Got a package in the mail today that made me cry.
My grandfather on my dad’s side was a biologist and avid outdoorsman who also loved to make things, so his gifts to me and both my sisters when we were just babies, fairy godparent-like, were handcrafted fishing rods, personalized for each of us. I think his aim in making them was that someday he’d be able to take us out on a river somewhere in Oregon, teach us how to use them, and have all of us bond over an activity he loved. Life subverted that part of the fairy-tale though. He died when I was only 10 years old. My littlest sister, 9 years younger than me, never even met him – as far as I know, her fishing rod was one of the last things he ever made.
My dad doesn’t really like to fish. We never went on a trip where I could learn from him, even though he got to learn how from his dad. I’d only ever seen my fishing rod once or twice, pulled out of storage while he told me the story of how mine had been in-progress before I was even born. But with me spending so much time outside now, and in particular on the lakes here, where you can see the fish that fill them every time you look down into the water, I thought it might be time to give it a go. I didn’t even know where the rod was when I moved out here, so I had to e-mail my dad and ask if he still had it, and if he could get it to me. I was worried it might be risky, mailing it, but he packaged it up safely and it got here just fine.
I think a lot about how I never really got to know my grandpa, but never more keenly than today. I have incredibly fond memories of museum trips and visits to the fish ladder and wooden dinosaur-bone puzzles sent in the mail, because he loved and encouraged my interest in science, and it’s easy enough to think he would have been thrilled by my decision to pursue the sciences as an adult. To get a biology degree just like him. But unwrapping the package today, I was reminded that I knew so little about myself when I was 10 – which means that he did, too. The protective fabric casing it’s in is a perfect baby-girl pink, tied shut with little satin ribbons of a similar hue. On the rod itself is my deadname, written lovingly in his tiny handwriting, so similar to mine.
I don’t know if my grandpa would have been accepting of my trans identity. My dad has been pretty decent, so I’d like to believe that the man who raised him would be similar, or at least similar enough. I’ve lost the only other real familial connections I had (besides my dad and sisters), on any side of the family, largely due to coming out, so in my head there’s this little fantasy world where he saw me become an adult and was proud of every aspect of me, not just my love for science. But there’s something really complicated about knowing that had he lived longer, had I actually gotten to have more of a relationship with him, that might not have been how it would have gone. I’ll never know if I was spared a different kind of pain or if I lost something that would have been wholly good when he died, and I don’t know how to voice how that feels.
It’s not something I have an obligation to dwell on, I guess. Maybes and could have beens and what ifs are not a good world to live in. Instead I’m going to try to focus on the good and the real: that soon enough, I will learn how to use my fishing rod from somewhere or someone else, and I won’t care that it’s covered in criss-crossing pink ribbons, because all they mean is that somebody loved me a lot once. I’ll go out to a lake with my friends – maybe even with my sisters, with their matching rods – and maybe I’ll catch something, and maybe I won’t, but we’ll still have fun, and it will still be the realization of something pretty special, over 20 years in the making. And my love for nature and his love for nature meeting will be the relationship I get to have with him instead, two biologists displaced in time and space but not in spirit.
How’s that for a fairy-tale?