Years ago, in my twenties, back when I hid my tears, I found myself lodged between the screams of my mother and my girlfriend. We’d driven up from San Francisco to my grandpa’s house where now only my mom lived.
We chose an Italian restaurant. At dinner, my girlfriend put a strand of hair behind my ear and that was it.
Two hearts loving so hard they were threatened by their own reflection.
The night went on for 3 more hours but I’d already flicked the switch. The forcefield was up. I could get through anything, surf right across it: the main course, dessert, thanking the waiter, warming up the car, mom’s tour of the new downtown…
Back at grandpa’s house, each of them wanted to console me but it felt gross so I walked away, down the hall and into my grandpa’s room, empty, old bedspread, everything outdated. I could feel it coming on.
I looked around, saw the closet, climbed inside. I sat on the shoes, held my knees.
It was my grandpa that did it. His long polyester shirtsleeves hanging down, the thick, hard cuffs brushing against my cheeks, the smell of him, the quiet but not a peaceful quiet, the quiet with yelling in the background. That’s how he was quiet. That’s how he loved.
I let it out, screamed into the crook of my elbow, wet the knees of my jeans real good, an old boy’s routine, nothing to be proud of.
But necessary, goddamnit.
Crouched on a row of stiff dress shoes, in complete darkness, I got it out fast and hard like a set of pushups, as punishment not reward, lifting my head and putting it back down to go another round, and another, wishing my grandpa’s shift sleeves felt more like his arms.