i don’t know that i’ve posted this anywhere… but i’m posting it now. i am putting together a collection of pieces about important events and important people in my life. included in this piece will be, obviously, the birth of hayden, and some highlights from the trek west… also a few pieces which are in the works now about the people that are closest to me… the tough subjects.
after going over this at my writers’ group tonight, i came home and went straight to work on filling this out. it’s good timing, too, because father’s day is coming up. and so is bampa’s birthday (29th of june) and the day he passed away (12th of july.) it’s funny, hayden was due on the two-year anniversary of bampa’s passing… but he was a bit late. nevertheless, hayden carries a small piece of bampa by sharing the same middle name. and i have a piece of bampa with me every day in the form of his wedding band.
i’ll be posting pieces as i complete them so check back every once in a while.
It is a warm July afternoon. My phone rings, displaying a number I do not recognize. It is Christina, the cousin I rarely speak to, and she sounds upset as she asks where I am.
“I’m in my kitchen.”
“You should sit down.”
“I am,” I say, as I continue to put the dishes away.
She breaks the news that the doctors do not think our grandfather will make it through the weekend. The floor falls from beneath me and, as thoughts flood my mind, I ask if they are sure. I ask how bad she thinks it is and if I should come now. Christina says it is up to me and wants to know who would drive me to the nursing home; I say that I will ride my Vespa. She suggests that I call someone for a ride, but I do not want to wait any longer than I need to. I quickly change my clothes and head out the door.
The ride from Beverly to Melrose is about forty-five minutes along back roads; despite my speed, it feels hours long. I arrive at the nursing home and park on the sidewalk by the front door. I do not waste time locking my scooter; all I want is to see Bampa. After living with him for 16 years, I know he is aware of how much he means to me, however I need to tell him once more that I love him, that I appreciate his visits to have dinner with me when I was at Boston Children’s Hospital with anorexia more than he could ever know. And I want to apologize for being such a headache during that time.
I think of all he will miss: my graduation from college, walking me down the aisle, and seeing his great-grandchildren. By the main entrance, I see an older woman sitting on a bench. I find it difficult to think that others are going about their day when such an important person is fading away.
In the room a crowd of family stands around Bampa’s bed. Memi stands near the door, her four children and their families at the foot of her husband’s bed. My Uncle Johnny is on Bampa’s right and my twin sister, Jewell, is on Bampa’s left.
My grandfather is wearing what has been his uniform for the last year: a well-worn white undershirt, blue cotton pajama pants, and his black slippers that I would borrow and wear around the house when I still lived with him. His misery is obvious as he attempts to pull the oxygen tubing from his nose; he knows that will end his life sooner. My sister offers her seat and I cannot sit fast enough. I hold Bampa’s wrinkled hand, now so thin he has used tape on his wedding band to prevent it from falling off. I feel his strength as he raises his hand toward his nose. I try my hardest to hold it down, but I am weak from heartache and have to use both my hands to keep him from taking out what has kept him alive for so long. There is no easy way for him to go. All he wants is the suffering to end and no one will allow it.
For years he has suffered with loneliness, never speaking about his family. I remember one afternoon, during my junior year of high school, his sister Gwen, who lived a town over at the time, called because their brother told her that Bampa had passed away. Whatever the reason for his lack of communication with his family, it must have been awful because even in his current state, he is mumbling about his brother, Leo, tricking him, not telling him that everyone else was going somewhere and leaving him at home. I regret that I did not ask more questions, that I did not try to understand his pain more because I’ll never know the true extent of his heartache.
Though it feels like only minutes, nearly an hour passes. I offer my seat to my grandmother but she graciously declines and remains standing, assuming the role of comforter to everyone else. Memi is a strong woman, but today her eyes reveal a sad duty. I want to hug her, but I want even more to be near Bampa. I am angry that he is not in a room of his own; there are three other patient beds in here and only five chairs forcing the majority of the family to stand while they gawk at Bampa as if he is a sideshow. “Stop staring at him,” I want to shout. “Do something! He should not be here!”
Nurses aides flood the room shortly after someone requests Bampa be moved to a private room. Bumping into things along the way, he is pushed in his bed through the tight corridor of the old, dingy building, past the other patients. They all know what is going on and stand motionless, looking at us in awkward silence. I hate every minute of this; I want everyone gone. I want to take Bampa’s suffering away more than I have ever wanted anything but I cannot. All I can do is hold his hand and tell him how much I love him. I want to make sure he knows just how much he means to me, how much I miss the days of kickball after dinner, hikes in the woods, and bicycle rides in the cemetery at the end of the street.
The new room is dimly lit, the yellow lights painting the pink walls an eerie peach. I park myself on one side of Bampa and my sister sits on the other. I look around the room for a clock. I am exhausted and everything feels heavy. Christina sits on the radiator beside me and takes my hand in hers. I squeeze and she squeezes back. People start leaving. They need to go home; they need sleep. Jewell and her boyfriend, Dave, decide it is time to leave as well. She and I glance at each other and look at Bampa’s ashen hands. We know what the other is thinking but say nothing. We know this is the last memory we will have of the man who filled in as our dad when our real father was absent, our last memory of the man whose cigarettes we so painstakingly flushed down the toilet when we were only seven years old. It takes Jewell a few minutes to move, to stand. She gives Bampa a kiss on the forehead and a few tears fall from her eyes as she whispers that his face is cold. I rack my brain for something to say, coming up with nothing. I do not get up to give Jewell a hug before she leaves because I fear that if I let go of Bampa’s hand I will lose him.
Most of the family has gone and my uncle offers to drive me home. “I can put your scooter in the back of my truck,” he says. I decline; I am not ready to leave; however, I do not want to stay. The idea of hearing my best friend’s last gasp sickens me. I want to remember him better than this. I want to remember the feisty spark in his eyes and his friendly, mischievous grin; I want to remember the bacon and the Mickey Mouse pancakes he would make for Jewell and I weekend mornings.
It is nine o’clock and I realize I cannot stay any longer, but I wait a bit before getting up to give Bampa a kiss on the cheek. I whisper one last time that I love him so much and I wait a second to see if he will respond knowing he will not, he cannot. I manage to sneak by everyone except my mother, whom I hug for the first time in a long time. I see tears in her eyes and I know she is not just sad about her father passing away.
Outside, cars pass by in slow-motion and the air smells of summer. With weak hands, I put my helmet on and start my scooter. I sit for a minute before I begin the long, dark, and now cold ride back to Beverly where I will wait for the phone to ring sooner than I ever could have expected. I hate that the one person I want to call is the one person I no longer can.