About a week ago my gut told me something was going to go wrong. It was if it wanted to prepare me for what was about to come and looking back on that conscious, cautious moment, I think I was. Right now people think I'm getting over it well because I still smile and go on about my day. In reality, I'm just trying very hard to keep it together. Whatever "it" is.
I grew up in a peaceful house shared with families and older people who liked nothing more than sitting in the park or garden in the back of the house and watching birds. I spent about 6 years in that house and whenever my mother was held at work and needed someone to watch over my sister and I, we were sent to our neighbours living right across from us.
An old married and happy couple with a penchant for sandwiches and fruit salads. They let me watch Snow White a hundred times a day, they'd let me get their books down from their massive shelf and educated me into the bookworm that I am today, they let me choose what to eat for dinner, they washed my clothes and saw me at my worst when the littlest things would pester such a young and naive girl.
Right across the street R lived alone, both of his women had left him and so had his daughter. She used to come visit for a few weeks and we played together and spent time sleeping over at each other's houses.
I never knew how she felt about her father but I never really heard from her again. R was the brother of my neighbour's wife and so he would come over and celebrate birthdays and Christmas and Easter with us. We sat at the round old table and the tea would go cold and they would buy way too much cake. The husband would turn on The Beatles and that's how I know all the songs by now.
Years passed that way and my mother and my sister and I moved across town but we never lost touch. We'd find each other at the round old table again each year. We would keep in touch via e-mail but there were barely any calls anymore. I was growing up. Things got busy.
My neighbours and their brother R all grew weaker by the year and each time I heard one or all of them had ended up at the hospital for observance, it dawned on me that yes, they were getting older, and yes, one day I would not see them at the round old table anymore.
Last weekend I fell asleep without a thought, just a weird feeling in my gut as I silently promised I would visit R at the old people's home. The next day the phone rang.
I was still sleeping the day away when my sister came into the room with wide, hollow eyes and told me that R had passed away.
It took a while to sink in, truly, because I felt as if he was just on holiday. Next time I come over he would cross the street and wave at me and ask me how I've been doing. He'd tell me about his past over and over again, stories that are now burned in my mind as pieces of his personality, traces of happiness and hope when he ended up alone in his apartment across the street.
It was confusing and upsetting. I didn't get to say Goodbye but maybe that was a good thing. Maybe it is a hundred times better if all I can remember is how he used to laugh at my lame jokes and express deep pride towards everything I've been doing. And keeping him in mind as I continue on. Because whatever I do, R would be proud.
R was an introvert, not one for many words, but nowadays all of our conversations creep into my mind like they had gathered together just to pull me onwards.
As days went by, I realized that next time I come over, his flat would be empty. A person would be missing at the round old table. Dust would cover the Snow White cassette. The Beatles wouldn't sound the same anymore.
A hollow spot in the room.