Grandpa is dying. Above the altar on one wall of the house are portraits of my late grandmother, uncle, and step-grandmother. There is a fourth empty space. We are waiting for Grandpa to die.
The penultimate time I visited him was about a year ago. I remember holding his clenched fist as we sat in silence. As I tried to ease his glass-like fingers apart I almost began to cry. I wanted so much to lend him the youth and energy and time I was wasting. I wanted so much for him to not continue existing, but to be alive.
I used to be frustrated by the language barrier between us, and I hated knowing I would never be able to hear grandpa’s stories for myself. Hearing my aunts and uncles’ anecdotes were only briefly satisfying, but never quite enough. All I could do was look through the yellowed black-and-white photo albums and run my fingers over his careful pencil handwriting. All I could do was hold his hand.
That day I pushed him in his wheelchair out to some distance from the home’s swimming pool so he could see some color other than the grays and reds of his room. I sat beside him while my aunts chatted in the shade.
Then I began to talk, slowly at first. I told Grandpa of everything I was worried about at the time and what I write about. I told him about what kind of person I wanted to be when I grew up and of how I’ve learned to appreciate my heritage. I told Grandpa how I knew he probably couldn’t understand what I was saying, but also why that was okay. I told him about all my favorite things. I told him how I wondered what his favorite things were. The entire time he was quiet.
I wrote in one of my college essays that I don’t want people’s stories to vanish when they do. This, I think, is partly why.
Later we settled Grandpa into his bedroom again as it was time for us to leave. He said something, doubly indiscernible by my ears because his voice is so weak and he only speaks Vietnamese. An aunt translated.
“He said you remind him of your mom.”