Standing several feet away from the painfully familiar front door, I wondered for a moment through my tears, “Does this make me a stalker?” But no one I knew lived at this apartment anymore and it was simply for the feeling of standing there itself, that I had unexpectedly arrived.
I stepped back, close to the balcony railing and closed my eyes briefly, imagined myself knocking on the door. The images came so easily; the feeling of warm anticipation before my grandfather would pull open the door. His smile would broaden while he stood there shirtless, his skin a deep brown from the sun under fuzzy white grey hairs. He’d rest one hand against his blue and red bathing shorts, in the other he’d have a ripe red tomato half-sliced, juices threatening to run. “We don’t want any!” he’d tease in the doorway, as if poised to close the door just before stepping back to open it wide.
I’d grab him in a damp hug before gliding down the narrow hallway, tossing my wet towel into the dryer on my way into the main living area. My grandmother would appear from the master bedroom doorway, still wearing her brown bathing suit covered in large white peony flowers. “Well, c’mon then and have some lunch.” she’d encourage. By now grandpa would be back in the kitchen, finishing off the thick turkey sandwiches with ruby slices of tomato and crisp iceberg lettuce leaves. “Bernie, did you put out the potato chips?” grandma would bellow from back in the bedroom. “I have the chips but that doesn’t mean I’m going to let you have any!” he’d cajole back at her.
This is where I will be eternally safe, eternally loved. Standing in this living room in my imagination. The smells of Coppertone SPF 4 and men’s cologne, the awareness of my sister and cousin in various states of showering and dressing, the soft peach carpet soothing the bottoms of my feet, tender from the sand. Gazing into the mirrored walls, I was surrounded in an embrace by the ocean herself.
My grandmother died on June 24, 2015, just shy of her 94th birthday. She lived 15 months after losing her 95 year old husband to whom she was married for 72 years (see March 2014: “Life After Pop”). Her death was the last of a generation of relatives and friends in whose presence I knew myself to be part of something precious and timeless.
Maybe someday soon I will write about her, Phyllis Rice; a woman I adored and admired as my grandma and deeply cherished as my friend. For now, I try mightily to trust that the memories will remain fresh, that the surreal quality that has seemingly overtaken the earth will dissipate in time, and to know that, in that living room by the sea, I will always be able to find them.