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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Old Women

Yesterday in Japan was Respect for the Aged Day.

Two women, though they've been dead for a long time, are the most powerful old women in my life: my great-grandmother on my mother's side, and my grandmother on my father's side. My great-grandmother's name is Veronica; she died when I was in first grade. My grandmother's name is Ana; she died when I was halfway through high school. Both of them are present in my life in a way that surprises me. I don't dream about them at night. I don't talk about them with my family or anyone else. I wasn't very close to either of them when they were alive, and I don't remember conversations with them. But every once in a while I am seized by intense sadness that they are gone. I try to imagine their lives, the way they loved or didn't love their husbands and their children, what they thought about before they fell asleep. And I can't quite pull it off; I can't fill in the blanks. The sense of what's been lost by their dying in silence overwhelms me. I think this silence one is of the reasons their presence in my life is so powerful.

I know only a handful of things about them. My great-grandmother loved lemon drops and new unwrinkled banknotes. She broke her hip in her late seventies and wore special shoes after the surgery, the left one with a three-inch-thick sole to make up for her shortened bone. At Christmas she used to hide an orange in this shoe and forget about it so that nobody could figure out why it wouldn't fit till my mother stuck her hand inside and pulled the orange out. There are pictures of her giving me a bath when I was a baby, her face deeply wrinkled by the shiest of smiles. But I don't remember her touch, or the sound of her voice, or the smell of her clothes. I do remember not understanding what it meant that she had died.

My grandmother Ana fasted a lot. Every time she came to visit us she refused to have a bite to eat. She carried her money inside her bra, folded in a roll. I remember being shocked to see gold earrings in her ears once when she took off her head scarf, and a thin grey braid twisted around itself at the back of her neck. She got baptized in the Pentecostal church a few years before she died. I went to the service once and watched people all around me clapping and singing and gazing up at the ceiling of the church, watched my grandmother sing and clap and gaze along with them. None of it seemed real. I'm still puzzled by my grandmother's baptism, by what prompted her to turn to this exuberant kind of worship. I don't think I heard her speak more than a few hundred words in my entire life. I wonder what she told God in prayer.

These are bits and pieces and what they add up to doesn't feel true, doesn't feel like a full human being. I worry a lot about all the things I cannot know about other people because I cannot be other people. But maybe it's all right to hold on to this unknowing and not try to replace it with regret or with hunting down the story or with invention -- no matter how well-intentioned all these things are. Better stay with the incompleteness, with the inexplicable part of these women's presence in my life. It's not quite as reassuring as I first thought to be able to figure everything out.


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