Oh little Lilly! I know you hear me, but you can’t say anything. You grumble and you giggle, but you don’t answer me. Maybe it’s for the best. I’m too old, you’re too young. Both ends of a thread, my end fading fast.
I like to watch you there, in your little bassinet, tucked in the fluffy red blanket your grandma knitted for you. You move your tiny hands about, and try to grab things I cannot see. I wonder what your brain sees. There are no toys around. What can you see in the blank ceiling of this cubicle?
I’m afraid, my dear, that you will not remember me. And that you will not know how it was for me. Living, I mean. You won’t know about the airplanes, the trains, the blenders and the big houses we lived in. You grandma already forgets, most of the time. She was only a child when things started to change, it’s understandable. I forget every now and then, but that’s because I’m old.
I’m afraid you’ll never understand how it is to want something. Your mom doesn’t want, your dad does not want. They request something and they are granted their wish. We now have every possibility, we go where we want, when we want, and there’s no need to waste time moving around.
You won’t know that there was this tin can called a plane, where we would sit inside and wait for hours on end to get somewhere else. Whoever made those things wanted us to be like birds, so they gave it wings. But they looked nothing like birds. They were horrible and cold. Made of metal and full of fake comforts on the inside. Birds are beautiful, you will find out, eventually. And they’re also very kind, if you treat them well. These things would carry 300 people inside them, occupying tiny seat and some, not all, feeling better than they should, given the conditions. You had to stay put for most of it. Your legs would hurt but there wasn’t many spaces where you could move.
I spent so much of my time in airplanes, Lilly... I was a sales executive when I was young. A sales executive is someone who does a bit of maths and smiles at strangers for financial gain. One day you’ll understand financial gain, but only in a very theoretical sense, maybe even historical. So I was one of them. I got into planes to go see strangers, and shake their hands, make them like me and spend their money with me. And I spent most of my days going to and from places. It was a life I had wished for, except it didn’t work the way I thought it would.
Your dad is an executive, too. But he’s here every night, isn’t he? He comes back home after meeting with strangers in far away places, and plays with you. Holds these tiny cold hands and kisses you. I couldn’t do that. Your grandma had a terrible childhood. I had to be places, for my career, and to be places you needed to get into an airplane and fly for hours on end until you reached somewhere else. It was the only way back then.
Maybe you won’t know what it is to dream of something. Why would we dream when we can have everything? You and your future friends will never dream of a different life, because you just need wish for it, and it’ll be yours. You don’t need to dream of seeing the world. Even after all these years, my little Lilly, even after all these years, I’m still not sure if this is a good or a bad thing. What is there to look forward to, if everything is available? I still dream. Maybe it’s better if you don’t.
When I was young, I dreamed I would one day live in Greece. That’s where I met your great-grandfather. Funny thing was we were born less than 50 km away from each other. But we had to meet under these strange conditions. I was there as a tour guide for a group of old Irish ladies. They were friends of my mom. I was 20 and it was my first time abroad. I didn’t speak much Greek, which you probably will do, if you want to. I wanted to learn it very well, but I was never any good at languages. I knew the basics, though. I was smart, at least a little. One night, in a restaurant, the group finished eating and they went inside to watch the bouzouki players. I stayed behind to study the itinerary for the next day. Colin, that’s your great-grandfather, my dear, came over and sat across from me. I looked up. He said just one sentence in Greek: “Kalispera, ise poli omorphi”. He smiled, and I didn’t know what to say. It meant ‘you’re very beautiful’, you’ll learn that in no time. I didn’t know how to respond because I wasn’t sure of what he said. I didn’t know that word, ‘omorphi’. Now I know, of course, Colin told me. I said ‘Efkharisto’ and kept looking at him, smiling, hoping the answer made sense. What do you do when a stranger says something you don’t understand? You just say thank you and smile. He then said something I wasn’t expecting. “Roscommon, yeah?” He never told me how he could have known that from me saying just one word in Greek. He said it was obvious from my accent. To this day, I think he was cheating. Someone must have told him.
From that day on, we didn’t want to be apart. But he lived in Greece. And I had a tour group to take around for 15 more days, and then home. I had to finish my degree back home, I had to get on with life. I wanted so much to be with him. Every day. We were supposed to be a summer love, just that, but it didn’t feel that way. So he followed me. He came back to Ireland and called me, and I no longer dreamed of living in Greece. I dreamed of living where he was, in the same house, no matter where. We got married. I finished my degree and he did his work. And we had your grandma, with her beautiful ginger hair. And then I got an important job at a very large company, which you’ll never know about as it doesn’t exist anymore. Maybe you’ll read about it. It was quite big and innovative. And this, dear, was the one thing I wished for, a big job in a big company. The big job was something that changed our lives. It was the reason I couldn’t be home most nights. Your great-grand... I’ll just say Colin, you know who he was, Lilly. Colin had to change Lulu’s diapers, and feed her, and take her to school most days. And I had to sleep in sad hotel rooms and see them through the computer. I don’t think you’ll ever see a computer like the one I had, either. It was a rectangular thing that would let you access information and see other people through video. Each person had their own, back then, and we needed plugs and energy, it was unnerving, but you could not live without it. I think it was much like the one you’ll have, only less convenient. Now it’s a thingy you have in your wrist as soon as you’re old enough. They don’t call it a computer anymore, though. It has a different name, but it’s just the same thing. I can’t use one, I feel like a robot when I put that thing on my wrist. You see, I’m really old.
At that time, I dreamed of being there for them, and not being away every other day. I dreamed of sleeping in my own bed, with Colin waking me up for egg and juice breakfast, and taking Lulu to school, seeing who her teachers were. I wanted to go out for dinner with Colin and watch a movie together before going to sleep, instead of eating with smiling strangers who wanted to get a good deal from the big company. Oh, and I’d buy the most adorable little clothes for Lulu! Everywhere I went. Only, I couldn’t see her wearing them, most of the time. I saw pictures of it, and Colin would make little videos so that I could see her as if I was there. But I wasn’t there, Lilly.
But you, my little one, you won’t dream of anything of the sort. You’ll get to go everywhere whenever you want to. If you want to be home for dinner with your mom and dad and then go to Cairo for a night out, you will do it. And you’ll have whatever you wish, just as soon as you can name it. You have a lovely family, and they’ll know to put limits on you, but you’ll get whatever is reasonable, you only have to want it. You’ll get a job you like and are capable of doing, and any life you could perhaps dream of. Only you won’t know to dream of it. It will be there, just waiting for you.
I can’t fathom what sort of thing you might dream about. Monsters and fantasies can be real if you want them to be. That’s also the downside. You may get things you didn’t really want, if you dream too hard about them. Your mom will help you get around that. It’s a skill, you just need to learn it.
And you’ll forget me, and the things I know. You’ll probably never think of me. I’ll die any day now. I’m a 134 and there’s no point in staying any longer. Colin is gone, your great-uncle George is gone. I’m glad we still have your granny around. She’ll tell you about me. And all these conversations we have, they’ll always be in your heart, I hope. But your granny won’t tell you how it was to yearn for something, or to dream of a different place, a different life. When she was old enough to understand, there was no need to understand it anymore, it was a simple curiosity. I’m a relic of times gone by. I’m a History book no one cares to open. I still wish for things, I was brought up that way. Except the things I wish for now couldn’t be given to me. I wish for my son to not have died so young. I wish for Colin to be here everyday. And I wish for a life I could not have had. A life I wouldn’t be wishing for, had I been born when you were. You won’t know such a thing as wanting what you can’t have. You’ll know only satisfaction.
I can only hope you’ll know happiness one day.