My grandma loved to travel. I called her Ammamma, which literally translates to “Mom Mom” in English (this was fitting because she did have twice the Mom power). Ammamma went on her final trip this January. When I heard that she was packing up to leave, Mom and I flew over to India. We wanted to help her pack, but really we wanted to convince her to stay. We sat in the hospital waiting room every day for 7 days while she packed her things. She didn’t seem too sure about going at times; we would take turns going in to see her in the ER and convince her to stay. For a while we really thought she was going to listen to us. But in the end she had packed all her things and insisted on leaving. She left so she could finally see the rest of the Earth, but also to see whatever was beyond – this planet was probably too small for her travel bug.
Ammamma left us, but she left behind one red suitcase after all her packing. It was some sort of parting gift to me. I decided to open it: it was big, like the suitcases I would bring to India that were filled with Western chocolates for my cousins. When I opened it, it wasn’t stuffed with chocolate though. There was just a bunch of boxes, different sizes, shapes, and colors. As I peeked into some of the boxes, I realized each box had a message in it along with a vial, and each vial had colors swirling around in them, sort of like lava lamps or the potions in Harry Potter stories. Each one looked and swirled a little differently. I was confused but then I saw a note tucked away behind the top zipper inside of the suitcase. It was written on simple lined paper, like the kind Ammamma used to write God’s name a thousand times every day.
The note said the suitcase was full of her regrets, and I’d have to keep them now. They weren’t regrets of the past, she wrote, since she’s had a long and good life, and we’d spent enough time in each other’s company. No, these were future regrets. All the moments in my life she would regret to miss, since she had to leave for her trip. I would have to carry these future regrets until the right moment, she wrote, because they should never be opened early. The sadness would be too overwhelming if I did that.
Now that I understood, I decided to open the boxes one by one. The first colorful one on top of the others was labeled “Marriage”. I opened the ornate box and found a very decorated vial within. The future regret was swirling around with a bright orange color, dancing around the vial excitedly. I knew it shouldn’t open it yet, so I just loosened the cap a little, just enough to hear the faint noise of wedding trumpets and dancing inside, the smell of food and friends and tears of joy. I tightened up the lid again and read the accompanying note. Ammamma wrote that she would regret not being able to bless me at my wedding, to look my wife up and down and smile with approval. After 63 years together with her husband, she said she could’ve given me a lot of good advice. I put the note and vial away and took out the next box, labeled “Children”.
The second box had a vial with light, airy swirls of pink and blue that seemed to be playing with each other. When I loosened the top a bit, it sounded like innocent laughter and even more innocent tears; it smelled like sleepless nights and baby food and family. Ammamma wrote that she would regret not being able to hold my children in her lap and make silly faces at them. She said she would’ve liked to be there to tell my Mom to relax, to teach her how to be as good a grandma as she was. That last bit of cockiness made me giggle. I put this box away too, and reached for the one labeled “Success”.
This vial was bigger than the other ones, it had separate compartments but all of the regrets were swirling around in a bright blue cloud, speckled with white and gold. It looked like a dream and I could’ve stared at it for days. When I finally opened it just slightly, I heard the sounds of applause, I heard my name being called by announcers at microphones. I smelled the aroma of books, and the intoxication of education and wealth and power. Ammamma wrote that she would regret not being able to clap for me at my PhD graduation, or see the dedication page of my first book with her name on it. She would’ve told her friends about me with pride, she said, would’ve shown them my Wikipedia page. She wished she could’ve been there to comfort me when the first attempt didn’t work out, because she had the faith to know nothing would stop me. She warned me to act on my dreams too, instead of just dreaming about them. With that warning, I finished the note and took one last look at the beautiful blue swirls before putting away the vial and box. With three boxes out of the suitcase, I could tell the next one took up a lot of space – it looked like a heavy regret. I heaved out the box labeled “Growth”.
This vial was even bigger than Success, as big as a basketball, but not as pretty. The regret was swirling around in one thick yellow wave, slowly undulating up and down for what seemed like forever. This one sounded like a regular day, with voices and traffic and arguments and laughter. It smelled like suburbia and trees, and the changing of the seasons. Ammamma wrote that this vial was an exception to the rule. This vial was so big because I’d have to let it out drop-by-drop over the course of a lifetime instead of waiting for specific moments. This regret, she wrote, was for all the regular moments she would never see, all the mistakes I was going to learn from, and the wounds she could no longer kiss. This vial was because she wished so dearly that she could’ve seen me grow, slowly coming to terms with the passage of time like she had. It was because she wished she could continue to be a part of my life. Ammamma left directions: I’d have to open this every now and then, but just a careful drop, because it would be make me sad. Sad to remember her absence, the lack of her gleeful voice on the other end of our weekly phone calls to India. Every time I opened it, I would also need to open the vial she had packed underneath it she wrote. Impatiently, I put down her note and let out a bit of “Growth” before waiting.
Immediately, I saw memories of Ammamma cooking my favorite dishes, going walking with me in the evenings and proudly telling neighbors that I was her grandson. I remembered the way my Mom would lie in her lap and look absolutely vulnerable just because she could be a child again in that one place. I remembered the shouts between Ammamma and my grandpa that would be followed with laughter. And when I remembered all these things, I started to cry uncontrollably. I cried because I wished she was still there with me, just like the note warned me about. Squinting through teary eyes, I put away the vial and desperately reached for the last box, hoping for it to be a huge, but instead found the smallest box yet: “Love”.
When I took out the vial, it was effortlessly light and inside was a viscous swirl of red, but it didn’t look or move like the other regrets. It was perfectly still, constant in every sense. When I opened it slightly, it sounded like the laughter of old friends and the lullaby of a new mother. But it smelled even better, just like hugs from Ammamma. Ammamma wrote that this too was an exception, and it truly was not a regret at all. She said I could open it now and dump it all out, and it would just replenish itself over and over. I remembered her directions from the last box and decided to dump out the Love to cure my sadness, before I even finished reading the note. As it exited the vial, the Love ballooned and enveloped me immediately, I felt that I was floating and someone had wiped away my tears with a mother’s expertise. And then I smelled Ammamma’s hugs. I heard the sound of her voice shouting “Hellllooo Abhi” when I would arrive at her front door in Vijayawada. Then I closed my eyes and I saw it too, so vividly I saw the memory of her racing to hug me at the door when I arrived, telling me it’s been too long, and what will I eat, and why am I still so skinny? I could see her right in front of me, smiling up at me with 5’1” of pure affection, and we both just laughed at the feeling of holding each other again after so long.
Then, just as it started, the vision went away, then the sounds, then the smells. But that floating feeling lingered, and the smile was being so stubborn that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud again. I watched the Love replenish itself and since it was small I just packed it right in my pocket so I would always have it. I put all the other boxes back in the suitcase, just the way Ammamma had arranged them. Just before I zipped up the suitcase, I remembered that I hadn’t finished reading Ammamma’s note for Love, so I sat down to finish her words:
“I left you with so many future regrets because there is so much I wanted to experience with you. When you reach your milestones in life, when you’re married or write your first book, you’re going to feel my absence because of those regrets. But for every future regret I left you, remember that I also left all my love here for you. Consider this love my soul, understand that it is both endless and effortless, and will stay with you long after you’ve made your own final journey.