it was the hash browns. the chopped green pepper with onion and potatoes with a bit of ketchup. the sucker-punch in the form of a wave arrived. as i blinked back tears, i wondered where this came from as i suddenly imagined myself climbing into the passenger seat of a silver buick to ride along to the trash dump. (a word i so do not enjoy, but did we call it something else? i doubt it.) we would turn onto one of those named after a flowering southern tree streets and suddenly the air would be filled with, "you picked a fine time to leave me Lucille." and i would start to giggle, and then you would say, "i can sing better than that guy. what's his name again?" and i would laugh harder and playfully roll my eyes (well, depending on my age in this memory of this often-played game) and say, "Grandpa, you know it's Kenny Rogers." sometimes i would join in for a chorus of the next song "ohhhhh Ruuuuuuubbbbbyyyyyyyy...don't take your love to town," but mostly it was all about Lucille and i would listen to you and giggle.
in this moment of this memory, i wish i remembered more. trips to visit you were so often about her. well, you, you who would answer the tan rotary phone on the wall in the kitchen and upon hearing my voice say, "hold on, let me get your grandma," you know this. you understand perhaps more than anyone that she and i were friends. i guess i want to believe that i helped make things softer in your world by being her friend. i tried. in this moment, as i sit in this restaurant after hash browns and eggs, i wish i remembered every single moment of each moment spent in that house, with you, with both of you.
tonight, as i try to wrap my brain around confusion over something else entirely, i suddenly find myself coming back to tears while eating hash browns two days ago. the truth that bubbles up tonight that i tried to will aside while eating breakfast two days ago, the truth that bubbles up in this moment: because i didn't visit after visiting every year for my whole life, because i didn't visit you after she died and while i was not visiting, you were becoming a shadow of you, i just didn't wrap my brain or rather my brain refused to wrap around the truth that it was really, truly you i spent time with those days in april in south carolina a few weeks ago.
yet, i know, my brain knows that i actually spent quite a bit of time whispering to you and brushing your hair down in places and gently, barely touching the top of your hand. my brain knows it was you. so maybe it is my heart. yes, it must be my heart that refuses to wrap itself around the truth that i did not visit you one time after she died. except for after she died. but i am not counting that. because you know that i mean really visit. me, who had spent many most-loved memories that rest inside this heart of mine with you, i did not visit you when she was no longer there.
i did not drive up and see you standing in her spot at the kitchen window as the curtain fluttered just before you walked out to greet me and to say, "so you found it okay" and i will say "yes" while smiling to myself thinking but of course i did as i have been coming here every year at least once for my entire life and then you will ask if i am hungry because you made sloppy joes just like she used to do and it will be very easy to warm them right up in the saucepan and you have some cranberry juice because you know i like that just like she did and even though i will think about how odd that combination might be, i instead say, "that sounds perfect" but no i won't let you carry my suitcase up the steps and to my room that was her room and after i put the suitcase down i will stand in that room and breathe in the few remaining pieces of her and then smile as i hear you in the kitchen as you open the cupboard for the saucepan so you can heat up the sloppy joes and i will touch the blanket on her bed with my fingertips and say, "it's okay, we've got him now" and i will walk down the hall and through the family room to sit at the kitchen table and tell you all about the drive and the rain through the smokies and how i sang my way through the curves of the mountains and then listened to lewis grizzard after i hit the north carolina border.
tonight, this body that houses this heart full of those most-loved memories stands knee- no neck-deep in this truth. this truth that i did not visit you. and i cannot breathe. i wonder how it is that anyone expects me to be someone else, that i am expected to be my best self for someone else, when i stand neck deep in this truth. i am so sorry that i didn't get on a plane sooner than the saturday morning of the day you died. and i know that you know the love. yes, i do know this as i hear your voice saying one of the last sentences you ever said as you said i love you over the phone to me. my heart holds this truth, but i stand neck deep in another truth, the truth of knowing that i won't ever again start my day waking up to the sounds of you in the kitchen with leftover potatoes that will become our breakfast.
in this moment, as i hear the distant sound of a plane and millie settle onto the floor at my feet and my husband get ready for bed and the rhythm of the fan that turns the air around me, in this moment, i close my eyes and hear distant sounds of a cubs game and a rocking chair and pencil on a crossword puzzle and you look up at me and say "cubs win! cubs win! want to go for a ride?" and i say "yes !"and we turn the corner and your voice fills the air, "you picked a fine time to leave me lucille," i reach for your hand and say, "i love you too gramps" and you know and i know. and it is okay. i am okay and here breathing in and out and doing the best that i can. and i know that you know that too.