My sophomore year of college, I was a thin, small girl with a pierced lip and pixie-short hair and a mildly broken heart and it was because of this last item that I left myself make a mistake by the name of Lee. This was such a small moment in the great, growing swath of my life, this frozen semester of weeping over romantic comedies and thrashing angrily to loud music and getting drunk off Malibu coconut rum which I didn’t even like. Such a small moment. Over the course of the last decade, these few months I spent with Lee have barely registered. They have been a blip. He did not hurt me badly, nor did he teach me any great life lessons. He did not matter, hardly at all.

But I think about him often, and the day I first let him kiss me, because that was a mistake.

Money: it’s not the Mark anymore, obviously, but the Euro. It comes with a slew of coins, of which I have countless every evening, because I’m not used to coins anymore. Having lived in the States for fifteen years, I’m also not used to the different-color-and-size bills, which my memory doesn’t accept as German. The other Germans do however, and once called the Euro the Teuro (the Expensivo). They don’t use that nickname anymore. Starbucks Latte starts at $4.50.

Toilets: Few of the truly Teutonic bowls remain, but I happen to have rented one with my apartment. New bowls don’t swirl water the American way but push it, dump it. But they do look pretty much the same. Old bowls however have a step, a throne, on which things rest until the flush. “Good for taking samples,” a friend remarked.

Sports: If you don’t like soccer, you’re out of luck. There’s a bit of tennis in the news, a bit of Formula One (see above; hey, a German is the reigning champion), and the rest is soccer. Oh, there is also handball (soccer with the hands). Every other sport in any other country is dutifully ignored to talk some more about the dismissal of the Bayern Munich coach and the re-hiring of one of his predecessors. I’d rather watch Clippers games.

Cars: I thought I loved Audis. After five weeks in Germany I’m looking forward to seeing Crown Vics. Imagine a school full of Little Princes.

Speech: There’s a strange wordy meekness in colloquial, and now even written, German. What in English would be a hearty “Let’s do it,” becomes a “Ja, das könnten wir schon auch noch mal machen.” It expresses weariness and the not-so-secret conviction that things will not be possible. It’s the same pattern used for complaints about life and work.

Recently, while scouring the sports pages for reading material (I’m not a soccer fan), I came across this sentence, describing the problems Ferrari is having with its Formula One team, its small steps of progress, and the fans’ impatience: “Für einen so vorsichtigen Aufwärtstrend wie Ferrari ihn mit dem Brasilianer Felipe Massa auf Platz fünf und dem Spanier Fernando Alonso auf Rang sechs in Malaysia andeuteten, findet das in größeren Kategorien tickende Temperament Italiens tatsächlich keine wirkliche Nuance.”

Translated, the sentence means, “Ferrari fans were not impressed.”

Heating: It’s hot and dry in German houses, hotels, galleries, and apartments. In the 80s and 90s, old apartments still had large, tiled coal ovens to heat the rooms. They kept rents affordable and every surface dusty-red. If you came home in irregular intervals, you found your home icy-cold and it took two hours for the oven to heat up again. Windows were crappy too, and my flowers always had fresh air, even after I had sealed the frames and cracks for the winter.

Nowadays, central heat rules even the German capital, and only the staircases remain as dark and damp as ever, emanating the dank smell of Protestant churches. Inside it’s hot and dry. In bathrooms, the heaters are ladder-shaped, great for drying towels, socks, etc. The windows are new and airtight. When I wake up in the small apartment in the geriatric district of Steglitz I feel as though I’m having a nosebleed. My tongue can only be removed from wherever it’s stuck with force. I hang wet laundry everywhere. It dries in mere hours.

Complaints: Not even Germans like Germany. Many of the people I talked to have plans on leaving, dreams of leaving (I heard those same comments in Buffalo, NY. Most of the ones who left ended up in North Carolina).

