It's days away from the New Year. Considering what happened this time last year and the point at which our story has unfolded in this blog, I should be writing about the painful details after my car accident and the rocky relationship I had with The Girl but for some reason I've had something else on my mind.
The Girl was beautiful, but unaware of it, with penetrating, soulful eyes and an infectious smile that, when you were privileged to see it, would make your heart melt. But this entry is not about her, or about not having car insurance, or about my deteriorating home life, tonight I lie awake thinking about my Grandmother. As you may recall, my Grandmother has Alzheimer's. She's my last living grandparent. But in a way, I don't feel like she's living at all.
I’m okay with her not remembering my name, I can deal with that. For a long time I could walk into her house and say, "Hi Gramma" and she'd look up at me, with a beautiful, genuine smile, and kiss me on the cheek. She knew my face, she knew I belonged to her in some way and that was enough for me. I didn't care if she knew where I worked or how old I was, as long as she knew that I belonged to her, that I was hers.
Truth be told, as the illness took her and she remembered less and less, she still seemed to remember me, more so than my young cousins. They entered her life after the demon known as dementia had already taken hold, whereas I and the cousins closer to my age, were in her life before she lost her memory. My young cousins won't know the fabulous, generous woman she was regardless of how much we talk about her. They can watch the few short video clips we have and laugh about how different she seemed, but they’ll never know her. Of the Grandchildren, my eldest cousin Sean and I are the only ones that really knew her. I'm sure I'll be judged by saying this and perhaps get some raised eyebrows but I'd like to think I was the closest to our Gramma, for the simple reason that I spent more time with her, I even lived with her and Papa for a year.
I was thirteen when I lived with them, a horrible age, and I had a horrible attitude to go with it and a million neuroses on top of that, but there was a part of me that loved being around her so much, I could forget being thirteen sometimes and just be her sweetheart. As much as I complained back then, I'd go to seven a.m. mass with her every morning if she asked me to now.
Papa was in a wheel chair by then and my mother and I had temporarily left her Husband and Georgia to live in Florida and help Grandma take care of him. We came midyear and I finished eighth grade at the local middle school. By fall, She would home school me, which meant I would spend all day with Grandma.
At that stage in my life, I was obsessed with organizing things. I'd organize her closet monthly, everything by sleeve length and color (just as I do now with my job). I’d try on her fancy beaded Floridian shoes and arrange them by style. I'd rummage through her unused purses, all holding the remains of their last use: Kleenex and Equal packets! Sometimes when I was in the house alone, I'd sneak into her storage closet just to peek at her wedding dress, preserved in a plastic garment bag, alongside my papa's old suits, golf clubs, and other stowed away treasures. I'd stare at that dupioni silk dress, simple yet gorgeous, for several minutes and imagine myself wearing it one day. Once, I unzipped it, and ran my fingers across the fabric. It amazed me to touch something my grandmother had worn in the 50's, a dress that was made just for her, made to fit her body like a glove. It was regal. No dress since has ever felt how that dress felt to me then.
I was seven years old and living in New Hampshire when I took my first big trip alone to my Grandparents house. I was a brave one; I could handle Rhode Island without my Mom. I had Grandma and Tasha, my stuffed bear. It would be a fun getaway, with picnics on the rocky beaches, trips to the roadside produce stand where we’d buy golden ears of corn and small red potatoes, nighttime excursions across the river for ice cream cones, one flavor piled high on top of the other. Little did we know hurricane Bob would strike a day after my arrival.
The storm reached its peak late at night. I had been asleep for a few hours when howling winds, crashing limbs and glass blowing out of the cellar windows would wake me up. I started crying and calling out for someone. Sunny, my grandparents golden retriever, came first and jumped into bed with me. Then came Grandma, with her frazzled hair and flowered mu-mu, to sit on the edge of the bed, comforting and holding me until the chaos outside subsided and I fell back asleep.
Most of my memories are bits and pieces all jumbled together: sitting on her copper bar stools at the bar in kitchen watching her make me pancakes, my feet dangling and swinging about. Gramma's gardening clogs on the patio in Rhode Island, her long line bra's air drying in the laundry room, her nose deep in a book while curled up on the blue leather chesterfield sofa. Little things. I wish I could hold on to every memory I ever made with my Grandmother, my Grandfather, and my Father but over time, you lose them as much as you try not to. As hard as you try to hold on, they still slip away. You forget the sound of their voices, their mannerisms, and how they smell.
Aside from Alzheimer's, she's perfectly healthy which makes everything worse. As morbid as it sounds, sometimes I wished for a heart attack or stroke, something fast, for her and my grandfather. It’s so hard to watch someone you love fade away over the course of a decade. Once in a while, she'll say something or laugh and your heart leaps for a moment, and you think it's a bit of her old self coming back, but it’s gone as quick as it came. She still doesn't know who you are.
I don't see her as much now and I feel guilty about that but it's too painful. When I do see her, I’m foolishly hoping that she'll wake up and be completely lucid, just so I can have her back again a little while before she leaves this world. It’s a fool’s dream, but one I can’t let go of. She's just a shell of someone she used to be and lately, I feel like I'm the same way. ~Braticas