While searching for a blank notebook in my file cabinet at work today, I stumbled upon a spiral-bound, one-subject, wide-ruled notebook with a red cover.
I nonchalantly flipped through the pages full of notes scrawled in my chicken-scratch shorthand. Blue ink here, black ink there, To-Do list headers and checkmarks and things that mattered then that don't matter in that urgent, crucial way now that time has passed.
As I searched for a blank page to begin a new To-Do list, several pages filled with my handwriting--intentional words, written with thought and time, not hurried and rushed scribblings like the others--made me double-back.
I dove in, recognition raining down on me like a cold shower as I read my own words. My emotions--spilling out of my brain and heart and bleeding through black ink on these blue-lined pages-- took me back in time.
"December 26, 2014," I wrote in at the top of the page with an underline. "It's the day after Christmas, which means it would have been Grandpa's 83rd birthday..."
My grandpa had unexpectedly passed away in November 2014--a mere month before I wrote these words in this red notebook. The wound was still fresh when I wrote this, the pain still raw. I remember my face looking as blank as these pages once were, my heart torn and red like this notebook cover.
Time heals. It does.
But all it takes is a movie, a song, a smell, a journal entry, to take you right back like an emotional time machine. Our brain is a train, moving forward and pressing on and using logic to categorize our memories and sort them into little boxes on shelves we can open and close at will.
But the heart? The heart is like an elephant: It never forgets.
I miss a lot of things. I miss my grandpa. I miss bike rides on Pine Street in St. Charles. I miss smoothies with friends in the pool and girls nights in dorm rooms. I miss certainty. I miss unscarred hearts and Keds sneakers and Spice Girls cassette tapes.
I miss a lot of things. I miss a lot of people. Sometimes, I miss me.
But the missing makes us human. The missing is a signal, a cue, a sign: Missing means we aren't where we used to be anymore. Missing means change.
Missing means growth.
Nowadays, I drive by my Grandpa's house and the pangs of sadness don't hit me as strongly, poking my ribs and my chest and my stomach with memories. The current homeowner has done some work, installing a new entrance.
And I like that. I like that he's making it his own entryway. He is making a new way to step into something that matters to him, as he should. He's beginning a new chapter, just as we all are as we move forward. Day by day. Moment by moment. But sometimes, you stumble upon something that takes you back. And that's okay, too.
Below is my red notebook journal entry. I wrote this for no one but myself, which is why I wrote it in a journal rather than on a computer or blog. I'll share it here, now, as time has passed and my wounds are scarred and maybe you're missing something or someone, too.
December 26, 2014
It's the day after Christmas, which means it would have been Grandpa's 83rd birthday. After going to the movies with Court, I decided to take the regular way home to my parents' house. Even though I live with Kaylee in Saginaw now instead of at my parents' house, I think the home you grew up in always feels a little bit like home. Maybe I'm wrong.
The regular way home is M-52 rather than through Hemlock. M-52 is the main road that runs right past Grandpa's house. When I was in middle school, they (they meaning MDOT or senators or Someone Important) put rumble strips on the road--right in front of Grandpa's house--to make it safer and help prevent people from falling asleep at the wheel.
Grandpa hated the rumble strips. He made signs and put them in his front yard to express his discontent. Apparently rumble strips are loud.
Anyway, while driving home today down M-52, I saw the bright cherry red of my dad's truck at my grandpa's house. I was in a mood... angry and frustrated and feeling like the entire world is selfish. because sometimes, the world feels selfish and fake.
So when I saw Dad's truck, I felt relieved. Two of the realest men in my life are my dad and my grandpa. So tough, yet their edges can be soft if you look closely. I didn't even think twice, just pulled right into Grandpa's driveway. Dad looked happy to see me. I needed Real.
But I wasn't prepared for the tears. As soon as I walked into grandpa's house, the smell--this musty, kind of smoky, very Grandpa, only Grandpa-smell--hit my nostrils and the tears immediately welled.
It felt wrong to be there without Grandpa. Instinct told me he would be there, just sitting in his spot on his chair like always.
But he wasn't.
"How do you do this?" I asked Dad, tears rolling silently down my cheeks. "How do you come here and clean and organize and not cry?"
"Because you just do," Dad said. "I just do. You have to."
My heart felt heavy as I took in the living room, sat down in Grandpa's recliner. The house was still so full of Grandpa, yet the world was so empty of him. I turned to the end table next to Grandpa's chair. An old, yellowed newspaper caught my eye, the top read, "The Tri-County Citizen"-a banner design and font I knew so well. I picked up the paper. Section B. As I read my byline, I allowed myself to fully cry. My heart ached.
"What is it?" Dad asked.
"It's an article I wrote in high school," I explained, my face red and my lips quivering. "He saved it. It's from 2005."
I had interned at the paper in 2004-2005, the article a feature on two foreign exchange students at the high school. I had no idea Grandpa saved it. I handed it over to Dad, sadness splashed all over his face.
We spent the next hour going through Grandpa's house. I lingered. Dad cleaned. It hit me that this is all that's left of a life when you die. Papers and notepads, tools and trinkets--those things that seem so insignificant when a person is alive but suddenly carry so much meaning once they're gone.
The fake red velvet mistletoe Grandpa taped over the frame of the entrance into the living room.
A Hank Williams record titled "Wait for the Light to Shine."
The furnace (and the knob he would turn to make us think '"there's something in there!").
A decorative plaque with a Canadian goose that reads "Wawa, Canada."
A notebook tracking his blood pressure.
A dish full of Ford keys.
A turkey feather.
Dad and I went down the road and visited Grandpa's gravesite. His tombstone is coming soon. I left the red mistletoe there. I kept the turkey feather, a watch band without the face and a Ford key.
I feel grateful to have these moments with Dad. He's so strong to do this alone. I don't know how I'll do it when the day comes for me to be in Dad's place.
Probably just as Dad said to me:
"You just do. You have to."