Updated: Sep 13
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The emerald green door opens to a foreign land, a fantasy— not somewhere new, no; somewhere far too familiar, somewhere home.
Pill bottles are scattered about the room, framing his bed.
It’s been one year since I’ve stepped foot in that house, but no matter, because its distinct aroma, a blend of my uncle’s herbal Chinese medicine and dust, leave an imprint in my mind that is impossible to erase. Not that I’d ever want to, anyway. Perhaps it’s an off-putting odor for most, but for me, this scent is the magic you read about in fairytales, the magic that transports me back in time. In seconds, I can see the house blurring around me in a haze, while the photos in the albums fly at me, flipping faster and faster and faster; I am surrounded by history, storylines that existed long before me, stories that will continue beyond me.
But this year, the house is still. A heavy fog has settled in, making the home its own. Something has changed; we go through the motions, laugh and chat, the same as always, but there is an unmistakable emptiness that plagues our every move.
Each year, my mind races to observe any subtle changes to the house, but mostly to my chagrin, it’s frozen in time. This is the first year “time” has become painstakingly obvious, and I hate it. I hate the grains of sand seeping through the hourglass, unwilling to just stop.
The house mocks me; rather, reminders of my grandparents’ mortality mock me— the collection of walkers and canes mock me, the lists of prescriptions mock me, the fact that my grandfather wore the very shoes he purchased to wear at his own funeral to my cousin’s wedding mocks me.
I fear I have gotten too used to goodbyes. For as long as I can remember, it has been my immediate family leaving the rest. As a child, I failed to understand why my family was always the one to leave. Traces of our presence were left behind, whether it was the empty Yakult carton I forgot to throw out, or the red bean bun my aunt had bought especially for my brother that he was saving for later. Our presence was marked by our footprints, erased as quickly as the next time the garbage was taken out or the next time my cousin snatched the bun up to eat it himself.
The thing is, I’m not ready to say goodbye. It is far too early to say goodbye. You need to understand, I am the ghost in that house, not them.
Voices swirl around me. The house is alive, fed by conversations and laughter, during the misty month of December.
How I wonder how lonely my ye-ye and nai-nai are the other eleven months of the year.
I have learned that our time on this earth is painfully finite. The sands of time are simply not in our favor. I long to be connected to my grandparents, I long to say the words “I love you”, but how can I when I lack the vocabulary to do so?
Beyond my wallowing, though, I know I can’t do anything to change the past, the hundreds upon thousands of memories missed — the photos don’t lie — so I build, and I build, and I build— and I am far from finished.
Editors: Joyce P., Leila W.