July is the month we say goodbye to some regular writers who have aged out or are moving on to other projects. We’re extra thankful for Cassie today—she’s been writing with us since August 2014.
It was February of last year.
As usual, Michigan’s blue skies were giving us the cold shoulder.
I hadn’t stepped inside your house since the night Grandma passed away and I had spent hours rifling through drawers, trying to find the portrait of her in the pink blouse you wanted for the funeral home.
Your house looked mostly the same, except her chair was gone, your laundry was piled on her side of the bed, and there were a dozen framed photographs of her scattered on side tables—almost as if you were afraid you’d forget her sly smile.
Still, you are the steadfast man I’ve known all my life.
You still keep piles of newspapers on the dining room table, plastic grocery bags on the kitchen counter, and a mug full of old twisty ties from loaves of sliced bread by the toaster. You still fold paper towels under plates and bowls to protect your plastic placemats from spills, and you still open no fewer than three drawers before finding the can opener.
You had been at the hospital earlier that day and—doctor’s orders—couldn’t be alone. I stopped by after work, and we ate crackers and bowls of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup from the Dollar General down the road. The only things you and I really have in common are our genes, so our conversation touched the usual subjects: your first job out of school, your side hustle selling mobile homes, how the stock market was doing.
Every other pause or so, a memory from your summers on the lake.
I’m sorry because I fidget as if I’m tired of your conversation, but I want you to know I’m not. You are you, and these are all things I think of when I think of you. I wish I did a better job telling you, but how do I say it?
I’m not always good at saying what I mean to say, so here: Mom likes to tell me how you could soothe my crying as a baby by carrying me around the house, pointing out people in picture frames, and telling me stories about them.
During dishes that night, you asked me if I missed my dog. You’re no stranger to heartbreak; I think you must’ve known the real reason why the skin under my eyes was the color of bruises and why my chest rose and fell as if I had to think about every breath. But I know words are hard, and I did miss my dog a lot too, so I said “yes,” and you gave me a magazine with an article about a dog on page eleven.
You tried to give me Grandma’s things: one of her old watches, a handbag she used a handful of times, a pilling red cardigan. But I had someone else’s burnt-out lightbulb hidden away in a drawer, and it wasn’t doing me any good. For as tangible as things like sweaters and lightbulbs are, they’re really just teasing shadows of the person you miss.
You and Grandma would’ve been married fifty years if her heart had counted on one more summer. Twenty-five of those years, your bride was sick and you spent your days helping her move back and forth from her chair, to her bed, to doctor’s offices. Still, the night she passed away, I remember holding your hand and thinking I might be so lucky to be so heartbroken someday.
The dishes were done, but I stood by the kitchen sink and watched as the water ran down the drain. Life can be so unfriendly at times, but you came alongside me, stiffly patted my shoulder, and said, “You’ll be okay.”
And I am.
I’m not always great at saying what I mean to say, so here: Thank you for showing me what love looks like.
Cassie Westrate (’14) graduated with a double major in writing and international development studies. She currently lives in West Michigan, where she works as a writer, hangs out with her pet bird, and fights crime by night. Just kidding about the crime.