I’m traveling soon. Every time I go anywhere, whether it’s to Reykjavik or Houston, I always second guess myself. Do I really need to go? Wouldn’t things be better if I just stayed in one place and never moved, forever?
I think about you whenever I’m about to take a big trip, or make a big, career-defining move, or paint my nails red, or when my hair is curlier than normal, or any time I’m scared to change–which is to say, I think about you a lot.
The last time you saw me–2006, 5th grade–I was at the height of awkwardness. No, wait, that would be in 6th grade when I thought a blunt cut and a middle part would work on hair like mine. Or maybe in 7th grade when I tried to tame my halo of frizz by showering my hairline with hairspray, then raking it flat with a fine tooth comb. Well, regardless, I was fast approaching the peak of awkwardness so I’m sure your first question would (should) be if I ever figured out what to do with my curls.
The long answer is no. They change from day to day, depending on a variety of variables, like the weather and my temperament and also probably karma. But the short, philosophical answer is yes. I have a small arsenal of fixes and tricks and to con them into behaving and, for the days when nothing seems to work, I’ve learned to give in and roll with it.
I know we don’t get to pick these things but I wish I would’ve had you just a little while longer. I wish you could’ve seen me through those awkward phases and into my surly teenager phase. I wish you could’ve seen me into college. I didn’t really like it, looking back now I wonder if I should’ve studied something different, but I loved hanging out with Uncle Sjoerd and Aunt Sarah all the time, and I made it through and got my degree, which I know was important to you.
I wish you could’ve seen me after college. I wish you could’ve seen me go to Spain. I wish you could’ve seen me scared. I wish you could’ve seen me flourish. I went to Joure, I saw where the old farmhouse used to be, I saw the courthouse where you married Granddad. Visiting the family, everything made sense: my curls, my taste, my broad shoulders and wide hips and solid frame, a body meant to last.
I stayed with Tante Ide and for three days it felt like I got you back. She looked like you and sounded like you and she took care of me much the same way I imagine you would’ve. When she hugged me goodbye at the train station, I wanted to hold on a little longer and ask her all the questions I never got to ask you: what do I do with my life? What kind of man should I marry? How do you forgive someone? How do I be brave? What should I see in Amsterdam?
I wish you could’ve seen me when I came back from Spain. I was so lost. I wish you could’ve seen me in D.C. I’ve clawed and carved and fought for and built a life for myself. I wish you could see me now.
I sometimes think about Granddad sitting me down after graduation and writing me the check for my first semester of college. I knew it was coming–it was a rite of passage among the cousins–but it felt different, more significant, when it was happening. “Education is very important to your Beppe and I.” I wish he would’ve said more, like, “Here’s a list of some other things important to us: faith, hard work, hygiene, a good cup of coffee, finding your purpose, NPR, comfy armchairs for reading, our National Geographic subscription.” I wish you both would’ve given me more clues for how to do this whole life thing.
You’ve both funded and inspired some of the biggest and best risks I’ve taken. I went to Spain with my Beppe & Granddad money, the money we were supposed to use for school. Katie used her Beppe & Granddad money on a wedding and a down payment on a house; I used mine to get to and then to get around Europe. I used it to start a life here in DC. I remind myself of this often.
I wish you could’ve seen what happened when you take the risk, when you’re fearless and confident and independent and bold and kind, when you marry a foreigner and move to a new country. I wish you could’ve seen your legacy.
Sometimes I wonder about the person I would be if you were here for all those moments I wish you could’ve seen, if that’d make me different. Whether it would’ve changed things or not, for better or worse, I am the person I am because you’re not here.
I think about you a lot. I hope you’re proud.