There Are No Answers Only reasons To Be Strong

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Every morning before work and before I went to school my grandpa would walk me to Rollo’s donuts on 13th and Jackson. Along the way we’d pick up cans discarded from the night before in the park and on the street, put ‘em in a little potato sack and at the end of the week we’d cash ‘em in for one 32oz bud for him and the rest would pay for my donuts for the week.

He was never the type to keep a busy conversation, he never spoke much, and most of what he did say was hidden underneath a muddy Mississippian accent, you’d understand more with his nods, his smiles and the way his yellow bloodshot eyes would catch your eyes every now and again.

Walking into the shop, the owners always knew I’d want two old fashioned chocolate donuts, and they would have them ready for me in a brown bag blotted with oil. They all lit up when he came in, just happy to say hi, glad that something was consistent in their life. Even with few words, he could attract all the lights and shadows in a room and tug them along as he walked.

There was something so comforting in the monotony.

A creature of habit, every day he did the same things, and every day he’d hide stuff from us, things I might never know, things like the constant pain in his guts from drinking every day and all the nagging pangs of colon cancer that would eventually take his life. I like thinking about the little things he’d do, like turn on the stove and just set 2 sweet potatoes next to the flame when he came home from work, then we would sit and watch Darkwing Duck with me on his bed. I knew him as routine; a calming clock that always was reliable and steady when most things were confusing and loud.

There were some nights that he’d drink too much, and I’d see and hear him talking loud and fidgeting as my cousin tried to lead him to bed, I could never understand what he said, and it looked like two shadows dancing behind a curtain in my blurred memories. When his shirt was off you could see these puffy pink scars along his shoulders and back, they looked like the aftermath of heat branding, I’d always run my fingers across them and imagine they were slugs. I later found out that when he moved to the bay area from Bolton, Mississippi he was of the first waves of black garbage men in San Francisco when all waste companies were privatized. Apparently, the way it worked is that garbage men would walk up and down the blocks with metal shoulder straps, the straps looked like upside down J’s with huge receptacles on their back. At the end of each long block, they’d meet with a truck and dump ‘em out. My dad says they never gave him the proper equipment or gave him adequate training, understood because the drivers were usually white and the workers were often black and brown, so they would treat them like shit. He would work 10 hour days bleeding from his shoulders EVERY SINGLE FUCKING DAY. He was a garbage man his entire life.

He raised several children, he cared for several grandkids, he loved my grandmother, and he worked hard every single day. There were so many demons and so much pain inside of him, but you’d never know. I can't begin to imagine the physical and mental trauma he had to endure. These types of memories small or big, happy or sad are so grounding to me. Knowing where I come from, knowing the strength passed to me, knowing the grief inherited as well.

“There are no answers only reasons to be strong.”

Richard Gutierrez