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It’s the scent of my grandfather’s cologne that keeps me awake tonight. Out of nowhere it came. Maybe someone walking on the street below as my fan sucks in fresh air, maybe something of his I keep in my room locked away slipped and the scent whirled out and around bouncing off of the walls and landing over me. Maybe it’s because I’ve been thinking about my own stubbornness. My inability to see beyond this moment here and now.
The way it kept me from turning around when I heard his voice call me from the darkness of the other room. I knew he had been there. I had snuck in trying to avoid him just looking for something quick to eat. My grandmother had always left something on the kitchen table to take with me on my walk to the bus stop. She was in the bathroom and I had been grateful even for that. My mind was fluttering between whether or not I would have to sit with the strange boy who always seemed to find a way to touch my ass or sitting with my little sister whom I wouldn’t even wait for to walk to the bus stop with or the boy I had a crush on who never spoke to me even though I never stopped talking around him.
He called my name three times and he knew I heard him. I stuffed the apple in my pocket and nearly ran for the door. He called my name one last time and I thought in that instant ‘old people’ thinking only of their neediness and walked out bounding down the stairs fretting over my hair and the wind that had suddenly picked up. I remember the smell of his cologne in the cold autumn air mixing with the scent of fallen leaves. A smell that now gives me a headache.
I never once wondered why he was awake so early in the morning especially while he was on leave from work after just a few weeks ago having been admitted to the hospital for an abnormal heart beat. I never once thought of those early morning sun rises or the fact that the very first sun rise I had ever seen was beside him. I never thought of those nights when he would’ve rather been watching the football game but turned it off in the middle to watch the four us perform that stupid little play I had been working on all morning. I never thought of all those times he was running late for work but still stopped in the yard when I called his name and waited for me to run down the stairs to kiss him goodbye. I just walked out.
I didn’t think of these things as my teacher left the room for a second after having gotten of phone call. I didn’t think of these things while he looked down at me his expression changing into something I had never seen before and he told me to collect my things my mother was in the office. I didn’t think of it as I sat in the backseat blabbing on and on about my day and the fact that I got to sit near the boy I liked. I didn’t think of it as I stepped into the kitchen and saw my father sitting at the table my baby brother in his arms. I didn’t think of it until I asked where my grandfather was and every one turned away from me.
No one looked at me. My grandmother’s minister stepped out of the dining room and he looked down at me and he said that he was gone. That he had fallen asleep and didn’t wake up. He said that things like this sometimes happen. That it’s god’s will. I felt something heavy and invisible hit my chest knocking the air out of me and I turned not believing him walking straight into my grandfather’s study. I place none of the other children got to enter. A place I use to go sometimes where he would read me a story or tell me a joke. A place where I could still hear his deep laughter and smell his scent.
I stood there in the room with all of the shades pulled down and I tried hard not to hear my mother and grandmother cry. I tried not to hear my little sisters shrill little sobs and the way my father’s voice shock with tears as he called my brother’s name softly. I stood there alone in that room half expecting to hear his voice again. Closing my eyes tight and praying with every piece of my soul that those footsteps coming in behind me were his. When I turned around there was the minister looking down at me with that look my teacher had.
He straightened as I looked up at him and told me not to cry. That the rest of my family needed me and I couldn’t cry. That I was the eldest child and I had a responsibility now to try and keep the family together and tears wouldn’t do that. His voice as cold as the emptiness around me and his eyes sharp and hard. In that moment I knew that I couldn’t. He turned and walked out moving towards my shaking grandmother to comfort her. I stood there watching as if it were some show I accidently flicked on.
I remembered then. I remembered four and a half hours earlier. I remembered him calling my name. I remembered the only thought that filled my mind as I hopped from the house. I saw my selfishness, I saw my mistake, I saw everything he had ever done for me, and I never even turned around to see him one last time. I never opened my mouth and said goodbye I love you grandpa. I didn’t turn and run to him like I normally had done.
My eleven year old self stood there and realized that this was my punishment. I would never be able to cry again. I would never get a second chance to say everything that I should have but didn’t. I see now that, that was probably not something you should’ve said to a child regardless of the timing but in that moment it was even more cruel coming from a man I believed at the time to hold some sort of divine right.
I locked it all inside. I learned I had that kind of power that very day. That I could lock things away and not have to deal with them. It would take my eight years and countless agurments with my mother and grandmother about why I refused to go to church anymore, about why I never show the emotion they think I should, why I seemingly turned my back on god before I ever told another soul what that man had said to me. Even then it was an accident it was during a drunken haze that I let it slip from my mouth with a twisted little smile as my mother screamed at me for something I can’t remember anymore.
Eleven years later and I still can’t cry. I know I have the right I know it’s not healthy and all of that and yet I still can’t find that place in myself that lets it all out. Even sitting here writing this down for the very first time. I feel it all welled up inside and still nothing happens. I feel that dryness in my throat that throbbing in my eyes that hollow emptiness in the pit of my stomach that pain directly in the center of my chest and I still can’t cry. I can’t let it all out.
A few years ago when my sister asked me to take her to his grave and we stood in silence in front of it she asked me what the last thing I remembered about him was. I breathed in heavily not wanting to start the argument that always ended with her crying about my “soullessness”. I told her then, I told her about that morning about my selfishness and she looked at me with her doe brown eyes and asked me how I could say something like that and still not shed a tear. I shrugged and she turned on her heels storming back to the car trying hard to wipe the tears from her eyes.
The number of people who know that story, the story of what happened on the morning of October 29th 1996 I could count by holding up three fingers. Tonight I give it to the rest of the world. I don’t want it anymore. I want to be able to sleep and I want to be able to take this one memory as bad as all of the others and just lock it away where I can’t remember it again. Where a simple smell can’t force me to relive it all over again, a cologne my grandmother had told me had stopped being made years ago. I want to cry. I want to let out that ever growing little pain in my chest and I want to breathe again. It’s yours now. Don't make me keep it. It’s only a dream I had and now a story for someone else to read.