my pepaw

my pepaw suffered a stroke during one of my sophomore years in college.

i went to school a little over an hour away from home. i was playing a video game when my dad called and told me. he said something like ‘hey, buddy, pepaw had a stroke. he’s probably not going to make it. you should come home as soon as you can.’

i don’t remember how i actually responded. maybe i tried to play it cool and say ‘ok, i’ll be home as soon as i can.’ or maybe i just said ‘ok’ and hung up, shocked. one of my many struggles with add as an adolescent (trust me – i was an adolescent at 19) was an inability to show vulnerability. i always kept up a persona because, i guess honestly, i had no idea who i was.

i had no fucking idea who i was.

so, anyway, i finished playing that video game. it was a college football game on a sega dreamcast (heavily underrated system). and i remember thinking, as i played, ‘i am a monster. i can’t ever tell anyone i finished this game instead of going home.’

i drove to the hospital – wake med? – no . . . whatever the hospital on wake forest near 440 is. that one.

. . . right? how are these the things i can’t remember, but i can recall where i was standing in the room, the round fat buttons on my cheap green plastic phone (not a cell phone. a phone phone, goodness), the weather, where the tv was positioned in the room, i can remember those things,

anyway,

i drove to the hospital. i don’t remember the drive. i don’t remember finding the room.

i do remember walking in.

the lights were off, pepaw’s bed was in the middle of the room (well, no shit, that’s how hospital rooms work) . . . i realize i visualize this scene in greyscale. black and white. it’s because the overhead lights weren’t on (right?) and it was sunny and fall, so the thin slant of natural light through the curtains left colors muted, and pepaw had white hair and was dying and i’m crying right now,

so anyway,

there was silence in the room. and also my family, but mostly silence. she was definitely hogging up the airspace.

i don’t think i made eye contact with anyone. i did not say a word. i’m still crying, present tense, and i walked up to his bed, kissed him on the forehead, and left. i might have started sobbing before i hit the door, i can’t remember.

i loved that man so much.

i love you, pepaw,

goodness, i miss you

and wonder how different my life

would be if i’d known then how much

i love you and that you

were mortal.

if i’d let myself know

my time with you was limited.

i’m sorry, i miss you.

he was perfect.
he was so good to me.
i don’t really care if i idealize him
or created a version of him
who is more than he was, because
he is, to me, he is.

i stayed at school an extra hour, because i was avoiding having to see my greatest love lie dying in cheap sheets. i wasn’t a monster, i was a boy. i was filled with regret because i’d done what boys do, which is outgrow their grandfathers, especially boys who don’t like themselves and don’t know how to say what i know how to say now which is i love you, i miss you, i’ll never forget you, i’m proud to be yours.

i wasn’t a monster for leaving the hospital room without making eye contact or even hugging my mom, i was a human. and i had never faced grief that cut through my persona of pretending i don’t care (because i had no idea how to show that i cared about anything, because i was so damn scared all the time).

and so, now, i cry every time i think of my pepaw. every time. and i think of people who remind me of him, and i realize that’s why i am drawn to them, and it’s why i value who i am becoming – hah, no, who i’ve always been and now will allow myself to see.

about myself.

my first true love was lloyd houston neil. he will never have to abdicate that title to anyone else, living or dead. if i ever tell you, reader, friend, anyone, i love you like i love my pepaw, as awkward as it might sound said aloud, i could not possibly give you higher praise.

he was and is a miracle.

i miss him all the damn time.

i almost said ‘i hope he comes back’ but that’s the whole thing about mortality,

so i’m glad he’s still here.

ok, thanks everyone, goodnight,

joel

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