I knew something was wrong as soon as my mom told me that we could go out to eat “wherever I wanted” after landing back home in San Francisco for spring break. If you live in an immigrant household, you can understand why this would set off alarms in my head. Traditionally, requests of going out to eat are shut down in favor of leftovers in the fridge. These higgledy-piggledy leftovers are frequently crammed into misleading Land O’ Lakes butter containers and served with steaming, hot piles of long-grained rice.
As our car rolled into the vibrant Mission District neighborhood, I immediately felt at home. I ordered what I usually get at Basa Seafood Express: spicy salmon poke with a small side of white rice. As I scarfed down my food in the car, my mother’s eyes brimmed with tears. I naively thought she was just really happy to see me.
As we neared the block of our apartment building, she finally turned to me.
“Nanu has been diagnosed with cancer,” she said. “We are trying to be strong for him, but be mentally prepared to see him in a not-so-good state.”
“Not-so-good state.” I’m lying. She definitely didn’t say that. I just can’t remember her exact words. I later found out it was terminal and that he was in hospice—a word that tastes like disinfectant and white walls on my tongue.
I would be lying (again) if I said I didn’t feel like something bad was going to happen. I would frequently wake up in the middle of the night in my dorm at Bowdoin, drenched in sweat from a nightmare. In these dreams, I would recall waking up in a creaky and veined body, always with a backdrop of a lot of rain and thunder.
We sat in silence in the car.
“Oh,” I remember responding to my mother. What are you even supposed to say to something like that?
For as long as I can remember, my Nanu was a second father figure. He picked me up from preschool everyday, always leaving me an extra 30 minutes to play with my friends. We talked and we laughed and we prayed. He reflected on the tragic death of his firstborn son with me and would cry like a baby at the bittersweet memories he had of him. We would play rummy together and go for long walks by the water near the ballpark. He would tell me that when I was born, he had never felt a room filled with so much love. He said that when I was born, he felt the presence of God behind him and through me. He would read each and every single one of my college essays, print them out, and grade them for me. Of course, he never gave me a mark below an A+. My grandpa was my dinosaur. He was larger than life to me, always there, and the thought of him one day not being there crushed me.
Later that day, as my Nani held me on the couch, her phone rang.
“Is now a good time?” said a female voice on the line. “We just wanted to call you to clarify what will happen to the body when and if …” she trailed off. “Are there any religious proceedings? Anything we need to know?”
And then we drove to Trader Joe’s. Because that is something that makes my family feel better sometimes. We listened to “Sister Golden Hair” by America. As we reached the familiar strip mall, many of the familiar stores we had once frequented were barred up and shut.
My mom’s hands tightened around the steering wheel, and my sister and I watched as she sunk down onto it.
“Everything really is changing, huh?” she mused. “What has happened to our city?”
And then the tears came and rolled down her cheeks. But something told me they weren’t related to the closing of the Bed Bath & Beyond.
On the plane ride back to Bowdoin, I felt an odd sense of numbness. As the weather warmed and days grew longer, my mind was fixated on my family back home. As I walked across the quad after class, I found myself watching people more than I ever did before. I wondered about how people spent their spring breaks. I wondered about their individual stories, their parental figures and what made them happy. Most of all, I sat and attempted to unknot the grief that I felt had coiled around my heart.
Whether I was successful or not, I am not entirely sure. Grief is a tricky emotion and most definitely a journey that I have only begun to graze the surface of.
Megh Bindra is a member of the Class of 2025.