Here’s a dream I have — and by dream I don’t mean the kind where you close your eyes at night and your mind takes you somewhere strange and unfamiliar against your will. When I say dream in this instance what I mean is the kind that you have when you rest your cheek against your palm and give life a solid ponder, like an angel.
I dream of going to LA. I dream that I rent a little apartment in the middle of the city. The apartment is white and tired, but clean, so although the linoleum is peeling and cracked like an old sunburn, it also seems fresh. In this LA dream I don’t tell anyone I’m in the city. Instead I anonymously walk the same streets as my grandparents: Harvard, Vermont, New Hampshire — names I never realized would conjure up entirely different landscapes for my adult self. In my dream I place my feet in the same exact spaces my grandparents’ once occupied on the concrete sidewalks and I follow their footprints to the grocery store, the pharmacy, the fruit stand. I buy apricots by the pound, bags and bags of them. When I get back to my clean white and empty apartment, I sit on the floor and swallow them whole.
I don’t know if my grandfather was a sweet man, since we were never really able to communicate. His English wasn’t a strength, and I was too embarrassed to use the Armenian I had when I was a sour and ornery teenager, but when I was a young child visiting LA he used to take me to buy fruit from a street vendor. The man had apricots, always, and he sold them from rectangular woven baskets on the sidewalk. My grandfather would let me pick as many as I wanted, and when we got back to the orange and brown apartment he shared with my grandmother, he and I would eat the apricots right out of the paper bag, along with baby almonds, which are encased in a fuzzy pistachio green shell and taste bitter. I didn’t know my grandfather well, and we were never able to get to know one another well, but he always fed me well.
When he died, I was in Hawaii with my mother’s family, embarrassed to be chauffeured around Oahu in a white Hummer limousine alongside eighteen relatives chattering away in Visayan. My brother and I eventually rented our own car, a marigold-yellow 4×4, because apparently mainlanders are forbidden from driving anything that isn’t laughable.
I’ve never seen my father cry, not really, but on the phone he keened and I imagined him sitting desolately on his great big brass bed, his sweatshirted arms around himself, the dog on a cushion in front of the TV. That day there were five thousand miles and five time zones between us and even if he had been five steps away I imagine my father would have felt just as alone. He forbade us from flying home. Years later I visited my grandfather at Forest Lawn, where his grave marker lay alongside my grandmother’s and great-uncle’s. There was a drought, unsurprisingly, and the grass was crunchy and brown underneath our feet.
Today I sat in traffic on 93 South, drinking coffee out of a paper cup and talking to my father on the phone. I let the conversation drift before asking him for a good memory of his father. Without even the skimpiest of pauses he said his father encouraged him to excel at a trade. Another great-uncle had been an exalted judge, my father explained; when he and his family arrived in Syria as refugees from the Armenian Genocide, the great-uncle had been unable to find work since he didn’t speak Arabic.
It was a cautionary tale my father took to heart, but he added his own addendum: education. His dream, as a man who never set foot in a high school as a student, was college. When he was unable to fulfill it, he adjusted his aspirations and instead imagined the colleges my brother and I would attend. He didn’t know us yet, of course, but he dreamed to one day be so successful he could send his theoretical children to schools of their choosing.
That, he told me, was the best memory of his father: learning how to plan for us.