Memorializing What Never, and Always, Was

Written by: Abigail Campbell

When I was three years old, my sister came home from school with a backpack full of supplemental reading materials. She was falling behind in her reading level, so my mother sat her on her lap and read aloud to her each night. Being four years her junior, and four thousand times as curious, I sat in the doorway, and sometimes by my mothers’ feet, and I listened. By kindergarten, I was reading at an advanced level. Through grade school, my mother found pride in teachers telling her about how well-read and well-spoken her daughter was. The bragging would seep into family functions, and when my grandfather caught wind of his budding scholar granddaughter, he pulled me aside and whispered in my ear, “you’re going to be a writer if you keep it up this way.”

Ron & Julia Campbell, Source: Abigail Campbell

To me, the English major was a gateway to bountiful opportunities and doors to be opened. To most people around me, though, English was a waste of time. “Go into STEM, you’ll make more money that way.” I quickly learned that those giving me advice weren’t interested in my  interests, but at such a young and impressionable age, I took their word as scripture and double majored in the sciences. During a particularly stressful midterm week in 2017, I decided to drop my English double major and put all of my cards into Research Psychology and Neuroscience. 

Though my major and trajectory was then set in stone, each time I saw my grandfather at Christmas time, he would pull me aside and ask about my writing. “My girl is going to be a writer,” he’d always say with baseless confidence. His eyes would glaze over with hope for  my future authorship while he told me about all  the things he wished he had done at my age.  I never found it in me to burst the bubble he lived in.

My grandfather was a well-spoken salesman who became quiet after his time in the United States Air Force. He enjoyed classic movies like Romancing the Stone, which he’d never make me watch with him because I never gave him a reason to. We shared memories, passing each other bags of salt water taffy while soaking in Michael Douglas saving his leading lady and my sister and I would point fingers at grandpa when he only left us licorice flavored taffy. Occasionally, my grandfather would tell me about the time he spent as a young man writing a novel that was never published, but he never went into enough detail to satiate my curiosity. Always cut short by the lack of time, I would leave my grandparent’s house in Venice, FL wondering about the dreams he had  pushed aside in order to  devote himself to  his family and earning an  income. He’d always smile when we arrived, and he’d always wave when we left.

Ron & Julia Campbell, Source: Abigail Campbell

This semester, I spent much of my free time thinking about  what makes a writer really a writer. My dad always says to me, “to be a writer, you have to write,” but is that truly enough? Many  define being a writer as being published, while others wear the title proudly though they never sell anything.  When news of my grandfather’s decision to stop life-saving dialysis treatments came to me a few weeks ago, many people around me began to discuss grief. Phrases like  “he lived a full life” and “at least he made it this far” were thrown around, but to me, in my mid-twenties with the entire world at my feet, I couldn’t fathom ever living enough. I thought about my grandfather’s unfinished projects, the silence of his  interrupted stories that I’ll never get to hear. My grandfather spent a long life alongside a faithful, loving partner. He  had three wonderful children and five grandchildren who adored him, whether or not he truly knew it. While my grandfather never hit fame as an author, he was still a writer and a storyteller.  Even if  I never got to hear most of his stories , those stories are still what made him who he was.  To me, he was and always will be a writer with a dream passed on to another generation.

In 2020, in the rage of a global pandemic, I was faced with a choice between continuing to pursue a practical career path or returning to University to finish my English classes and pursue my dreams. While mulling over my choices, I reflected on a surreal moment I’d shared with my grandfather. One afternoon while swimming in my grandparents’ pool in Venice, I heard rain falling but couldn’t feel any drops. I turned around and confronted the edge of the storm; the wall of rain that bends time and air. Entirely lucid, I stood in the euphoria of being caught between time and moving storms, unable to move between or understand either side of the wall of rain in its entirety. Seconds passed and the rain enveloped me. I ran inside, sliding and barely gripping the smooth ground of the pool patio. I took a deep breath  to calm down and heard a page turn. To my right, my grandfather looked up from his book and witnessed graceless youth in me. Like the rain outside, he and I stood on either side of time, neither entirely able to understand the nature of either reality completely. I nodded to him, and he smiled at me, and for a moment, we existed in the exact same reality, as if it were enough, as if it were always enough, and as if it would always be enough. To me, the relentless pursuit of dreams will always be enough, regardless of success or fame. So long as I am writing, it doesn’t matter if a few people or a few million read my words. My grandfather taught me that there is more to life than allowing others to define who you are, and to me, that will always be enough.

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