A Chess Game With Grandpa

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“Jamie!” His mom screamed from the kitchen, “It’s time to go to Grandpa’s!” Jamie bounded down the stairs half dressed and still wet from the bath that he just jumped out of.  He always loved going to his grandpa’s house. His grandpa used to be always full of energy, and was always quick with a joke, and more like Jamie’s friend than a grandpa.  Upon arrival Jamie knew something was off, even though he’s was only 8, he was a perceptive boy and recognized how people felt, but Jamie didn’t know what his grandpa was feeling.  Jamie knew his grandpa wasn’t mad because he didn’t yell when Jamie sprinted in with muddy shoes messing up the carpet in the foyer. Jamie also knew his grandpa wasn’t sad because he didn’t look weepy, Jamie couldn’t tell but there was something different with his grandpa. 
Jamie left those thoughts behind when his grandpa yelled, “I've got a new game to teach you, Jamie!” As he ran into the dining room Jamie saw a board laid out on the table with odd shaped pieces on it.  Jamie knew he’d seen this before, but he didn’t know where. 
“This is called a pawn.” Jamie’s grandpa explained, “he can only move one space at a time and can only attack a diagonal.” Jamie’s grandpa continued, he called the game chess. After all the rules were explained the pair started playing.  At first, Jamie got destroyed but then started to think moves ahead and started getting better.  The two of them played for what seemed like forever, one second they ate lunch and the next the sun had gone to bed for the evening.
“Jamie!” his mom yelled, as she slid on her shoes, “It’s time to go! We need to let grandpa rest, honey!”
“I don’t wanna go yet!” Jamie screamed back, trying to think about how to get out of the trap his grandpa set for him.  After a few minutes of yelling back and forth, Jamie reluctantly left his grandpa at the table and joined his mother.  Jamie walked into the darkness outside, it consumed his body, as he watched his grandpa stumble around his house looking for something. Jamie knew something was off with him, he just couldn’t put his finger on it.

“It’s not fair, why does my dad have to be ripped from us right when Jamie is starting to connect with him?” Jamie heard his mom saying through the walls and the muffled sound of crying. “I keep feeling like there is something I should be doing to make it better.”
    “I know honey but we have to go along with the process, or it will make things worse with him.” Jamie’s dad says, attempting to comfort his mom. Jamie was on the verge of sleep when the sobs and talking aroused his curiosity.
    “You didn’t see them today, they were like best friends again, just like before my mom passed.” Jamie thought he might have missed part of the conversation because he was so confused.  What did his mom mean, ripped from us?  Jamie laid there while he listened to the muffled sounds of his mom crying and his dad saying short comforting words, like “We can help him” or “It will get better” These only confused Jamie even more, what was his parents talking about? Jamie thought at that moment that he had figured it out, they were talking about his grandpa, but what was wrong with his grandpa? This thought occurred for a while, he wondered if his grandpa’s strange attitude had anything to do with what his parents were talking about right now. With that thought in his head, Jamie slowly drifted off to sleep.
   
    Jamie had been curious when he woke up, about the connection between his grandpa’s attitude and the crying he heard last night. The thoughts he had still burned brightly in his memory. He couldn’t understand what was going on and he wanted answers. Groggily he crawled out of bed and tried to kick his brain into high gear.  He stumbled down the stairs and heard the dishes clanking together as his mom prepared the dirty dishes from the night before for breakfast.  Jamie noticed that his mom looked exhausted and worn out, he wondered to himself, as he devoured the omelet, if that had any connection to the extensive crying he heard her doing deep into the night until her tear ducts dried up. “Why were you crying last night mommy?” Jamie said out loud without even meaning to. His mom was taken aback, clearly she thought he had been fast asleep last night and thought he could not hear her.
    “I’m sorry sweety, did I wake you?” His mom responded. “It was just something that happened yesterday that made me upset.”
His mom clearly didn’t want to talk to him about the situation, but Jamie kept pressing, “Did it have anything to do with PopPop?” Even though he was afraid of the answer he still asked the question anyway.
“Honey, that had nothing to do with you, grandpa.” She said half-heartedly, almost as if lying to her only child had broken a piece of her. He dropped the conversation Jamie thought to himself why his mom couldn’t tell him the truth about his grandpa.  He decided to forget for now about this and just concentrate on getting to the bus on time because he was running late from his conversation that led nowhere good.

