“I’m all out of patience, I don’t want to play this game with you anymore.”
“I’m not playing any game, I’m telling you the truth. I’m trying to help you.”
“Well then, just take me home.”
“We are home.”
My family and I moved into a house on my maternal grandparents’ property the summer before I started 5th grade. As a 10 year old, I didn’t really understand the move; I hated leaving my friends and my house, my tomato garden and my favorite neighbor, Frank. The only upside I could figure was that we were going to live within walking distance of my Grammie and Papa.
When I was little, visiting their house had always been a treat. I’d sit at my Grammie’s vanity mirror for hours, patting my face with powder and putting lipstick on wrong; I’d wander out to the front yard and hop along the rocks that lined the driveway as my Papa picked me an orange and told me a story; I’d fill up a plastic cup with mini marshmallows and sit at the kitchen table with my sister and talk about what I wanted to be when I grew up. They were lazy days. Wonderfully innocent, slow moving, lazy days.
A few years later we moved into our current house and my Grammie and Papa bought a new house up in the hills.
The summer before my senior year of high school, my Papa died in his sleep of a heart attack. It was a Sunday morning; my mom had gone to church and my sister was at a softball tournament. I had just turned on a movie when the phone rang and my Grammie broke the news to my dad. The whole extended family was in her living room an hour later, crying and hugging and sharing stories, rehearsing for the funeral a week later, when the emotions would be fresh all over again.
Eventually my Grammie moved into a two-bedroom house 5 minutes from ours, and my mom visited biweekly to check in and grocery shop. On one visit, my mom noticed a substantial decline in her health and took her directly to the emergency room.
For months after we visited the hospital daily. She constantly slipped in and out of consciousness, persistently asking for long deceased friends and a visit from my Papa. We were prepared for her impending departure, wondering each night if our goodbyes were final. Miraculously however, she survived and moved in with us.
For the first year, most conversations drifted to the future. To the plans she wanted to make when she was “better” and no longer lived with us. To her, this illness, this unrelenting weakness, it was all temporary. She truly believed that one day she would wake up without brittle bones and emphysema, without confusion or age-induced irritation. It was all about getting to then. Everything would be better then. But as time went on, then got farther and farther away.
A few weeks ago, as I walked in the door from work, it felt like any other day. I set my bag down, took off my coat, and waved to my Grammie sitting in her chair. It rocked lightly as she responded with a small smile, her gaze flickering from mine to the TV. I continued back to my room and looked out the window at the sunset. Colors exploded in the sky in a beautiful display that left me in an anticipatory awe. For in our house, the disappearance of the sun offers more than a dark sky.
I walked into the kitchen and unpeeled a banana as I sat down at the counter to sift through the mail.
“Here I am! Here I am!” my Grammie shouted as she came bustling out of her room into the hallway. I caught her just as she reached the dining room, still accessorized with her nasal cannula. I hurried to her side, warning her of the length of her oxygen cord, reminding her that if she walks too far, it could pull her back and make her fall.
“I had to get out of there,” she said slightly flustered. “They are holding court in there, and I had to leave because of all the people.”
My mom and I exchanged a knowing look.
“Let’s just get out of here and go home,” my Grammie said impatiently.
“Mom, we are home, this is our home, you live here with us,” my mom replied calmly.
“Why must you play all these games with me?” her voice cracked with tearful exhaustion, “Kimberlee, why don’t you take me home then,” she said with an accusatory tone directed at my mom.
I took a deep breath and began my explanation, trying to muster the calmest voice I could to mimic the one previously used by my mom. My mirrored response however, was unsurprisingly, less than satisfactory. Grammie leaned into herself, fighting internally against the thoughts and beliefs we’d now negated and physically cringed as she tried not to argue that we’re wrong.
My mom changed the subject, asking how my day was and what sounded good for dinner, hoping to spark a sense of normalcy in the room. In between stories, I noticed my Grammie’s eyes begin to glaze and I let mine do the same. I thought of those days I saw her smoking on the front porch and of all the post it notes my sister and I left on her fridge, asking her to stop. I thought of the summers I spent running around in her backyard in floral dresses and muddy tennis shoes, and of the afternoons we spent on the porch swing, talking about nothing as she stroked my brown hair and told me it looked like “spun gold.”
When she returned to the rocking chair in her room, her eyes once again glued themselves to the television. My mom turned on the Kings’ hockey game, and my Grammie lit up in response.
“I’m their good luck charm, you know,” she said, giggling under her breath. It was a playful laugh, laced with innocence and joy. It was a glimpse into the woman I want to remember, the woman she’d want me to remember, when the time comes that her rocking chair is empty.
“Kimberlee” she called my name sharply from her room a few hours later.
“Yeah Grammie? What can I get you?”
She looked up at me, a familiar gloss over her eyes.
“Please, just take me home.”
I smiled lightly, hoping that somehow, through all of this, we’re helping her get there.