Tuesday, March 3, 2009


“I want to die in my sleep like my grandfather... Not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.” Will Shriner

I remember, distantly, listening to the unsettling story of my grandfather's attempted (or at least considered) suicide. I'm not sure I have all the details, though I am sure I listened with rapt, if not incredulous, attention. Basically the events are thus...

My father, a young boy at the time (my mind loses the age), walked in on my grandfather, while he sat, with his back to the door, on the edge of the bed. My father saw a gun in his hands. He watched him for several minutes (which could have been horrified, stretched seconds), fondling the gun, turning it over in his hands slowly, with a look of great pain on his long, stern face. He ran his hand down his face, rubbing his eyes, as if tired, rubbing away the frustration.

My grandfather never saw my father. My father turned around and walked out. They never spoke of it, and my father never said anything about it to anyone until the moment he placed the memory in my hands. A loaded gun, so much weight to bear.

I know little about my paternal grandfather. His name was William. He fought in WWII. He wore hand-me-down girls' clothing until he was five. He was unhappy and had little humor. He had beautiful handwriting and wrote longing, haunting love letters to my grandmother during the war. He was serious but never finished anything. He smoked all of his cigarettes to the exact same length and then lined them up in the ashtray, pushing the ashes to the side. He drank too much Coke and slept in front of the T.V. He died instantly of an aortic aneurysm, shoveling snow, almost a year to the date before I was born.

I saw his ghost when I was 7, at my grandmother's funeral. He was sitting next to me in the pew. He didn't say anything to me, but he looked as real as any person there, and it felt like I knew him, like it made sense for him to be sitting next to me, silent. I didn't know it was him until a few years later when I saw a picture of him for the first time.

My grandfather was a moody man. Quite possibly bi-polar. Suicidal even. Or at least unhappy.

I wonder sometimes what he left me. Besides letters, beautiful words and romance that seemed to fade as soon as his boots hit American soil. I have this feeling that he lived a different life in his mind. His pen spoke more than his lips ever could, and those around him suffered for it. His wife buried her loneliness in alcohol and died at 70. His daughter struggles to keep her head up as M.S. takes the last bits of strength in her body. His son, an everlasting legacy of both the father and the mother...stoic, troubled, silent, and laughing. His grand-daughter...a leaf hanging, dangling, unwilling to let go of the tree.

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