Germans love to complain about life and their country. It seems in bad taste not to take life hard. I fit right in. It’s as though complaining is a way of showing that you’re in on the joke, even though and because you have no idea what that joke might be. However, they do seem certain that there is one. If you don’t complain you’re either an arrogant asshole, or you are just showing how superficial and gullible you are. Saying you’re enjoying yourself is as bad as admitting that you have three nipples or a second belly button.

Berlin: it’s hard to embrace a city that was 70 percent destroyed and rebuilt on a smaller, uglier scale after World War II. What remains of pre-war Berlin is quite beautiful, yet it feels impossible to fully embrace it. You might find a particular building beyond the park fascinating, even beguiling, until you find out it housed the Nazi court that sent political dissidents to their death. The feeling is close to finding out your beloved grandfather was a war criminal. Here, your whole family turns out to have been war criminals. They’re your family. You love them, especially in the spring, which is always fragile and seduces young couples in parks and by the canals. You love them. They are war criminals. You love them?

Language: It’s difficult for me to speak German, it won’t fit into my mouth correctly. People comment on my accent. Then there are sudden bursts of language, old channels opening and releasing idioms, sayings, and TV jingles I haven’t heard or used in fifteen years. These come with discomfort, as though I’ve sworn or eaten a bag of candy.

I love to think that I love Berlin, but there comes a moment when what your eyes find again is not what you remembered. And when I put the old images on top of the new they won’t fit anymore. It’s a delicious moment, full of hidden longings. I’m trying to see how my lover has grown. But maybe the gap between old and new has widened too much, my mind refuses to fall in love again. Maybe I’m in love with my memories of fragile and seductive springs. Maybe that’s what Berlin has become for me — a place without a present.

To my darling Cecilia,

I’ve spent much of the day – such a harsh and lonely day! – reclining in my recliner and daydreaming of the house we once shared, of the days that once were, and are no more. I ate the remaining crabcakes – such last and homely crabcakes! – and washed them down with recollections of the home we made together, where we, or at least I, had so many good times. In the afternoon I bought some shirts.

And I was nearly overcome by the brutal and unforgiving strength of my fond memories. Nostalgia gripped me like a headlock from Jean-Claude Van-Damme, except around the face, and every time I tried desperately to break the hold of the past and steal a gasp of the present, all I could taste was another muscly mouthful of sweating Belgian.

Metaphorically.

I laughed as I remembered lying on my hammock in our shade-dappled orchard backyard, sipping on a glass of iced tea (as cold and refreshing as if it had been squeezed straight from Martin Sheen’s heart), the sun on my face, watching you gingerly reshingle the roof. I chortled heartily as I remembered you, shaky-voiced and trembling, confessing you had a mortal terror of heights. I guffawed until I couldn’t breathe and I started to faintly taste vomit as I recalled the terrified shrieks of anguish you made, falling three storeys up, only to hook your ankle on the giant breasts of one of the gargoyles that I had selected, and you had paid for and installed, some months previous.

Ah.

Those were the days, all right.

How I wish we still lived together now, Cecilia, because then my heart would once more be overflowing with love. And also, because I wouldn’t have to leave the house, or even the couch, really, to get laid.

But mainly, it would be about my love.

My love for my swimming pool, which cherished and understood me better than you ever could. Diving into its cool, forgiving waters was like hearing a choir of archangels sing Handel’s Messiah. Closing my eyes and drifting through its peaceful shallows was like listening to Mariah Carey’s sensual audiobook interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita. Swimming into the embrace of its darkened depths was like watching Joe Pesci get pulled apart by rabid timber wolves. It was my solace, and my bliss, and my respite from your well-meaning but misplaced and wearyingly continual attempts to engage me in conversation.

Just as there is no longer a you with which to spend my life, so too is there no longer a swimming pool in which to avoid you in.

And it’s breaking my heart, Cecilia.

