I like to think about the way my ringlets fall to the ground when I get my hair cut. The way each snip of scissors and slice of razor removes the hair from my head. I can feel the drop of each one as my scalp is released from the pressure of thick heavy hair. It is only at the end when I stand up that I bear witness to the curls strewn across the ground. My friend used to collect the hair of his friends. I contemplate asking for a piece to send him even though he doesn’t anymore. A kind of offering. Here I am for you. Instead, I watch as she sweeps my hair into a dust pan, joining the collection of hair in her rubbish bin. If I can’t keep any at least I am part of something. At least those curls aren’t alone.
The trail along the Clyde River near my flat has become a ritualistic site of collecting and returning. Today it was oak leaves, maple leaves, and rose hips gathered. Lavender, marigold, bay leaf, and sage returned. The gathering is always the easiest. Perhaps a glance or two as I stoop to the ground or bend into the bush to pluck. The leaving far more difficult. A bag of altar detritus in my pocket. It is Saturday and the trail is busier than my usual mid-day weekday walks. I want to empty this collection of herbs that has perfumed my home these last few months, but it requires privacy. I am not interested in glances as I pull the bag from my pocket and shake out the contents. Eventually I find a trail through the bush and brush that takes me to the water’s edge. It is littered with cigarette butts, Buckfast bottles, crisps packets, bottle caps, and one glove. A collection of the typical activities that take place in this spot. I empty my bag and the brown is covered with bright gold, green, and purple. I add myself to this collection of waste along the water. Mine is compostable.
I am on the train to Aberdeen and my red nail polish keeps rubbing off my nails and onto the pages of Bee Reaved by Dodie Bellamy. Leaving a mark, leaving a part of myself. Long after I close this book and finish reading and place it on the shelf I will still be there, inside the pages. These streaks of red smudges. I wonder too about the way I am wiping the dust from a packet of crisps off my hands onto the side of the seat. In that space down the side, near a window, between seat and wall. Do the cleaners get that space or is my essence like the red smudges wedged in there.
I like your tattoos
On a recent trip home to the states—on the first trip home since my grandfather had a stroke and fell and broke his leg—on the first trip home after he had been taken to the hospital—on the first trip after he had been moved into the care facility—on the first trip home after the weekly updates from my grandmother which included:
her going through his belongings—a pipe bursting in his room forcing her to clear it out quicker than she had planned—him begging to come home—him crying and being confused— my cousins visiting him and being upset—her feeling alone. On the first trip home after text messages from my mom and aunts:
Grandma is doing ok.
He’s in a rehab room now.
He’s moved into a shared room now. It is small. He is doing much better don’t worry.
On a recent trip home to the states on the car ride from the airport to my grandmother’s, my aunt prepared me for what to expect when I saw him. It is hard, but he is doing really well. It is sad being in the facility, but the nurses and staff are really great and we all feel really good about it, especially Grandma. He is on anti-depressants now; he probably should have been on them his whole life and it has made a huge difference. You will see when you get there, just try not to worry.
On a recent trip home to the states # of months after he moved into the facility, I prepared to go see him by dressing up. I don’t know why I dressed up, but it just felt like the right thing to do. I had brought him shortbread from Scotland. I wanted to make him happy during the visit, wanted to make him smile, wanted it to be normal. I was scared he wouldn’t remember me as he didn’t seem to remember all of my cousins. I felt somewhat confident as I am the eldest grandchild by fourteen years and have lived with my grandparents on and off as both a child and an adult.
Tawnya Jo! His voice high pitched. His voice happy. His voice
a little shaky with the choke of both laughter and tears. My nickname he had given me when I was young. Tawnya Jo, What Do You Know? He’d say it when he came home, when he picked me up, in birthday cards, all the time. My joke response usually A Whole Lotta Nothin’.
I don’t remember why I called you that he said.
I like your tattoos he said
You look real good he said
You are beautiful he said
My grandfather said each of these sentences to me several times over while I sat in his wheelchair next to his bed. The room was small. The facility was sad. He was different in a way I hadn’t expected.
I have told two close people in my life this story of my grandfather’s compliments, with the added insight that I don’t think my grandfather has called me beautiful in over ten years. I told the story twice and each time it wasn’t meant to be sad. This isn’t a story that is meant to be sad. It is difficult to explain just what it is about this. To explain with words that best convey what it meant to hear those sentences, but also what it meant to have not heard those words until then.
To have not heard it until then is not painful. It was never missing. Was never something I needed to hear because I knew, I know, have always known that my grandfather thinks I am beautiful and loves me. I am lucky to always have known and trusted this from the man who helped raise me, from really the only man I had in my life as a child.
I like your tattoos. You look real good. You are beautiful.
Each time he said it I couldn’t help but laugh. His voice jovial. His voice direct. His voice emphasising each individual word. My aunt had said he was on anti-depressants and it was really helping. This must be part of that and each time he said it and I said thanks to him I wasn’t really thanking the compliment.
I was thanking that these sentences somehow reassured me, somehow made me feel ok. I was thanking the anti-depressants for seeing them in action. I was thanking the laugh behind the words. I was thanking that these sentences somehow meant he was ok, somehow meant he was still with us. I was thanking that somehow it made it ok for me to walk away from him and fly back to Scotland with his voice and laugh in my mind.