    “Today in health we will be learning about many medical illnesses.” Mrs. Planket said in the front of the class. Jamie had been drifting throughout the day and finally made it to his last class of the day, health. Jamie couldn’t wait until he could go home and relax for the rest of the night. The plan changed when Mrs. Planket started listing diseases and symptoms, all but one went over his head, Alzheimer's. He remembered hearing about that when he had been younger, he knew it had some significance in his life. “I would like you to research one of the diseases I have mentioned to you and make a project.” Jamie knew which disease he would be researching for his project, Alzheimer's.  Jamie gets to work on his project, all the while thinking of his grandpa.
“Does this disease have anything to do with why grandpa was acting? Where have I heard this disease from?” Jamie thought to himself as he tried to find a website about Alzheimer’s.  Jamie came upon a site about the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, the main ones were memory loss and confusion. Paying no attention what so ever to the project he started thinking about how his grandpa has been acting. When they were playing the chess game grandpa kept getting confused and didn’t understand what was happening, but he never had any memory loss issue. Jamie decided to drop the subject of his grandpa and focus on the project due, he already lost enough time do to the subject. The more he researched the more he revisited the subject though.  He found a website that said the main concerns of the children of the elderly with Alzheimer’s.  It said that they may feel guilty, angry, and upset. At that point, he had completely forgot what he was doing and thought back to how his mom reacted. She definitely seemed upset and angry, and she said: “I keep feeling like there is something I should be doing to make it better.” She definitely was guilty about it. Oddly Jamie continued to work diligently throughout the whole class, he didn’t even think about it, all he thought about was his grandpa. Could it be possible that his body had been acting without him controlling it? Jamie even smiled during the class, how could be-be smiling after what he just learned. Jamie finished his project early and then everything went back to as they were, throughout the last couple minutes, Jamie looked so upset he had a couple of his classmates coming up to him and asking if he was okay. He honestly didn’t know, after what he found out he didn’t know if he would ever be the same. At the end of the day, he slowly trudged out of the class with kids all around him running left and right escaping from the prison that held them throughout the day. “How will I ever be the same?” He thought again before leaving.

Jamie went home and collapsed in his room kicking off his shoes and lying on his bed, Jamie jammed his face into a pillow and screamed as loud as he could. As he picked his face up he felt his eyes burning with the tears that would soon follow, interrupting him Jamie’s mom walked in. “Hi honey, don’t forget we are heading to grandpa’s today for dinner so get ready.” She walked out, and quietly shut the door giving Jamie some privacy. After forcing them to stay in longer than they should have been in, the hot wet tears poured out like twin waterfalls. How could he face his grandpa after what he learned today? How did his mom expect him to go over and have dinner with him? Why was this happening to him? Once again Jamie’s body had been working without him, getting changed into nicer clothes and sending him down the stairs, closer to the car. Closer to the house he dreaded so much.
    Before Jamie knew it he showed up at his grandpa’s house, knocking on the door, cursing his hand for doing that. His grandpa opened the door with a huge smile which soon turned into confusion. “What are you guys doing here?” He asked quizzically.
    “We are here to have dinner, liked we talked about on the phone an hour ago.” His mom responded, clearly frustrated already. Ignoring the face she was making Jamie’s grandpa invited them into the warm cozy house.
“How could this house be the same but everything is so different?” Jamie thought. After the small talk in the living room, the group made their way to the brightly lit kitchen where the food had been prepared. All of them helped and got the table set and sat down for dinner.
“Hang on, I’ll go get Nora.” Jamie’s grandpa said as he made a swift move to get up.
    “Dad, dad,” His mom said twice to get her father’s attention, “Mom isn’t here.” Jamie’s mom quietly said.
    “Well, where is she then!” Jamie’s grandpa yelled, getting angry for no apparent reason.
    “Mom has been dead for two years now dad.” Jamie’s mom stuttered. It was clearly heartbreaking to see her dad so confused and forgetting about the woman that he loved for 64 years. The rest of the dinner had been filled with awkward silence, sometimes Jamie’s grandpa would mutter small jokes trying to lighten the mood he obviously caused. Later that night Jamie and his grandpa went into the living room to play a short game of chess before Jamie had to leave. It was obvious that his grandpa got confused and had become unsure what he was supposed to do at times, before the end of the game his mom pulled him from the living room tears still in her eyes. They said their goodbyes and left before another slip up from Jamie’s grandpa happened. Throughout the car drive home Jamie thought about what his grandpa is going through, even though it’s not his fault he is still mad at him. Mad for putting his mom and dad through this, and mad for being such a friend to him and then just getting ripped away. Those were the last thoughts he had before he drifted to sleep of the quiet rain tapping the metal roof of the car.

