Today was Avie’s birthday. She’s six years old already—yeah, it’s crazy. Where does the time go? Seriously. Where. Does. It. Go. Seems like it was just yesterday that I was sitting on those big blue foam mats in the kids’ playroom at my Gram’s, watching roll around until she ran out of room, and thinking “she’s mobile”. And in the next moment thinking “oh no, it’s starting”—pretty soon she’ll be walking and those gummy smiles and baby babble will turn into words—and that once the words started, there’d be no stopping her. Six years and I wasn’t wrong. She’s a little spitfire, that one. She just doesn’t stop…the talking, the running around, the attitude, the energy…it doesn’t stop. She’ll talk your ear off with that Southern accent of hers…which we can’t for the life of us figure out where she got it from. She’s all sass and Miss. I-Do-What-I-Want, so much so that it gets on your nerves sometimes, and other times when you can’t help but smile at her dramatics. She’s fiercely independent, and grows more so with each passing day (Gee, I wonder who she gets that from… lol). Six years ago she came into this world and she’s been a light in our lives ever since. That little girl, she changed me. Hell, she saved me.
Her birthday’s always a little bittersweet, though. My grandfather’s—or Papa, as we called him—birthday is the day before hers. He would have been 78 this year. Sadly, he never even made it to 61. Cancer. He fought a courageous battle with it for years…but ultimately he lost. I still think about it and him some times. Of what could have been and never was. I think about him now and wonder if he’d be proud of the woman I’ve become, of all my accomplishments and successes. I think about how different everything would be if he’d lived. For the most part, he was really the only male/ father figure I’d had growing up. Sure, my actual father was still there in the background with his child support checks and maybe a call or two every few years or so, if that. But my grandfather was actually there. Physically. Emotionally. I was only 12 when he died, but I felt the loss of him, all the same. I have these little snippets of memories here and there : of him picking us up from school, taking us for ice cream when we’d had a bad day or just because or even the smell of that old beat-up, brown car he used to drive and how he’d let me sit up front in the middle and play any old cassette tape that I wanted. He spoiled us—all of us—rotten, but it was out of love. He was the one who started my collection of Beanie Babies (remember those anyone?? Lol) and add to it every chance he got. Even when he was sick and weak and on the very cusp of his final moments, he stood in line and waited with me for hours at a convention just to buy 2 Beanie Babies. Though he was in pain, he never complained or said “that’s it kid, pack it up, we’re leaving”. Though I wish now that he had. Maybe it’d alleviate some of the guilt I felt then with him dying no more than a week afterwards. I was 12. I blamed myself, convinced that his decline had something to do with my having him stand in that line all those hours despite his pain, despite the fact that his circulation and legs were so bad he could hardly walk. Looking back at that 12 year old girl, I know that rationally, it wasn’t my fault. It was the cancer that had invaded, overwhelmed, and weakened his body. It was the cancer that ripped him out of our lives before we were even ready to lose him. The cancer was to blame.
It’s bittersweet, but it makes me smile to think of what he would have thought about the kids. He’d have loved them and spoiled them to pieces, no doubt. Just as he did us. That Avie of ours would have given him a run for his money, that’s for sure. And of course, they’d have him wrapped around his little finger from the very start. Without a doubt they would have.
The kids have a tradition of buying birthday balloons for their “Papa” in heaven. Sometimes they’ll write a little note on theirs to him, then let them all go—convinced that when they disappear from view, that’s a sign that Papa reached down from heaven and took them all.
I don’t do that God and heaven and hell stuff. I can’t just survive on blind faith, as they seem to so easily do. I have to have tangible proof in my hand, physical evidence to back up a claim of any kind—much to my grams’ horror and outrage. She can’t believe the little girl she’d bring to church every Sunday—who literally grew up in the church—would turn out to be such an outspoken atheist. But I did. And a lot of it has to do with my grandfather’s death. I just couldn’t justify some invisible higher power—whom people claim to be “loving” and “all-knowing”—putting my grandfather what he went through. Allowing him to suffer as he did. Taking him before he had a chance to meet his beautiful great-grandchildren. Is that the will of a “loving” God? I don’t think it is. When no one could give me a good enough reason as to why my grandfather…I guess I just eventually stopped asking. I wasn’t going to find the answers I needed in some book or hymn or The Bible, so I stopped looking. Still, I go along with the kids. It’s harmless, I guess. And they’ll eventually grow up like I did and they’ll have that some choice to ask themselves and the world. I don’t want to burst their bubbles. If they say there’s a god…and that heaven is real…then it must be true, at least to them. I want them to have faith (not necessarily religion), in whichever shape it comes in. It’ll ground them, I think. And the way the world is right now—how it’ll be for them, I have a pretty good feeling that they’re going to need it. Hell, we ALL are gonna need it.