I remember taking a moment and thinking I should keep it. I should keep it.
And I did.
But in my early 30s, after having moved for the third time in four years, it didn’t survive. It got tossed around in boxes and then eventually tossed in the recycling pile. I remember pausing for a moment, thinking I should keep it. It was Erick’s. I should hold onto it just in case, but I didn’t and I remember feeling a little twinge the next morning when it was gone.
That orange hardcover dictionary with the word DICTIONARY in bold white courier font. He used it during his high school years to look up words he didn’t know, then look up those words in his Spanish-English dictionary, and then finally have an A-ha! moment after twenty minutes because he had finally figured out what they were asking him. He could finally answer.
My uncle Erick … he was more than just an uncle, he was the brother I never had, my role model growing up, my compass when I lost my footing. He showed me education can definitely create change. He was the first one in our family to graduate from college. He was there for me when I was learning my ABCs and stood by me when I crossed the graduation stage myself. I knew when he had his own family he would be a great dad.
And he was …
So when he died of cancer, when his daughter was only 10 years old, it broke my heart. I knew he was scared, not of death, but of not being in his daughter’s life, watching her grow, dancing at her quinceanera, and clapping for her as she crossed the stage in her cap and gown.
I knew he wanted to be there. So I made sure a part of him would be there with her for all those milestones. I interviewed him and made a scrapbook for her. Quotes, advice, stories, pictures. Messages and things he’d want to say to her when life happened, he was able to do that, to say some of those things.
I’d been giving these pages to her throughout the years, and now 11 years later, after her college graduation I only have one page left. One, and I so wish I still had that dictionary, because it was more than just a book of words, it was a part of his road to success. It was part of his work ethic.
But I didn’t know he was going to die when the dictionary got thrown away. I didn’t know he was gonna get sick. Nobody did. He didn’t smoke, he didn’t drink. He got the cancer just because he got it. And now I only have one page left.
I gave her the college page this weekend, followed by a hug and the I’m-proud-of-you speech, and the I-know-your-dad-is-proud-of-you-too whisper in the ear.
My uncle, who helped raise me, was there that day too, sitting in the audience with me. His words were there, in black ink, scribbled in his slanted handwriting written during the last days of his life. He wanted to make sure he was there, and I was glad to have made that possible, because he was always there for me.