I opened the heavy, white door to my grandparents’ apartment last summer, as I had done so many times before, to find my grandfather sitting at the far right corner of the long, white couch in their living room. Scrolling through his iPad, probably reading a recent news story, he glanced up at the sound of the creaking door, a faint smile spreading across his face at the sight of me.
Hola, linda, he would always say. ¿Sigues leyendo?
Siempre, Ando, I answered with my current read in hand, sitting down next to him to share a pint of Edy’s rocky road ice cream.
I tried to swing open the sliding doors to the Shapiro Undergraduate Library on my second day of classes, only to realize that they operate automatically. Focusing my vision on my legs as they moved step by step, I made my way toward an empty table and tried to blend in with the studious college crowd. All of a sudden, my phone began blaring, the sound of my obnoxious ringtone interrupting the UGLi’s quiet atmosphere. I walked out of the UGLi so I could answer my dad’s phone call; something inside me told me it was urgent.
Tu abuelo se nos fue anoche, my dad said with teary eyes and quivering lips. I replied with silence.
I opened the brown wooden door to my dorm room, praying my roommate wasn’t there so I could cry alone. I sat down on the stool I bought so I could get up onto my dorm bed and cried and pulled at my hair as I tried but failed to make sense of what was happening.
Why had he gone so soon? He didn’t have any prevailing health challenges, at least none that I knew of. This doesn’t make any sense, my mind went on and on and on, incessantly turning in circles. It was unfair. We didn’t get a warning. We didn’t get to grieve in preparation. The world expected my family and me to know how to handle a situation that we would never really be prepared to face. But the world doesn’t stop for anything, and it most certainly doesn’t stop for anyone.
I opened the beige door to my assigned history classroom in Angell Hall. I grabbed my textbook from my maroon-colored bag and chose a seat near the far end of the room. I tried my best to listen to the professor. I made a failed attempt at taking notes.
Despite my efforts, my mind was elsewhere, running torturous laps at God-knows-how-many miles per hour. Because what if my grandfather had sat in this same classroom, just under 60 years ago, when he was a University of Michigan student? What if he had hurriedly walked these same halls, trying to make it to class on time, just as I had minutes before?
I opened the large, glass-paned doors to the Ross School of Business after a day of overwhelmingly pretending that I knew how to be a college student. I’d heard the Business School was known for its convenient study spots and, as a newcomer, I had to try them out.
I found a table in the Winter Garden and decided to treat myself to a drink from Starbucks. I pulled my textbooks out from my backpack and set them nicely on the table, ready to get to work, or at least try to. But just as I put pen to paper, bright rays of sunlight showered the table I was sitting in. After trying to concentrate all day, I took the striking sunshine as a sign of hope in times of soul-shattering distress.
The next morning, I opened the bulky, antique door in front of the stairs that led up to my dorm room as I left for my 8:30 a.m. history class. Looking down at my feet, I tried to avoid direct eye contact with anyone that walked past me. Suddenly, my tired eyes were pleasantly blinded by strikingly intense rays of sunshine. As I redirected my vision, I noticed that the sun was piercingly shining on the windowsills of the blue and terracotta-colored Ross building.
Blue and terracotta. Huh. Those were my grandpa’s favorite colors.
I opened many doors as I explored the University campus during my first semester of college. And even though my grandpa was gone, every door seemed to lead to him. As I closed the door to my grandfather’s physical existence, accepting the fact that he would no longer be present at my side, I steadily opened the door to what lay beyond his worldly life. Even though he was nowhere, I began seeing him everywhere, all at once.
I saw him in the stacks of books lined up across my dorm room desk, constantly reminding me to seguir leyendo, to keep reading. I saw him in my dad’s smile when I FaceTimed him for the millionth time a day to update him on the mundane happenings of my dynamic college life. I saw him on the sidewalks as I sped-walked to early morning classes. I saw him in my classrooms, sitting across from me, knowing that he would enjoy conversing with me about everything I was learning in college.
Above everything, though, I saw him in the sun. It felt a bit odd, seeing him in an entity so often associated with otherworldly spirituality. My grandpa was the least spiritual person I ever knew. I’m sure that if he were still here, if I told him that I associated the sun’s reflection on a blue-and-terracotta-colored building with his ever-present legacy, he would laugh so hard, breaking out into a fatigued cough like he used to do whenever someone impressively managed to appeal to his insanely twisted and high-maintenance sense of humor.
But despite how ridiculous he would consider the comparison, I found that a celestial body as large as the sun was the only tie I could dedicate to him on Earth, because what better representation of a man that had so much to give than the star that will eternally shine the brightest? What better reflection of a man so full of blinding knowledge than the star most capable of blinding itself?
Now, I open the heavy, white door to my grandparents’ apartment, but the sight I find is much different to what I was used to. The far-right corner of the long, white couch in their living room is empty. Instead, all that remains is a framed picture of my grandfather on the table that sits next to the couch.
I had been terrified of walking into that apartment after my grandpa’s death. I feared that I had forgotten the sound of his voice, that I would no longer be able to recognize his signature smell. Curiously, though, that framed picture was just enough to transport me to his presence.
I could picture the scene perfectly. I could visualize him scrolling through his iPad, attentively reading something that made him 10 times more intelligent than he already was. I could hear him asking me what I was currently reading. I could see him reaching for a silver spoon, digging into our classic shared pint of Edy’s rocky road ice cream. I could picture his faint yet ever-so-comforting smile at the sight of me.
As I sit down next to the far-right corner of the couch, open my book and indulge in a spoonful of Edy’s rocky road, the sunshine showers into my grandparents’ apartment. And just like clockwork, I tell my grandpa about my most recent read.
Statement Columnist Graciela Batlle Cestero can be reached at email@example.com