When I was a kid, my Grandfather killed himself on my Grandmother's birthday when I was too young to understand. He was an orphan, quite literally left on a doorstep and from the stories I've been told, he never seemed to get his life back under him. He struggled with alcohol and gambling and was a womanizer until my grandmother left him. He had no relationship with his children after she left and spent the end of his life with a woman who looked exactly like her. It's easy to say he was cruel, and that even in his last act, he was out to hurt. I never met him, but I think he was in his own way asking to be remembered, when he didn't feel he deserved to be. And in the way that the dead do, for a long time he held all of the things I projected upon him. I blamed him for my addiction. I put my darkness on him.
But in giving him my darkness, I also gave him my light. I thought I could only create from the pit, but I know now, that that isn't true. It has taken nearly a quarter century and sobriety to make peace with my Grandfather's memory. The things that he survived, I cannot imagine, though the things that took him, I know all too well. The man, for all of his flaws and his struggles, is my blood and I know that wherever he is now, he is always with me. I know that I was able to do this whole sobriety thing, in part, because he couldn't. He showed me every potential consequence of not taking ownership of my story, every way that you could spend your life at arms length, without living at all. And because I will never be able to say this to him, I wrote this:
To my Grandfather,
I don’t know what to call you. We never had a chance to choose. Sometimes I even forget that you were alive once, breathing and in the world while I was in it. You never held my hand and no one ever had time to say that I have your nose or your smile. I know you made my mother and uncle and warrior grandmother cry countless times. And that you were broken in many of the same places as I am. I wonder if we have the same jagged edges. But after all this time, I forgive you. I love you. Because we're worthy of love, even when all we know how to do for awhile is hurt.
I used to think that if I could write you a new life, you would never have been small and alone. If I could write you a life, there would be no moments when you felt unwanted. None where you felt broken and scared. The scars would never have formed on you so young so that by adulthood, there was no space left to breathe. You would never have felt the need to hurt the ones you loved so that they could not hurt you first. You would believe that you were loved. And you would not have left. Not when you did, and not how you did.
But I cannot take these things that happened away from you. That is not the kind of magic a pen holds. We own our stories, even when we don't want to. Even when they seem to be written in so much pain. See, if I could write you a new life, it could never, would never, be as beautiful as this one that felt broken and just a little bit too tight. You didn't save yourself, but in your own way, you did save me. You showed me just how very bad it could get. You taught me that life is messy…heaven and hell are here, sometimes in the very same afternoon. But everyday I wonder if we might have recognized the shadows of each other’s demons if we had had the chance.
You knew how difficult it is to feel so damn much everyday, how doomed and impossible it feels. And how there are things, dangerous things, that can take all that away for a little while. Things that make you brave for just a moment, like booze, and gambling, and pills, and even love. I think you were a sensitive person, in a time when you weren’t allowed to be. I think you wanted so badly to do the right thing, but that you didn’t know how. I can smell your fear from two generations away and I understand. Maybe I get that from you. I can never seem to find the right thing if I see the selfish thing first. I don't think that you ever learned that you can build a whole life out of the pieces, and that we can save ourselves in a million tiny, beautiful moments. No one can do it for us, but I don't think you learned how to love without the fear of being left. I know what it is to feel alone in a room full of people, and I am sorry that you never found your way out of that feeling.
The world hurts sometimes. It takes things and hours and beautiful memories from you even as it gives them. Maybe you couldn’t have that feeling of loss anymore and so you left. I forgive you. I’m glad you’re one of my angels. I need one who understands the broken parts. I love you.