November. 2008. A Tuesday. Thanksgiving neared as I arrived at the University of North Texas for a day of classes. First on the schedule: linguistics. I loved this class, although for whatever reason I really didn’t want to do the final project. It was worth fifteen percent of our grade, and I calculated that if I didn’t do it, I’d still get a B. I got an A. The teacher must have liked me.
As I sat in the classroom, my fellow students trickled into the empty desks. Amidst the light discussion, I noticed I had a missed call. My mother. I stepped out into the hallway as my heart tightened in my chest, and I sat on a bench, alone, to listen to the message.
My grandmother had died.
It seemed so matter-of-fact. She was dead, and class started in five minutes. What was I supposed to do? The family was already planning to leave the next morning to go to Virginia for the funeral. I didn’t have time to think about any of it.
I went to class.
By the time it was over, I had already lost track of the day. Stunned, saddened. I hadn’t made it to Virginia for my grandfather’s funeral; I had to make it this time.
I skipped my next class, alternating phone calls between my parents and my sister. My teachers would understand, they said, if I skipped some classes. I was in the middle of an eighteen-hour semester and fully intended on making the President’s list (which I eventually did), so that thought bothered me. But what else was there to do? My parents were going to be leaving by car before sunup the next morning, my sister with them. I went to work that night at Chili’s and told my managers. They told me it was fine, they’d get my shifts covered. I e-mailed my professors. I packed a bag.
I lay awake on the floor in the dining room of my parents’ house, in the dark, my world fading away like it did when I was a child about to leave for a vacation. I kept thinking about my grandmother, about their old house with the fireplace cut right through an inner wall so it was in two rooms, and with the little apartment-thing over the garage. About the stories I’d heard that she’d been slipping, talking about my grandfather as if he were still alive, as if he were having an affair.
Wednesday morning I piled into the car with my mother, my father, and my sister. I don’t know how long it had been since we’d been on a family road trip. This one was unplanned, and as it turned out, was the last one we ever took.
We spent most of Thanksgiving 2008 in the car, cutting across America to Virginia Beach. I picked up a newspaper to read as we drove. We called our relatives in Texas to tell them we wouldn’t be showing up for dinner. They offered condolences. As it turned out, we still had Thanksgiving dinner with family…family I hadn’t seen in years. My aunt and uncle and cousin. More family the next day that I hadn’t seen in forever. As tragic as the event was, it was one of the best Thanksgivings of my life.
The weekend was divided equally between mirth and dirge. I remember mostly the good moments, sneaking away to Starbucks with cousins I never get to see. Thanksgiving dinner at my aunt and uncle’s house. “A Thanksgiving miracle,” we called it.
I saw my grandmother in the coffin. I don’t know what to say about that. I wish I could bring her back, as I wish for all of my grandparents. It’s unreal to see pictures of them, to remember them so strongly in my life, and to remind myself that I will never see them again. I will never smell the salty air of the Atlantic from my grandparents’ front door again. I will never run through their house at play, or hide from my sister in plain sight in their guest bedroom. I will never hear their voices or see their smiles. They have nothing more to teach me.
But I’m thankful they were in my life. I'm missing my grandmother a little bit today.