The love we have known
Through stuttered sobs, I thanked him for being a good grandad. He snorted; “I haven’t done much”. I said that he had, trying to articulate through my running nose and gasping breath how much he had done for me, but in the moment, I couldn’t.
An old lamp sits on the desk of my childhood bedroom. Its oval shaped head spilled weak white light over the countless essays, artworks, and books I passed under it over the years I used it. It was given to me by a childhood friend – her name was Nayoung, but my teacher called her Jenny. She gave me the lamp because she could not take it back to South Korea with her, and ever since, it has stayed in my room, Korean plug connected to an Australian adapter, bowing its head over my desk. I haven’t spoken to Nayoung in years.
Before my grandfather died, he held my hand and told me he loved me. Through stuttered sobs, I thanked him for being a good grandad. He snorted; “I haven’t done much.” I said that he had, trying to articulate through my running nose and gasping breath how much he had done for me, but in the moment, I couldn’t.
My friend Stella and I used to go to art classes together. We both loved to draw, and would doodle on scraps of paper in class. I used to copy the way she drew eyes. I can’t remember if she was bothered or not — or if she even knew — but I remembered thinking her drawings were cool and wishing mine were the same. As I grew older, and time pushed us apart, I kept drawing eyes the way she had, improving bit by bit with each one. I paint portraits now and in each stroke are years of muscle memory. Under layers of paint are the same eyes that she used to draw.
What I told my grandfather is that, just the day before, I had borrowed shoe glue from my dad. I asked for it to fix a pair of sandals which were falling apart. My dad has an ice cream tub full of different tubes of glue that he keeps in the garage, each of which are optimised for different uses. Shoe glue is different from normal glue, because it allows for more flexibility of the repaired bond, so your fixed shoe won’t fall apart again with the movement of your foot. I know this because my dad has helped me fix many shoes in the past — ever since I was young, he has helped me mend, rather than replace, broken things. He tells me he learnt that from his dad.
I told my grandfather this, and he laughed. I’m not sure that he understood what I was saying. I wish I had said it better.
I catch myself slipping into my boyfriend’s syntax. Our message exchanges sometimes just look like echoes. I love the way he uses words; I envy his efficiency. I have screenshots from years ago of things he has said that remind me I am loved, but I don’t look at them often. I remember them as I might a poem.
When I make comfort food, I add butter to my rice. It makes it taste almost like it does when my best friend cooks rice with ghee. Her rice is always better than mine.
I have a scar on my ankle from a time I sat by a fire pit with friends, trading stories, too engrossed to notice an ember had jumped out of the flames and into my boot, burning a little crescent into my skin.
I wish I had told him that he had done more than I had words for. That when I was travelling, I obsessively photographed every meal we ate in preparation for a slideshow I would show my family, the way he used to make slideshows of his journeys that he showed me as a kid. That when I solved tricky clues in the Sydney Morning Herald crossword, my dad would praise me by comparing me to him. That my dad walks the same way he does, arms clasped behind their backs, steps slow and deliberate. That I see his thumbprints indented all over the moulded clay of my family.
I know the words to a song I have never heard because my friend used to sing it over and over during Year Ten science class while we were meant to be doing work. Over coffee, I share again and again a fun fact a friend told me about how it’s not the material of a mug that keeps your drink warm, but rather, the shape. I sleep with a blanket my aunt knitted me.
We are all just constellations of the love we have known.
The last thing my grandpa said to me was that we would see each other again. I have seen him ever since.