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Pop-tarts

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My grandmother had a sweet tooth. She rarely ate anything that wasn’t sweet. Her house always held the scent of freshly baked cookies and slightly old cream and frosting, and if you opened her wooden cupboards, you would see the largest piles of frosted raspberry Pop-tarts that you have ever seen. And almost every day, when I was sitting in front of the TV with her, she would get out a Pop-tart, snap it in two, and give me the larger piece with more frosting.
I always tried to say it was okay, that I could have the smaller piece because I was smaller and it was her Pop-tart, after all, but it tasted so good that I usually popped it in my mouth before I could stop myself. Besides, it felt pretty good, with grandma looking at me and smiling as I ate it. It did feel kind of weird, because all I was doing was eating and she was looking at me like I’ve saved someone’s life or something, but I liked the feeling of her hand resting on top of mine, crinkled and calloused yet warm to the touch. I liked the way her chapped lips curved into a wide smile, revealing her crooked, yellowing teeth, and the way she told me what a good girl I was, though all I was doing was eating.

But then, grandma started to act weird. It started off with her simply confusing my name with my cousin’s. Then, it turned into her staring blankly at my face whenever I came by her house; she would look at me for a long, long time, her eyebrows furrowed and her light grey eyes narrowed, until her face would finally light up and she would say, “Oh Hannah, come on in”, and she would continue to call me by that name even if I told her countless times that I was not ‘Hannah’, my mother was. From then on, my visits became less frequent, turning from daily visits to weekly, weekly to monthly, and monthly to almost never at all.

And one day, when my parents and I went to grandma’s house altogether, the house did not have that sugary scent anymore. Instead, it stunk of urine. I still clearly remember everything that happened afterwards: there was a clatter in the kitchen, and we all ran to the source of the sound. The kitchen was dark, and the only source of light was the yellow light pouring out from the open fridge. And in front of the fridge was grandma, scoffing down countless Pop-tarts, one after another, not stopping even if she choked on the larger chunks and coughed and gagged, not even noticing that we were there, that I was there. For one second, I was staring at grandma licking her sticky, frosting-covered fingers, slobbering saliva all over her hands and chin; in the next, I was running out of the house, trying to avoid the wet, stinking patches that were scattered about in the carpet.

After that, I never really saw grandma again. My parents had taken grandma to the doctor later that day. ‘Alzheimer’s’, he said. Since both of my parents worked, they couldn’t look over grandma the whole time. So she was sent to a care center. Her small apartment was sold, the refrigerator emptied, the excrement-dripping carpet thrown away.
From time to time, I wondered if she would still eat a lot of sweets or if the nurses would not give her any. But I never visited her. Even now, I don’t exactly know why. Maybe it was because I entered middle school a few months later and decided that I was busy. Or perhaps it was because I felt no connection to her anymore after that day. I felt like she was another person, someone not related to us at all, just a poor, sweet, old lady who had lived close by us for years and suddenly got Alzheimer’s. Whatever it was, my memory of grandma slowly faded away in my head, until it melted down into nothing but an amalgam of unkempt, silver hair, the stringent scent of excrements, and the sound of saliva dripping against the floor.
Then, when I was in seventh grade, grandma passed away.
I didn’t cry.
I didn’t cry when I heard the news, nor at the funeral, nor when I felt grandma’s now-cold hands as she lay in her coffin, nor when we were burying her in the ground.
It was weird, and I felt heartless, guilty. But I didn’t feel sad.
Yet, I still felt quite empty, a little weaker, in a sense, like someone had sucked the marrow out of my bones. Which was probably why I volunteered to help clear grandma’s stuff from her room in the care center. I expected myself to break down crying when I was in the room. Wished I would break down crying, so that I could get rid of this guilt, the feeling that I was this selfish, heartless granddaughter. Which I probably was, since I still wasn’t crying when I opened the door.
The room was small and white and adequately warm, with one small window through which thin wisps of sunlight slipped into the room and collected on the little bed. I carefully went and sat on the bed first, smoothening the wrinkles out of the slightly damp sheets. I placed my head on the pillow, feeling the springs creak under my weight, and wondered if they would have creaked if grandma lay down. She was thin as a wire, even if she had a sweet tooth.
Only then I noticed that the room smelled like her house did a couple years ago, before she got Alzeimer’s. In one quick motion, I stood up from the bed and paced around the room, sniffing and looking under objects, until I found that the top shelf of her wardrobe was half-open. Carefully, I wrapped my fingers around the edges and pulled the shelf out of place.
It took quite a while for my eyes to focus, but even after they did, my sight was still blurry due to the blear of tears enveloping my eyes.
The whole shelf was full of halves of Pop-tarts, neatly wrapped with spidery tissue paper. The larger halves with more frosting.
The image of my grandmother breaking the Pop-tarts in two floated up in the back of my mind. She would spend a little time figuring out which part looked better, and would pop the smaller piece into her mouth. And while sucking the sweetness out of it, she would look around for her granddaughter, her stupid, selfish granddaughter who would not even come to visit her, to give her the larger piece that she did not deserve at all. When she couldn’t find anyone, when no one would answer her calls, she would gently wrap the pieces with tissue and place it in the shelf, waiting to give it to her granddaughter the next time she came to visit. Which she never did.
That day, I spent a long time scoffing down the leftover Pop-tarts. I ate one after another, and another, and another, swallowing both sweet pastries and salty tears at the same time. Of course, the nurses were startled when they came into the room and discovered twelve-year-old girl sitting on the floor, shoving Pop-tarts down her throat as she bawled on the top of her lungs, her lips and fingers smeared with frosting and grease and crumbs. But I couldn’t care less at the moment. I couldn’t stop eating.
She couldn’t even remember my name.
She didn’t even notice me.
But she was thinking about me all along. She was desperately clinging onto her fading memories while I remembered everything and pretended they weren’t true, pretended only that one frightening scene was true, although it was merely a small part of the whole picture.
I didn’t eat Pop-tarts anymore after that day. Just looking at them made me sick. The stomachache I had after scoffing down six and a half Pop-tarts was enough to stop me from eating them like I used to.
But I still adore the smell of them, the soft, creamy, sugary scent.
It reminds me of grandma, like it had reminded her of me. And I will never forget who she really was.



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livisan said...
Aug. 26, 2012 at 10:06 am:
This was an amazing, beatiful piece of writing. It made me cry. Great job
 
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