A Love Story

by saracrolick

the apple of his eye

Growing up, my grandfather’s house was a second home for me.

Though it was just a mile or two away, going there felt like a whole different place—a vacation place—where children shaped the environment more than the adults.

Grandpa’s house smelled of cigars. It rested on a hill with a pair of trees planted between the road below and the covered front porch. The porch, with its rust-colored finish was cool, even on the most abusive summer days.

The house was a ranch-style, with a long, dark hallway leading to the bathroom; as a child, I felt like there was something mysterious about those hallway doors. In the wood grain, so prominent, I saw faces of twisted characters; but this was Grandpa’s house, so there was nothing to fear at all. Grandpa became a tamer of sorts, and these faces his trophies.

The basement collected—that was its only role. A wood-burning stove, a pool table, a pinball machine, a piano with sporadicly silent keys. Figurines were tucked away in every corner, old license plates hung from exposed metal beams. Machinery and tools. A freezer with a supply of fudgesicles that knew no end. But the basement collected people as well; grandkids gathered to play make-believe games—treasure hunters, concert pianists, and bar flies. Grownups took over at times, shooing the little dreamers upstairs or outside.

This was a space of cluttered magic, of unadulterated imagination.

Outside we built forts. We played “secret code” and saved the world with our metamorphic powers—I was ‘Pantara,’ who could change into any feline. We had a flimsy pool every summer where we were swept away in whirlpools. We had swing sets and woods. We had joy and innocence, a safe space to be kids.

Grandpa’s house meant love—it meant I was the most important person in the world.

“You’re my favorite grandaughter, you know.”

“Grandpa, I’m your only grandaughter.”

“I know. But you’re still my favorite.”

I was at the center of his heart.

And before me, there was her.

Though I never got to meet my grandmother, I feel as though we were always connected. Something of her flows through me—her spark, her beauty, the thing that he fell for.

Grandma Lucy died shortly before I was born, but Grandpa talked about her until the day he died. As he got older, his stories became more and more sentimental, as if the burden of her loss only intensified with the passage of time.

He refused to remarry, though I remember a ‘friend’ for a brief while. Grandma Lucy was his wife, he never needed another. And I always admired that—a love so proud it couldn’t be eclipsed, even in death.

grandma lucyI’ve devoured photographs of her; I studied them, looked for her inside, like her eyes would tell me something secret—most of them from the period in which she was bed-ridden.

But even when she was frail and sickly, even with cigarettes resting gracefully between bony fingers, she was magnificent. I could see it—the thing he treasured so fiercely.

Theirs was a love that I wanted.

Love unshakable.

I think a part of my grandfather died with her; I think after that day, a piece of him was ready to go at any point—not because his children and grandchildren weren’t enough, but because she was that much for him.

And so, I loved my grandfather and he loved me. We had our own proud love, right up until the days I visited him in the hospital; up until the moment I took the glasses from his face, washing them in his room’s tiny bathroom, before placing them gently back upon his nose; up until the moment I saw him in the hospice room, thin and barely recognizable, such a distant figure from the bear I knew; up until the moment I kissed him on his forehead, knowing it would be the last moment I ever felt his skin; and up until the moment he took his final breath, from that same hospice bed, on February 14th.

I returned home to my parent’s house that evening to find my father asleep on the couch—he had sat vigilantly, watching each breath subtract from the total his father claimed ownership of.

My mom sat on the couch and I thought for a moment that we could talk about Grandpa’s death casually, as though sobbing wasn’t necessary, like we had actually been prepared.

But we weren’t. I wasn’t. I choked on the feeling for a moment, letting it irritate my throat, before the tears began to silently trickle.

My mother looked up at me from her armchair. And softly, so softly, “At least he got to be with Grandma Lucy for Valentine’s Day.”

It was as if air had returned to the room with her words. I stopped feeling quite so sad. A familiar, quiet joy permeated my heart. This, I thought to myself, is what it means to let go. 

I have missed him and have cried many tears since he’s been gone; but I know that the proud love we shared helped carry him through until it was finally time to go home to her.

And years later, I still feel him; and I’m still the apple of his eye. I feel his smile when I need it. I feel his pride and his heart speaking to mine. 

The connection remains.

He can see the woman and mother I’ve become. He can still see her spark, her beauty, that thing he fell for. And knowing that I have this piece of her—this piece he loved so fiercely—has made all the difference in how I’ve said goodbye.