminded by what happened a year ago on the same day. I expected to crumble like pastry but I didn’t. I didn’t feel much, because I always put my shield up when I come home. I feel people around me suffer enough and there is no room for my suffering. I put on my clown suit, make jokes and juggle.
As I’m struggling to write this, it finally happens. It caught up with me. All the painful memories from one year ago come flying in without warning. Maybe now I’m ready to talk about them. Maybe I should.
Thinking back, I realize I knew you were dying. I knew it when I saw you the first time because it felt like big chunks of you were already floating away. Death is a palpable thing, you know. Death is in the probability of death, it’s that chill that goes through you at 30 degrees, it’s that smell that just won’t go away, it’s fear in its purest form. And it was with you in the room at all times. We all saw it and yet we all pretended it wasn’t there. You knew, you knew it a long time ago and you tried to tell me, but I couldn’t accept that.
I remember the first time that I was alone with you in the hospital and one of your friends came by. He brought you this tea he had made, he mixed every good herb he could find to make this magical potion that would make you feel better. He made you drink out of it obsessively and he kept saying that it will put you back on your feet in no time. He was so lively and so high-spirited, he was fighting the fight but his eyes gave him away. He knew nothing could save you. The looks you shared pierce through my heart even today. You were drinking the tea, to please him and your eyes were full of compassion for him and his hopes because you knew that it was pointless too. A part of you wanted to believe but couldn’t. You were getting bigger on the outside and smaller on the inside everyday. Your eyes were the eyes of a child that doesn’t quite understand what’s happening: afraid and hopeful. There was such tenderness and so much love in that lie you both build for each other! I swear, it’s one of the saddest things I’ve ever witnessed. He was massaging you so hard I wanted to stop him because it looked like he was hurting you but I understood what he was doing. He wanted to pour some life into you because you were fading away. I got out of your room and I cried. Then I came back and we lied to each other too.
That week, before the requiem, none of these memories occupied my mind. Instead I found myself dealing with lawyers and banks, survival in the heat, choosing what flowers to buy, what food caterers to hire, how to make mum lift less, stress less, wear less black. I think the high pressure point of all the preparation came the day before the requiem.
We were in the market, me, my mum and my aunt. We were deciding what to shop for while shopping, which is always a bad idea but becomes unbearable when heat is involved. As a result I felt like I was losing my mind. My mum’s decision-making process is not the most efficient out there and I am not the most patient person I know so things were a little bumpy. After buying almost everything, my mum was still hung up on what flowers to get. We smartly decided for the most tortured person - aka: me - to stay with the bags somewhere in the shade and wait, while my mum and the more patient person - aka: my aunt - helped her pick the darn flowers.
I sat on the steps in front of a rundown apartment building drinking water and gazing at my surroundings. On my left, on a high cement platform, sat this teddy bear. I could hear the ProTv news from the apartment on the ground floor and the bickering of two not-so-young spouses. As if they were meant to contrast that, birds were singing a mellow tune. The smell of ciorbă was in the air and all I could think of was my childhood. A grandfather and his granddaughter passed by holding hands. I was reminded of my grandpa and how things used to be. I concluded that for me the smell of summer is truly the smell of ciorbă and that the feel of summer used to be of ease and fun. Picking cherries, playing SuperMario, water fights, grandpa telling stories, barbeques underneath the starry sky, lazy days with dad at the pool, eating watermelon and spitting out the seeds, falling asleep outside. Oh, the joys of summer. There’s a big dark cloud on the summer sky now, the 26th of june is the day that summer, as I knew it, ceased to exist. I sat there thinking of how all I feel is melancholy but not pain. I never thought I’d be so good at bottling up feelings, but I guess it becomes a worthy skill when needed. I looked up to my left and to my surprise, the bear had company. La abuelita encontro el orso.
Funny thing is we were all lonely in some way and so close to each other.
The day of your wake was long but slow at the same time. Mum had the hardest time, Rox put on her usual brave face and I was the cruelest: I did not allow myself feelings. I hate going to your grave, I can’t stand looking at that big picture of you cemented in a place that feels wrong. I can’t associate you with the place that holds your body. I don’t find you there because I don’t look for you there because I’m afraid that that is where you are. And that can’t be it. I don’t know if there’s a heaven, if you’re in the sky, if you’re visiting la Cote D’Azur or hanging around our house. I do know that all that energy that was you had to go somewhere and I think I find tiny bits of it everywhere, especially in myself. I found a video from what will now be referred to as your last Christmas. I didn’t know what it was, it had the dogs in it. I opened it and out of the blue I heard your voice. It was such a surprise to hear you again but it also felt so normal, like you haven’t gone at all. It’s so natural for you to be alive that I still do not understand that you’re dead. It’s been one year and you have died so many times. You have died every morning in which I woke up and realized that you’re gone. When my brain got used to that, you stopped dying in the morning. You died in my dreams. For months and months you died in my dreams. You still die, every time I have a thought about you it has to be followed by your death. Please, stop dying.
I remained cold-hearted until I got on the plane to go back to Dublin. My neck hurt so my first thought was that I’d like a massage. I remembered how I always had to tell you to squeeze harder because your big hands that looked so sturdy and powerful were soft like pillows and they couldn’t even pretend to hurt me. That’s when I cried my tears. That’s when I started to think of the pieces of you that made you who you were and now I can’t stop. So, I love you and I miss you. If I ever hurt you (and I know I must have) please know that it wasn’t for lack of love or because I wanted to. I just didn’t know better. I won’t ask you to forgive me because I know you did. You could never hold a grudge on the people you loved.
I hope that wherever you are, in whatever shape or form you are, you can now eat the food you wanna eat, drink as much as you wanna drink and play your violin. I want to believe you’re free.
To my main bear, my hungry hungry hippo, my dog lover, Tom and Jerry watcher, wine drinker, family lover, beautiful story teller, mountain of a man. With all my love.