I sat at the kitchen table for several hours after school working on my art project. All my markers were laid out on the table in color order, so I could see each one and think about what color I was going to use next. I picked up the burnt orange and glided the tip across the page, blending it when needed and making sure I colored evenly along the paper.
Today would have been my grandmother’s 99th birthday. She passed away in 2011, but I still struggle with the idea that she is no longer alive and I will never see her again. As an atheist, I do not have the luxury of the idea of being with her again once I die. There is no heaven. There is no hell. Who we are – our mind, consciousness, personality, and character – is a unique combination of chemicals and neurons, which disperse once we have died.
When I was a child, I called her Grammy. All of my cousins did, too. As we grew older, she became Gram. All of our friends called her Gram. She is and will always be the biggest influence on my character.
I stared at the signs Stacy was showing 60 feet away. I shook her off a few times before settling in on my “go-to” pitch. I could place it almost anywhere.
Standing on the pitcher’s mound, the entire world melted away. My teammates knew I liked it quiet, so the normal cheers of encouragement were rarely heard when I was on the mound. I shut out the people screaming in the stands. It was just me, the catcher, and the batter.
I grabbed the softball and turned it around in my glove until my first two fingers were set where I wanted them along the seams. I focused on the placement of the catcher’s mitt, ignoring where the batter would be. My task was to put the ball in the catcher’s mitt. That’s all I looked at. I stretched back and released the ball.
I placed the half-full bucket of black walnuts on the ground and took a deep breath. For Gram, it’s not so hard to carry, but I’m still little and half-full is more than enough for me. I turned around and looked back toward her back yard, full of trees, scanning the surface to see if I had missed any black walnuts.
I wrote this poem as part of my final project in my poetry class at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I turned it in on July 12, 1990. I had turned twenty-years-old seven days before. Today would have been Gram’s 96th birthday.
Perfer et obdura, dolor hic tibi proderit olim
I spoke to you on Thursday
by Saturday, you were gone
In my jealousy
I wanted you to stay
to speak to you again
to tell you I loved you once more
The morning light had come
your time was done
1:11, 11:11, it doesn’t matter the hour
there was so much more to say
No more history lessons
no more dirty jokes
no more simple days
to sit with each other
I can still feel your soft skin
your gentle voice
in the echoes of my mind
how you said my name
It’s been five long years
without your advice
I miss my cognate
cannot be replaced
what was once extant
is now gone
If I could ask
Be patient and tough;
someday this pain will be useful to you