His deep, throaty words of encouragement always came so easily.
“Attaboy, B.H.! … That’s the way … Way to go.”
Shot after shot in the backyard, my grandpa’s praise kept coming as he passed back my basketball. Sometimes I wanted him to be there, but other times my preference was to be left alone.
He often received that message by reading my body language, and quietly headed back inside. It’s sort of my “Saving Private Ryan” memory, the scene where the Medic recalls how when he was younger his mother would come home late, hoping for a chance to still talk to him. Only, he kept his eyes shut, pretending to be asleep. He didn’t know why he did that, and I have the same feeling when I think about those backyard evenings. I sure was dumb.
But what can I do, now? Grandpa’s not here anymore.
He died 10 years ago this summer. Cancer at 82. But he breaking down before then, even without the disease. So I have no illusions that if he didn’t get sick in 2006, he might still be with us in 2016. He wouldn’t, and that’s okay.
A part of me wishes he were here and able-bodied, though, not so much because I miss him — when someone dies, of course you miss them — but because I’m still really trying figure myself out, and it would be cool for him to let me know I’m doing okay (attaboy, B.H.). Admittedly, he wasn’t much of a talker when it came to personal conversations. But I think, after years of watching me on the court, he would be more than happy to at least sit with me in the stands as I’ve covered endless games as a writer the past six years. We always bonded over basketball, even if words sometimes came at a premium. Part of me — okay, all of me — wishes I could redo my senior year of high school so I could stay on the team. I wouldn’t have failed at what being a Falcon means, and I also wouldn’t have disappointed Grandpa.
But I know he would have been so interested in my writing, just like Grandma was. Those two always supported me beyond my imagination. It’s why I feel terrible most days for not being more of a success, or a better person than what I should be. I attended a place called Trinity Christian School for seven years as a kid, but my mom and grandparents were my personal Trinity. All I’ve ever had, really. That remains true today, even with the latter both gone.
He went quietly, choosing not to say any goodbyes to us, for whatever reason. The Lakers were destroyed in Game 7 of the playoffs a month before he passed. I went into his room afterward. He was in bed, on medication. I told him it was a really tough game.
“That’s life,” he said flatly.
Everything’s changed since that day, both good and bad. But what will always remain with me is his unmistakable grip, that firm hand on my shoulder whenever he wanted to let me know how he felt. What were his emotions toward me at the end? Did he see a grandson who was lazy, unmotivated? Potential unfulfilled?
Maybe not. Maybe he had other things on his mind. Either way, I hope there is a heaven, or something else that’s good, so that one day when I’m finally proud of myself, I can hear his approval in my head, and know that it’s not my imagination.
Or maybe I should have been the one with those words to him. After all, he built a house on Second Avenue; a house that became a home for over five decades, cherished by family and friends alike. Cherishing that place included the backyard, where years ago he made a concrete hole to put my shiny, new basketball hoop. He’s gone, but I’m still left with memories of wanting to be alone with my ball and basket. I can’t go back and undo my immaturity, to tell him to stay and rebound for me. All I can say for now are these words, much too late.