Heidi Andrea Restrepo Rhodes is a Queer, Latina, scholar, writer, artist, and activist. Her performance, creative writing, and photography have been seen in places such as San Francisco’s SomArts, Galería de la Raza’s Lunada, the Mission Arts and Performance Project, the SICK Collective, the Mixed Race Queer and Feminist Zine, Brown and Proud Press, Skin to Skin, Harvard’s Queer, and others. She also has work forthcoming in Wilde, and The Progressive. She currently resides in Brooklyn.
On the Question of Your Grandfather: A Letter
I remember your grandfather’s hands. When we sat there together at the diner escaping the New Jersey winter chill, fumbling for conversation, did you notice how the Question lived in his hands? Had you seen it before? Twice, I caught it, and perhaps it could not have been detected from where you sat beside him, but only across from him, where I was. The first time I noticed, it was illegible and I let it pass through me as some gestural quirk. And then later, as the words came out of his mouth, “It’s a possibility,” and he shrugged, I saw it. His fingers traced out the unmistakable line and dot of a question mark. I could see it lingering there in the air, as if there was a window between us and he’d drawn on the glass, half out of habit, not realizing, but sure that the only sure thing was the Question of it all.
I sat there and contemplated the poetry of it, the words he repeated through the day: “It’s a possibility.” Then a shrug, and he’d draw the question mark with his fingers, the question of possibility, and the possibility in the question. I could not help but wonder when this habit began, for I noticed no other symbols at the tip of his fingers through the day, (which isn’t to presume he has none) and I thought of the procession of those who came before him, generations of Romanian Jews whose faith would not have been unfamiliar to, or unbounded by, the Question – that small but politically dangerous spiritual, grammatical inquisitive that may be the substance of G-d itself…
Throughout the day, I watched your grandfather trace the ribbony, snake-like curvature (oh, the snake and the question are no strangers). Those moments, which each time lasted perhaps three seconds, have played over and over in my mind. What residue is this, what years and books and forgotten memories now contour this single finger’s aerial ballet, the invitation to foray into another territory, into the question of the possible? As if speaking what could otherwise not be spoken, as if, in between the atoms in the air, he articulated his own exile: the diaspora that ever defers his knowing, and your own knowing, of who you and who your family are and were and will be. The expulsion of any certainty, the fragile wanderings of his generation, of Yiddish itself as the tongue that binds them, and every generation’s wonderings: “Will we survive?” There was simultaneous joy and sadness in Murray’s shrugging cheeks, rising up against years of gravity, in sync with his eyebrows as they too stood back to ponder the wide open unknown future. Over and over, he revealed the Question, and its attendant invitation to the meet the unfamiliar. It was never doubt that scraped at the back of his throat, but potential, chance, the unmapped, unnamed secret that lived on his tongue, and endured at the tip of his finger: the Mystery of all mysteries, faceless and bright, the radiant brilliance of the World to Come.
“But it is a mere gesture,” some might say. Mere indeed! Would we really be so bold as to believe it is ever, only, merely that?When thousands of years live, like residue, like a psychological tattoo, like a map of time engrained into our bones, infusing our marrow, pulsing through our blood? Could this be another iteration of what it is to be haunted? And doubly so, for it is not only the Question that haunts your grandfather’s index finger, but the question of the Question. . .
I wish I could replay the moment for you, the scene in my mind’s eye, with all the details around us: the décor of the diner, dark and dated; the sports game blaring behind me on the television to which your grandfather remained fairly attentive; the clink-clank of dishes; the hostess and waitresses and waiters; the desserts on the bar at the front; our plates half empty, the blinds drawn to block the glare of the sun; the empty seat and table-setting next to me, space we’d saved for Elijah, or the ghost of Edmond Jabés, or perhaps a stranger; you sitting a bit nervously across from me, and this stream of sunlight glinting through to touch the persistent two-step of Murray’s single digit, as if to spotlight it in the theatre of its own inheritances.
Maybe you have seen it a thousand times before. But it was new to me and worth every bit of consideration.