He walked in front of me and twirled inside the revolving door, going around two extra times before I made my way inside the hospital lobby. He touched the carved wooden statue of Mary with his fingers and looked up at me when he reached her face, waiting for permission to touch her eyes.
“I don’t want to go in,” he whispered.
“I want to remember him in the sunshine, mama. Like the day in the picture. The one with him picking strawberries in his overalls.”
He found a seat in the family waiting room and tucked his feet under a chair staring at the unguarded bowl of butterscotch discs.
“I’ll be right down the hallway, sweet boy.”
My eyes met his at the bowl of candy and he smiled.
I used to think I had to wait for something to make sense, wait for a reason, a way to calculate and rationalize and step like life held ticking clocks with hands that could start and stop with each pause.
I held his hand. I found the time laced inside his 94 year old hands, all thin and transparent like daylight, the minutes and hours resting inside a hollow cup between wait and remember. And I will never forget the warmth of the room. The way the light found its way through the curtains, the way his beauty found its way into the sky.
“How long will it take before grandpa can fly?”
His voice caught inside his hands as he studied the open book on his lap, chin propped up on one knee.
“I don’t know, sweetie.”
When my grandmother had Alzheimer’s, my grandpa would go to the nursing home and visit her every day from 8:00 in the morning until 8:00 at night. He held her hand even when she pulled it back. I remember the day her floor flooded and she was left in her room alone, slippers dangling from her wet feet. The way his words calmed her like a satin ribbon strung around her heart in need of a gentle pull.
And there were all the finches in the big cage near the entrance. I would always stop and watch them sleep inside their crisscross nests. Their small wings tucked gently at their sides.
Sometimes they would spread their wings only to be stopped by the wire walls. And I remember wondering if they ever just gave up, if they knew somewhere deep inside that they were trapped or if they held onto some kind of a dream that if the door was left open long enough, maybe they would find her room and help her to remember.
“I think he’s growing his wings, mama.”
There was the light that collected between his forehead and the glass, his small silhouette etched inside the rearview mirror. And the gray sky felt like ash falling from something burned long ago.
“I think you’re right.”
I have all of these pictures of the sky, collections of moments blurred and then gone. The clouds, the wind's brushed path, celestial maps running off the edge of the paper. And there is no place to land, just the open sky shining more brightly than I can ever remember.
He had a bird feeder outside his window and my mom would fill it whenever it was empty. Sometimes the seed would spill from the mouth of the bag and land on the ground beneath the feeders. And in the summer, the seed that didn’t get eaten by the mourning doves would start to grow like a grassy pasture rising to meet the bird’s quiet wings.
The bird feeders are quiet now. I wonder if they miss him.
“He was General MacArthur’s cook. Did you know that?”
I whisper to the boy pressed against the backseat window.
“He came home from the war and told his daddy he wanted to be a baker. He wanted to buy the local bakery but his daddy said no. His daddy said he had to be a farmer just like his brothers.”
“What happened to his dream?”
“It lived in his heart.”
“Maybe he’s baking cakes for all of the angels in heaven now. Decorating their wings with sprinkles and those litte candy hearts we find in the baking aisle.”
“Maybe some dreams are made to live in our heart. Maybe they don’t know how to get out. I hope I can be the one to open the door for you, sweet boy.”
“Have you opened your door?”
“Maybe I can sprinkle your wings with hearts.”
“I would like that.”
The house is quiet now except for the sound of my mom rustling through the open boxes. Cardboard lids opening and closing, photos stacked. Paused.
And I can hear him between each lift and fold.
“Hey! Hey!” His bright eyes lifted like a moon pushed through the clouds.
The pictures of all the grandkids hanging from pushpins above the brown plaid sofa where Dolly slept tight in a ball of brown fur and tucked tail. The Christmas card from 6 years ago, the one with the boys dressed up as the three kings and the place where the envelope tore Nik’s crown.
I will leave nothing wasted, not a spark of engine fire to burn. And all the ways we turn our dreams into shadows, dependent on the sway of the trees. When hope is the fabric that feels thin between my fingers, I will see him rise from his chair, clutching his metal walker and whisper,
Sometimes we go to the beach. We spread our arms out and we race against the wind. I look at him beside me, his small body pushed up against the rising unseen, a set of invisible hands holding him in place.
There is no force in this trust, this ragged edge line of time that wraps like a bandage around our worst days. These funerals and sunsets and the sky that holds it all.
Sometimes we have to lose the fight even when we’re still running.
“I don’t know what we’re moving towards, mama. It feels like I am standing still.”
“It’s growing, sweet boy. Still growing.”
Hope is a practice, the repetitive hands in motion believing each stitch amounts to something. Each leaf loosened from the branch, waiting for its return.
And these wings I thought were still small buds, bones breaking under skin, tearing away at the small confines of muscles and hair, fingernails and time.
These paths forgotten, buried under eyes closed.
“Yes, sweet boy.”
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