The smell of tobacco lingered in the air. I stared at the wall in the hallway that was covered in pictures. There was my Tia Estrelli at 18, there was my Mom and Dad on their wedding day, another black and white picture of both of my grandparents together, and my sister and I sitting next to each other on a hill. I could hear the voices behind the door and my stomach was full of butterflies.
The day before, my mom and Tia Estrelli had surprised me with a ticket to Spain. I couldn’t believe it! The thing was, only my Abuela (grandmother) and Tia Katwyn knew I would be arriving with my Tia Estrelli from the states. My Abuelo (grandfather), cousins and other aunts and uncles had no idea I was coming.
Earlier that day, I surprised my Tia Merce, who happened to drop the bowl of spaghetti she had in her hand for lunch (which was thankfully caught by her fiance, now husband).
This though, was the person that I had been waiting to surprise. I couldn’t wait.
My Abuela slid the door open and told me that they were ready. I walked into the living room, where I saw him on his couch, surrounded by my cousins Anais and Cristina. They were kissing him on his cheeks and telling him about their day (excluding me). His eyes happened to linger on me as I walked out but then he looked away. Seconds later, he was looking back at me, his mouth open and dropping the control for the television he held in his hand. I started giggling and walked up to him. He managed to get up out of his chair (he lost a leg earlier in his life). He hugged me and wouldn’t let me go.
“Mi niña,” he kept whispering in my ear, over and over. I looked up at him and there were tears rolling down his cheeks. I never saw him cry except that time and when I left that summer.
“Abuelo, why does the ocean have a salty taste?” I said as we sat around the dinner table after a sun-filled day splashing in the pool at his sister’s daughter’s house.
We had spent hours correcting my dive (I used to be a competitive swimmer, and my sudden grasp on swimming when I got back to the states I thank him for). People had walked by and called us both fishes, asking us if we would ever get out of the pool.
“You ask those hard questions, mi niña,” he said, giving me a kiss on the cheek, his beard prickling my cheek, “but I would say it’s due to the rocks and minerals and all the sand that is in the ocean.”
“You know everything Abuelo,” I replied.
“No, I do not,” he replied.
He could have told me that as many times as he wanted, in my eyes, he knew everything.
Tears trickled down my cheek as we said our final goodbye. I did not want to let go. The boat rocked back and forth, and my head was spinning. How had we gotten here?
I looked at my mother, her face stitched up and having to sit down often because her own weight was too much for her broken back.
Why did this happen? Why did you go? Where are you? Come back, I still expect you to be sitting in your chair when I walk into your apartment. Remember when I came to Spain that summer when I was ten all by myself? I surprised you, because you didn’t even know I was coming. You cried as you hugged me. I remember all the things you told me, to grow up and go to school, get an education, be open to learn, be open to life and all the possibilities that await me. Abuelo… See, the thing is, I need you right now, at this moment.
I passed the urn on to the person sitting next to me. It was unbelievable, how the days seemed to move on, sun rising and setting, even though the world was crashing on me. I was utterly lost. I looked at my mother, so beautiful to me because she was alive, she was breathing.
As my family and I finished and spread his ashes in the ocean, I heard the confusion, the yelling, and the loss on the boat. I had to step back and just watch at how a single night, a car accident, could have changed us, what we loved, and who we were. Life is precious, family is everything and honesty is key. The person who knew that the most and reminded us everyday was gone…
It was a whole new world as I watched a school of fish swim by. I reached out to touch them, but they knew and swam away quickly. I looked up at the surface, and watched as waves passed over me, the sun shining down and showing me the whole blue world that I was surrounded by. I dove down a few feet to check out the rocks that were beneath me, when all of the sudden, these scenes began to play in my head. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I found myself swimming to the surface to get some air.
Am I a believer in an afterlife? Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know if there is a place we go to after we pass. What I do know is that we leave a print on the people we meet. To me, if there is anything I know about death, that is it. We live on in the memories of the people we have met and the people we have touched. My Abuelo knew how to live life, he laughed and knew how to tell the best jokes. He made you feel special and reminded you of the countless possibilities that awaited you if you put your time and effort into them. He told you to never give up and to enjoy, just simply enjoy, what life has to offer you. To him, simplicity was key. I remember sitting around the dinner table with him and just laughing and conversing, or on his couch as he gave you life advice, or dancing to music in the living room… those to me will always be the best memories.
His ashes are spread in the ocean, and the last time I swam in it was the summer I said goodbye to him. Up until today, seven years later.
Seven years later and I am living my dream.
I know he would be proud of me, cheering me on. I’ve had my good days and my bad days here in France (the language is getting to me, but time and effort, that is what I am reminding myself). I know he would be content of the way that I finally grabbed the reigns and decided that I was going to lead my life, and work for what I can achieve.
He’s here, in my memory, in what he left me, those words of advice that I still live by day to day.
He always will be.
Today, I got to swim with him again.