Trip to PA was hard, and wonderful.
Aunt D’s kind enough to pick us up from the airport. “Gam’s having a tough day today,” she explains, wiper-blades sweeping away East Coast rain. “You can hang out at our place until she wakes up. Then I’ll drive you to Riddle.”
She props us up in front of the TV and feeds us Hippy Cheese and Crackers (stoned wheat thins, as she refers to them) while she cooks up dinner. My cousin and her husband drop by and we have a fun time laughing over old stories and stir-fry.
Mid-dessert the phone rings, and its Gam–she wanted to tell us that she just couldn’t stay up and had to go to back to bed. This made me sad…it was only a bit after 7. “That’s how it’s been,” my Aunt says. “Good days and bad days. The cancer takes so much out of her. She sleeps a lot.”
The apartment is quiet when we arrive. I hiss at Patty to stop banging cabinets. She reminds me that Gam can’t hear. I remind myself I’m being bitchy because it keeps me from crying. I’m fighting the urge to go wake her up and hug her.
Just as we’re thanking Aunt D for dropping us off, a figure appears in the hallway.
It’s a tiny squeak. Like a mouse.
I knew that Gam had lost a lot of weight–another consequence of the cancer. Aunt D warned me to prep myself. Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly prepared.
She is so, so tiny. So, so fragile. Her shrinking frame makes it hard to see the strong–but it’s strongly there. She is a ninja after all.
“Who’s there?” she squeaks. “Is that you, Jenny? Patty?”
She looks confused; vulnerable. Thin. It hits my heart thick and brick-heavy.
She could barely stagger a few steps before reaching out trembling hands to embrace us. I wrap her up in my arms–the seemingly not enough-of-her and the big wonder of her–and blink back hot tears.
I look behind me and Aunt D has already left. She’s a cryer; like me. Too much to see.
Gam cups my face in her hands. Like she was grasping to see and take in and not forget. The way you’d do when you’re memorizing moments–because you don’t know if they will come again. I want to tell her that I’m not going anywhere. I want to memorize, too.
She grabs my hand and I help her down the hallway–slowly, a small step at a time. All the way to kitchen, where an unsteady hand points to a photo tacked to the refrigerator door. It’s a snapshot of her at my cousin’s wedding just a few months ago: laughing, dancing, in her element.
“What happened to me?” she whispers. It’s the second thing she says to us after ‘hello’; a question, an explanation, an apology. Proof that there was once a time, once upon a time. Just in case either one of us had forgotten.
“How does this happen,” she asks. “How did this happen in just four months?”
Cancer is a beast.
I tell her she looks beautiful and that I’m glad to see her.
She looks at me with little-girl eyes. Apologetic. No need.
“Today was a bad day.”
“That’s OK,” Patty says. She has always been the stronger one.
It takes two grandkids to help her back down the hallway and into bed.
“I’m sorry I stagger,” she says. I point out that its just one letter off from swagger, and that she’s hotter than Fergie any day of the week. I could hear her roll her eyes.
We straighten pillows and pull up sheets. She half-giggles. “Boy, being tucked in is the neatest thing! Don’t you think?” Always the optimist. “Maybe tomorrow this will all go away,” she suggests, drifting off.
Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. But I like the hopeful.
I kiss her on the cheek and tell her I love her. Sometimes that’s all you can say.
“You need a hug, friend?” Patty asks, forgiving the bitchiness. “‘Sometimes you just need a hug’.”
Sometimes you do.
I made a promise to myself that I was going to memorize this trip; these moments. Memorize the hands wrapped around coffee cups and the conversations with the cat and the talking out loud to Jesus. Memorize the comments that would annoy me and the wonderful that would make me smile. Memorize, memorize.
Partly because I forgot my camera. Mostly because there are things best not to forget.