So, in lieu of me writing something new and provocative for my blog, I’m reposting stuff I’m working on for class. Hah! This is a piece in a very different vein than my last; I had a go at personal essay/memoir writing. I got both the letter and this piece workshopped last Tuesday, and I am pumped to revise. The letter needs to be shorter; it’s really a cover letter, and I’ll repost an updated version. This one, they said, needed to be longer…and possibly a suite of poems. Here it is for now!
Twelve Years of Saying Goodbye
Twelve: We’re in Alaska, and share a hotel room. I see the backs of my grandmother’s calves for the first time. They are veiny and look like they’ve been through several wars. “When you’re my age, your feet are blocks of wood,” she tells me.
Thirteen: I am in her living room that smells of camellia blossoms. She pulls her thick wool cardigan aside to show her pacemaker to me. It’s a round alien box, visible under her papery skin.
Fourteen: She is sitting on the grassy hillside on the Marin coast, gazing at cormorants and grebes through her spotting scope. The wind tousles her thick gray hair. “I want you to remember her like this,” my dad tells me. And I do.
Fifteen: She stops driving the year I start. She puts her foot on the gas, not the brake, and rams through her garden fence. She’s done after that.
Sixteen: She likes to go birding still, down by the marsh near her house. She’s starting to forget the names of the birds, though.
Seventeen: It’s the last of the yearly visits to her house. She gives me a hat she’s been knitting, wool, her last knitting project. It’s a little too advanced for me—cable knit. I take it anyway. Even if I never finish it, I figure, it’ll be something we both touched.
Eighteen: My father and brother move her out of her house, the house my father grew up in. I’m secretly glad to be busy with college, unable to help. We visit her in the home and she’s a scaled-down version of herself. Our conversations loop on each other.
Nineteen: I think about sending her some calming poetry on tape. Mary Oliver. I think about sending Dylan Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, but I don’t want to break her heart. Or mine. I send nothing. I’m afraid of calling her on the phone.
Twenty: We call her on Christmas. She has no idea it’s Christmas. She has good days and bad days, at this point. Christmas is a bad day.
Twenty-one: My mom calls her on her 91st birthday. “Is it my birthday?” she gasps, excited. “I must be one hundred years old today!”
Twenty-two: I think about sending her poetry again, but she can’t use the tape player any more. And she wouldn’t remember it. So I don’t.
Twenty-three: I realize that I haven’t seen her in years, and had better hurry up. My brother and I visit her. She’s moved from the apartment room to a glorified hospital bed. She is so frail; I do not recognize her at first. We talk. It’s a five-minute conversation but she’s lucid enough. “Don’t wait too long to come again,” she says, earnestly, as we’re leaving. Of course, I do.
Twenty-four: My dad calls to tell me the story: It’s an early morning. She wakes, goes into cardiac arrest, and realizes that she is dying. She welcomes death. I think to myself, it was a blessing that she woke up in order to die. I wished then that I knew how to grieve now that she was actually dead.