I’ve been calling my grandma more often.
She’s always lived far away. But I never called.
Maybe because something in me always fed the hope that at the end of the year we’d see each other. And then I could give her the tightest hugs and lay my head on her lap while she stroked my hair.
Maybe I never called because my memories with my grandmother were always related to those affections. And in a silly way, not calling her was for me a certain guarantee that I would have to meet her again to exchange those affections.
Today, I feel I’ve lost the privilege of wanting to limit our connection to the physical. Just because I wanted our meetings to always have the same warmth as the first time I flew to Recife and she welcomed me at the car door when we arrived from the airport.
I remember I never felt so relieved in life when I realised that, just like me, she also spoke Portuguese, even living in what to me seemed so far away – at the time there was no greater distance for me than São Paulo-Recife. This is what my grandmother always meant to me. The comfort of knowing that even far from home someone will always speak my language.
And it hurts. It hurts to lose that privilege of wanting things to always stay the same. Even more so when they involve grandma and childhood memories.
Yesterday, I missed touching her little face when she approached the screen and I could see her wrinkles. I could smell her apartment in Olinda as she made up the bed and talked to me. A smell that only her house has and that I can only describe as “the smell of my grandma’s house”. I wondered if one day I would ever smell that place again or if I would be left with the memory of it.
I thought that as an immigrant for the last 4 years, I had already mastered the art of breaking distances by virtual presence – and so this moment of chaos would be easier.
To see my grandmother on the screen is as comforting as it is distressing. It’s proof that the future is uncertain. And this uncertainty is always hard to deal with.
But there is also beauty in these virtual meetings with my grandmother that I may have always been deprived of by pure attachment to old memories.
As she has been visiting us in São Paulo for some years now, I rarely have the opportunity to be with her in her house. And I like it so much to be at her house.
She is always more radiant at home. She gives a little smile that almost never appears in São Paulo, where she is constantly trying to understand the “where” and the “why” of things. I like to see her replace the “Where I come from there’s no such thing, no” with a moody face that she says a lot in SP with “I love my Olinda” with happy eyes that she repeats in her city.
I also love that my grandma has exactly the same habit I have of hanging pictures on the wall. And whenever I call she insists on showing them to me. “Look how beautiful you look in that one.” “Here’s mommy’s little girl,” she says, pointing to my mum’s picture.
In the living room, she has a painting of my grandfather, who died in 2006, and she insists on saying “Your grandfather, what a handsome man” in a passionate tone and shining eyes when she walks past. And I think there is nothing more beautiful than this love that she still nurtures for him after almost 70 years of marriage.
My grandmother also shows me the sea from her balcony. It’s an opportunity I have to see the ocean without leaving home. There is something about seeing the sea that makes me feel closer to her. Maybe because I know that although I can’t see it from my window, a little bit of ocean is also a short walk away from here.
Times are hard but, in the end, my grandmother still speaks my language. No matter how far away she is. And that doesn’t change.