I’m writing this to you because I know you won’t care that I can’t send it.
I’m writing this to you because I never apologized for putting you third. Grandma, Poppop, Poppop Mark. I should have given you your own name, as the first grandchild. I shouldn’t have let the eleven grandkids that followed copy my disrespect.
I’m writing this to you because I miss the way you hug. I hate that you had that stroke. I hate how obvious it is that you wish it had killed you, instead of forcing you to carry on living without your mother. You carry your annoyance in your eyes, always looking in the mirror for the varsity athlete you once were. I still want to visit you. I wish my dad hadn’t turned the two hours between us into an unpartable Red Sea. Back when you could drive, when that was all you did, I saw you more. Your hugs were still strong, then. Supportive. I loved when we got crappy hibachi or decent Italian. We’d share the same side of the booth so I could absorb your burnt tobacco smell as you slung an arm over my shoulders.
I’m writing this to you because I always think of you when I drink bad coffee.
I’m writing this to you because your kitchen also enters my mind when I drink bad coffee. It is unarguably ugly. There is no dishwasher, so you stoop over a half-broken sink. The sound of clattering dishes is so loud that it always wakes me up. I sleep fitfully at your house, forced into a couch that reeks of smoke and sex. I’m glad to leave it. The kitchen is warmer anyway, with the History Channel always on. I love that you tell me the facts about World War II before the vaguely British narrator has a chance to. You’re probably one of the only people left who care to hear my history facts, so I squirrel them up to tell you in the months between visits.
I’m writing this to you because we’re both ashamed of him. The only photo you keep is freshman year football when he was more possibility than man. The only photo I keep of him is from the elementary Daddy-daughter dance. It’s a reminder of all the other dances where Poppop played substitute.
I’m writing this to you because you took my mom to file the divorce papers when her own mother couldn’t convince her to.
I’m writing this to you because you never force Big Conversations on me. We’ve both had enough of those for a lifetime. You just like to sit with me, listening as we hear my brother and dad playfight upstairs. We hold our breath for a second, together, waiting to hear it turn ugly. When it doesn’t, you shake your head and call me ‘girl.’ I don’t remember the specifics of a single conversation with you. The vague outline of our murmurs, the contented silence we sit in–that’s you.
I writing to you so you know I don’t blame you for raising him. You could’ve done a better job, but I see in the slope of your shoulders how much you already know that.
I’m writing this to you because we should have had a Big Conversation. I’m gay. When I told my dad, he mentioned that he watched a lot of lesbian porn when my mom was pregnant with me. I was already hesitant to tell you. Then I saw you, post-stroke, full of trapped anger. I saw for the first time that my father was indeed your son. And you scared me enough that the words fluttered and died in my throat. I swallowed the decay of disappointment with the fresh coffee you handed me and ignored the fact that your unstable right hand had spilled most of it.
I’m writing this to you because I’m considering changing my last name. There is no pride in Ludwikowski. This name has never felt mine. I’ve been borrowing it until I can find a husband to give me a new one. Unlike Erik, I was never told the importance of having a son. I want to have a claim of my own. I want to use it to claim the mother who raised me and the Grandma who is also sister, mother, and friend.
Don’t worry, though. If I change it, I won’t tell you.
I’m writing this to you because of Christmas four years ago. It was the first and only time I’d met my cousins and they all got an assortment of little-kid crap, even my brother. I got the same, but tucked away in the wrapping paper was a crisp fifty. You met my eyes and winked.