I think I spoke to my grandfather once.

First, a little bit of family history. My mother's dad was not a pleasant man. He abused my grandmother, both verbally and physically, was generally distant and unpleasant to my mother and her two sisters, and almost certainly slept around on his frequent business trips. When my mom was seventeen she woke up one morning to see him in the living room with his bags packed, ready to leave on another trip. He never came back. My grandmother, who was completely dependant on him, took to drinking and my mother and oldest aunt had to take jobs to support the family.

Forward twenty years. I'm about 12. My parents are divorced - amicably, thank goodness - and I live mostly with my mom. My mom works as an elementary school teacher but in the evenings also teaches an aerobics class at the YMCA. Tonight she's at aerobics and the phone rings. I pick up and say hello. After a second or two an older man says, "Is, uh, Bobbie there?"

"Um, she's not in right now. Could I take a message?"

"No... uh, is this Erik?"


"So you must be about thirteen or fourteen now, right?"

At this point I'm getting a little weirded out. "Twelve." I say.

"Oh... OK. Well, bye."

And that was it. He never called back and I never learned for sure who he was. When I told my mom about it, the only theory we could come up with, based on what he knew and how old he sounded, was that it was my grandfather.

I've thought a lot since then about that encounter. If it was him, what did he want? Was it a one-time pang of guilt? Curiosity? My mother had tried before and since to get in touch with him through the Red Cross people-finder service, but he declined contact. I have no idea what went through his mind when he left twenty years before and I have no idea what went through his mind when he decided to check in on us.

In my own mind I have always shunned the memory of this man who deserted his family (just like his father had) but it had always been easier when I had never met him. Now that I think I have talked to him, he seems almost as sad as wicked. I still have no love for the man, but perhaps a little more sympathy than I once did.

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