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Grand-Daddy Long Leg

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Eleven years ago, my mom made me a beautiful dress for Halloween. It was elaborate and exquisite, more beautiful than the real Belle’s dress. For a week before Halloween I would admire these pieces of fabric strung together, counting the days until I would wear them and transform into Belle.
It was Thursday night; pizza and movie night. My parents and I marched to the basement and as the credits rolled on the entertainment of the night, the phone rang. We screen our telephone calls. The ringing continued like a secret message, we ignored its pleading. Suddenly a voice broke into our carefree night and before I knew what had happened there was movement. There was packing. We were going to Michigan? Why? It was a whirlwind of motion and I questioned everything. One glance to my mother told me to be quiet. I crawled into the car and forced myself into a deep slumber to escape what I did not understand. I dreamed of the beautiful dress that we were leaving behind.
I woke up in the driveway of my paternal grandparent’s house, four hours away. I was carefully transferred to a room where the rest of the night was spent the same as any night, in a deep and careless sleep. In the morning a cloud covered the house. Actually, this may not be an accurate statement, but for my family’s purposes, it was fact. My mother was in bed, sobbing softly. It was the first time I had ever seen her cry, and at the age of sixteen this statement is still as true as it was then. I did not understand. All I knew was that none of this was normal, that I should be in Chicago. I should be in a classroom, celebrating Halloween.
I remember all of these details so perfectly, the rest is a blur. I do not remember who told me that my Grandfather had died. I do not remember my Grandmother’s face. I do not remember how I felt at the time; I only remember my actions. I remember a walk my cousin and I took with my Grandmother. We played in the leaves, it was a beautiful October.
I missed a lot of school, I did not fully understand why. The procedures following death are learned later on in life and seven was too young to know the right way to act. I had a constant sense of awkwardness in those days, like everyone knew how to act around one another except for me. The funeral confused me the most. Why are people apologizing? Am I supposed to cry? Is it okay to laugh? Can I smile? I figured the adults knew the answers. I now know that no one knows the answers.

I came back to school eventually; to this day I do not know how long I was gone. It must have been noticeable because upon my arrival my teacher exclaimed “Emily where have you been!” When I replied flatly that my Grandfather had died, her face contorted. She apologized. I did not understand why. I was just happy to be back to normal.

Stories of my Grandfather have collected in the back of my mind for years since his death. He was fascinating; a college hockey player who had such a deep love of the game that he actually built a mini Forum in his basement. This behavior earned him fifteen minutes of fame on the Today show. Local papers even arranged a trip for him to visit the real Forum in Canada. He took my mom and aunt to all the minor league hockey games where he would change the score boards. In the winter, he even made a makeshift hockey rink in the backyard. I wish I had known him better, I love the version of him that I have created in my head.

I know a little bit more now. I know that people called my Grandfather “Spider”. I know he told people that he was from Canada because hockey was more impressive there. I know that he loved my dad as he would his own son. I know he loved me. I also know that I understand death now, and I feel the grief that I could not all those years ago. I wish that he could have known me, and I hope that he knows I did not forget about him. Even though I was too young to feel grief when he died, maturity has cursed and gifted me in that I can feel it now. I was too young; I do not know the exact day that he died. All I know is that it was before Halloween, and that I can feel it all year long.

I did not wear my Belle dress that year. Actually, I never wore it. I think I still have it somewhere in my closet and memory. Instead I went to target with my aunt and purchased a Belle dress. My cousin was a bride. We trick-or-treated in an unfamiliar neighborhood in our polyester clothes made by sweatshops a world away. It’s funny the things that we remember after eleven years.



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