The Story of Your Grandfather
When you came into my office the other day and picked up that framed picture of your grandfather, my father, I froze. I had forgotten to put it away after I wrote something for World AIDS Day in remembrance of him.
I have been avoiding telling you everything about him for some time now. Partly because you are only 7, but mostly it is hard for me to share him without crying. I am not even sure how to explain him to you yet.
When you picked up the photo and questioned me I didn’t know what to do. Your little voice still rings in my head.
“Is this your dad, mama?”
“Yes, it is Zachary, he is your biological grandfather, can you leave me alone Zach I have a deadline and I have to finish.”
“But wait, mama does he know I am here?
” I’m not sure Zachary he died before you were born. I really have to get my work done, Zach. We will talk more later.”
“I really want to meet him someday, mama. Maybe when I get to Heaven I will meet him. Do you think he will recognize me, do you think he will know it is me?”
After I shooed you away, the tears began streaming and I never did make that deadline. I wonder the same things Zachary. I ask God questions like this all the time.
“Dear God have you seen my daddy his name is Larry W. Mahon? Is he there with you, is his pain gone, is he painting a picture or playing a song for you? Does he know I am a wife and a mom now? Can he see me? Why did he have to go so soon?”
Oh, how wish you could have met him, Zachary. He was such a beautiful person. When I was a little girl he had a hard time deciding where he should be, who he should love. He loved Nuna Tutu, but he loved men too. He was gay and that means he loved men and that made him feel whole. So he left when I was 5 years old and moved to Boston where he could date men and start a new life.
I loved my dad more than words can express. He was my world, my fantasy. He played with me tirelessly. He would bend over and clasp his hands together like a swing. I would say “again, daddy again” until he felt as though his arms would fall off. I climbed him like a tree, he flipped me over his shoulder and he would tickle me until I couldn’t breathe but I didn’t want him to stop. He would play his harpsichord and Nuna would sing. We would draw, we would go to the park and we would laugh; we were so happy.
Things changed when he moved to Boston. Nuna was so sad, Auntie Misha was just a baby and I felt like I was all alone. Nuna and I both grieved hard. We missed his everyday presence in our lives. Nuna loved him with her whole heart and when she would cry I would want to hold her but I didn’t know how. I cried too. I would look forward to my weekend visits. He would make me feel so grown up walking around Boston, going to the theatre, eating grown up cuisine in fancy sidewalk cafes. He would take me to his photography studio and we would take pictures and he would develop them in the dark room. I loved the dark room with its red hue. I would watch the images come to life as they floated in the chemicals of different colored trays. I loved to push the paper around with a special set of rubber thongs. We would hang the wet photographs to dry and when they were complete I would feel a sense of freedom and accomplishment.
When I was a junior in high school he moved to San Diego and I didn’t get to see him as much. I cried for him everyday. Sometimes I was mad at him because he didn’t stay with us, but I knew he couldn’t. I knew he was meant to love a man and I didn’t care about that. Just like I didn’t care about who Nuna loved, I just wanted everyone to feel happy and loved. I wanted all of us to be together.
It wasn’t until my early 20’s that I was able to live with him again. I was thrilled to be with him in San Diego and we continued our play right where we left off, only this time it was grown up play. We went dancing in night clubs, and every Sunday he would open the windows and played his keyboard for me and his friends as we laid on the lawn soaking in the sun. I would cheer for him as he rode on floats in his leather chaps with his friends in the Gay Pride parade and we would laugh. Oh, how we would laugh.
Soon our laughter began to turn to tears and our hearts became full of fear because people we knew started to die. One by one, they got sick and they began to fade away. Their once full faces became sunken and they had a hard time eating and walking and running and playing. We took care of so many of those men and it was hard, but I was glad I could be there. I was glad I could show them the love that no one else would.
People thought they deserved this painful death. These men were bad people and they did bad things. No one wanted to help and we couldn’t even talk about it out loud in public, we always had to say “you know so and so is a PWA now, what should we do.” It seemed like once they went to the doctor and had a positive HIV test they died quickly. I begged daddy not to get the test. “We don’t have to know, dad, maybe if we don’t know it won’t get you.”
But it did, Zachary. Just like the others that we held memorial services for in his backyard. We had clowns and silly string and face painters and we released balloons in the sky with happy messages. We wanted to send them to God with a smile, with laughter and celebration. We wanted to pretend it didn’t hurt, but it did, it struck us to the very core.
And in the end, he died alone, one of the last to go. It has been 21 years since I touched his face, since he held my hand, since he played his music for me. Although it has been so long it feels like yesterday and it still hurts my heart like nothing else. He was my daddy and he was the best daddy ever.
As I write to you, I am sobbing. I can barely see through my tears because I think of you and your questions. They are simple questions that I should be able to answer without fear because we live in a different world now. There is acceptance for people like your grandfather. I know that you will love the stories I tell you. I am also crying because I pushed you away that day in my office, it hurt and I wasn’t ready. You have so many of his qualities and for that I am grateful. In fact, you are a perfect combination of both of your biological grandparents. Although they did not stay married they were soul mates and they had a lot in common.
So today, I think I can say, yes. YES, Zachary he knows you are here. I know he wants to meet you too and I am certain he will recognize you.
Your loving mother,