A colorful illustration of the state of New Mexico covered the side of the U-Haul. On top of New Mexico was an alien. A looming, green alien with a pointed chin and bottomless black eyes, our traveling companion, our sentry standing guard as the miles between Ohio and Colorado fell away. The U-Haul was on the smaller side. But then, we had just graduated and gotten married. We didn’t own much more than our newly acquired wedding presents, an old couch, a halogen lamp, and a hot pot.
Our wedding day had been unseasonably cool for August in Cleveland. Wet and gray, the ground soaked through. We said our I dos while the rain drummed against the stained glass windows, the sun poking out just as we cut into the flower encrusted cake.
On this morning - the day we packed up and moved our lives to Denver - it was warm, humid. The U-Haul door slid shut, disrupting the early morning peace. A cloudless blue sky peeked down on me through the thick green of the trees as I stood beside my alien and took it all in for the last time.
Standing in front of me, white hair curled delicately around her face, was my Mika-Maka. My grandmother. And the only grandmother in the entire world with that name. A name made-up by my cousin, but one that fit her like a glove. Because, that’s exactly what she was, a Mika-Maka. The only one of her kind. She grasped my hand in her velvet soft one and placed a flower in my palm. It might have come from my bouquet or from my parent’s yard, I was never sure. I held it to my nose and sniffed, it smelled good.
Then she put her arms around me and hugged me close. I held on, feeling so big, like her bones were fragile and I could crush her small body if I squeezed too hard. But I held on tight, because that’s what you do when you say goodbye to your Mika-Maka.
“I love you, Missy,” she told me, kissing me lightly on the cheek. She smelled good, too. Like chocolate fudge, zucchini bread, and flowers. I soaked it all in. And that hug, so brief against our shared lifetime of hugs, back scratches, hand-holding, and snuggles, is the one I hold in my heart today. The one I can recall vividly, like it was just yesterday. A gift, that hug. A gift I feel immeasurably grateful for receiving.
Because that was the last time I saw her.
Our lives have moved forward since that morning. The years have fallen away quickly, breathtakingly so, as did those miles on our journey to Denver with our meager possessions in tow. But that day, on the eve of the biggest chapter of my life, my memories remain rich in detail. They are mine to take with me as I travel - a flower, a new bride, an alien, and a Mika-Maka.