My grandma surrounds herself with photographs, spending more time with these images than with the people they represent. Voices from afar on the telephone respond to her existence, reminding her that people remember her, who she was, who she has become.
She is a shell of her former self.
I sleep next to her, hearing her breathing, in and out, the air it keeps her spirit alive. I wonder what she thinks, dreams about, as the days keep going by.
Morning brings the sun to my eyes. She's already awake sitting on an easy chair, waiting for me. In the bathroom I can hear her rumbling pots in the kitchen, she's trying to cook something. I come out to help her, telling her to sit down, take it easy.
She insists on cooking, so I let her. I watch her move, she's a blind person in the dark, unaware of the darkness, it's all the same to her. She reminds me that she cooks for herself all the time.
I eat and listen to her. She starts talking. I feel like I'm not there. She keeps going, stories, some sad some interesting, one about how on the hottest day of the year, she walked to the supermarket, on the other side of town, to eat a mango. A goal, her entire existence converging on a sweet mango. She touches it, tastes it, more real than pictures or voices from afar. I imagine her in the hot sun, alone on a park bench, eating all she knows. She's in the moment.
I look at her, I can't tell if she sees me. She gets quiet, she lies down on the couch. I sit in front of her reading, it's all I know to do. Occasionally she wakes up to say something. I try and read and listen at the same time, I try to ignore her, I feel uneasy. I tell her I'll get the groceries.
I walk out. I get a cup of coffee and an overwhelming feeling of wanting to make love takes me. Usually the feeling is incessant, like a leak from the faucet, dripping making noise, raising awareness, but not drawing attention to itself. Eventually it becomes a slow din, fading into the background. This is different, it's a flood of feeling so strong, as if I was the one dying, looking back at my life in regret.
I walk into the grocery store, the sun going down on this gray winter day. I know by the time I come out, it'll be dark. I spot a photo booth, jump in, take pictures. The pictures remind me I'm young, that I have a long time to go. My mind it feels really old though. I feel stuck alone waiting to die. My whole life behind me, only darkness ahead, an unknown. It's not true. I look at my young face, I see that everything these old people wish to do I can do.
My grandma is 84, I'm 24. 60 years apart, yet we share the same struggle: getting through the day. She waits for 6:30 to roll around, to play cards downstairs, with 5 or 6 other senior citizens. 'It helps pass the time,' she says. I sit all day next to her, reading, trying to keep busy. Slowly the day turns to night over and over. My uneasiness eventually subsides, I feel rhythm, a feeling that I have done this before, of being content in just being, of being here for her. I don't want to leave her.
I tell her I'll join her for cards. We head down, sit at the table ready to play. The game is easy, mostly of chance, the little skill that comes into play, has to do with screwing over the person sitting next to you. We all sit around the table stranded, do our best to deny it, with endless chatter. Once in a while everyone asks each other how they're doing.
I lose every game. I'm the first one out. In a game of chance you would think I would win some games. I tell my grandma I'm heading up and that I'll be waiting for her. 3 hours later she drudges in. She won 2 games and she seems happy, she made it through another day. She tells me she's sleepy, she goes to bed.
A little lamp lights the room, the rest of the place is dark. I sit and listen to the night. My eyes start getting tired, but I see nothing in sleep, it means nothing to me here.
I wake up to the sound of a vacuum. The orderly is here, she assists my grandma in cleaning and other household chores. I think of the whole day ahead of me in the shower. Rain coming down, washing away my sins. I think of leaving, it's been 8 days and I'm starting to lose track of time. I don't remember what yesterday was like and tomorrow, I don't care for. Am I in the moment? Is my grandmother my mango?
Over breakfast, I casually mention how I should head back to the city, how I have so much stuff to do, that's so important. She tells me to stay one more week, says she'll feel sad if I go. I tell her I'm going back so she'll be proud of me, how I'm thinking about going back to school, getting my act together, getting a job, becoming successful so she can then talk about me downstairs over cards, to her orderlies, random strangers, I would become just like the rest of her grandchildren, a faded image on her walls. I take out my unsmiling pictures from the photo booth, I pin them on the wall. There's four of me, all looking at her, abstract, far away, making her feel as good as God does on lonely Sunday afternoons.