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Swell Waves: A Song for Grandpa

Three days after I arrived in Guatemala in June, I woke up at my dark hostel dorm room in Antigua and rushed out to catch the 9:00 am Yoga class across town. I hadn’t walked two blocks through the cobbled-stoned streets of Guatemala’s old capital when I flopped down on the sidewalk, crying uncontrollably.

I had been expecting the news my phone had delivered on that fresh morning ever since I started this journey over one year ago. I knew this moment would one day come and whisk me away from whichever corner of the world I happened to roam. Yet the news came like a flash flood and there I was, curled up like a scared rabbit, frozen on the damp, cold stones of Antigua’s streets, as if the entire world had caught on fire and I was the first to know.

“Your grandpa is in a coma,” my father said on the phone. It didn’t look good. My grandfather had been unwell for some time and he hadn’t called me in over two weeks. He didn’t like to speak to people when he wasn’t in good spirits.

I tried to recall our last conversation. Was it the time I travelled by train from Providence to Boston and all we said was countless ‘alos’ before giving up on reception? Or was it the time he asked me if I had new glasses even though I wore the same pair as always? Too long had passed since I heard his voice asking me when I would return home, uttering how beautiful I looked over FaceTime.

I remembered one long conversation from back in April. We chatted as I rode a rental bike to the beach in Tulum as the turquois Caribbean Sea crashed into shore in white breaking waves.

“Be careful,” he had said, even after I assured him that I had two hands on the handlebars, steering with complete authority.

I just couldn’t remember–When was it that I had last seen his smiling blue eyes on my telephone screen? I dragged myself to the nearest coffee shop where the Scottish cook consoled me. We had had a long chat the previous day and he was to bring me homemade pepper spray as protection from unruly street dogs. I wasn’t going to need that anymore. My dorm-mates helped pack my belongings, handed me a sandwich to go and sent me on my way to the airport.

Four days later, I stood on a podium in Istanbul’s Jewish cemetery, saying goodbye to my grandfather, throwing earth over his grave. That eulogy was the last piece of writing I managed to create. Until today.

Dede 2Dede

Grief manifests like swell waves. Long after the storm that created them has come and gone, they traverse the ocean for days and weeks to finally crash into faraway shores. They engulf upon you as you dress up for a dinner date, as you lay over freshly cut grass on a sunny day, as you wake up in the middle of the night for no reason and can’t fall back asleep. They drain the strength off your limbs, changes the sound of your voice, sips the smile from your laughter.

You continue to trod the cement earth, months pass and you still believe that the person who once filled your heart with joy is still sitting on his lazy-boy reading the paper, still gazing out to the Marmara Sea from the balcony where you shared countless cups of coffee. When he gets frustrated, he still dances it away; he still rubs his big belly after eating a forbidden meal. You imagine that somewhere in the distance, he awaits your return home with open arms as the best of grandparents always do, ever believing in your ability to make the most of your youth, your passion, your love. And in those moments when you stop believing, a giant wave washes over to flung you ashore.

Today marks two months since my grandfather and I said our goodbyes. On most days, the waves created by his passing seem larger than the storm. “Why did you go, Dede?” I often find myself asking the sky as if his presence would whisk away the tourists that block my way on London’s busy streets or materialize the umbrella that I forgot to bring as I dodge summer rain.

It is perhaps with a touch of melancholy that I write this post long overdue. As these swells’ passing nauseated all creativity and passion out of me over the last few months, London has been my healer. A few days ago, another wave crashed over me as I listened to a new album by Benjamin Francis Leftwich in preparation for a mini-concert he was to give here in London. As I listened to “Groves” overlooking the Thames Rives, I thought about my grandfather and let him go again, as I had a thousand times.

P.S. The lyrics to “Groves,” as transcribed to the best of my ears’ abilities, are below. Leftwich’s amazing album “After the Rain” is so new that the lyrics are not even on the web yet. I hope you like the song as much as I did and please do let me know if you figure out the missing lyrics!

By Benjamin Francis Leftwich

But stay awhile and fake a smile
I know that you’re ready to go
Cause there you lay and stare away
Out the window through the groves
And to the mountains down the road
I will follow in your footsteps
When I walk away the sadness in the snow

Don’t go
I need you to be waiting for me every time I’m home
Don’t go
I’ll be right beside you when you rest your broken bones
Don’t go

I know that you’re ready to know
The sky above, [?]
I don’t think I’m ready to grow
Here alone, you are the stone
That holds me in position
With your calm and steady wisdom
Don’t you walk away
I’ll be there every morning
at the sunrise if you promise to be strong

How can I slow down time
As the waters [?] let your hand in mine
How can I know your life
As the waters rise, I just close my eyes

After running across town to catch the show (apparently there are two Rough Trade Records in London and they are not near each other!) I made it to the concert and even got a signed vinyl!

After running across town to catch the show (apparently there are two Rough Trade Records in London and they are not near each other!) I made it to the concert and even got a signed vinyl!