I was in London when Grandpa died. A sunny day for once and I was sitting in this windowless office, typing rows of letters onto a window scattered screen. My sister called. The ringtone, a couple of notes from a Romanian folk song, made people lift their heads and frown.
I knew something had happened. You move across the world and never think how bridges may be broken and connections lost, but this weird umbilical chord you didn’t even know you had, will effortlessly stretch over rocks and waters, tying you down. Not an ounce more freedom than you can handle.
In my mind, I went over everybody I loved, beads on string, each with their possible illnesses and arrays of domestic accidents. Fast growing tumors. Crushed limbs. Chests shattered on impact. Preparing myself for the worst.
It was Grandpa.
It comes with growing up, I think. We get wide open spaces, alcohol and speed dating, and the chance to ponder over the eventuality of everybody’s death. I think about it all the time. The death of my parents, my friends, my own. With grandparents it’s always been different. As a child, I knew they were old and could be gone at any time. I dreaded being left alone with them, thinking they’d die on me and I wouldn’t be strong or tall enough to unlock the front door, run out into the street and cry for help. But then nothing happened. I grew older and they did too, but at a such slower pace that at one point there I was, an almost fully formed human being, while they’d stayed pretty much the same. They were beyond dying by now, I was sure. Forgotten. They’d slowly be getting smaller and whiter for decades, then surely I’d catch up with them. We’d end up looking so much like one another that people would get us mixed up on the street.
They found Grandpa fallen on his kitchen floor. He hadn’t been picking up the phone. I picture Mom’s worries, hastily making their way along her umbilical phone cable, towards this destination that was slowly dissolving into nothing. She must have felt the cable snap.
So they broke down the door and found it, this thing no one thought would happen anymore.
It’s strange, the things we forget. I don’t remember what colour the kitchen walls were painted. Or what slippers he wore. But I remember that screen door. The mesh had rusted in places and it was so thin that I was sure if you pressed your body against it hard enough, you’d break through to the other side. A pile of bloody spaghetti strings they’d have to bury in a pot shaped coffin.
I dream about them, the people I’ve lost. I see their faces, every wrinkle, every pore, closer I think than I’ve ever looked at them in real life. I miss them more than I miss my young self, more than I miss my happiest of days. I don’t think I’ve ever been afraid of death in the way other people I know seem to be. But I am mad with hatred towards it, and death knows it. Doing its nasty business behind my back, what kind of thing is that? Waiting for me to drag my suitcases across half the planet, and then strike. When I’m not looking.
Grandpa and I had the same birthday, 60 years apart. We almost shared a first name too, if my parents hadn’t changed their mind at the last moment, picking a fancier, more modern name for me. Something I never really forgave them for. Perhaps it was a way of protecting me. Would I have remembered him every time someone called my name? Would it have hurt? Or would the pain, like all feelings these days, have faded out in time, a dubious spot on a table cloth washed over and over again in a million waters?
Tomorrow, Grandpa would have turned 90.
I was in London when he died. It’s been four years and still, I haven’t cried and haven’t said my goodbyes. In a way, it’s like it didn’t happen for me when it did for everybody else. Like he’s still there, close enough to reach if it weren’t for that mesh door keeping us apart, dissolving him into a million tiny squares. In fact, I know the door doesn’t exist anymore. They took it down along with the rest of the furniture, before they painted the walls clean and replaced the cupboards with more modern, plasticky replicas of their original selves. Nothing looks the way I remember it now. Like it never was, my childhood. This man and his loneliness.