The words, “Be in the moment. Clear your mind, and just be in this moment.” rattled around in my head on an endless broken loop.The words got louder and louder the more they were repeated. I’m not good at letting my mind rest and I’m fucking terrible at capturing moments. Some people have what they call, a “photographic memory”… mine works more like Snapchat. I hold information in for about seven seconds and then it’s gone forever. Next story.
I remember I was sitting an uncomfortable hospital chair. I was gazing out of a window overlooking a small tree line that was attached to a barren parking lot. My grandmother’s fragile voice could vaguely be heard in background of the shouting phrase, “BE IN THE MOMENT!”
She is ninety two years of age and is full of two things. Piss and vinegar. She had recently fallen down and broke her elbow, so her left arm was in a cast. She fell again a couple weeks after that and sprained her right wrist. Yup, both arms were completely wrapped up. They just flapped around to her sides like a drunken penguin.
Watching her eat could have been viewed as an olympic event. She would hold her fork with one hand, steady it with the other and bend forward as far as she could and sort of flip food into her mouth. She had the accuracy of a young Shaquille O'Neal at the freet hrow line.
It was hard to watch, on many levels. First, because she refused any help whatsoever. At one point, I made the mistake of scooting her pudding cup two inches closer to her seal like grip and she screamed, “YOU TRYING TO FEED ME LIKE A BABY?!”
“No” I nervously responded. “I just wanted to help out.” She pointed her head down like a bull and in a low tone said, “I don’t need anyone’s help. I’m fine.”
She then proceeded to clap her hands together in a sloppy attempt to pick up her spoon. It slid across the slick plastic food tray like an air hockey puck. Banking off the side railings for a few moments before she cornered it, scooped some pudding up and then tossed it towards her hunched and widened mouth.
It was also hard to watch because even though my grandmother is in her early nineties - Well, there’s nothing really “early” about your nineties. Anyways, even though she was older than time itself. She has always been active. I don’t mean like, she still walks out to get her newspaper in the yard active. I mean, the woman will still fight you over a shovel in the middle of winter, active.
I can almost hear her voice cutting thru the frost at me now, “I’m going to shovel my driveway and if I die doing it, then I die doing it! Now, go inside!”
They say you should never meet your heroes, but I’d argue it’s worse to watch them get old. I’d rather meet Batman and find out he’s a dick than watch him groan as he uses one of those shoe horns to put his bat boots on in the morning.
“I’m going home tomorrow” she said with a grin.
“Is that what the doctor said? You could go home?” I responded loudly so her elderly ears could pick up my response.
“Yes. He said I could go home.” she repeated, even happier.
“I think he said you could go to ‘A home’ but not YOUR home.” I said with a chuckle.
“I’M NOT GOING TO A NURSING HOME -- I’M GOING HOME!” She erupted.
“You’re not going home” I calmly rebutted.
“Why not?” She asked firmly.
“Cause you got no fucking arms!” I replied.
“I have arms! I don't have hands!” she spit back at me.
“Even worse!” I said.
Just then her room mate chimed in from the other side of the closed curtain, “The doctor said she needs to be in a nursing home.”
Grandma leaned in close to my face, “I’m going to smother her” she said with a fiery whisper.
We sat in silence for a few moments after that exchange. Well, it wasn’t silent for me. I was still repeating my new mantra in my head. “BE. IN. THE. MOMENT…”
“I’ve thought about throwing myself down the basement steps.” She revealed in monotone. “I don’t know why I’m still here. I don’t know why he won’t take me already.” she continued.
What a sad and haunting thought. Existence.
My grandmother is one of only two children left out of nine other siblings. She lost her husband back in 1994 and two out of her three children have passed away as well. A few months ago she had a hip replacement. Then she had colon cancer for a week. Yes, a literal week and then she had it surgically removed. Now she’s sitting in a hospital bed with two barely usable arms and pudding stains all over the front of her gown.
So, I didn't’ blame her. I’d want to throw myself down a set of stairs myself if I was her.
“I fell out of my bed and I couldn’t get up.” She began to tell me.
“Yeah, I’ve seen that commercial.” I interrupted.
She laughed, “No, no I’m serious. I just laid there for a few moments wondering if I was gonna die… and when I didn’t die I decided to crawl to the kitchen.”
“What?! Where you planning on making a sandwich before calling life alert?” I said, cutting her off again.
“I scooted all the way to the kitchen on my back.” She said as she began to wiggle around in her squeaky hospital bed. “I thought that if I got to the kitchen I could stand up.” She continued.
“So after wiggling halfway down the hallway on your back, you still thought you could do it, huh?” I sarcastically questioned.
She giggled and then sunk her head down in defeat. “I hate it here.” She murmured just loud enough for Jesus to hear.
“I keep calling Mary by your mother’s name. I know she hates it… She hates me. I don’t mean to do it. I just miss Nancy.” My grandmother confessed.
My mother, Nancy and her were very close. They were more like sisters than mother and daughter. I think it stems from the abandonment of my mother’s biological father. Grandma never talks about him but when she does there are only two stories to choose from. Spoiler alert, both are equally heartbreaking.
Anyways, I think grandma carried a lot of guilt from Nancy’s father leaving when she was a baby and wanted to make it up to her with extra love and attention. I also think they genuinely cared for each other as well, duh. But guilt is a funny little demon. It seems to attach itself to everything.
To be fair, Nancy’s biological father didn’t really bail on them… It’s a little more complicated than that. See, he was a physically abusive alcoholic and when Grandma threatened to leave him after my mother was born he took her on a long drive into the woods. Yeah, just like all the Lifetime movies you’ve seen. Finally when they were near a river bend he took out a gun and sat it on his lap. He told my grandmother he was going to kill her and throw her into the water.
I don’t know what it is with super villains and bragging about their plans but it always seems to happen.
So grandma waited til they were rounding a heavily weeded area and in one smooth motion, she swung her large chevy car door open and rolled to safety. She ran into the thick of the woods to hide for a few hours. Then she hitched a ride back to town and never saw him that man again until my mother’s second birthday party. He stopped by just long enough to curse my grandmother out and abandon my mother for good. You know, like a gentleman.
“Be in the moment. Clear your mind, and just be in this moment.”
“Tomorrow is Thursday, right?” My grandmother’s question broke through my mantra.
“Yeah, tomorrow is Thursday.” I responded.
Her face got long and she looked towards the window trying to hide her tears.
“You leave on Thursday…But you don’t have to leave, ya know?” She said with little confidence.
I put my hands on hers. Well, her good hand. Well, the one with less bandages on it. It felt like I was holding hands with Fire Marshall Bill. I gripped her wrinkly and torn skin as the light texturing of ACE bandage covered my palm.
“I’ll be back in June.” I reassured her. “But for now, let’s just be in this moment. What do you say?”
“Okay…I could sit with you in this moment forever. I love you, honey. More than you’ll ever know.” She said holding back tears.
Just then a voice came thru the curtain once more. “Did you hear me? The doctor said she needs to be in a nursing home.” She shouted.