Family are not necessarily friends, but I shared a friendship with my late grandfather.
He was a reclusive chain-smoker who was mean to his wife and children. No one was allowed into his bedroom, where he slept alone. No one would have been able to find their way around it anyhow—it was cluttered with books and newspaper clippings.
He was by every definition a disagreeable man, yet he was a remarkable friend to me. He pushed me on the swing, carried me around on his moped, and let me win at chess one time. Most importantly, he told me hundreds of stories—all fiction.
Together, we discovered the bashful plant in a derelict field behind the playground neighboring my grandparents’ house. The bashful plant shrivels when touched, but returns to its original shape when left alone. If I were to attempt to pull a cyanotype print of it—where it physically contacts the surface on which its image is reproduced—I would not be able to capture it in its original state.
Years later, when I was living with my grandfather and not just visiting him, he contracted tuberculosis. I spent a long while angry at him for putting his family’s and his own health in jeopardy. I couldn’t understand how someone who had shown me such a beautiful thing as the bashful plant could endanger his family that way. Eventually he did quit smoking at around 80 years old, but by then I was going through puberty and we were growing apart.
Before I left for college, he gave me a thick wad of twenties he had saved in a can over several years—a thousand dollars in cash. He told me to buy books with the money.
In the seven years between that time and his death, I hadn’t spoken to him or seen him. His life was fleeting and our friendship was fleeting. Fleeting, and impossible to capture with any accuracy.