We have made it to the end of May. I am still on crutches, but I am not yet losing my mind. I have Prepared for This – large joint reconstructions are apparently What I Do in the summertime now.
It is the morning of the last day in May, which is also my mother’s birthday, and it is a perfect, slightly cool New York City Early Summer Day. I take Roo out for his morning walk, hopping along beside him using one crutch, and hoping we finish his constitutional quickly. Everything takes so much longer when your mobility is reduced, and even walking and scooping after the dog seems to take hours longer each day than it did when I was fully in control.
As I carefully thread us between the fussy dogs and I navigate the uneven brick pavers on my block, Roo suddenly takes off for a man standing by his car. He is an older man; well-dressed; and is putting some sort of box into the trunk of a late-model black sedan.
I’m sorry, I apologise as I try to steady myself, He doesn’t normally take off like that.
I didn’t think he’d recognise me, the man tells me. I am not looking at the man’s face as he says this; I am looking down at my dog, who is sitting prettily beside this stranger like he has known him forever. But when the man mentions being recognised, my eyes are drawn upward. In New York City, it is not uncommon for a person unknown to a dog’s owner to recognise and be recognised by the dog – Roo is walked by a walker during the day and makes friends all the time. This is to say that, on its face, this exchange is no where near as weird as it might sound to a non-New Yorker.
But before I can ask how this man knows my dog, I realise what striking resemblance the man bears to my dead grandfather – my mother’s dad. I look at his face, and he looks like a very well-dressed, not-dead version of Bop. I am speechless for a moment, because the resemblance is so uncanny.
He bends down to pet Roo, then looks at me: Tell her I love her, he says as he stands up. He puts his hand on my shoulder, like he is resisting asking me for an embrace. I am dumbfounded, and not ordinarily a touchy-feely person, so I nod and I toddle away home with my dog.
I burst into tears in the lift, because I am either going crazy or have already taken too many pain-pills for the day. My mind is racing with questions. When we die, do we simply go on to live as our Best Selves in some other realm – successful, calm, and happy – waiting to bump into the occasional friend and relative along the way? Did I really have a conversation with my dead grandfather on a New York City street in broad daylight? Why would a stranger tell me to tell someone he loves her – unless it were my mother’s father on the day of her birthday?
Am I losing my mind? I am losing my mind.
My mother follows closely in the tradition of her people: Emotional Spaniards Who See Things. She often mentions her conversations with dead people, like this is something perfectly normal, and no one ever bats an eyelash at it. But my apple fell closer to the staid tree of my northern European father, whom I have only seen cry three times in my life: Once each upon the deaths of his parents, and then when I informed him in no uncertain terms that I would not be majoring in accounting.
I feed the dog then hobble off to work. I resolve to go back down and talk to this man; ask him how he knows my dog; let my rational mind take over and figure out The Reason For All This. But by the time I get back downstairs, the man has disappeared.
Am I dreaming?
I do not tell anyone about this encounter, because it sounds insane. In the past, I’ve always loved the subtle signs that I thought represented Bop waving from beyond – his name appearing in unexpected places; the time I thought I heard his laugh in the middle of the night. Those tiny events, which always happened at Just The Right Time, seemed ordinary and easy to explain – a consequence of my brain looking for comfort and reassurance after a protracted period of Complicated Grief.
How do I explain this; how can I make this make sense? I wonder in the taxi on the way to the office.
With my EDS diagnosis, the doctors believe that the genes for the disorder were passed from my grandfather, to my mother and Margaret, to me. And so I have been angry at my grandfather – the man who could do no wrong. I am mad at a dead guy, more than a decade after his death – mad that my grandmother had to feel like she was at fault for the death of her child when my grandfather’s shitty collagen gene was the likely culprit; inconsolable that I’ve spent the past few summers having my body put back together and it took so long for anyone to figure any of this out.
I am also suddenly super annoyed that despite spending decades talking and writing about how different and distant we are, I am turning into my mother.