I spend my nights alone now – alone and shirtless, gently rocking back and forth in this rocking chair that we bought together with your money for your mother, feeling the cool night breeze slink in through the open bay windows and caress my naked torso with gentle fingers. Sometimes I eat a sandwich and play Mortal Kombat to take my mind off my troubles, it’s true, but that’s not very often. Sometimes I wonder if Lord Byron would have been so moody if he’d had the chance to assume the role of Raiden, God of Thunder, and teleport from one side of a room to another, shooting bolts of lightning as he did so.

But Mortal Kombat is no you, Cecilia! Just as you are no swimming pool! I’ve been forced to make do with sneaking into my neighbour’s hot tub at nights, although, I have to say, the most entertaining part of these little endeavours lies in selecting which of the secret passages I have devised into his back yard to use – an idea that I lifted in its entirety from an Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Three Investigators novel:  The Mystery of the Falsified Paternity Test.

Do you remember our secret tunnels, Cecilia? I’m sure you don’t, because I never once shared the location of them with you, as it would most likely have raised questions about how I never had to buy gas, and your car kept getting siphoned clean, even when you parked at your sister’s house seven blocks over. Let me just say this – that with a shovel and determination, a packed meal and an up-to-date map of the municipal sewer system, a man can get his hands on a surprisingly large amount of his de facto wife’s car’s gasoline. If you catch my drift.

If I must spell it out for you, what I mean to imply is that I spent a lot of time watching your sister undress.

There.

I’ve said it.

The moon is full and the Glenlivet is good and the night is hot, Cecilia. Hot like the sex you had with Steve Buscemi on the Oriental rug that I brought back from the Orient, along with a scale model of the Orient Express. Although there were no Gypsy thieves making gas attacks on that particular miniature.

How happy I was when I walked in the door with that rug, proclaiming ‘Fuckin’ awesome! Check out this badass rug! I already totally love it way more than I’ll ever love you! I sure do hope I never catch you having a sex with a male celebrity or overweight female celebrity on this!’

Yeah.

I asked for one thing.

I turn for you, tragically,

Simon

My memory works best when it can associate times and places with the music played. Like how I remember the first time I danced with a boy because the song that played was ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ and Tiffanie became embedded in my brain alongside the awkwardness of having my arms wrapped around the neck of a boy who was a good six inches taller than me at the time.

He leaves his imprint on me still, six years later.

Laundry for instance.

I still toss socks and underwear in a pile, to be folded last. I still tie long socks into a knot rather than roll them in a ball since rolling them in a ball stretches out the elastic.

My father died on January 13th, 2007, which would have been my parents’ 56th wedding anniversary.  Even in the midst of her grief, my mother remarked that it was the only gift he’d ever given her in all their years of marriage.  Sounds horrible but that was the nature of their relationship and, frankly, it was an accurate statement.  It was also more of a relationship than he shared with me.  We were never as close as I had hoped as a child, needed as a teen, pondered as man or wished for as a father myself but I didn’t hate him.  I would have had to know him to hate him and he kept us all at a safe enough distance that there was little chance of that.

His name was Nicholas, though his birth certificate said “Nicolai” – a point that was often mocked but never actually addressed.  He was the youngest of thirteen children,  thankfully the product of two different women who had chosen to marry his father.  My grandfather died long before I was thought of and I knew little about him aside from the rumor that he was a man with a temper who had little to do with his children.  And that I supposedly have his eyes.  His youngest offspring was coddled mercilessly by his mother, though, and later showed noticeable artistic talents both in sketching and as a clothier (a skill that served him well when, in the depths of poverty, he literally made my mother’s and siblings’ clothes from fabric obtained from the Salvation Army).  His brothers, in contrast, were all supposedly bitterly competitive and perpetually in-fighting, later exhibiting great psychotic tendencies.  Of the entire clan, I only met his half-sister, married to my Uncle Tony, and “Uncle Frank”, whose claim to family fame was that he lost his first wife.  Literally.  He one day told their pre-teen son, “Your mother ain’t here anymore,” before shipping him off to live with a series of other relatives.  Given that Frank seemed to have an endless supply of fifty-gallon drums in his yard and sailed a lot, we sort of did the math and never brought it up.

