Tuesday, June 10, 2003
memories, part ii (previously... part i)
It was my first time on an airplane.
I was sitting next to Dad, and feeling a bit small. At just 5 years old, the memories of feeling small came from two things: my small frame barely able to fill the seat, and my view of the world from the cabin window... how quickly people, cars, buidings, and roads shrunk to the size of toys, as tiny as the pictures I scrawled with my crayons on my makeshift canvas - an unused barf bag I had seized upon from the seat pocket in front of me.
The "little pilots wings" that I got from the nice stewardness were pinned to my shirt. It was quiet, the dull hum of the airplane only interupted by the periodic sound of a page being turned slowly - Dad was reading his Bible, but his brow was furrowed.
Just months ago, my family had loaded up the car and moved to Seattle. Now the ties of blood were calling us back to Oakland and a car trip was not fast enough to get us back.
Grandpa was sick... maybe dying.
Mom was still working, so her and little sister stayed home. My father explained that his father, grandpa, would like to see him and me. I don't think I understood it then... only now do I see that it was the call of the father to the son, now a father to a son.
By the time we got off the plane, my father's pensive mood had become mine as well. When we arrived in Oakland, there was the usual greetings and pick-ups from the relatives, all the aunties and uncles. But every smile concealed melancholy, a heaviness that I had never known before - suddenly, it was as plain as seeing blue in the sky.
The sun was shining, but it didn't seem bright or warm either.
It was the next day after we had arrived and Dad drove us to the hospital. Sitting shotgun, I held onto to Dad's Bible so he could drive. I can't remember Grandpa's room, but I remember him, laying in his bed, slightly upright. He made a slight smile, half of the same smirk my father and I could do, but couldn't do right now. Grandpa's words were whispers, sounds that the air carried away before they even reached my ears. His eyes looked at us, but nothing carried away the heaviness that was in his look. Dad and I just looked at Grandpa before one of the relatives came to take me away while my father and grandpa talked alone. I could hear the low murmur of Dad speaking in Chinese to Grandpa as I was led away.
Uncle Tommy and Auntie Amy bought me a chocolate milkshake. I wanted to eat it all up, but it wasn't as sweet as thought it would be and I had a hard time finishing it. Dad came to get me later and for fun, we drove by our old house in Oakland. The new people in it had painted it yellow. A really ugly yellow.
Weeks later, Grandpa died.
It was my first time at a funeral and Dad taught me to bow down to show respect. It was the first time I had seen a dead body too... Grandpa's face was pale, so fake looking with the white makeup. I was scared, I think I shook and almost fell as I bowed down in front of the casket. We sat down in the front church pew, the pew reserved for family.
The wood of the pew was hard and uncomfortable. But I knew Dad would hate it if I kept squirming, so I just tried to sit there like a rock, until my body became numb to sitting there. It still hurt.
I looked over to see my father gazing outward, into the distance, as if he could see something through or beyond Grandpa's body. As I looked at him, I saw a single tear well up in the corner of his eye and as if stuck in slow motion, it crawled slowly down his cheek, a smooth, short line before he quickly wiped it away.
It was the first time I ever saw Dad cry.