"I did not become someone different that I did not want to be." - Gil Scott Heron
My grandfather on my dad's side was always somewhat of a ghost to me, even when he was alive. Maybe it was the childlike wonder of the simple magic tricks he played, or the fact that in my childhood I had no idea of what kind of man he was. I still don't. He died in his sleep of a heart attack when I was 9 years old, maybe 10. The only reason I remember the general time period is because my little brother was born months before he died.
Suffice it to say, he was someone I knew on the surface. The only other information I gathered came from my father or his siblings. He led my grandmother, aunts, uncles, and dad from Costa Rica to California until they arrived at a duplex outside of Downtown Los Angeles.
Fast forward to last Friday night.
I was fresh from my first week on the job of tedious work as an office assistant at a law firm in Downtown LA. The mindlessness of it took enough out of me to cause me to raid the liquor cabinet in a way that I had never done before. In my youthful indiscretion, I searched the space for a bottle of whiskey that I feared wasn't there. I sifted through vodka, tequila, some French brandy to no avail until I happened upon a bottle of Seagrams.
My eyes lit up. I thought FINALLY some whiskey, like I needed it. Like there was a shortage of killers in the world.
I wouldn't have seen it had I not been so thorough in my search. I pulled it from the back of the cabinet and sighed when I saw that it was unopened. Then I felt something foreign. I felt a polaroid stuck to the back of the bottle, like a negative of the label crudely taped to the other side. It was a photograph of my grandfather. Not his whole figure, not even a frontal image of his face. He was in profile, standing under what seemed like a highly hung hammock. He seemed distant, austere, almost like he could see my father and me as fully grown men.
I recoiled. Then I remembered my father in a long past conversation. He described the hatred he felt toward the neighbor that introduced his father to smoking and drinking.
I almost opened it, but for some reason I felt as though I would be desecrating a holy place, a tomb. I put the bottle back in its place and pulled an already opened bottle of brandy from the cabinet until it found its way into my glass.
I retreated into the brandy, into myself, to the place where my father and his father probably fled.