Amazing Grace

I started today with the shiniest of expectations. My first NYC signing. I bounced the whole train ride into the city and spent the morning meetings with the Walker-Bloomsbury crew trying not to beam and blurt out: I’m so lucky to have you all!

I left the Flatiron Building and pulled out my phone to call St.Matt and gush about my talented team… and saw multiple texts and a voicemail from my father.

I could tell from the tone of his “Hi, Tiff” that I wouldn’t want to hear what came next. I tried to cut him off “Hey, Dad. Remember I’m in New York today? Remember, I have that signing tonight?”

It didn’t work. I couldn’t stop his words or change the news he was burdened to deliver:

Grandma… massive heart attack… irreparable damage… only a matter of time. Today. Will keep you posted.

I piggybacked his phone call with one to a friend, my feet pulling me toward my next destination as my mouth and mind said, “I don’t know how to do this? I can’t,” and the my friend’s voice in my ear said, “But you will. You’ll be author-Tiffany until you get on the train home, and that’s when you’ll think about this.”

A few weeks ago when E.C. Myers asked if I wanted to spend the day signing stock with him, I don’t think he was expecting the version of me that arrived. My “I can’t talk about it,” melting into moments of needing to talk about it– “even if I weren’t here, I couldn’t be there, I’d never get home and then from PA to RI in time,” blending back out to “I can’t.” We walked a lot–because I needed to keep moving, and standing still in a subway car was inviting a meltdown I couldn’t afford to have.

And then there was the signing. Words were said, some of them were mine–but I couldn’t tell you what they were. I could tell you how much I needed every one of the hugs I received before and afterward, and how much I appreciated the presence and love from every single friendly face in that audience.

My phone rang again as I sat down on the train home.
“Grandma passed away.”

The train’s wheels brought me toward home and I fought against memories:

How she made “money cake” — aka chocolate frosted angel food, peppered with wax paper wrapped coins hidden inside. Or how she had a box of Jello 1-2-3 in the cabinet a good 10 years after they stopped manufacturing it because she knew how much I loved it. How she taught me to play Slap Jack and War, and never complained when I wanted to for hours. The walks we used to take. Fishing off the dock of her house in Rhode Island. The magnets on her fridge that I have memorized. How, until I was embarrassingly old, I really thought “Amazing Grace” was about a person named Grace who was amazing… a person like her.

The fact that the last words she said to me were two weeks ago, the Friday after Thanksgiving: “I’m proud of you, Tiff. Do you know that? I’m proud of you” and I’d blushed and shrugged them off with an “I’ll see you soon,” because I was supposed to see her again in a few weeks for Christmas.

And the fact that if I’d known, I would’ve spent less of the four days she and I and the twins were all at my parents’ house locked away revising, and more of those precious hours sitting and talking and asking her to tell me stories about when she was little, or when my father and his brothers were hellions who locked her out of the car and the house.

Not that I would be satisfied even then. I know myself well enough to know I’m greedy– I didn’t have enough time, but I never would have had enough time, or enough stories to fortify myself for all the future years that she won’t be in.

When I finish writing this, I’m going to go wake up The Wild Imp–named after my grandpa, her husband, who passed away shortly after The Schmidtlets were born– and carry him up to my room.  I’ll curl myself around his warm body and hope that sweet smell of baby and innocence are enough to soothe me to sleep. And if they’re not, I’ll whisper stories against the top of his head — the time my sister and I peeled an entire ten pound bag of onions in Grandma’s basement to be “helpful” — and how she figured out ways to use them all. How she spent our teen years making up acronyms (“Don’t D.D.S. — drink, drugs, sex (smoke?)) and giving us books with titles like “Ten Dumb Things Smart Girls Do To Ruin Their Lives,” always with a cheeky grin and a “I know my  rosebud knows better…” How she drank the sweetest wine I’ve ever tasted, and kept what was left from an unfinished bottle in Nalgene containers. The fact that my family decided not to tell me when she broke her hip in the hotel lobby the night before my wedding, but I knew from the moment we started “her” song — Amazing Grace — that something was off. How she mailed the twins’ birthday cards two weeks ago with hand writing that’s become so much harder to read over the past few years. But how each of their cards–just like each of the cards she mailed me, right up to this past September–contained a crisp five dollar bill.

And I’ll save the thank you note I hadn’t gotten around to mailing– because I thought I’d have more time.

I will always want more time.

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