The evening before my grandfather's funeral, my dad's side of the family gathered at my cousin's house in the Boston suburbs. As I write this, in the midst of planning my wedding and writing Grandpa's marriage advice into my vows, I realize that in a weird way, that night was sort of the rehearsal dinner for the funeral, which sounds twisted but makes a certain amount of sense when you think about it. I ended up sitting next to my grandmother in the living room. She looked around, calm but not dazed, and said to me, "It's so funny. He always knew where I was in a room."
My sister, who was pregnant at the time with Grandpa's namesake, said she saw it happen from across the room. I got up, walked out the front door, sat down on the curb, and bawled: big, ugly, choking sobs. My cousin's husband found me by accident and had to peel me off the asphalt.
That moment with my grandmother has come back to me sometimes since then. My grandfather, Jack, comes back to me more often than that, often several times a day: when I see a picture of my nephew, his namesake, with that roguish twinkle in his eye that Grandpa had; when I put an ice cube in my scotch (he always told me it opened up the flavor, even though I prefer neat); and most especially when I wish so desperately that he could've met the man I'm going to marry.
I know the first thing Jack would've commented on is my love's height. We are not a large people on my dad's side (we got sarcasm, not height, from our Welsh heritage), but Mark stands at 6'4. I can imagine—with such clarity and vividness that it's almost a memory—Grandpa sitting in his favorite chair and raising his eyes to travel up Mark's remarkable frame. His eyebrows raise too, and he looks over to me and says simply, perfectly, "Holy smokes. Couldn't find a taller one?"
Oh God, but he would've loved Mark: both aficionados of the elaborate, marvelously bad joke; both avid Scotch drinkers; both devoted to their families with a kind of fierce steadiness. I imagine Mark sitting with Jack, discussing the relative merits of peat versus sherry casks, and my heart creaks with the strangest ache, which marks the spot of something wonderful that never had a chance to be.
Another thing that will never be is Grandpa's presence at our wedding. I have one of those quiet, helpless jealousies that he gave the toast at my sister's rehearsal dinner, and he will not at mine. He will not comment on the motorcycle boots I intend to wear down the aisle, and he will not use his soup spoon to ladle ice into the scotch toast. He will not be sitting next to my grandmother, and now, having found my own human, I begin to have the tiniest, barest inkling of what that must mean, and the vastness of his loss seems almost insurmountable.
To love someone, to live with them, to share the space of your whole being with them for more than half of your life... what happens when that person is gone? In my early twenties, I theorized about love as a kind of miraculous relativity, and (surprisingly) I think I was right. But if you follow that logic (realizing my knowledge of physics could fit into a teaspoon with ample room for sugar) then that loss must bring with it a fundamental shift of all the laws of the universe: gravities and bodies in space stuttering, swinging wildly out of orbit, or simply halting in their path, because that person who was always next to you simply isn't anymore.
I have always been appalled that when I have lost someone I love, all of the atoms in the universe have not suddenly frozen in space, because something has gone horribly wrong with the physics of the world. The more I think about it, maybe they have—it's just only a few who realize it.
Already I know that my own physics have been changed by loving and being loved by the man who will soon be my husband. It's true every day on both a large and small scale: I move through space differently because of him. That covers everything from sharing the mattress to walking through my day knowing that there is someone in another space in the world to whom I am ecstatically tethered. It's like we have our own personal gravity, always irresistibly pulling us back to each other. We are only truly at rest when we are together.
Over the weekend, Mark and I were at his parents' house as his dad prepared our taxes. I was tense and irritable (funny how taxes do that to a person), and my love could smell it on me a mile away. He has an uncanny ability to read my moods; he often has a sense of what I'm feeling even before I do. When we were alone in his dad's office, him sitting in the desk chair and me standing and radiating tension, he pushed his chair over to me and wrapped his arms around my waist. When he's sitting like that, his head is at the perfect height for his temple to rest on my sternum. I folded my arms around his neck, and we stayed like that for a few minutes, my blood pressure slowly returning to normal.
Alongside my mundane irritation, with that weird grace that sometimes comes with cognitive dissonance, I felt gravity achieve a perfect equilibrium, and I understood that—as much as I am still myself—I am also part of a new body, a new whole, moving through the universe.
I'm not sure what Einstein would've had to say about any of this, but I don't think he'd object to the general theory—he did seem to have a grasp of the strange, wonderful nature of the universe, didn't he? I like to imagine that he and Jack are toasting us from the great beyond.
With scotch on the rocks, of course.