Wednesday, November 09, 2005

9 November 2000

5 years ago today I was working for a limited distribution magazine. I was in the marketing department, utilizing my project management skills and ignoring entirely my lack of marketing skills. I'm not sure how the phone call came in but I got a very unexpected call from Irish Uncle. He'd tried to contact Papa Kizz but couldn't track him down, did I know how to? Robbie, my grandfather, was ill, being rushed to the hospital. No, I didn't know, but I could try. So I got all the info I could and tried to track down my dad. No dice.

What seems like a very short time later, short enough that I wonder if all that rushing to the hospital stuff was true, Irish Uncle called back. He had bad news. At that point I was ready for dying, I was ready for coma, heart attack, stroke. It was, however, unfathomable to me that my grandfather could have died before I even got a chance to talk to my dad. It defies the natural order of things, does it not?

If there's one thing you can say about the natural order of things it's that it's not predictable.

I got out of work somehow, experiencing only the minimum number of the unbelievably inappropriate things that people do when you have a death in the family. (When I come to you and say, "My grandfather just died, I have to go now and I need you to do the following things for me." the proper response is "OK." not, "Actually, wait right here, I'm not the one that handles those things, let me get the other girl.")

I don't remember when I talked to Papa Kizz. But I remember it because it had that weird magic death thing that our family has. When Robbie's mother died Robbie found her dead in her sleep in her winged chair at the nursing home. Pre-cell phones Papa Kizz was on a day trip to Boston and couldn't be reached until late that night. Papa Kizz has a strong sense of direction, even when he's pretty damn lost he knows which direction ought to be working. After lunch or dinner in Boston he stepped outside to lead the group he was with to the theatre and all of a sudden was completely disoriented, couldn't figure out which way he was facing or which way to go. Then he tried a couple of things and it cleared and they went to the theatre. Later we compared the times and found that he was leaving the restaurant about the same time Robbie was trying to call him.

On November 9, 2000 I had to leave a message on Papa Kizz's machine. But you can't leave that message on anyone's machine. I mean, really, I've seen it done but it's such a Glamour Don't. So I left an urgent message that he should call me. I finally tried him again, I can't remember if I was home or at the office but he sounded awfully chipper and surprised to hear from me and I was verging on the hysterically angry that he could just walk into his house and not check the fucking messages because you never goddamned know when something could be fucking important! (My grandfather would have no patience with this sort of language but in the interest of historical accuracy I must include it.) Papa Kizz had, he says, checked the messages and seen no light on the machine. Later, he said it was blinking and my message was on there but he could have sworn that it wasn't previously. So, I got to tell him with little preamble that his father was dead.

I remember crying all the way to Brooklyn on the subway. No one even looked at me funny. That was ok with me. It's part of why I love to live in New York.

I got home and started flinging clothes and accessories onto the bed in a whirlwind of packing. Pony Express was on the way, lending me her car to use for as long as I'd have to be in New England. She's a master packer, of anything. Food, clothes, furniture, lights and yet the things I choose to take on a trip often confound and exasperate her. She sat patiently in my chair and watched me rip items from every shelf, hem and haw and spin in circles, while calling Mama Kizz and Queen Bee and anyone else who would need to know where I was going. Finally I looked at the pile of whatever and felt guilty.

Me: I'm sorry. I don't know what to do. Should I take these shoes or these? I can get by with just those, right?

Pony Express: When someone dies, you get to take as many shoes as you like.

You just don't find friends like that every day.

And she packed it all and she got me and the dog and my pieces parts brain into the car and she drove us to her house in Manhattan. At that point she extricated herself from the passenger's seat and set me up with the perfect solo driving com, snacks, tissues, fluids, music all at my fingertips and waved me off in the persistent drizzle.

I drove home.

And started the week, or really 2 weeks of preparations. I'll tell you about those later. In some sort of funeral themed entry. I have a lot of funeral themed opinions, trust me. Unbeknownst to me at the time I was also starting the 6 months of funerary goodness. That, too, is for another time - look for a related entry on December 10. And then another on May 8.

I think it often comes across as melodramatic that I still miss my grandfather so much. We weren't as close as so many other people are, no daily or weekly phone calls or regular letters or anything. But I'm an only child of an only child (there are step siblings, it's complicated, I'll get into it later) so that direct line seems to make the bond stronger. In our very reserved New England way there was (is?) a connection that tethered me, in a good way, more strongly than I realized until 5 years ago.

Despite being a pretty grounded, practical person I live a sort of off-leash life. No one left in my family is terribly good with money or at long term concrete planning and none of us have managed (yet) to plant firm roots. That takes time and I think that as much as I crave and seek stability I was riding Robbie's root tails without copping to the knowledge that they had to snap at some point.

I still feel untethered. I think when you set out your own roots they may always feel less firmly planted since you were there when they started, when you didn't know if they'd take. It is, however, safe to say that I work a little bit every day on cultivating my own root system, on trying to get back that sense of foundation that I lost before I fully appreciated its significance.

Better to know what I'm working toward, though, and for that I have Robbie to thank.


  1. Anonymous6:20 PM

    You are better at roots then most I know. Robbie would be proud.
    I had no idea so many of our moments involved getting each other where we need to be when someone dies! right back at ya on the rare friend comment. thanks. -pony

  2. Thank you. And oh god yes, many of our moments are like that. I remember Humma grabbing my hands and face (all at once) and thanking me for helping and all I could think was, "Well, yeah, I mean, tit for tat and all." Let's not do it again soon, shall we?