My Grandfather This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

September 4, 2012
Newborn. I am a January child. In a chilly bluster of shawl, morning dew, and shuffling steps, my grandfather arrives at the hospital. He has come all this way just to watch me breathing in and out.

Five months old. We live in a small house decorated by my toys, my parents’ laughter, and Grandpa’s photograph of his wife, time-worn and sepia-toned, that he keeps on his bedside table and looks at every night. Every morning, he carries me down the street to check the mail. He wishes the security guard good morning, balances me on his hip, then opens the rusty postbox. He gives me the letters to hold, and I bite the envelopes and poke at the stamps.

Eight months old. Our relatives live in the houses next to ours. Every time I cry, they walk into our living room and wonder aloud – does she need to eat? Does she need to sleep? I hate being carried and prodded by them. He is assigned the task of taking care of me while my parents are at work, and he deals with the nosy relatives by rocking me on his shoulder until I stop crying, then talking to them about their lives so that they lose interest in mine.

One year old. On some afternoons during Grandpa’s nap-time, when his red plastic radio is on in the background and his maroon diary and gold-rimmed glasses lie on the dresser, I fall asleep next to him, in the cranny between his arm and the blanket. He stretches an arm around me to make sure I don’t fall off the bed.

Three years old. My sister is born, and we huddle in the hospital room. My father feeds my mother the clumsy soup he made, and I watch my sister, round like a baby snowman, as she grins and blinks up at me. My grandfather smiles and says he is a lucky man. “I have two beautiful granddaughters now.”

Five years old. We move to a two-story house in a different area of the city. He takes the bedroom on the lower level so he doesn’t have to climb stairs.

Seven years old. One morning, I wake up early. I decide to go to his room, because I know he will be awake. The door is almost closed, and he is sitting in his rocking chair with his eyes closed. He seems to be asleep. I consider not disturbing him, but I want to stay. He hears me enter and opens his eyes and says he wasn’t asleep; he was meditating. I think of the picture of his wife that he keeps on his table.

I walk to the cupboard and see the drawer in which he keeps his books. I want to see them, but I don’t know if they are personal. I ask him if I can open his drawer, afraid my voice will break his concentration. He opens his eyes and tells me I am free to look around. I don’t have to think about which book I want to look at first – I know I want to look at the maroon diary. It feels soft and indented, like a book that has been used frequently. I look at the pages. They are yellow, even though the book cannot be that old. I see his handwriting in inky blue. The script is like tiny circles. I picture his bent fingers holding the pen – the way the pen moves up and down to create arcs, loops, and round shapes. Lines and lines of writing stretch across the pages.

I run to the rocking chair and show him my discovery. He tells me that he writes one page every day, filling them with the phrase “May God live on” in his careful writing. Suddenly, this seems like the best thing in the world to do. I ask if he would mind me copying him. I buy a notebook that day and keep it in the drawer, next to his. I wake up at the same hour the next day and run down to his room. I pull out my book, learn how to write the sentence, and write it on my first page. My handwriting is large and clumsy. I stop after a few mornings, because I cannot wake up that early every day. I don’t know how he does it every day without fail.

Ten years old. I sit in the corner of the room, eating biscuits from the box he keeps on the table. My sister is talking to him about mythological tales, about what one god says to another, why a third exiled his wife. I look up at the shelf above the curtains, where two wooden elephants are standing as though ready to march. I remember that my mother was about to throw them out because she didn’t like them. He saved them and put them high up in his room, even though they are not the best-looking wooden elephants in the ­market.

Fourteen years old. I go with him on one of his evening walks. He is wearing a white shirt and Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses. Two pens are in the front pocket of his shirt, along with the small notebook filled with phone numbers in that same small handwriting that makes me feel that he means every word he writes, that he really thinks about the words and that his written words hold a part of him. We meet his friend, another old man who lives and walks in the same neighborhood. I wonder how it is that he can talk to anyone so easily.

He listens to his radio in his room, and I tell him that I don’t know how he can stand classical music. The woman’s singing sounds only slightly less unsettling than an ambulance siren. Any other old person would take offense, but he doesn’t; he just smiles and fiddles with the volume and explains he loves classical music.

One day, I am playing the Yamaha keyboard in my room. My sister is playing with her dolls, for which she has created names, lives, dressing styles, and problems. He walks in, and is so quiet that his footfalls are drowned by my attempts at a solo. He sits in the chair and says, “Continue. Don’t let me bother you.” We smile. As if he could ever bother us. We continue playing and then, when there is a short silence, I realize that his head is tilted. He is looking at us intently. “How much I love you both, you know?” he asks. He has never said this before, but does that mean we didn’t realize it before?

My sister has juvenile diabetes. “I have Type 1 diabetes,” she says, “not Type 2, the kind that fat people have.” She cannot eat sugar. I start thinking about exactly how much sugar I consume. There is no cure. He tells her that if he could, he would take her diabetes for himself which stops her tears.

Sixteen years old. “Every man in his life goes up, up, up, and so on. But at some point, he can no longer go up, you see. Then he must start going down. He cannot go up forever. This is natural. It happens in every life. There is no need to feel bad about it, or angry, or anything like that. I just have to accept it,” he says. His simple words, like his simple writing, contain so much thought. The faded pages in his diary, the same sentence that he writes again and again, every single day. The way he writes the date at the top of each page. The way he always has a grasp of his thoughts – even the ones that live in the most hidden parts of his mind. He knows everything about himself, and in his free moments, he thinks about his thoughts.

I don’t know what to say. I’m happy that he is not sad or angry. I’m also scared about how accepting he is. It is something I am not able to understand. I know how to question everything I am given. I know how to complain and find fault and curse all of humanity. I don’t know how to be like him.

Seventeen years old. The old man from the neighborhood whom he befriended on his evening walks rings our doorbell one day. “I haven’t seen him walking for quite some time now,” he says. “How is he doing?”

Nearly eighteen years old. He was the coolest person I will ever know, and all I can do is talk about him, as if it is enough.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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