Last Saturday morning, December 30, my longtime neighbor and surrogate grandfather, Bob Buckingham, died at home of congestive heart failure. I think they should change the name. Failure sounds so passive, like your body made an error. It should be called "Pro-Active Soul Liberation."
If we are lucky, that is.
As a gift for my birthday when I was twelve, Bob took me on a train ride through Chattanooga--the Missionary Ridge Local, which runs from Grand Junction to the East Chattanooga Depot and back. We stood against the railing while the engine changed direction on the turntable. Bob was slowly disappearing for the last couple of years, retreating into his memories, into story after story, each carrying an immense gravity. Talking to him, it was impossible not to feel a space opening, a strange distance which must have been even more alarming to him than it was to us. Wasn't it?
My mother's great-aunt Marie, who lives in a nursing home in Atlanta, said the woman who shared her room was walking down the hall one day and just fell over dead. "What a way to go," we all said.
My dad's parents, both in their late eighties, are stuck in time at different moments--quite possibly the time in their lives that were, for them, the happiest. My grandfather when he was a boy, aged eight to thirteen maybe. My grandmother later, in her years as a tourguide. I try not to think much about how these times are decades apart, about how neither much includes the other. Where are they? I sometimes wonder. And I don't blame them.
This year I learned that Meg is still gone, and gone really is forever. That her objects, her furniture, do not really contain her as much as they contain my memories. "Do you want to take a trip?" they say, peeking out at me from the bookcases, from the cabinets and locked boxes. They are wyrm holes you can touch.
Back in November, my friend Ashley wrote to me in a card: "May all your dead be at peace." I'd never heard anything so comforting.
My nephew, on the other hand, is remarkable in his alive-ness, his pure person-ness. The way he has adopted what is, apparently, our family posture--some slack-kneed way of standing that I've seen in photographs of my brother and I. The way he'll just tell you sometimes: "I don't know what that is."