We were at the hospital visiting my grandma. She was sick, though I wasn't sure what with. She took my hand, just as we were about to leave, giving it a squeeze. I turned back and looked at her. Her eyes were as big as moons framed by deep-set wrinkles and beige sunspots. Her brows were pulled together and her mouth slightly parted. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but those eyes were pleading. That squeeze was filled with loneliness, yet it was determined. But I just looked at her pitifully and back to my family who was already at the door. I forced a smile for my grandma, and something sad and broken flickered across her face. She let go, and I waved goodbye.
That’s all I remember when I think of her now. The way I had acted when she had taken my hand in hers. As though she was disgusting and I was too nice to say. It was the last time I saw my grandma. I had left for Oklahoma the day after, ready to spend my summer with my dad and step-mom, Cora.
It wasn’t a great summer. They fought and argued while I sat in silence in the cramped little RV. I could handle it. I had last year.
Until Fathers’ Day came around. I got my dad a shirt and a great big hug as a gift. He thanked me with a jolly laugh, and we sat and watched T.V. together. When Cora came in, I offered her a seat on the couch next to me. She just shook her head, a solemn “no” that disturbed the relaxed atmosphere. She looked at me and Dad with a heavy sigh and drooping eyes.
“Margaret is dead,” she stated, loud and clear. “She died last night.”
That’s it. That’s all it was. Seven short words put a blanket over me, casting me into a darkness that seemed alive as it writhed with pain and regret.
But I didn’t cry. I couldn’t bring myself to. Neither did Cora. I comforted my Dad as best I could with a warm heart and open arms.
The drive back up to North Dakota was long and tiresome. I didn’t eat a thing, and my mind drifted away with the music that tiptoed out of my earbuds.
The funeral was just as dreary, filled with that familiar sickly sweet scent with undertones of death and tears. My older brother went to the podium and shared a few words, a few memories. He had asked me beforehand if there was anything I would like for him to say in my stead. I shook my head, too afraid of the people that would be listening and the way my words would sound on my brother’s tongue. Too afraid of my own family.
Looking at my grandma’s body in the casket left a sour taste in my throat. She wasn’t sleeping. Nowhere near it. She was screaming as best as her broken voice could, yet all I could hear were the quiet whimpers of my family as they wandered through the funeral home.
Her wrinkles looked like stiff clay, molded to look like the grandmother I knew. It didn’t work. That was not my grandma. Except that it was.
My brother began to cry as he sat right next to me, big heaving sobs that sagged down with grief. I was crying too, though my tears were different from my brother’s. My tears were fake. They were wrong and only left me with a suffocating feeling as though I had just gotten out of a hot shower. And I was pushing aside the curtain to breathe some crisp air, but none came. The air stayed hot and clammy, clogging my throat and leaving my lungs hungry for more. Like words were rising up, catching in my throat. But what would I say?
My grandma was dead. I was too, though my time had come long before hers.