My Papa is one of the most interesting people I know. He’s one of those crazy examples of a person who grew up dirt poor, didn’t even finish high school, and yet runs a multi-million dollar company. Yeah, it’s insane.
As a person, he rocks. He always has enough booze to throw a last-minute party, he has a raspy, pipe-smoking voice that you never get tired of hearing, and he’s hilarious without trying too hard to make you laugh. But I wouldn’t exactly call him loving, although according to my mom he’s much more affectionate than he used to be. Until very recently, I wasn’t sure if he even knew very much about me. He has spelled my name incorrectly for years. I’m not sure why “Alyshe” ever made sense, but I’ve learned to accept it. He’s never been the touchy-feely type—I’ve never heard him open up about anything and I’ve never even seen him be overly warm or adoring with anyone really. His not-so-clean divorce with my grandma is somewhat of a shaky, hushed tale with a lot of holes that I think I’d rather leave as holes.
Papa is extremely meat and potatoes…and most of the time, just meat. If that makes sense. Every birthday and Christmas, I get an envelope with a check (no card) made out to Alyshe, whoever that bitch is.
What I’ve learned from him is that some people show love in small moments. Or rare moments. Or very small, very rare moments. It’s hard to get used to, for me especially. When I love someone, I’m a nut; an over-shower, a constant affection-giver, a broken record of “I love you”. But with Papa, you just have to bide your time, be patient, wait for that unexpected moment. For me, there are three moments I hold onto with Papa and two of them happened this summer.
The first one was all I had for so long. I was 14 years old and I was about to undergo a spinal fusion. Obviously, I was scared shitless. I was so scared that I couldn’t cry or speak or think. I remember lying there, waiting for the anesthesia to sink in, and my legs were just shaking uncontrollably. They had never done that and they haven’t done that since. I don’t remember who else was standing beside me, but I do remember Papa grabbing my shins with his hands and I just felt…protected. Even amidst everything that was happening, I remember realizing how concerned yet comforting his face looked and how without saying anything, his grip seemed to tell me that I was going to be OK.
I think about that moment a lot, especially when he seems distant, fading.
In May, I graduated from University of Hawaii with my Masters and I honestly didn’t think he’d be on the list of people that would care. I didn’t even care too much. I sat on the beach all day and drank beer instead of walking across the stage. But he shocked me by reaching out on several occasions, rambling about how I was the first in the family to get my Masters and how proud he was. It was bizarre and awesome. I guess I just always assumed he was more pleased by other family members—they have good jobs and boyfriends or husbands or babies and they go to church and vote Republican and ya’ know, everything he’s into. Whereas I’m this half Mexican liberal kid with no man, baby, or Bible who wants to be a writer.
Which brings me to the latest small moment (big moment for me). Papa has asked me to write a book for him. As in, listen to him tell his life story, help him by questioning, type it up, organize and edit, and boom. His company does publishing in house and he wants to print only enough for family and friends. But let’s back up. Papa is trusting me with this? I had no idea he even knew I was a writer. I don’t even think he knows that I majored in Creative Writing and interned at Simon & Schuster. This came completely out of left field. He asked me very casually, as if he hadn’t given it much thought at all. But the fact remains that he asked ME, Alyshe!
This kind of scares me because his health has not been good at all and I worry that he’s suddenly pushing this idea because he wants to leave something behind for us…
But mostly, I’m just ecstatic to have another memory to hold onto. He may be racist and he may have followed up the writing gig offer with a comment about how I’ve gained weight but he’s impossible to not love (in a big, loud, showy way). He’s one of those people. He can get away with anything—all I have to do is remember his face in the hospital that day and his fingers rubbing the top of the lucky ladybug socks Aunt Debbie had given me—and all is well and forgiven and I feel his love stronger than ever.
I can’t wait to start writing about this man, this rock of our family, this West Virginia backwoods boy turned corporation owner, my grandfather. Maybe I’ll learn why he is the way he is. And maybe he’ll learn how to spell my name.