The cracks on the porch seemed much more prominent than usual. They split from one dominant crack into multiple smaller channels like the tributaries of a major river. As I analyzed the capillaries of cracks beneath me, I made a point of keeping my head down and my eyes out of sight. My brother sat next to me as other family members began to make the treacherous journey up the steep porch steps to their impending emotional demise. The only thing that seemed to calm me was to analyze the cracks on the porch. Did they all stem from one origin? Did they all occur at once? Did the rain erode them to their current state? All questions to distract myself from the indisputable truth. Why must people die when they do?

This crumbling porch sits on the corner of Hering Avenue in the Bronx. The small porch situated on the top floor of a two-family home has soaked up countless memories and experiences over its lifetime. It is very same porch where my mother spent summers basking in the hot summer air. The very same porch where my father and mother glanced at one another for the first time. The very same porch where my grandfather read the paper and kissed my grandmother goodbye on his way to work. That porch has experienced a great deal of emotions, and for the first time, I was the one sitting in a chair on its hard concrete flooring, wondering to myself why my grandfather had to die.

My grandfather always enjoyed getting a good deal. It wasn’t necessarily that he was a cheap man, but he grew up in a family of little wealth and was not accustomed to wasting any opportunity on a valued purchase. My brother and I would often venture to the attic of my grandparents’ two family home where we would clamber up the steep steps and make it to the top with a burst of adrenaline like climbers reaching the summit of Mount Everest. The attic sourced so much mysticism that it seemed like we would find the Holy Grail among what my grandmother described as “a whole bunch of junk”. Unfortunately, we never did make a grandiose discovery, but the attic held the physicality of the past, mediocre points in history that many of us simply overlooked. There were encyclopedias, clothes, a painting or two and drawers filled to the brim with rubber bands.

My grandfather could be described as a stereotypical American male. He was a Korean War veteran, a small business owner, an avid coin collector and a straight-ticket Republican voter. Like my mother and father, my grandparents also lived around the block from one another and first locked eyes when they took the train together to Manhattan. He owned a deli on White Plains Road in the Bronx and worked long and arduous hours to support his family. Coming from an extremely poor family, my grandfather spoke often about having to eat ketchup on sliced bread for dinner. Because he lacked wealth when he was younger, he learned to cherish every moment at the deli. Every night he would wrap up a half pound of mortadella with the rubber band around his wrist for my mother to snack on when he got home.

After the deli had closed and my grandfather retired he spent most of his time reading the newspaper, washing his already spotlessly clean car and loving every second of being a grandfather, all with a rubber band tightly secured around his wrist. Some may think that the rubber band around his wrist was a reminder of the work that he loved so much, but to me the rubber band stood for so much more – my grandfather secured loose objects and brought broken pieces together. He put others before himself, and if you needed something accomplished, he would always be there to help. My grandfather died with a rubber band around his wrist, now only acting as a memory of his accomplishments, a memento of his success.

Life seemed to spin out of control when I finally stepped off the porch. When the wake was finally underway and the tears finally started to dry up from lack of production, out of the corner of my eye I saw my cousins’ wrists all adorned with rubber bands. Instead of seeing the body of a man that I used to know, my mind began to flourish. Memories struck my mind of a hardworking man that put others before himself. A man that only ever wanted to make others be filled with joy. A man that fought for his beliefs no matter how contentious they may have seemed. He was truly an incredible human being and it saddens me even more now that I can finally see and appreciate the person that he truly was. I, now, wear a rubber band around my wrist. Not only as a keepsake of my grandfather, but as a reminder of my goals. I’d be lucky to one day be half the man that he was and I’d do anything to let him know that now.

Nick Perrone