Late one night when I was 9, I awoke to the sound of my own name. In the dim hallway just outside my bedroom stood an inky silhouette, and even though I couldn’t see its eyes, I knew that silhouette was staring at me.
Chills. Sweat. Panic. As the shadow shifted its weight, I saw something familiar in its posture. I recognized my grandfather. Relief mixed with my fear, but something still wasn’t right. I heard a jangle (the dog?) from the other side of the house, and Grandpa was gone.
I got up and walked down the hall to search for him, but stopped when I remembered it was no use. He’d passed away years ago. I can’t say with certainty that he visited me that night, but I’m sure of the unlikely mix of joy and panic I felt in that moment. I have felt it on two other occasions— both occasions were just as momentous. I want that one-two punch of emotion to have a name.
It needs a name.
Years later, I was sitting across from a friend in a red vinyl booth at an empty diner. A wobbly table separated us and dusty wreaths hung over our heads.
When our conversation turned to his current boyfriend, I discovered I was jealous. Ok, technically my friend was an ex, but he never felt like one. Our friendship never soured afterward like with other exes. I wanted him back. I wavered on telling him for a while (rejection itself was scary enough; re-rejection was mortifying), but eventually summoned the courage:
“I still compare everyone I date to you.”
His brows turned down as if to cry; his eyes searched my face. I was hit by that same one-two punch—scared to death of the risk I was taking but elated by my epiphany. After the longest pause of my life, he told me he felt the same way. We’ve been together ever since.
The third time I felt the one-two punch I was sitting next to my supine father a day after his triple by-pass. I’d never seen him so vulnerable— machines watching over him like sentinels, their cords reaching around every part of his limp body. He looked like he was caught in a web.
My mother and I were listening to him fill the room with words. He was terrified. We all were. As a nurse checked Dad’s blood pressure, Mom made a casual comment about how I must have driven 90 mph the entire way to the hospital because I got there so fast. “I thought I’d lost my father,” I snapped. “Of course I sped to get here.” A look crossed my Dad’s face before he slipped his hand into mine, keeping it there as he continued talking.
Dad is not the expressive type— that is the only time he’s ever held my hand in my adult life. I sat there fighting back tears because of the stress of the last two days, but also because I was so glad he was still with us.
What word could I use to describe the terrible gladness of that moment with my father, the scared elation of telling my ex I wanted him back, or the joyful panic of seeing my dead grandfather? Why is there no word for these horribly fantastic moments in our lives? There should be a word for it.