There were – and will remain – many things unaddressed about that side of the family.

In any case, Nick joined the navy right out of high school and served in the Pacific during the second world war.  Although his official occupation was “pharmacist’s mate”, his actual duties included the unenviable job of pulling what was left of pilots, sometimes burning, from their shot up planes in the brief window between the time they stopped skidding and the time their fuel tanks went up.  I did not know this as a boy and took his near debilitating fear of flying to be still another sign of his weakness.

After the war, he returned to the states where he married a nice Irish girl – alienating his family – and was accepted into a reputable school for commercial artists.  Unfortunately, both he and the nice Irish girl were Catholic and they soon found themselves in a family way.  School would have to wait.  Then they had another.  And another.  School would have to go.  Luckily, his garment making skills impressed a local tailor with connections into the fashion world and my father was offered an apprenticeship with intimations of bigger things.  It would be unbelievably tight – almost impossible – with three kids but, if they tightened the family belt for a few years, it might be an investment worth making.

Then they got pregnant with my sister.  And my father gave up hoping.  He took a job as a “floor walker” at a department store and that’s where he stayed until the company went out of business two years before he was due to retire.  Thirteen years after conceiving my sister, they had me.  By then, my father was a sullen, withdrawn, passive-aggressive, pedantic, chain-smoking borderline alcoholic with few friends to speak of and no social life.  He walked me to school until about second grade, when I apparently (I have no recollection of this – I was seven) told him he “needed to make friends his own age”.  He never walked me to school again.

That was our relationship for almost two decades.  He and my mother moved out of our rental apartment when I was seventeen, leaving me to fend for myself so they could finally buy their own place in Florida, a small condo in an “adult community”.  They were snowbirds at first, coming back up in the summertime, disrupting my life and moving back in for a few months before abandoning me again. It was during this time that the congestive heart failure which would take over fifteen years to kill him by degrees announced its arrival with a sudden heart attack.  I remember how grey his skin became and how the sweat beaded on his bald crown.  When he was finally released, he seemed bent on passive-aggressive self-destruction. Dying to make my family worry about him, well, dying.

My mother usually answered the phone when I would call but, on occasion, he would happen to get to it first.  On hearing my greeting, he would usually say, “Oh!  Hello, Andrew.  Let me get your mother.”  And that would be that.  Rarer still would be the times he was home alone, in which case he would tell me where my mother was – with implications that whatever task she was on was frivolous and wasteful – and that he’d let her know I called.  She hardly ever got the message.  Over the years, we spoke more, though only about current events or when he wanted to criticize my mother and only when I initiated the contact.  At least it was communication.  I don’t ever recall hearing him tell me he was proud of me or that he loved me.  In fairness, I also can’t say I ever recall telling him, either.

He was a rail-thin man in my youth but, between his endless medications and restricted activity, ballooned outrageously in short order.  The closer he got to the end, the worse the bloating became.  His legs swelled up horribly and he suffered from gout.  Walking anywhere was exceptionally difficult.  Travel soon became impossible.  My mother had to call 9-1-1 so often that he was on first-name basis with the ambulance crews and the ER staff.  The orderlies joked about “having his room ready” and once put up a fake sign, renaming the hospital wing after him.

I brought my first-born child to him since flying had been out of the question for years by the time she arrived.  I am not a “manly man” but I remember – with a little surprise – a particular outburst I had at my siblings.  He was fighting to stand on his own feet just to look at the babe and I asked if he wanted to hold her.  He shook his head almost sheepishly and my siblings – older siblings, I might add – let forth a chorus of “Oh, no! He’ll drop her! He’s not strong enough anymore.”  And, without warning even to myself, I turned on them fiercely and positively bellowed, “He is a goddamned man and he can hold his fucking granddaughter if he wants to!!”

