Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004): Siphnos, 1961, gelatin silver print; courtesy Scheinbaum & Russek Ltd.

You can call me a frequent daydreamer. If you know me, you know I will stare out the rusting window in my English class, at the clouds, drifting to a whole other world. It is a bad habit and I should probably try to get better. But I can’t help remembering while I sit in English, my first period class, every day: I am not dreaming about being a hero, or ending starvation, or what happened yesterday, or what might happen tomorrow; instead I dream about you, my father’s father. That’s right, I remember and I will always remember. How can you blame me? I replay it like a movie in my head. All I have to do is slide the CD of your memory into the slot of my brain and let my eyes watch it play on the great white clouds floating by.

I am twelve and I see the lake. I see the white swan that dips its wings into the brisk winter water and the tall cattails swaying in the breeze. We stand in the middle of the bridge and stare down at our reflections smiling back at us. It’s too late for the warmth of the sun to warm our cold hands, so we lace them together, intertwined like the tall dry grass. We came to see the sunset because that’s what we love most. We can see the burning sun set the clouds on fire as it begins to make its descent to the end of the horizon. The green pine trees turn into black silhouettes and the water no longer just reflects our smiles, but the combustion of color in the sky too. I can’t help thinking of the cold, dark-blue, beautiful lake in the fall, and the sunsets we’d watch together before it was permanently scarred with painful memories.

It was an amazing place, in fact, my favorite place. Life is filled with irony. Why did you have to tell me there? The most amazingly sacred and pure place in my heart. A place like that does not deserve to hear the painful words you spoke through your chapped, dying lips — a place like that deserves heartwarming memories, s’mores, campfires, and loving compassion around it. I believe a place like that should provoke compassion and care, but with life comes tragedy and life didn’t hesitate to let you tell me the most heartbreaking words in the most heartwarming place.

We leaned on the cold metal railing of the wooden bridge and stared at the blue mountains that touched the end of the earth. You looked in my eyes, which was rare. You let go of my hands and told me words I didn’t think I understood.

“I have to go,” you said.

Innocently I asked, “What are you talking about?”

“I have to go and I will never come back, try not to miss me, and if you do, just remember me as your loving grandfather who will never let go of your cold hands as we sit here at dusk and watch the sun dip down under the pastel colors of the horizon.”

He was wrong. I did see him again. I saw his cold face at the bottom of a coffin. I remember feeling the tears well up in my eyes. I remember fighting them back. I remember giving up and breaking down. From that day on, I wonder why he never told me anything more than those few words. I wonder why it had to be the medics telling me that my grandfather took his life. I knew we were close, but I never knew I would be the last person he would talk to.

“Hazel, what does dusk mean? Hazel!”

“What? Sorry, Mrs. Richards. What was the question?”

“Maybe if you didn’t daydream all the time, you’d know. What does the word dusk mean?”

“I believe it is a synonym for sunset, Mrs. Richards.”

“Lucky guess …”

“I actually know what it means, Mrs. Richards.”

“Care to explain how you know what it means? Because I don’t think you listened to my explanation while you were staring out that window, Hazel.”

I am saved by the bell as it rings loud and clear. I grab my backpack and head out of the class, faced with the fact that I must return to reality.