They say you can’t miss what you’ve never had, but I don’t think that’s true.
Because if it was, I wouldn’t miss Portugal. Wouldn’t miss the seas, the streets, the sunsets, the seagulls squawking at the beach. The sensation of biting into a pasteis de nata.
I visited Portugal for only two weeks. I can’t come close to laying claim over it, yet I still miss it, as it continues to lay claim over me.
And if you can’t miss what you’ve never had, I wouldn’t miss my grandfather. I wouldn’t be able to trace the outline of the hole left in our family. I wouldn’t be able to identify the negative space his death left behind.
“He would’ve loved you,” my dad said once. “He loved kids.”
My grandfather lived long enough to see one of my many cousins born. From the way my relatives talk about him, I don’t doubt his love for children. I don’t doubt his strength, not from the way he left Portugal for Argentina, then Argentina for California. I don’t doubt his pride for the company he founded, the same one my father still runs. I could never doubt the depth of his passions.
But I wonder about the things no one ever passes down, the parts that would make him more human than myth. And if I could take anyone anywhere, I would take my grandfather home.
I would stand in the backyard of his childhood house with him, the same one I stood in half a year ago. The dirt had been soft under my feet, the sun warm on my shoulders. Now, his hand would be firm in mine.
I would ask him, "Do you miss this?"
We would go to the cemetery where women lead their children down the rows, flowers in hand. We would pause at the plots of his parents, his siblings, his priests, and I would ask, "Do you miss them? Every day, do you miss them?"
Finally, I would take him to our family, living and flourishing. To the family that so warmly embraced me despite fifteen years of separation, despite the language barrier. To the family that spoke of my grandfather with an unparalleled fondness, to the family that shared his native tongue.
"Do you miss this?" I would ask him. "You must."
After a lifetime, he must.
And when he answered that he did, I would listen to him talk about all the aspects he missed about Portugal. All that America could never replicate or replace, all that he longed for, yearned for. Ached for.
I would do my best to understand. To thank him for all he’s done. To assure him that I would remember both his trials and his triumphs; I would not forget his roots. Tell him that I visited his homeland, that I intended to return. That I would learn about his culture, his language.
I would tell him that I miss it too.
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