As much as I love being the only woman in a group of men–even if they’re all drunk and playing some iteration of Grand Theft Auto and laying around my house like living piles of the Butcher’s laundry–I’m well aware that, like the physicist trying to plot an electron’s velocity or place in space, my being there changes what I’m observing.
I was thinking this morning on our walk about this. Specifically, I was thinking about two things. One is the ghost story my much-discussed grandpa told me and the other is the home movies my mom’s uncle once showed us.
My mom’s uncle put the elevators in at the Sears Tower. He was also on the crew that put the elevators in at the deepest mine in North America. I don’t know how many people can say that they’ve been as high as a man-made structure can take you and as low down as well.
When we went to visit him and his wife in Florida, he brought out some home movies that he’d shot while working on the Sears Tower. Way up in the air, half naked in the heat, were my great-uncle and his co-workers looking out over the city.
And then, someone had the brilliant idea of somehow tying the camera to a rope and tossing it out over the skyline in these grand, sweeping arcs.
To me, that moment, of seeing the earth and the sky and the skeleton of the building and the delighted men all slowly spinning together as the camera pulled away and then swooped back in, felt like I was really seeing something of my grand-uncle’s soul in a way he could never have put into words, maybe in a way that can’t be put into words.
Then I was thinking about whether or not I had any really happy memories of my grandpa and this is what I remember. I remember that, for some reason, I’d been left alone with him for the afternoon. We were sitting at the dining room table, he in his spot at the head of the table farthest from the kitchen, and me on his right hand side. He was trying to teach me some game that was like tic-tac-toe, but you played it with marbles on three levels.
I asked him if he knew any ghost stories and he said that he didn’t believe in ghosts, it was just foolishness. But then, he told me this story about how one of his friends had a son who was in World War II and how his friend was sitting in his living room one afternoon and the front door opened and the man’s son walked in, walked across the living room, and up the stairs.
The man was so surprised to see his son that, at first, he didn’t question his odd behavior. He just figured the son had traveled a long way to be there and had probably just gone upstairs to take a nap.
After a little while, the man went upstairs to check on his son and found, as you’ve guessed, no trace of him.
As you’ve also guessed, the man came to find out that his son had died at about the same time as his dad thought he saw him.
Here’s the very strange thing my grandpa said to me: “Can’t you see how that was just wishful thinking?”
How a man could wish so hard to see his son at the moment of his son’s death that he would see him, without knowing that it was the moment of his son’s death, my grandpa never explained.
But here’s the weird thing I realized this morning: I already kind of told you guys this story.