Four years later

To Yia Yia,

I keep a small jar, once strawberry preserves and now keepsake container full of lost buttons, on my desk that sat in your sewing machine drawer for years. If you were still around, I’m sure you wouldn’t even have noticed that they were gone. You’d find them one day amidst my mess of a space and ask me where I got them, memories of each button coming back to you one by one. This one, you’d say, was in between couch cushions. This one, behind the dresser. This one from a dress that no longer fit and this one from my uncle’s outgrown flannel. You kept them as souvenirs of what things used to be before they came undone. It’s one small reminder in a sea of reminders of who you are and how much of me was made by you. Everything has a place even when lost all they find themselves to be. Everything is still usable if we make them out to be. Still worthy of hanging onto. Like buttons.

Most days, I, too, feel lost. A part of me left when you did four years ago. In the months following your passing, I blamed myself for not coming to visit you. I’ve written about it a few dozen times but I can’t remember the last time we spoke. I can’t remember the last thing you said to me or whether or not you cried after I left. I can’t remember if you offered me a mint or asked me about my work. Can’t remember if you told me you wished I’d come home more often in the months before you died but somehow, it’s the only thing I thought of for months. One thing I do remember is when you asked me where my Army uniform was. At the cleaners, I’d say to you, knowing full well I’ve never been in the Army and have never worn a uniform. It was towards the end in the middle of your memory betraying you. I think it’s why I was afraid to come see you again. Didn’t want to be someone else to you other than your grandson. Didn’t want to lie to you about who I was, or where, or why. A part of me knows that I can’t change all the small decisions I made when I was afraid. I can only live with them as lessons I needed to learn, however hard they may be. Other parts of me have yet to forgive myself for every mistake I’ve made ever since 2017.

What I wish I could tell you now is that I am healed by the loss I feel every day. I’m not. I’m convinced I might not be in this decade or the next. Grief makes my bones feel honey-soaked, somehow cold and warm at the same time; everything sticks to me now. Every letter and every word becomes something resembling a tiny world pressing against my ribcage. Every verse from thousands of songs written years ago meet my ears for the first time and feel like they were written for me. The truth is that the hole I feel in my heart never closed. I just started filling it with beautiful things instead: lovers who tried their hardest to love me well, friends that remind me how loved I am, tattoos of here, there, you, them, and me scrawling stories across my skin so I no longer have to carry them inside. To this day, people ask me about the soundwave on my arm. “It’s my grandmother telling me that she loves me. I get to carry her love with me everywhere I go now.” They get to see it, too. I smile knowing tattoos were never really your thing but you would support me through it as you showed up for my wisdom.

What I didn’t know then–the day my mother called me to tell me you were gone–that I know now is that every bruise I get is proof that I tried to live a life you would’ve been proud of. It’s evidence that we can get knocked down by something that feels so overwhelming, so devastatingly difficult, but that it’s only ever losing if we don’t get back up. And if we don’t get up right away, that’s okay. It may not have been our time yet. But there will come a day when it will be. We need not miss our chance at something that will make us feel everything in this life. And when we do, the only option is trying again.

I don’t want to get to the end of my life having never lived or taken a chance on myself. I don’t want to get out unscathed. I don’t want to miss an opportunity at becoming your wildest dream of me. Someone who is as in love with life as you were. Someone who wasn’t afraid (even when secretly, I might be). Someone who knew when to let go of the railing even before learning to fly, knowing full well that there will be people who love you fiercely on the other side, beckoning you to begin again.

Maybe most of all, I don’t want to ever forget you. But I know it doesn’t work that way. At some point, my memory will fail me, too. All I might remember are bits and pieces of a life I used to live, swaths of colorful ribbons draped over all my best moments, some of the worst, too, and the moment I last remember you telling me “I love you.”

And I love you too, Yia Yia. I love you too.


Published by Robbie Williford

Writer from Flint, Michigan. Partial but slowly becoming. Educator. Storyteller. Bashful. Paying attention to the quiet.

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