It was sudden, and then sweeping—the memory of my grandfather.
I was in Chiba, surrounded by stretches of green fields with the summer sky wide open above me, walking alone on a paved road when a small figure hovered in front of me. Its tiny wings were fluttering hastily, as if trying to beat the passing of time.
“A dragonfly!” I said out loud.
It had been ages since I saw one and the sight filled me with joy. At first, I didn’t know why exactly, but then something I had long forgotten came back to me in an instant, in the same manner light floods the room when you click the switch.
I was the youngest among cousins, and we lived in the same house. While out playing one day, my cousins started catching dragonflies with their bare hands, waiting for their unsuspecting prey to perch on a leaf before pinching their wings.
Being the youngest, copying what my cousins did was second nature. With uncharacteristic patience and effort, my small, clumsy hands managed to catch one. As I pinched its wings, I felt proud of my catch, and then guilty. It felt like I had captured something that wasn’t meant to be owned.
I remember I brought it home to my grandfather. I noticed then that I had held on to it so tightly than I damaged its wings. I told my grandfather I didn’t mean to hurt it, and he told me in turn that it was going to be alright. He plucked a leaf from a house plant and placed the dragonfly on it. He assured me its wings would soon heal and it would fly again. Feeling better, I went back outside to play.
I was very young then, maybe four or five. As mundane as it was, the memory remained in tact, albeit buried somewhere in the abyss of my mind. It is, after all, among the very few things I remember of my grandfather.
Not long after I turned six, my mother married, and we moved to a different house. It was only then that I understood I had an identity long before I was able to make one for myself. It was forced upon me, day after day—a constant reminder that my place was lower than everyone else’s, that I was an anomaly, and being so, it was not my right to be happy.
You see, I’m a child out of wedlock. My parents were not married when they had me. After my birth, my father married someone else, and so did my mother. And as I moved into a new house with new relatives, my life turned for the worse.
The carefree days I enjoyed in my old home turned into what seemed like an eternity of fear. Shouts and screams were more frequent than meals. I remember shutting doors and clicking guns. Hands pointing. Hands pushing me into a swamp. Hands forcibly opening a locked bathroom door. Hands where I did not want them. They were violent, they were menacing, they were not my grandfather’s hands.
There was barely a day that I did not cry. I did not throw tantrums in the same manner as other kids my age; I learned how to shed my tears quietly in the dark, so that no one would see, and no one would hear. And every single day, I wore a smile for my mother, who tried her best to protect me.
I barely saw my grandfather after we moved. Whenever we met, it was like I’d forgotten how to talk to him, I’d forgotten the brief time we spent together. I’d forgotten who I was in my old home.
He died when I was in sixth grade. I spoke at his funeral. I had developed the skill of putting words together by then. And so I strung a few pretty words together and read it when we buried him. Pretty words, nothing more.
There’s little else that I remember of him. On days that he comes to mind, however, I feel a kind of warmth. When I saw the dragonfly in Chiba, I felt the same. I felt happy, I felt safe, I felt like everything was going to be alright. It made me wonder how the memory of a man I remember so little of could bring so much comfort.
And then it dawned on me. I may not remember how I spent time with my grandfather, but I know that he loved me dearly, and that’s why I remember the feeling to this day. What escapes the mind remains in the heart.
It was my grandfather who first made me feel loved and protected, and it was that love that sustained me through the years of hardship that followed. It was because he loved me, that even when I was thrust in an environment that did not, I did not sow hatred. It was because he showed me kindness, that even when people were uncharitable, I did not grow spiteful. Before I was made to know that I was unwanted, before I was wounded by hurtful words, before I was soiled by uninvited hands, I was my grandpa’s grandchild. And that was a stronger identity than anything else.
As a child, I caught a dragonfly on a whim and unintentionally hurt it. My grandfather showed me that love does not do such things. And so, when I saw one again as an adult, I knew not to try and catch it. I knew not to pinch its wings. I knew how to appreciate the brief moment, and let it pass.
I saw a few more dragonflies as I walked that day. All of them flew past as I walked by, except for this one who sat still as I took a picture.
I bowed in gratitude after taking a few stills. For a minute, I thought I saw my grandfather’s smile, but the image faded as it flew away.