Naked

The school I teach at bought me lunch from Subway. A nice Friday offering. I ordered a six-inch veggie sub on wheat bread – no cheese, all the veggies, salt and pepper, and oil and vinegar. I wanted to keep it light and dairy-free seeing as the last time I ate a Subway veggie sub my stomach rejected it, and that’s just not how I wanted my Friday afternoon to go. Upon the arrival of the order, a co-worker delivered the sub to me. As I grabbed the sub, I thought to myself, This feels a little light. Is there anything on it? Not wanting to sound ungrateful, I smiled and said thank you. I sat down at my desk feeling somewhat hungry and unwrapped the sub. Man, they must’ve been real skimpy on the veggies, I thought to myself as I didn’t see any lettuce or tomato hanging off the edges. I carefully pulled apart the two pieces of wheat bread to investigate. 

The findings: two pieces of bread squirted with oil and vinegar and sprinkled with salt and pepper – otherwise a blank canvas. Nothing. Empty. Not even an olive or a piece of onion. Naked. Just two soaked pieces of bread. I sat there looking like I was about to take the Lord’s supper. All I could do was laugh. God is a comedian.

Wednesday morning my dead dad’s sister, Aunt Liz, called me. I didn’t answer because I was working, and I knew what she was calling for. Phone calls from my dad’s family usually mean one thing – death – and Pop, my grandpa, had been in bad shape for some time. I knew what the voicemail was going to say. 

I wanted to let you know that Pop passed away last night. I’m sorry to leave it on a message, but I was afraid it might get out on Facebook or something, and I wanted you to know firsthand. He went peacefully.

Being up in his 80s and having dementia, his death was not a surprise to me. The last time I saw Pop was Thanksgiving 2015. He didn’t quite know who I was. My aunt had to explain, “Dad, this is Nan. You remember her? She’s David’s daughter.” I wondered then if he even remembered his son, David. Daddy had been dead for nearly 20 years and that’s about how long it had been since I had seen Pop. Daddy died and so did my relationship with his family. Daddy was the black sheep of his brothers and sisters, and so, I became a distant relative, or at least that’s how it felt. 

Standing alone in my classroom, I was shocked when the tears welled up. Why was I crying over an old man’s death that I barely knew? I knew the taste and smell of his homemade Brunswick stew better than I knew the man who cooked it. I knew his working silhouette better than I knew the actual man who worked. I spent hours, as a five or six-year-old girl, swinging on my grandparents’ screened-in porch, watching him work the vegetable garden while Mom (grandma) baked chocolate sheet cakes in the kitchen. He spoke so few words to me that I couldn’t remember the sound of his voice. Yet, I was overcome with emotion.

I suppose a grandparent is a grandparent regardless of the amount of interaction you have with them. Family is still family. His bloodline flows through my veins. Losing Pop is like losing a link that connects me to my Daddy. The links were always weak, but they were always connected. What happens when all the links are cut or rusted out? Will losing all the links sever the root connection? Maybe, it’s kind of like the Subway sandwich. The bread is soaked and sprinkled but the filling, the heart of the sandwich, is missing.

Wednesday afternoon I accompanied my husband to his dad’s house. The purpose of the visit was to help his step-mom clean out the garage. I was more or less there as emotional support for my husband because four months ago COVID-19 stole his father’s life. Unlike my Pop, my father-in-law, Mike, was a man I knew. I knew the taste and smell of his homemade spaghetti as well as I knew his kind voice. I knew his love for his family because I saw his working hands as proof of the sacrifices he made for them. I knew his gentle heart and spirit because I married his son. He never made me feel like an in-law. He made me feel like a close relative rather than a distant one. He made me feel like his daughter. 

My heart broke with each piece of belonging that was thrown out of the garage. What seemed like junk to everyone else was actually treasure for Mike. I understood holding onto the material things wouldn’t fix the gaping hole in everyone’s hearts, but I also understood how naked the garage felt without all the things – how naked life felt without Mike in it. The pain of losing a loved one never goes away. That I knew. What surprised me was the pain of watching someone you love lose someone they love. In our marriage, I’ve always been the one death visited. Until now, I never fully understood the pain that comes with watching death steal life from your lover. Life goes on and love goes a long way, but it hurts being unable to fill the empty space death created. It’s kind of like the Subway sandwich. Life and love are there for comfort, but inside there’s a whole lot missing.

Thursday afternoon my car started running hot on the way home from work. I called the dealership to inform them – just a week prior I shelled out over $2,000 for repairs to the air condenser. My husband followed me to drop the car off. I needed a car to get to and from work. The only free solution was borrowing Mike’s car – my dead father-in-law’s car. We headed to the bare garage to pick the car up. Tears were shed on the way because reminders of the emptiness cut deep. On the other hand, even in death, Mike was able to be a helper. 

Friday morning I stopped at Harris Teeter to pick up some cream cheese for bagels and a Starbucks coffee. I couldn’t find the cream cheese on the aisle with the cheese and yogurt. I searched for nearly five minutes. All the little things had compounded. I stood still in the middle of the aisle nearly in tears simply because I couldn’t find the damn cream cheese. Eventually, I swallowed the lump in my throat along with my pride and humbly asked where the cream cheese was located. “By the eggs,” the worker replied. Who the hell keeps cream cheese by the eggs on a totally different aisle?! 

I left the store, unlocked Mike’s car, and sat for several minutes. I smelled his scent. I stared at the angel pictures he kept on the dashboard. I felt sad. I missed him like I missed my own daddy. I felt angry because Pop’s death reminded me of past pain which intensified the present pain. I was reminded that life hurts sometimes.

By lunchtime, my stomach felt empty but not hungry. I sat down at my desk and unwrapped the Subway sandwich. It stared back at me dressed in its birthday suit – naked and free. God is a comedian.

Subway sandwich

4 thoughts on “Naked

  1. Thanking God for the gift He has given you. Your words have blessed me today and I share the nakedness and sadness that I cant express as well as you. Thank you.❤

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