“On Old Grief” by Edvige Giunta

You look at your plants, and notice one is dead. You forgot to water it.

She would have been fifty-seven this year. You left her, like you left Sicily. She died thirty years ago. Her death anniversary comes and goes unnoticed while recent sorrows assail you. You are thinking of another friend, who died three weeks ago—an older friend, the friend of your wiser years. You never left her.

Today you also think of your mother, aging and ailing an ocean away. You watch the political horror show on MSNBC. You share some shit on Facebook about the republicans in Ohio who want to make motherhood compulsory. You put away the white china with gold lines from Thanksgiving dinner. You sort the laundry. You argue with your husband. You call your mother and try to tell her you love her, but she’s tired and wants to hang up. You facetime your brother. You listen to Lucio Batisti’s “I giardini di marzo” and remember dancing with boys in darkened rooms when you were thirteen. You light a candle for your friend, the one who died three weeks ago, and decide you’ll let it burn all night.

You finish revising some writing and send it off. You forget the second glaucoma drop. Then you remember. You don’t forget the aspirin. You have no appetite and so don’t have lunch or dinner. Instead you graze all day: roasted hazelnuts, brie cheese, leftover carrot and orange soup. You feel hollow, and there’s a piercing ache between your throat and your chest. You take deep breaths.

All day you do not think of the beloved girl of your youth on her deathbed in Bologna, thirty years ago, killed by the same cancer that killed your other friend, the one for whom the candle is still burning.

But your body knows.

Your body remembers old grief like a rosary, like a poem you memorized in elementary school, the first Latin declension, a Sicilian proverb, the Angelo di Dio buon amico mio guardami stanotte mentre riposo io you used to recite at bedtime with Nonna. It’s not conscious or volitional. Its syntax and grammar are in place when it surfaces—fresh, pristine, unchanged after all these years. It does not usurp the recent grief. It gathers strength from it.

It grabs you from the inside.

“I’m here,” it says. “You’re mine.”

And in some strange way, you’re grateful.

Edvige Giunta’s books include Writing with an Accent: Contemporary Italian American Women Authors and the coedited anthologies, The Milk of AlmondsEmbroidered Stories, and Personal Effects. She has published in Creative NonfictionRiver TeethAssayLiterary Mama, and other publications. She is Professor of English at New Jersey City University, where she teaches memoir. https://twitter.com/edigiuntahttps://www.instagram.com/edigiunta

Photo by Paolo Nicolello.

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