And he did.  And he did not drop her.  And he held her for a full minute, cooing at her before he grew tired and asked me to take her back.  Then he sat down of his own accord.  He lasted another two years or so after that, slowly wasting away.  I remember flying down to take care of him towards the end (my siblings, living only two hours away, refused to do so), helping him use the bathroom, showering.  How frail he was.  How his skin seemed to hang on his bones like wet paper.  How that damnable pacemaker bulged out from beneath that parchment like a Christmas gift from Hell, daring you to see what was inside.

On my last birthday, of all days, I was going through a box of “deal with it later” papers and stumbled across a sympathy card into which I had stuck photos taken of him in his last hours.  He was already a skeleton.  Cadaverous.  One eye was shut, the other lid partially open, cheeks gaunt and sunken.  All I could think was, “My God – he looks like Tutankhamen.”  This is the lasting memory I have of my father.

I often find myself missing him but then chide myself for the sentiment.  I missed him when he was still alive so what’s the difference?  He’s simply gotten the distance he sought while he walked among us.  Hopefully, he’s also gotten the peace he always seemed to be missing.  I can’t say that I ever knew him but I understand him a lot more, now that I’m a father.  He taught me a lot about that job – mostly as an example of what not to do but that’s still valuable.  I have often started down a bad road and thought, “This is what he was feeling.  This is why he broke my heart.”  And then backtracked, corrected my course and made the right decision for my children.

I am much more like him than I am comfortable admitting to myself but, for all my bitching, my kids are my life.  I hug them often, tell them I’m proud of them regularly and that I love them to an embarrassing degree.  I can be a cold, clinical and sometimes vicious man but I try desperately to choke it down around them and to be mindful of how my words and actions could wound a tiny soul.  They will never wonder how I felt about them.  They will never question my pride in them.  They will never be lacking my support or encouragement.

I did not “know my father”, much as I wished to, but there was, somewhat in my life, a man named Nicholas who tried his best to do the right things, who had many faults, shortcomings and insecurities but who, in his odd, detached way, loved me.  And I loved this man back as much as he would allow.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.  We’ll do better next time.

There’s a Star Wars kite that flies through my imagination. It fights a plastic parrot over a lonely section of the city. Cars zoom past and we all ignore them. The kites dart and dodge. They batter one another. They’re  not really even there. But I can open the front door of my apartment and see them flying across the apartment tops in a pool of blue sky.

On a rainy day I can still imagine the summer sunlight, the kites fluttering, dipping with each tug, and two little boys with hands wrapped in string.

I suppose it might not mean anything that when I needed to move again, I moved right back into the same apartment where I used to live. In an entire city block of carbon copy apartments it’s the same exact one. About thirty feet outside the apartment is a little area of cement. Dates and initials are carved from the mid 1990s. I lived there with my mom and my sister. My mom died in 1998 from an aortic aneurysm. My sister now lives somewhere in the mountains south of Bakersfield (about 70 miles north of LA). I’d left the apartment around 1996 and thought I’d never look back.

Sometimes it’s really disturbing living someplace I thought I’d left far behind. It’s tough convincing myself that I really did make progress in my life. I’ve seen and done a few things since then.

My mother watched “Singing in the Rain” a lot. I can see her doing that when I’m passing through the living room.

Sometimes I go and kick dirt off the initials in the cement. I think of dreams I once had while living in the apartment the first time. I can still see those too.

On occasion, when the front door opens, like today, I can hear a little boy crying from atop a swatch of grass. I gaze upward as his Star Wars kite breaks off into an uncontrolled arc across the sky. It goes crashing outside of the apartment sea, over a fence and alley, and into a row of homes, never to be found.

It feels like you appeared overnight

And before I knew what had happened

I’d let you in.

I can’t explain it, except that you’re like that.

You’re hard to push away…

*

You became this thing on a pedestal

And I tried so hard to achieve,

To reach for the goal that was presented in you.

