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Absent, Not Gone

So kindred were we that no words were needed to communicate our feelings.

“It’s you and me against the world.”

Those were the words my grandfather would often utter when I padded downstairs to kiss him goodnight. He was a quiet man who rarely indulged in idle conversation, let alone humor, but when he saw my face framed with messy hair, his brown eyes seemed to glow. He would smile for me. I would hoard his abrupt chuckles like a dragon would gold.

Unlike others in my family, he understood the sanctity of silence. So kindred were we that no words were needed to communicate our feelings and, if we did utter them, the sentences were short and succinct.

“You’re a thinker. Just like me.”

We were both habitual daydreamers. He would reminisce about his past life on an Indiana farm and long for the airplane he used to pilot shortly after leaving the Army Air Corp. I would gaze at my current surroundings with childish wonder and imagine how I could weave them into a new tale.

When the weather was favorable, I could be found dutifully tapping laptop keys and curling myself around a stalwart figure with a sundried face, who was swaying on our porch swing with closed eyes.

“I’m proud of you.”

I remember holding onto his wrinkled hand with its tremulous grip. Despite his sincerely kind words, I glanced downward in shame. I often felt like I had to be a superhero to make others proud of me, pushing myself to the limit, losing sleep in order to gain A’s, biting back complaints and smiling even though I screamed inside. But my grandfather saw that I tried and that was enough. He was proud of me, even when I failed.

Despite the relief of burden, I still didn’t know if I could continue to make him proud.

“You’re my favorite grandchild.”

I made him oatmeal and snuck him the occasional piece of chocolate. I applied eye drops and tucked him in for the night. I helped him put on socks and take off shoes. I washed bed sheets and folded clothes. I sat next to him when he wanted the company and spoon fed him when he was too sick to make a trek to the dining room table.

I handed him multi-colored pills to keep his heart pumping. I emptied bedside commodes and catheters when he was too weak to climb out of bed. I laid the back of my hand against his forehead when he was flush with fever. I watched over him in the dead of night when he was delirious with infection and thought that there were snakes on the curtains and crying babies down the hall.

I laid my head against his shoulder, the once brown flesh having been transformed into a sickly orange.

I felt his blood on my gloved hands and silently cursed the hospital staff for not cleaning him at least q2h- every 2 hours.

I listened to his labored, gurgled breathing when the water inside his lungs became more and more apparent.

I hated myself.

He was drowning and I could do nothing. I took out my stethoscope and scrunched my eyes shut in an attempt to hear a weak heartbeat overpowered by loud wheezing.

I felt a part of my heart break off and die when I heard my mother whisper at 4 o’clock in the morning that he had left us.

“Love you, babe.”

I thought of all the times I didn’t bother to make the trek downstairs for favor of homework and self-indulgent scribbling. Taunting flashes of memory caused me to bite my lip until it bled.

There will be no one to sit next to me on lazy Autumn afternoons and encourage me to think. There are no more wrinkled hands to hold or surprising bouts of laughter to treasure. There is only an empty hospice bed in an empty room with walls full of pictures.

I love him so much that it pains, and I still don’t know if I can continue to make him proud.

“It’s you and me against the world.”

I held a worn handkerchief soaked in Old Spice Classic, his cologne, up to my nose and allowed my eyes to drift closed. Tears rolled down my cheeks regardless. I thought my life stormy and uncertain. I feared that I had to learn to be that superhero who successfully battled her grief, or could at least contain her tears until she was certain no one saw and no one worried.

My hand clenched around the piece of white fabric and I pictured his face in my mind’s eye. I weakly smiled. I would continue to think, I decided.

I would continue to conquer the world and look up to the heavens to meet his glowing brown eyes.