This morning, my grandfather visited me in the form of a heron. I'm pretty convinced it was him: I've never seen a heron around here before.
I never had much of a relationship with my grandfather. Conversations with him were more like monologues where he described his war memories, like icy shower floors in South Korea or lost chocolate bars and loose change fallen from the pockets of pilot trainees after he'd surprise them by flipping an airplane mid-air. He once surprised me by poking my thumb with a fishing hook. "This is why you don't touch this," he forewarned.
I'll never forget one night after everyone was fast asleep, my grandfather approached my brother and me while we were watching television in the dark. In a strange display of emotion, he told us that we were worthless. Our greatest sin was that we didn't do enough for our mother, his daughter, his ultimate source of pride. After that outburst, I nervously clenched every muscle in my body and cleaned up after everyone as soon as we finished a meal. Any meal. I never wanted to be called worthless again.
There was undoubtedly some greater depth to this man that I was too young to comprehend or appreciate. Nevertheless, through the unfiltered lens of a child, I could sense the palpable sorrow. For his generation, "swallowing trauma" was simply part of being a man.
My grandfather and grandmother lived on a slowly sinking lake in Florida. There he caught small fish and fed them to a great blue heron that he playfully named Oskar.
My grandfather, Ormand, was a pattern maker, a woodworker.
One day, too old to drive, from the back seat of my parent's car, Ormand said with a timbre of longing and regret that if he could have gone to college, he would have been an engineer.
When we'd visit our grandparents, I would discover small piles of drawings made with a draftsman's hand
— ballpoint pen drawings of dozens and dozens of blue herons, all named Oskar.
As I write these words, I cannot tell you in all honesty if I'll ever have the courage to go back to normal. I've never been normal, and I'm not sure if normal is a place where I ever belonged.
I'm not normal. But I'm not worthless.
...or at least this is what my grandfather told me early this morning, in the blink of a heron's eye.