Loss is relatively new to me. It has not been a year yet. I hear from friends that we relearn to live around our losses eventually. I am learning. I have written a grief journal which I doubt I will ever be able to revisit. However, it helped immensely as an outlet to pour out my grief at the time as I was hurting so badly that I did not think it was worth living for a short while. I now know that life is worthy because life is fragile and short and beautiful (for the most part). I now know, thanks to books and conversations, that love, joy, friendships, grief AND loss is tapestry of my life. Recently, I read a book called The Guncle by Steven Rowley where he writes “Grief orbits the heart. Some days the circle is greater. Those are the good days. You have room to move, dance and breathe. Some days the circle is tighter. Those are the hard ones.” As days go by the circle gets greater, for sure. I smile at memories more and still tear up a bit that we will make no more. But when special days come up my whole body clenches in anticipation of tremendous pain.
Ma’s birthday on November 1st, 2021, was painful. Worse than the actual day were the days leading up to it as grief orbited very close to my heart, constricting it so much that I had trouble breathing. Baba’s birthday is coming up on March 2nd. I have been losing sleep over how much pain that will bring. I smile, though, at the memory of us wishing him happy birthday via video message and he responding with an uncomfortable laughter and a confused “hmm… same to you.” He was not used to being wished ‘happy birthday’ in English. His birthdays, in his days. were celebrated with payesh (rice pudding), blessings of his elders, sumptuous lunch and dinner. When I was little, I saved money to buy him a wallet and decorated a card. I don’t remember singing happy birthday to him growing up. The singing and wishing came much later and he never got used to it. He liked it though, which was clear from his beaming smile as his little grandchildren (and even when they grew up) sang to him. He just never learned the proper response. I don’t know how I would be on his upcoming birthday as he has ceased to exist (physically). Yes, I am all clenched up inside anticipating a surge of unbearable pain but maybe it won’t be so bad. Maybe, I will make sure the memories I have with him are blessings. Maybe I will wake up that day and sing him a happy birthday anyway and I will remember his confusion……and maybe, I will smile.
The stairs at our library are killers sometimes. Some days I go up without breaking a sweat and other days, I have to almost bend double to catch my breath as if I just finished a marathon. The woman who came up the stairs was breathing heavy when she asked me where the printer number 3 was. The printer downstairs was not working so she sent a print job to printer upstairs and came up the stairs huffing and puffing to get her print job. We got talking about different things – mainly about the killer staircase. She got her print job and went downstairs. I went back to whatever I was doing on the computer. It was a quiet day and I think I was working on discussion questions for our next book for book club. It is TranscendentKingdom by Yaa Gyasi, if you are wondering. It is a fantastic, thoughtful beautiful work of art and I highly, highly recommend it. But I digress. Anyway, the sweet lady came up the stairs again and went straight to the printer. I smiled and made a few seconds of small talk. She was very chatty and talked the whole time while she waited for her print job to come out. As the printer started making encouraging sounds of getting her print job out, she looked at me, especially my bulging, menopausal stomach and asked, “Hmmm…do I see a baby bump? Are congratulations in order?”
I was shocked first and then mortified. No, not for my expanding girth (I have stopped caring a while ago), but for her. I knew my answer was going to embarrass her. She just called me fat and I am going to point that out to her by saying, “No, I am not pregnant. I am just fat.” Oh, she was going to be in such an uncomfortable situation in just a moment, I thought in my head. I shook my head, smiled beneath my mask and said very softly, “No, I am not pregnant.” If she was embarrassed, the lady did not show it. She said, “You are not? Oh, look at my belly, cannot get rid of it. Six children will do that to you.” I said, “Tell me about it.” And then let it go. I did not even have the excuse of having six children. I just sport a belly without being pregnant. That is all.
After she left, I chuckled about the whole exchange. Should I be flattered that she thought I was young enough to be pregnant? Or should I be enraged that she called me fat? I felt neither of those emotions. I just laughed about it all and thought it would make good content for my blog.
He comes from a different country like me. He has an accent when he speaks English that is heavier than mine. We play cat and mouse with masks at the library. He comes to work on the computer every day at the library and we greet each other with a big smile under our masks.
“Good morning!” The greeting is accompanied by a respectful nod each day.
He pulls his mask down once he sits. I go near him and gesture to pull it up over his nose. I smile, or my eyes smile when I do it. He immediately pulls it up. But he tries every day, knowing that I will tell him to pull up his mask. It has almost become a game. The only other interaction we have is when he comes to the kiosk to ask for printer paper. I fill up the printer and he says thank you.
One morning, I did not see him at his usual chair at the library. Later, after my shift, I went upstairs to shelve a cart. He was there using the stapler near the kiosk. He waved and I waved back.
“How are you?” We asked each other simultaneously.
He said, “I came to the library and you were not there. I wondered where is my lady?”
I said I was there in the morning but my shift at that particular service point had ended when he came.
We bade each other farewell. But “where’s my lady” lingered in my head. We, library workers, create unique bonds with the library users. On days when I feel I need to quit my job, I focus on these relationships that I created with the library users. However, I wondered if his usage of “my lady” would be considered not politically correct. Personally, I thought it was sweet. But I decided to relate the story to my very astute 22 year old daughter, who also works at our library system. I just told her the story without asking if she found “where’s my lady” offensive. She said, “Oh mom! That is so sweet.”
It was sweet. Simple human interactions like these are such joyful aspects of the job I do.
These were baba’s joy. Every winter he sent me photos of all his flowers with much pride. I had forgotten all about his flowers. Gouri sent these to me today. The man has ceased to exist but his love continues to spread through these blooms. There is an analogy to life and continuity somewhere but I am just content to look at them and think about the happiness they gave him each year.
Last night I discovered that I threw away baba’s last gift to me. Everytime I left Kolkata, baba bought me a bar of Cadbury Fruit and Nut chocolate bar. In 2019, when Ryan and I left Kolkata with the hope of returning in May of 2020 to celebrate my 50th birthday with them, baba bought 2 chocolate bars for each of us.
After a laborious process of checking in, clearing immigration, getting my act together at Kolkata airport, we sat down near our gate and pulled out our chocolates. I opened mine first, unwrapped it and saw that the chocolate was covered in a white, powdery film. It was bought from a local, small grocery store in front of our apartment and I thought they must have kept this lot of bars beyond their expiry date. “Oh, my chocolate bar is bad. Ryan throw yours out. I am throwing mine out.” I threw the chocolate in the nearest trashcan. And as the chocolate swooshed inside the trashcan, Ryan exclaimed, “Mom!! NO!” He looked at me,incredulous that I would throw out a whole chocolate bar, “Why did you throw that out? Look it says it is normal to have the white film on the chocolate. It says it right on the cover.” And so it did.
Seeing the regret on my face at my hasty action, Ryan shared part of his chocolate bar with me before we boarded the flight for US. And he teased me mercilessly.
Yesterday, the four of us went to dinner when this topic came up. I said if you think about it, I threw away dadai’s last gift to me. Ryan said, “But I shared with you my gift from him.” And Sahana said, “Right there is a circle of love.”
Memories, anecdotes, stories circle in my head constantly. What the two kids says last night stayed with me as I tried falling asleep.