Sometimes, what we want most is best viewed from afar.

Sometimes, it breaks your heart when you finally have it.

* *

The distance was as wide as the ocean

And no amount of convincing you otherwise

Would have changed your mind.

You’re stubborn like that.

* * *

I believe that you believe what you said

And maybe it’s harsh to think it was all

Just a well kept, well intentioned, well dressed lie,

But being cold and distant makes the memories fade faster…

And you’re beginning to fade away…slowly…like winter

One icicle at a time.

* * * *

Someday when I am older and wiser

I will be able to think of you without the sharp,

Twisting ache in my chest.

But for now, I can’t be the me you used to know

I need to learn how to be a different me

One who doesn’t miss you so much…

Because I’m stubborn like that.

1

At six, the old man teaches her to play poker.

They sit at the kitchen table while her grandmother cooks dinner and her baby brother watches intently as he teaches her the basics of cards. Aces are the highest, then kings, and so on. She likes the face cards best because they seem to wink at her and whenever she has them in her tiny hands, she always wins. She picks up on it quickly and by the time dinner finds its way to worn tabletop, she’s beaten him ten times over and has accumulated a somewhat large pile of pennies.

He lets her keep the pennies, much to her mother’s chagrin. Her father, on the other hand, thinks it’s the funniest thing he’s ever seen.

2

At eight, almost nine, her grandmother passes away and the house changes. The old man’s smiles become rarer and it takes him longer to acknowledge things than it had before her grandmother had gone into the hospital and never came home. It lasts a little over a year and then, suddenly, he is himself again.

Well, almost himself.

Even at nine, she knows he’s different. He has to be, her child mind reasons, because she is. Maybe no one notices it, maybe she never makes a show of it, but she is different. Slightly cracked in the same way a beloved China teacup often is.

By the time she turns ten, it’s like the tide has come in and washed it all away. They move on.

3

She’s twelve when he teaches her how to bet perceptively during a poker game. They sit at the kitchen table with a deck of cards between them and a pile of pennies and he teaches her how to win.

‘Don’t bet too high outright, they’ll know your hand is big and they’ll fold. You won’t get anywhere.’

He picks up his cards and, after considering them for a few seconds, tosses three pennies into the center.

She consults her cards – three sixes, a two, and a misplaced jack – and matches his bet.

‘Dad says you were shot, back in the war.’ She doesn’t really know what the war was, but she knows it wasn’t Vietnam. Her dad was in Vietnam and the old man is much older than her dad.

He tosses out three cards, waits for her to toss out her two, and then deals them each a set of replacements. ‘Yep, in the leg.’

Her two new cards – another two and a new seven – don’t really help, but she adds three more pennies to the pile anyway. ‘Did it hurt?’

He matches her three pennies. ‘Yep.’

‘Who shot you?’

‘Germans.’

‘Did they know you?’

She doesn’t mean the question to be sarcastic, but that’s how it comes out and she freezes. The old man looks at her over the tops of his glasses and she feels herself blush.

‘Grandpa,’ she starts, hoping to apologize for her momentary lapse in respect.

He begins to laugh, loud and hard, and she blushes a little more. ‘Nope, they didn’t,’ he says once he regains his breath. ‘Probably a good thing, too.’ He tosses his cards down – four eights – and leans back a little in his chair.

She puts her cards down. ‘Because if they had, they’d have shot you twice?’

He laughs even louder this time and pulls the pile of pennies toward him.

‘Been talkin’ to your dad, have you?’

She thinks back to what he said about keeping her cards to herself. She looks at him with what she hopes is a good poker face and shrugs. ‘Maybe.’

4

She’s nineteen and she knows something is off.

