He will be 90 in a few weeks. He doesn’t think this is possible. He says he wasn’t supposed to live this long. He asks again how old he is. You’re still 89, I tell him. He has a relieved look on his face. Then he smiles at me, says, that means you are pretty old yourself. I begrudgingly agree, though only out of necessity. Two weeks ago he was certain he was on the verge of death. Today he says he is fine, says he heard someone claim to be dying but can’t imagine who it was. Perhaps it was in his dreams, he says. He goes back to watching television intently. Tomorrow he won’t recall what he watched, or perhaps that he watched. But he knows he will be 90 soon, or something like it.
It was easier being Buddhist when I was young, despite the fact I had no good idea what Buddhism truly was. for a child the moment is all there is, the past so short that it means nothing, the future something that will arrive as and when it wishes. For a child, things will go wrong, and do so with fair regularity, but children are also physicists, and the Lorenz effect guarantees that it was never really their fault, and when all else fails, they simply blame karma.
She likes to tell him that he came from a small village in Lithuania. He prefers to remind her that he was born in the District of Columbia which has never been mistaken for a small village in Lithuania, although he knows he could find several who speak Lithuanian there. And, he points out to her, that would only be half the story, for he is certain the father he has never met never set foot, genetic or actual, anywhere in Lithuania. Still, in his dreams, he can sit with the grandfather he never met and they will converse in Lithuanian.
In deeply hidden corners of my memory snapshots of my childhood reappear from forgotten albums. I want to know what was happening just out of frame, or in the next picture in the series but these negatives are lost and so I am left to draw my own pictures, write my own story, and accept it as truth.
It’s odd how your stature has grown as I dream of you occasionally staring at your yearbook picture. It was only four years ago that I knew you existed, but hadn’t the faintest idea of who you were, anything about your life, why you gave me up, and, therefore who it was I might have been. Now you are a selfless icon, caring more for siblings who needed education, at the immediate cost of your own, a child who needed two parents in a world that frowned deeply on anything less than a pair. Someday soon, I will visit your grave, place a small stone upon your stone, and a kiss, the closest I can ever hope, ever dream to coming to the face of my mother.