I’m convinced only the masochistic come back to their hometown. They’re the kind of people who love waking up crabby children after they’ve had five glasses of water, two stories and three searches for monsters before falling into a fitful sleep. Because they were those children in their youth. They’d sit on their tiny butt on the front porch for hours, picking a new scab with the ferocious curiosity of a cannibal, or aim a magnifying glass at an unsuspecting ant with clinical precision. But “they” is such an accusatory pronoun. What I really mean is “I.” I am they. Them. Whatever. Anyway, some mental meltdowns are inevitable when your room is a mountain range of boxes, you run into your junior high peers at the local bar and almost all of your grandparents seem doomed to imminent death. Let’s be altruistic and address the last one, shall we?
First of all it is a nice place. I mean, lots of people say that about the closets where they lock away their old folks, but this one really is. It’s called “Linden Ridge” and has a backyard garden area (with high fences by the dementia unit) with trees and vegetables and a screened-in gazebo where we sit with my grandpa and toss out names like cheerios before a hamster, hoping to coax him out of the haze and into some state of memory. We can’t make him remember, but we can make him laugh. Well really anyone can. He just laughs at everything. It isn’t disturbing, just startling. At first we all looked at one another, concerned and stern, but over time we just joined in. He’s having fun, why shouldn’t we? At least with him we can ignore reality. It’s not so easy with my grandmother, now that she’s getting worse.
We tap on her door and walk in gingerly, like atheists sneaking into a church on a Tuesday afternoon. We pass the bathroom without privacy, the furniture without comfort, and the flowers without life. She lays there, on a huge bed that seems as though it will swallow her any minute.
She’s bathed in sheets of the most celestial white, sheets that are too white for humanity – the kind of sheets people buy and stow away in their closets knowing they’ll never use them but are relieved they have them nonetheless. They hang off her pencil limbs like laundry on the line. I walk closer to her, and I can tell the moment I enter her line of vision. She gasps with unabashed joy.
“Oh my goodness. Oh please.” She trembles, smiles. “How wonderful. Oh please.” She begs our pardon endlessly, attempting to harness the moment with an increased incoherency. I smile and touch her face. She still babbles. “How wonderful. Oh please, how wonderful.” I’m crying. I keep caressing her cheek, trying to free her words, but they remain jumbled and bound. The damned morphine.
A day later she’s in some state of coma, breathing inconsistently, desperately every couple seconds. We sit on clownishly striped chairs around her, watching, like spectators at a predetermined high dive, waiting for disaster.