A little while ago, I received a message from indie writer Jamie Hoang saying “What would you do if you learned you’d be going blind in six weeks?” Her book Blue Sun, Yellow Sky tells the story of a talented, 27-year-old painter who discovers her sight will soon fade away.
I’m sorry, this isn’t a review of the book as I haven’t had the chance to read it yet. But Jamie has already striken a chord. Yes, I wear glasses and the world is a little blurred without them but today, I want to tell you about my granddad.
I have only ever had one constant, devoted male figure in my life. Dwelling on the details of this statement is not why I’m here today but the fact is: my granddad has been my role model. He has been my father, just like my mother has. I guess that makes me one father up.
He and my grandma also happen to be the only proof I have that marriage can last. I read somewhere that old generations stay together for longer because their values are different. Back in the day, when something broke, you’d get it fixed. Today, you’d go out and replace it. So please, try the repair option first.
That being said… My granddad was an architect. The house my family lives in today (and that I will always call home despite the distance) was bought by him. He was the one who added a second floor, an extension, a garage and an attic. He was chief architect during Bulgaria’s communist years and it is with a nostalgic smile that he likes to reminisce about his working days in Tunis where, on many occasions, he had tea with President Bourguiba for whom he built a building or two.
He was also an incredibly talented artist whose art is strewn all over our house. Rotring pen sketches, watercolour landscapes, pastel portraits, oil paintings and even a series of porcelain sculptures. And the official handyman too. The basement is brimming with tools and paint pots and even a circular saw I tremble every time I hear being on. Whenever a light switch stopped working, he was there. Whenever the floor needed to be replaced, he was there.
Today, my granddad’s eyes are worn-out. His glasses can no longer help the way they help me. He can no longer distinguish the peppers from the tomatoes in his salad. He isn’t sure if he’s giving out a 10 Lev note or a 50. His medicine packs are aligned on the shelf in a particular order and he recognises them by touch. My piano has recording options and I have taught him where to press when he wants to listen to my recorded pieces. I have seen him use his fingers to remember the tactile pattern.
It’s hard to write this post because I know he now feels helpless and I remember those little details that make my chest tighten up. I remember when I had to place his finger where he needed to sign on a form. I remember walking in after a hair cut and him aahing despite not being able to see the difference. I remember waving goodbye from the car and not seeing a wave back.
Now, there are no new paintings in the house. I have been appointed as the new handyman. I open up switches and fix wires under his surveillance. I glue broken flower pots and I let the circular saw gather dust in the basement, waiting for an occasional visit from my brave uncle. I pour soup in his bowl and sometimes, do his laces. I send blown-out sketches of my design work printed in thick, black lines for him to have an idea of what I’m doing.
But I can see him on Skype, squinting at the drawings my mother has printed for him. I see him willing, yet unable to form a picture in his mind. And it kills me. It just kills me.