At about 85 minutes on Sunday, I had a bit of a realization. I’d been clenching my fists and was in a bit of anxiety, but I also hadn’t given up. It wasn’t so much that I expected Liverpool to find a winner, but that they were actively working towards picking that lock.
It was a race then, break the lock in time and the title hope stays alive. Fail to undo that defense in time and be prepared to be sent into another moment of existential torpor brought on by a bunch of men playing a schoolyard game. In other words: a typical match day.
But back to that realization: I was struck by how I didn’t expect so much the lads to win, but rather that I could recognize them probing and sensing cracks in that Tottenham Hotspur defense. That, like some footballing version of Skynet or, I guess, Velociraptors, they were learning on the fly. That they were finding their way home.
There are fewer significant moments in my life than the day I landed in America. It would prove to be a watershed moment and likely the earliest in my life given I was 5 years old at the time. It’s the centerpiece of my identity; can’t be an immigrant if you never immigrate.
But a thing that I realized while writing a brief essay last night is that I don’t remember what I brought with me across that big ocean. I don’t know what knick knacks or mementos I carried. I don’t know what remembrances of the only world I’d known till that point I decided to bring into this new world I would call home.
It’s a bit of a trope in writing from immigrants to America to note the bifurcated identity in which we live. And if you come over so young, it is more intense: not American enough and often not enough of the Old World.
That sits in the center of what I feel when I think about how I can’t recall what I brought because it’s clear I left behind the real treasures. That’s been made clear to me over the last 36 hours (at the time of this initial drafting). Because some of the things I’d left behind won’t ever be reclaimed. Or, can’t be.
I’m writing this, you see, after having learned that my grandfather has passed.
The thing we often forget about people who come here from elsewhere is how that separation means a sacrifice. And that sacrifice - while not uniform - almost always involves a sort of amputation or cleaving of one’s family tree. It’s not uncommon to hear people describe the process of moving far from where you were born or raised as “uprooting” one’s self. It is a wild thing to consider how fragile the vines exist, then, when the roots of your family tree are separated by an ocean.
The stories of my Lolo - the Tagalog honorific for “grandfather” - are mostly from the mouth of my mother, his second-eldest daughter. The memories of his loving nature, stoic sacrifice after losing his wife to cancer (my mother was only 13 at the time), and the gentle if conflicted relenting to her decision to follow her husband - my father - to America. Those memories, it’s clear, were her treasures. The ones she carefully stowed away to be unpacked here, with her children.
My rare memories and interactions were mostly done over the phone. My mother would drive us for what felt like forever (turns out it was only a half hour) to the Filipino enclave nearest us to buy phone cards to make these phone calls. As a child in elementary school, I couldn’t conceive of this Very Important Man even caring about the things I was studying, but he cared deeply. Our phone calls were timed usually early in the morning and while I never took after him in this regard, he was always so chipper, so bright, and warm despite it being 5:00am where he was. He never tried to cut our conversations early, but never held it against his sheepish grandchildren - who knew enough to not mark him a stranger but knew too little to move him past acquaintance - when they would find the perfect lull to hop off of the phone.
And, for a son, whose relationship with his own father was fraught, he was a ray of light. A model to follow even if he remained a bit of a flat facsimile. I wondered, for a time, when my father was gone, how I might find my way. I find myself asking that same question now, even though I hadn’t talked to my Lolo in some time and even though those last conversations took place when time and health robbed him of vitality and robbed me of the warmth in his eyes recognizing my face. How will I find my way?
The winning goal came at 90 minutes via an own goal from Toby Alderweireld. It took time. Like any lesson worth learning, I suppose.
What the lads learned was a necessary lesson, though. One, I feel, they’ll have come across multiple times over the last season and a half, in particular. Where they know - absolutely know - that even on their worst days, their opponents better bring their best.
This isn’t to say that they expect to trounce all comers or to be the next Invincibles. But I do believe this team is certain they deserve to be remembered as the class of England. Performances like Sunday’s - ones that testify to a stern integrity - are one more brick to edify that claim.
The tears and heart ache and the vacuum inside of me that’s just come loose, has also taken time. Grieving a man who is half Tall Tale and all sinew and bone and fault is difficult. It will take time.
I don’t know if I’ll be able to visit home - or, my first home, I guess - for his funeral. But I’m already thinking of the things I’ll need to prepare and pack, if I do. This time, I’ll make sure to bring back something worth keeping. I’ll bring back his story. I sense it will contain at least one last lesson: how I might find my way.