“This is the last time you’ll see me,” he said, and I protested because that’s what you’re supposed to do, even though we both knew better.
Granddad swept me up in a hug, the way you can’t hug someone now, and I could feel the hollowness inside him that was eating him alive. His ribs were a taiko when I patted his back; his heart echoed against my cheek. He had been a giant when I was young, and he never seemed to get shorter, long legs outstretched in a series of recliners, always with a dachshund stretched along his thighs. He was the only man I’ve ever seen sit like that, consistently, knees pressed together.
Seventy-some years before, on August 14th, he’d had orders for the Pacific. Had paused, balanced on a boarding plank, one foot on sovereign soil and the other nowhere, waiting for the news. Never boarded. For his whole life, a boy in a man’s clothes was still suspended in time, on a plank over the hungry ocean, his pockets full of French perfume for the woman he’d married, his head full of other thoughts.
“Remember me like this, I want you to remember me like this,” he said, where my mother couldn’t hear him. So I didn’t go, when we had the option to see him diminished, when we could look at the hollowness without the man who had been stretched thin around it. When the mind that had cupped the Southwest in paint-stained, loving hands was gone.
And I do remember him like that, but I also remember him as the first person to use a racial slur in front of me, and it was one that describes people I also consider family. It’s complicated, until it’s not.
Coincidence flows through my veins and links me to racists, to people who take without a second thought, to people who do not and can not believe that separate people exist with separate thoughts and feelings and ideas beyond what they can imagine. But there’s other coincidence in life: the accident of meeting someone online, of re-meeting a friend you would never have counted on for support and finding them where you need them, of the family members brought in by marriage and kept longer than the legal ties bind them. “She’s your only sister” is an absolutely true statement; but there’s only one of any person, and not all coincidences are serendipitous. “They’re your only [name]” is just as true, and just as coincidental. Coincidence is not value.
Remember me like this: coincidence is its own kind of truth.
Remember me like this: not all truth is meaningful.
Remember me like this: I knew what I valued.