Last night I dreamt I met my grandpa for a drink. Over 80, he walked in, straight and tall, in a dapper trench coat and shoeshine boy cap. He sat next to me instead of across from me. I nestled in for a little side hug closing my eyes to smell the cigar he had snuck in the car.
It was the best 30 seconds I’ve had in a long time.
My grandpa has been dead for thirty-five years. I was six when he died.
In those 30 seconds I could feel the different person I imagined I would have been had he lived.
I was thinner (of course). I was more loving than I am today, or at least more open about my love, I could tell by the way I beamed when he walked in the bar. The way I expected a cuddle when he slid in the bench next to me. The way I patted his hand when he said he forgot his wallet in the car. “Good, your money’s no good here.” I said. “But you might get carded” He slapped my hand back chuckling.
I was more confident. Not thinking about what I was going to say, I held my body more erect, not concerned about taking up too much space. There was no pain or tension in my back and shoulders. I must have lived a more stress-free life.
I was more feminine in my appearance and dress. Why was this? Did I have more money and time? Did the femininity come with confidence? Is this who I truly want to be?
All this in 30 seconds and I knew why. This was my life, had I had grown up with an adult who loved and supported me.
In the years since his death, our family fell apart. His wife fell into a deep depression where she rarely left the house until her death 30 years later. His daughter, my mother and my father divorced. His other children, my aunt and uncle, splintered off, not giving much thought to my mother or her children. In the wake of divorce, my sisters and I were left to fend for ourselves, for basics like food, shelter and love. There were no rides to school, no parents in the audience at our school plays and when we married, only one of us invited our parents. The rest of us didn’t think to ask.
Certainly, in my alternate time line, something else could have happened. My parents would have still divorced. My extended family could still have been selfish and distant. Yet, when I follow my current time line, my real life, I always go back to him. The first time I felt love. A time I felt supported. He was the one who picked me up from school. He was the one who signed me up for ballet classes (a luxury I did not have after he died) and watched my practice. He would have come to my plays. He would have given me away when I married.
Sitting there with him in my dream, I felt all this. I felt what it must be like to be a person who always knew someone had their back. The assurance of one who felt safe, to take risks, to succeed. Then I felt something else.
An acquaintance joined us at our table. I cackled some silly remark at him. I don’t know what I said, for that’s how dreams are, but I understood the tone. The tone was idiotic. In this alternate time line, I was dumb.
I had never had to fight. I hadn’t been the only one to graduate from college, then grad school, while working, sometimes two jobs. I hadn’t had to weigh choices carefully, cautiously, because there wasn’t a safety net if I failed. Because of this, I was simple.
Then, I woke up. I had one more second of the scent of his cigar and then, it was all gone. I was grateful for those 30 seconds. I’ve missed him.
I was grateful for those 6 years of love. They let me know what it felt like. Twenty years later, I would choose wisely, marrying a man who supports me fiercely. A man who I know will always be there for me. An unselfish man. A loving man who tenderly holds my hand after 13 years of marriage. A man who would have never been interested in me if I wasn’t the smart, sensitive, sassy, fighting-for-bit-of-ground-even-when-there-is-no conflict-in-sight woman I am today. An uncomplicated woman wouldn’t have caught his eye.
And me? I wouldn’t have been interested in a man who didn’t smell of the cigar that he snuck while walking home from work.