When I wake up, for a split, relieving, second, I forget. Then the flashes start.
My mom is telling me that my grandfather is in a coma. “Do you want to come back home?” she asks.
I am on an airplane, hoping that it’s all just a horrible nightmare. “He’ll be fine,” I console myself. “I am bringing a copy of my first article in the newspaper for him. I’ll read it out to him, and he’ll wake up. It happens all the time in every big Bollywood movie. Of course, it will happen now.”
I see my dad picking me up from the airport. Two minutes into the car ride, he breaks down. “He’s gone,” he says. He tells me that my grandfather passed away two days ago. The coma was just a lie to get me back home in one piece.
I see my family standing near the doorway of my grandfather’s house, all crying their eyes out.
I see his portrait in the center of the memorial service. He is smiling at me. Beaming, even. I can’t take it. I rush out, gasping for air.
When the flashes end, I am sitting alone in my apartment, staring at a miniature version of my grandfather’s portrait.
Sounds disorienting? It is. It really is.
Somehow, though, I think I have figured out a way to stay sane — even coherent — after the flashes end. The solution is actually pretty simple: I buff out the narrative and fill in the gaps.
If the flashes remind me of the ride that forever changed my life, I also force myself to remember the other stuff my dad said in the car. I remember how my dad said that there were almost 200 people at the cremation, filled to the proverbial brim with stories of how my grandfather inspired them to keep on fighting, no matter what happened.
I revisit the carousel of memories I thought about inside the car. I think about the time my granddad told me to “devote my entire being, my entire soul, to what I wanted out of life.” I think about all the times he taught me something, all the times we broke bread (or “parathas”) together, all the times he hilariously argued with my uncle or my aunt or my grandma or my mom or my cousin. I also pat myself on the back, because he never used to argue with me.
I then replay the clip of “This Is Us” that I watched after the car ride home.
The clip itself is a scene from episode five, in which Kevin (Justin Hartley), one of the characters on the show, is describing a painting that he’s made to his nieces. The painting is a myriad of colors and brush strokes. It is abstract, but at the same time, it feels real, concrete and human.
Kevin made the painting to describe what he felt after reading the script of a play that he wants to make. As Kevin puts it, the painting itself — that beautiful mess of colors — “it’s us.” It existed before you were born, and it’ll still exist after you leave.
There’s not one color for one person — “we are all in the painting, everywhere.” If someone dies, that does not mean that they left the painting. Their colors are going to continue to add to the colors of all the people who were a part of their lives. You are part of this painting, and you will always remain a part of it. “This wild, colorful, magical, thing, has no beginning, has no end.” It just is.
After going through the clip again, I remind myself of the eulogy “This Is Us” helped me to write for my grandfather’s memorial service. Except that it wasn’t a eulogy. It was a celebration.
I remember writing: “His brushstrokes form the painting of all of our lives, and that painting will continue to be there, forever.” There is no need to move on, because, as Kevin says, there is “no dying.” There is no need to bemoan the memories, the lifelong pieces of wisdoms, the smiles and the hugs, because the person responsible for the memories hasn’t left. Just because someone’s physical presence isn’t there doesn’t mean that that person isn’t there.
Lastly, I remember the car ride back to Berkeley and how I was not going back alone. My granddad was coming back home with me, in all his pesky, stalkery, adorkable, “I-will-make-sure-that-everyone-I-care-about-works-their-butt-off-to-fulfil-their-dreams” glory.
I then stare again at the photo in front of me. Only this time, because I have filled in the gaps, I am not tearing up. No, I am ready: ready to become the person he always wanted me to be, ready to become the hero of my own story.
“Cutting Room Floor” columns are one-off, arts-oriented pieces written by Daily Cal staff members.
Contact Arjun Sarup at [email protected].