We’re easing into 2012 and looking back at our favorite Bigger Picture Moments of 2011. You can join in by linking up your favorite moment from the last year.
This is Lenae’s
It comes at different times, the unexpected tears.
Early last month it was in the grocery store. I was in the baking aisle looking at muffin mixes and in my peripheral vision I saw him — an older gentleman in polyester slacks the color of oatmeal, and a plaid shirt, with a newsboy cap sitting neatly atop soft white hair. I hurried out of the aisle and wandered past the produce and found myself pacing in front of the pet food, biting my lip and trying to remember why I’d come to the store. And the tears sat very still and very vulnerably at the crest of my bottom lids.
A few weeks ago it was in the car, on the way to visit my in-laws. We were driving through the mountains in Maryland and during a lull in conversation I pulled out my iPhone to peruse the status updates on Facebook and Twitter. I’d missed a call at some point and checked my voicemail for a message. I realized instantly that it was gone: the message from him –the last one I had from right before he passed away– the one where he’d told me he was so sorry he missed my call and how much he loved me and the kids and Ben and.. what else had he said?
I couldn’t listen to it right after he died. I was saving it for when my heart had calmed enough that the replaying wouldn’t be interrupted for my sobs. I waited too long and it’d been deleted automatically, and though I’d been laughing just minutes before with my husband as scenery blurred by the car outside, I could do nothing for the better part of an hour but sit wordlessly, tearfully, contemplating the finality of the precious lost voicemail and the searing absence of him here.
Can I tell you one of my favorite memories of him?
I was in the seventh grade, 12 years old, and a misfit lifted straight from every novel and movie about adolescent angst. I was teased about the purple raincoat I loved and other ignorant fashion choices, the color combinations I selected for my braces. Valentine’s Day was horrible: my peers swirled around me, dressed in the Nikes and flared jeans I’d missed the memo to buy in lots for my teenage years, exchanging gifts, cards, and candy and teasingly flirting by lockers and across study hall classrooms.
I was staying that weekend with my Avo** and Nonno, and when Nonno pulled up to the front of the school to retrieve me that Valentine’s Day afternoon, I had nothing to show for the day of love. I threw my backpack miserably into the backseat and buckled in beside him, explaining I’d been given nothing. Nothing.
In my mind and heart, Nonno is painted in comforting streaks of warm color, etched into the marble form of my life because of his compassionate choices in action. That afternoon, he took my hand and rubbed my thumb with his -the same way I do with my children now- and he sang to me. In Italian. The whole way.
He passed away on her due date. I was out walking with my family when I was called and told the time was near. I stood outside the main entrance of this enormous mall down the street from the Pentagon, taxis flying to the curb and away again, businessmen just off work smoking across the way from me, and I cried into a corner of the building, hating myself for all the impatience and frustration I’d felt that day because I didn’t have a baby to show for it. In the days following, I felt quiet and confused, mourning on one side of the country while my entire family grappled with the loss on the other. There were text messages and calls and e-mails, and all the while, in the background of the sadness, we waited for my daughter to be born.
In the hours after the delivery, when my husband had trekked home to relieve the babysitter, a nurse came into my room and chided me good-naturedly for not sleeping. “You just had a baby, honey!” she said to me. “Sleep!” I smiled and nodded but when she’d gone I returned to my new girl’s tiny face, looking into her fresh eyes and wondering vainly if there was any way… any way… they could’ve passed as he arrived and she departed. Did he tell her to avoid the chicken (he was never a fan), and to root for the Giants? Did they play a game of cards? Did he serenade her with opera as she continued on her way into the arms of our family?
It comes at different times, the unexpected tears. Sometimes they’re sad but mostly they’re grateful, joyful even because I know he’s with our Father.
Every day I am surprised by the juxtaposition of emotions as I grow to know better my sweet Quinn, and recall the man who didn’t have to love me but did anyway, immensely. She wakes often at night and I am surprised that I am not irritated with the sleep-deprivation the way I was in the past. We lay beneath the blanket together, she and I, and her small hand holds my finger. I whisper to her: I’ll tell you a story, darling girl, about a wonderful Nonno who knew what Love was and loved so well.
*Nonno: Grandpa (Italian)
**Avo: Grandma (Portuguese)