It’s Christmas Eve and they’re up at the house to exchange gifts and visit. This is her second Christmas in college and she’s glad to be home. The old man is happy to see her and he’s moving around fairly well, despite the fact his leg has gotten more arthritic and he’s a year older than he was last Christmas. They’ve gotten him a new cane and a really warm flannel shirt that she picked out and his favorite candy. It’s a simple Christmas, but he’s a simple man and she knows he’ll love his simple gifts.

‘How’s college?’ he asks her when she sits down next to him and kisses his cheek.

He smells clean and his cheek is scratchy from a five o’clock shadow he forgot to shave off.

‘It’s good. I’m glad to be home.’

He looks at her and his eyes can’t seem to focus and for a minute the world stops spinning.

‘Liz?’ he asks in a soft voice.

Liz was her grandmother, a woman who died ten years earlier.

She shakes her head very slowly. ‘No, grandpa. It’s Meg.’

His eyes come back to rest on her face and he smiles, reaches out and pats her cheek. ‘You look good, kid,’ he says.

She smiles. ‘Thanks. You look pretty good, too, old man.’

He laughs and she tells herself that she imagined the earlier moment. It’s easier than accepting the old man is finally getting old.

5

She’s twenty-one when they move him into a home.

It’s a combination of Alzheimer’s and a stroke no one knew he’d had and the realization that they just can’t take care of him anymore. To her, it feels like they’re abandoning him, though she’d never speak those words aloud to her family. It isn’t her place and she doesn’t know everything, just the bits and pieces that filter down from her mom.

She decides to visit him on her next trip home. She drives to the nursing home and tries not to hyperventilate in the parking lot. She isn’t good with sick people, isn’t good with hospitals and what they mean. It’s hard when it’s someone she knows and it’s terrifying when it’s someone she loves.

She asks for his room at the front desk and is led to it by a nurse she knows, the mother of a boy she went to high school with and who she sees occasionally when she’s home. The nurse tries to prepare her for it, tries to comfort her before the door even opens, but she very gently pushes her away. This is something she needs to do on her own – she hasn’t told anyone she’s here for the fear they would have wanted to come with her.

She opens the door and says hello.

He is positioned on the bed, sitting upright and staring at his hands. At the sound of her voice, he looks up and a wide smile crosses his leprechaun face. It makes her happy to see him smile and she returns it with one of her own.

‘Hi, Liz.’

Her smile falters slightly.

‘It isn’t Elizabeth, grandpa. It’s Meg. Your granddaughter.’

He looks at her and his demeanor changes. He isn’t smiling at her anymore and the expression on his face isn’t one she’s ever seen. She imagines it’s the same expression he turned on the Germans all those years ago and it makes her heart stop.

‘I don’t have a granddaughter,’ he says, his voice cold and confused.

She backs out, closes the door, and runs to her car. She doesn’t speak for a day and when she finally does, she tells her father and it is the hardest conversation they’ve ever had. The doctors ask her not to come back and she can’t help but feel like it’s her turn to abandon the man who taught her how to bluff and what fresh blueberries taste like straight from the bush.

It breaks her heart.

6

She’s twenty-five when the old man passes away.

She flies home for the funeral and a very somber Thanksgiving meal and she spends two days trying very hard to be strong for her dad. Her brother helps, as does her mom, and she manages to make it through her stay without too much sadness.

In the middle, there is laughter and alcohol and the opportunity to spend time with family members she does not see often enough and they all wonder if the old man knew this would happen, that his death would finally bring them all together for a holiday dinner.

It’s two weeks later, when she is back in Maryland and she has a chance to slow down, that it hits her. She’s on the commuter train, on her way home from a long day at work, and she’s reading a book about baseball – the old man’s favorite game. She thinks about her memories, about the million little things he taught her. Before she can stop herself, his memory invades her senses completely and she’s overwhelmed by his death, by the fact his mind was gone for so many years before his body joined it.

Surrounded by people she does not know, she cries heavy, salty tears for the memory of her grandfather and for the memory of the old man he once was.

In loving memory of my grandfather, Winston Hunt, the best old man a silly girl like me could have ever asked for.