The Geography of Love
I waited for her to come down the steps to the basement apartment where my wife and I were sleeping, loudly shouting her usual 8:30 AM announcement: "Gammy...Grandpa...time to get uuuup." And after a pause: "Gaaammmy! Grandpaaa!" I waited and waited...another pause. This was too long. The incongruity woke me.
Where was she? More importantly: where was I? It dawned on me. I was no longer in the basement at my daughter's and son-in-law's house in Washington, DC, but back in California, away from our Granddaughter Sofia, away from the The Thanksgiving holiday. My wife and I were at our home.
My wife was downstairs, making breakfast.
My wife lets me sleep an extra 15 minutes every morning while she makes breakfast for us both. When I arrive in the breakfast room, she also allows me to read the front page before she does. It is her sweet way to maintain the illusion that I am important and worth preparing breakfast for. We both know it is a lie; but happiness--and love--is often the ability to maintain a kindly self-deception for one another.
I started to put on my robe. The chirpy voice had been only in my head, in my dream, in my reverie. I was sad. The two weeks with Sofia were over...the rituals, the cuddling against my chest, the monster games (we took turns being the designated monster), the book reading--especially "Dora" and "Clifford the Big Red Dog". Also over were my pathetic attempts at understanding her words, softened by her inordinate patience, waiting as I figured out her sound and syntax peculiarities.
"Teach me rrrsddds!" she said one day. "What?" I said. "Teach me rrrsdds"! "What?" "Teach me..." "I don't understand," I said, a little frustrated, befuddled and apologetic. She looked at me like the fool I was; "Teach me rrrsddds!!!"and finally, the dawn: "You mean WORDS...teach you WORDS?" I asked. She nodded, smiled that most beatific smile that princesses reserved for their clowns and fools in their court, and nodded, and handed me her book that spelled out words to be learned. And we sat and read.
I remembered later, after the reading, her laughing, and me being the cause of it; tickling her and blowing hot loud air through my lips and mouth against her belly...and her laughing and saying 'no, no, no' but meaning 'yes, yes, yes' as she lifted up her pullover shirt, and giggled, and pushed me away to seduce me to tickle her more.
When we finished, and she hugged me, she said: "Why are you so big, Grandpa?" (I am six-foot five) "I just am," I said. She was not satisfied. "Why are you big," Grandpa? I had no better answer. "I just am." Then: "But someday soon, you will grow bigger and I will grow smaller. I promise you. I will shrink as you get older." She absorbed this; then: "But why are you so big?" she repeated. "I just am," with the despairing finality of a Grandpa without an simple answer. She frowned, decided to postpone her need for a logic until some time later.
"Why do you have that?" she asked me the next day, pointing to the hair above my upper lip. "It's my moustache," I said proudly. "Take it off!" Like the child I am, I said: "No. I like it." "Take it off!" she ordered. "No!" I said. And I rubbed it against her belly as I blew more hot air and she howled in delight.
On the sad last day of our vacation, while she was in her Mama's arms, fighting the flu (including fever and earache combined; she was 'sickie', as she phraese it), I felt like Benedict Arnold as I put on my coat to head for the airport. "Why do you have to go to California?" she said quietly and somberly. I said nothing. She repeated: "Why do you have to go to California?" I had no good answer to that question either; except: "That's where I live." "But why do you have to go to California?" she said, with the exact same intonation as she often does when given an inadequate answer. "I have to go home," It was not enough. "But why?" I said: "I have to go back to work. To teach." "But why?" she reiterated. I paused, feeling stupid under the weight of my non-fulfilling answers. "I just have to," I said finally, hoping the futility of my response as reflected in my face would satisfy her. She looked at me through feverish eyes...and thought...and then, quite simply: "Why?"
The taxi arrived. A final kiss, a hug. Oh, that hug!...It was so unfulfilling!! Peremptory...not truthful. The truth was: I wanted to hug her forever.
Back home in California, when I heard her chirping voice in my sleep, high-pitched yet full-throated, and I awoke to discover she was not there. I was very, very, very sad. Ironically, my wife would experience the exact same feeling fourteen hours later, when I came to bed that night, when she asked me: "Where are we?" And I said, "We are home, in California." She nodded. Vacantly. And went back to dreaming.
Love's geography is mapped in the heart. The United States is very wide (2500 miles from California to Washington DC...DC is the capital of our nation, and the city where Sofia and her beloved Mommy and Poppie live). But the distance between Sofia and her 'Gammy and Grandpa', cannot--and will never-- be measured in 2500 miles...or 2500 light years. Love's distance can only be measured in heartbeats; and sighs and dreams of longing.