Green Grapes

I am fifty-five years old, the mother of one beautiful child, the wife of a wonderful man, have lived in California for most of my adult life. I have been all over the country, many places in the world, and spent time with numerous people as friends and otherwise, most of them great. I have worked as a sculptor, putting in private commissions for fascinating collectors, in coordination with a variety of professional individuals and groups for both public and corporate installations. I have had a fun and fascinating night life at clubs around the country, going to fantastic concerts and exotic restaurants featuring crazy cuisines. I have taken part in hosting large community events, from weddings to funerals to commemorative celebrations, for which I have bought and created food, flowers, and entertainment for multitudes of people. I have sojourned with the famous, the poor and homeless, the rich, the simple, and those on pilgrimage. In short, my life has been full and varied, and I feel blessed to have experienced so much.

However, there is one thing I had never done, and never realized that I had never done until last

week. It happened because our family hosted an exchange student from France. It was one of his last days with us, and he had become quite comfortable with me; happily he felt like the son I had never had. He helped with my chores and, unexpectedly, came in to help grocery shop. I stuck food from my list into my cart and invited him to put there whatever he felt like as well. He added a few things, helped me look for my list items, but it wasn’t until I got to the checkout that I discovered he had added a bag of green grapes.

Apparently he loved them.

I bought and paid for them, realizing the absurdity of a small event: never in my life had I bought green grapes.

It sounds silly, I know. I like them well enough and had no problem buying them for our dear student. He steadily consumed most of them in the days to come. In fact I wished I would have bought them sooner.

But a revelation came from ancient history—ancient to me, at least.

Growing up, my mother had told me that my brother was allergic to green grapes. We used to buy them until, for some reason, he became very ill with severe hives. Since then we had never eaten them. After that, I had simply never bought them. But the funny thing was that I didn’t even realize it until then. Until that moment when the green grapes, staring up at me from the conveyor belt at the grocery store, sent a little jolt through me. Green grapes in my groceries: this was a first, perhaps ever. Yet I didn’t know why it surprised me until today.

A friend’s husband died unexpectedly, next to her at night, the day before yesterday. I have been feeling awful for her, frightened and fragile, calling all my siblings and the ones I love to tell them so. His death has been the knock-on-the-head reminder of how paper-thin it all is. And I remembered reading, too, how a mother whose son died in a theater shooting was afraid of forgetting her son’s laugh. I know this fear because I lost my first husband to cancer, and forgetting his voice, his face, became my nightmare for a while. This was many years ago, thirty next year. It seems like a lifetime, yet in some ways, it all seems closer than ever.

All these little things—the sound of laughter, a favorite number, the dash after a sentence, a freckle on a cheek—become keys to unlocking the memory and the places of the heart. If we lose them, we are afraid we will lose the love we have locked away in those places, lose the people we love but we can no longer touch. So we keep these little keys, little rituals, little reminders. But time pulls them into the past, like the undertow of a wave, and we fear to have lost what can never truly be kept.

I always imagined that life would be stretched out, pulled away from one end or another, but in fact it is not so. I find it folds back on itself. And love, like the light bouncing around a prism, makes rainbows inside.

I forgot about a joke my first husband told one night at sunset until five years later. And it came back to me, as fresh and funny as ever. And that young girl with all the tattoos and the gnarly boyfriend in the pharmacy smelled just like my mother, who also has passed. I knew she was there, and I don’t know why, but I knew it was a joke she was playing on me. It was annoying, just like her best jokes always were. And somehow I never get them completely but feel closer all the time to doing so, even though she will have been gone twenty years next year as well. And is that part of the joke? That he is gone thirty and she twenty next year? It makes sense the same way she always told me she was Mary Poppins, and then there is Walt Disney in my dream last night hiring me as artistic director and lecturing me that the illusion of magic is magic as long as it is authentic while me and Mickey and the mops danced.

Yet there are the green grapes still on the counter. My student has gone back to France, his family enveloping him with love, and I called my brother today. I got to hear his troubles, his trials, and I realized one thing while I listened to him: I never bought green grapes because I love him. It was my way of keeping him with me wherever I went. I probably do similar little rituals for all of my siblings, for all of the people I have come to love along the way, but this is the first time I got to recognize it so clearly, so simply. How silly I am.

Today was a beautiful, sad, serious, and full day because last week I bought grapes, green grapes, for the very first time, and it was a very good joke.