Written By Desirée Toldo
I believe in a lot of things. I believe that Disney Princess Band-Aids work better than regular Band-Aids; I believe that people are inherently kind, even if at times they forget it; I believe that most things taste better with ketchup; I believe that everything that is lost has a way of finding its way back. This is the story of the moment I found what I had lost 12 years ago.
In 2015, I was a senior in college living with my cousin and our best friend in our small dorm. It was rare to have the room to myself for a night, but when I did I would sometimes wake up from dreams of my grandfather who we had lost ten years earlier. I would wake up and be so sure I could smell his familiar scent, as though the door had just closed behind him—they were the most vivid dreams I had ever had. I struggled to put a meaning to these dreams. My grandmother and mother had told me of spiritual encounters that they had had in their lives, but I never believed that was the kind of thing I could experience. I wasn’t sure if I even believed it was possible. Yet I wanted so badly to believe that there was meaning in the dreams that I was having, that I was being visited by the person I missed more than I could understand.
One Sunday in March I found myself alone for the night once again, and I suppose my grandfather, who we called Papi, decided it was time to make a believer out of me. I fell asleep with a tingle of disappointment that always came with the end of the weekend. Before I knew it, I was walking up the street toward my parents’ house when I heard the engine of my brother’s truck start. I looked up to see Papi smiling at me from the driver’s seat. He didn’t say a word but I got in the truck and we drove away and went to a movie theater. I don’t remember the drive. I don’t remember any conversation. I don’t even remember what movie we went to see. But I remembering walking up to the concession stand and ordering my favorite movie theater snacks (pretzel nuggets, nacho cheese, and a small popcorn). I remember Papi paying. I remember the cashier placing loose change on the counter. And I remember one bright, shiny penny.
Even through a dream, where there are no limits to what you can imagine and what can be done, I knew Papi would not be staying with me in the world, but that he had come back for a day to take me to the movies, perhaps to reassure me that though he had left the world, he was not gone. He did not say a single word but when I asked him if I could keep that one perfect penny to remember the day he smiled. After that it all dissolved. Maybe new dreams came into focus or maybe it was all just black. I woke up alone in my room with a breath that felt like I had just been resuscitated. The weight of what I had dreamt and the emptiness I felt crashed over me. He was gone. I rolled over and made my body as small as I could in my tiny twin bed.
Against my crisp, black bed sheet I saw the perfectly polished profile of Abe Lincoln, shining up at me. A penny lay next to my pillow, as though it had been placed so purposely near me.
In life, Papi had never denied me anything—ice cream before bed (make no mistake, this was just as much a treat for him as it was for me—chocolate ice cream for him, vanilla for me), the little plastic table from the center of a pizza pie to use as a dining table for my Barbies, nothing. 12 years had passed since he died and yet he still didn’t deny me. This time he gave me something to believe in—his proximity, his presence, his attunement to me even after so many years. I had never felt so connected to someone in my life—he had chosen to give me this gift and in doing so he solidified everything I wanted to believe in but didn’t have enough proof of. I wear the proof around my neck at all times. The penny hangs close to my heart always—a reminder of what that dream meant and everything that changed as a result of it.
In the two years since Papi came to visit me in my dorm, I have had other similar encounters—dreams that seemed just slightly more than dreams. I sometimes wish I could summon both of my grandparents like characters in a science fiction movie, just to get their reassurance that they’re watching everything. But it doesn’t work like that. I don’t know how it works, but I believe in it. I believe that when I need them most, they appear. I believe that the cardinal that sits on my windowsill despite my cat’s numerous attempts to pounce on him through the closed window is Papi saying, “hello, I’m with you.” I believe that the dragonfly fluttering around my car as I eat my peanut butter and jelly sandwich on my lunch break is Gram telling me that peanut butter and jelly is not a filling lunch and I should eat more. I believe that though they were lost, they are always hiding somewhere waiting to be found. It doesn’t make me miss them any less, but it makes the spaces between visits less difficult. Most of all, it gives me hope that there will always be another sign, another visit, another reminder of just how strongly they are imprinted in my soul.
Thank you for reading, with love
Desirée Toldo xx