Sunday, September 9, 2007

T.G.I.F., 1993

a personal essay:


My great-grandmother. Her days are getting shorter. She coughs, eats, sleeps, coughs, eats, sleeps. This is the last time I see her: she's tucked in bed, two whole hours before my head even hits a pillow. The room is cramped and old-smelling, her face buttery next to the lamplight, wrinkles upon wrinkles, a toothless, tired grin. She speaks Russian; I speak English. She thinks I'm a good, little boy. She kisses my forehead and I kiss her cheek and then I'm out of there.

I'm eight years old. I like chicken nuggets and pepperoni pizza but not much else; I'm so skinny my ribs show. Velcro shoes are pretty cool, so they're on my feet forever. My third grade teacher is Ms. Morris; she wears too much makeup and her hair is yellow. I don't like her.

Every morning my mom cakes my hair with spray but two little follicles stick up anyway. She tells me not to touch my hair but it's wet and crunchy so I can't help myself. It's October 14, 1993. Tomorrow is Friday, new episodes of Family Matters, Boy Meets World, Step by Step, and Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper. My mom and I will share a bowl of popcorn and watch them all. On Saturday I have a soccer game. I don't have time for death.

That night my mom lingers in the driveway, her body bathed in the orange halo from the light above the garage door, her back turned to me. A phone call is how she hears the news. My great-grandmother is gone, the woman who fed my mom when my mom was little, clothed her, raised her, loved her.

Quietly I watch her from the garage. Before tonight, my parents talked: I need to go see her, my mom would say, she’s not well. Just for a few days. Alex has soccer practice, she told my dad, you’ll need to take him there.

I’m scared. A few days are too many for me. I don’t want my mom to go anywhere for any reason. Maybe she won’t go now, I hope, there’s no point. I don’t think about the funeral. Only flickers of my great-grandmother run through my mind; I don’t know her well enough to mourn the right way.

The next day my mom leaves town. She assures me that everything’s going to be just fine, just fine. My stomach feels heavy and empty at the same time.

I watch my shows alone. Boy Meets World is funny because Corey gets a bad haircut and hangs out with the nerds. On Step by Step, they’re selling bogus book reports to the stupid football team and then on Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, Coop’ is a Driver’s Ed teacher and he almost runs somebody over. I laugh and my heavy-empty stomach feels a little bit better.

Like mom said, everything’s going to be just fine.
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of when my Dad died and my son was far too young to understand the concept of death. He never saw his Grandfather sick as "PaPa" died suddenly from a heart attack in his home 500 miles away from us. My son loved and admired his Grandfather deeply, but since he was so young, I did not take him to the funeral. He still has fond memories of the time he spent going fishing and spending vacations with his grandfather.

I would love to know that my presence meant this much to my son when he was this age. What an awesome tribute to your Mom and the relationship you shared, Alex. I'm wondering if you realized that when you were writing this essay.

JS

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