Dear Grandpa Herby,
If I met you today, I don’t know if you would recognize my face or voice. I don’t know if you would agree with the choices I have made or the boys I have dated. Actually, you definitely wouldn’t agree with all the boys I have dated.
But grandpa, I know if you could see me right now, you’d say exactly what you said about me when I was a child.
You’d say, “I know where she came from.”
But this time for a different reason.
Back then, it was clear my athletic talent came straight from you. You called me your little athlete. A couple of months before you died, I made the varsity soccer team as a freshman. Since I was already the youngest in my grade, I was by far the youngest player on the team. And while you were battling heart disease and cancer, I was working hard to get my name in the newspaper because I loved sending you the clips.
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I am in my 30’s now. We haven’t seen each other in more than 20 years. You’ve missed a lot. I went to my dream college just like my brother. And I became a sportscaster – just like I told you I would. However, I don’t play soccer anymore or any competitive sports for that matter.
Unfortunately, since I last saw you, I have faced a lot of unexpected adversity. When I was 16, two strangers drugged me and sexually abused me. And at 30, my ex-boyfriend, one that loved me with all his heart and treated me how you would want a man to treat me, died at age 29. Both those situations shook me at my core.
But I am writing to you because I want you to know that I too know where I came from.
You were a fighter.
You owned a gas station. Two guys tried to rob you, and within minutes you had one in each hand, holding them up by their necks. Another time, someone called you a derogatory name for a Hispanic person. You fought him and won.
When someone pointed out the fact that you aren’t even Hispanic, you responded, “He didn’t know that.”
Then, there was the time that an NBA player wouldn’t stop bouncing a ball in the apartment above you. My dad was an infant, and when Grandma asked him to stop, he didn’t listen. So, you went up there. While we don’t know what you said or did, he never bounced that ball again, and a month later, he moved out.
You won so many street fights in the Bronx that someone approached you about becoming a professional boxer. Grandma wasn’t having any of it. I am not condoning violence in any way, but grandpa, you were tough.
And I am just like you. Instead of fighting with my fists, I mostly fight with my fingers. I am a writer.
I have never been afraid to stand up for myself or for what is right. A few years ago, I started my own company, which is partly my way of avenging the two boys that abused me and speaking out against injustice. Through my company, I share personal open letters about my life experiences and advocate for the changes I want to see in the world. Also, I ghostwrite open letters for other people. My writing has amplified many voices on various topics, including inequality, mental health, and grief.
Our letters saved a man on the brink of suicide and helped a teenager with a stutter build her confidence. I wrote a letter going off on a judge who decided not to send a rapist to jail. Unafraid to speak my mind, I fight not only for myself but for humanity.
My company welcomes and embraces people of all different backgrounds and circumstances.
Like you, I never judge anyone. You treated everyone the same, and people seemed to gravitate towards you. My dad told me the story of how they let this guy out of prison for a day to visit his family. He didn’t want to see his parents. He didn’t want to see his friends. All he wanted to do was see you – Herby from the Shell gas station on Jerome Avenue in the Bronx.
Whether someone went to jail for murder or sold drugs, or got in a fight, I never judge. I listen. I get to know people based on what I learn for myself, not what I hear from others. From what I have seen so far, often, when people make mistakes, there is more to people’s stories than meets the eye.
Lastly, Grandpa, you had an unmatched zest for life. Neither IVs nor tubes down your throat could stop you from cracking jokes. When you were sick in the hospital and looking for grandma, you’d ask the nurses if they could find the hot blonde. You never went grey, dying with a full head of curly black hair – probably because you always had a smile on your face. You enjoyed life and its little moments no matter the situation.
I have a very similar love for life. My parents tell me that I was born laughing and smiling instead of crying. It makes sense to me. I wake up in the morning excited for the day to start. And whether it’s playing with my dog, going for a workout by the beach, or spending time with my friends and family, I find happiness in each day.
Grandpa, I miss you so much. I wish you were here when I graduated college. I wish you could see how I stand up for myself and others. I wish you could see how I have helped people. I wish you could see that I made it on TV, and I wish you could see that I had the courage to create a company that is all my own.
I am sad you are not here for my life, but I am certainly grateful you are with me on this journey.
Grandpa, I not only carry on your athletic genes, but I am damn proud to tell you I also embody your spirit.
Every day, I live my life honoring your legacy by fearlessly staying true to who I am. And because I know exactly where I came from, I am confident that I can go anywhere.
I miss you and love you so much.
P.S. You’d be proud of my dad. He’s one of us.
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