I didn’t have a lot of positive male figures in my life. Growing up, my father was very reclusive. He had his own areas in the house that he would occupy, and it was almost like he was a ghost. Sometimes when I walked past the room he was in, I could hear the football (ie soccer) game or him clicking away at Hearts on the computer, or typing with one finger. My father is and forever will be a mystery to me. But this post isn’t about him.
When I was younger, summer was always the best because my grandfather — whom I graciously named Ampa — would come to NY to visit from Puerto Rico. He was the funniest, kindest, and most gentle soul that I ever knew. He was constantly making me laugh, and he taught me my first Spanish curse word. He took me fishing even though I sucked at it. Once, my grandmother told me that he saw my Communion picture (a Catholic ceremony where if you’re a girl you wear a white dress and accept the body of Christ. The body is Christ tastes like cardboard FYI), he said that I looked like a teacher, like someone really smart. He believed that I was going to be something. He said that I was the prettiest girl, and even though I knew that was a lie, I still believed him. Because he was my Ampa and because I loved him dearly.
We moved to NC when I turned 13, and I knew it would be harder for Ampa to visit me. This was the time when his health wasn’t doing so well, but I didn’t know that. Years passed, and I thought he forgot about me. I would get a call from him occasionally, but after a while I started to resent him because I missed him. Soon the phone calls stopped. Eventually, with bitterness, I started to accept that he no longer wanted to be in my life. I told myself that that was OK, I didn’t need him. I was OK that he was not there. Things were not always good with my family, and I thought that I could manage it. I didn’t want to admit that I needed him there. I needed his kindness, his warmth. I needed him to tell me that I was going to be somebody, because I was nearing the end of high school and I didn’t know what I was going to do or if I could even do it. But then I got into college all on my own, and it reaffirmed that I didn’t need anyone, least of all him.
He passed away the day before I graduated from university. That day I remember thinking that he should be here for me and he wasn’t. I didn’t find out he passed away until Christmas. He died in a nursing home. He had had a stroke at some point and wasn’t the same afterward. That’s why I didn’t hear from him as often. That’s why he hadn’t come to see me.
My family got to speak to him before he died. They kept it a secret from me, said they didn’t want me to be upset before graduation. (By this time, I had moved out of my house and was living with my now-husband.) They told me that he said he knew he was going to pass. I didn’t know how to feel to be honest. Apparently he didn’t ask for me. Maybe he forgot. Or maybe he did and no one was brave enough to tell me.
My grandmother was the only one able to go to the funeral. It took place in Puerto Rico, and being a just-graduated college student, I couldn’t afford to go. She said it was nice. “I’m sure he would’ve liked it,” I said angrily. I actually hung up on her that day and then I cried for hours. I didn’t understand how I could have missed someone that hadn’t been in my life for years. I felt guilt and shame and a deep, scarring hurt that I didn’t think I’d ever heal.
I don’t know what I would have said to him. I guess I would say, “I really missed you. I hope I get to see you soon. I’m writing a book. I don’t know if anybody will read it. But will you read it?” I know he would have. He would have loved every single stupid bit of it. Because that was the kind of man he was.
I hope he’s proud of me.