    In his dream, he was flying. Flying high above the problems he had in his life, high above the thoughts of his grandpa and his mom. After a few minutes, he started swaying back and forth, gradually growing faster and harder. Jamie woke to his mom shaking him awake, he recognized the bright garage light that blinded him, they got home. Free from the stress of that day Jamie got changed and ready for bed. Lying there in the cool sheets he felt more awake than ever. He knew what kept him from sleep, it was the thoughts of his grandpa. He knew he had to get this off his chest before he could even think of sleeping again. He got up slowly, rethinking his decision he walked to the kitchen and got some milk. He never had his milk though, he walked right past the kitchen, once again his mind no longer in control of his body. Not even knocking he walked right into his mom and dad’s room and sat at the end of their bed. If his mom knew what he was about to be talking to her about she probably wouldn’t have asked, “What do you want honey?” she asked a little nervously.
“Maybe she did know what was on his mind”, Jamie thought. “Mom I think there is something wrong with grandpa.” He blurted out. Realizing that statement sounded a bit odd he rephrased it, “I think he has Alzheimer’s.” his mom’s face did not lighten at this statement. She fell quiet for a few minutes her face grew with unhappiness every time he locked his eyes with hers.
“We have suspected the same thing for a while.” His dad finally said, “His doctor told us about the condition and what to watch for. Recently your grandpa has been exhibiting the conditions of Alzheimer’s and we believe he has it.” The silence grew between the three of them. Almost unwillingly Jamie got up and made a move for the door, furious and upset at the same time he knew there was no way he getting to sleep tonight. “Are you okay son?” His dad asked before Jamie could slip through the door. Jamie turned and looked at his mom’s large eyes, “They said all dad should hear”, he thought as he walked into the darkness of the hall.

    Settled back in bed Jamie felt the physical toll that conversation took on his body, his bones and muscles ached from merely just speaking. That is when the tears came pouring down his cheeks, moistened the dry skin on his face. “What is wrong with me?!” Jamie thought, almost screamed it. It took him a while to stop, but he eventually did, it was a miracle that his parents didn’t hear him crying hysterically. “How am I supposed to treat him the same?” he thought again. Jamie knew he hadn’t acting right. He knew it wasn’t his grandpa’s fault. He knew there wasn’t much they would do to help. But Jamie still wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do, how he was supposed to act, how he was supposed to stand there and watch as his grandpa kept getting worse and worse. At that moment he knew nothing could be done, he was just supposed to act normally, spend every moment with him. His mom came in later, assumed he still laid awake, and basically said the same thing he just realized. His parents obviously thought he couldn’t handle the situation on his own, how could they not have any faith in him?

    The next day was awkward, Jamie’s conversation last night made the air tense. The silence had been only broken by his dad scraping the plate trying to get the small pieces of eggs off his plate, and Jamie slurping the leftover milk from his cereal he just finished. “We can’t just let him stay there and forget everything.” Jamie finally said, “We have to do something.” His parents both looked at each other, there was a mutual feeling in the air that they didn’t want to talk about this right now, and especially with Jamie in the room.
    Jamie’s mom rubbed the sleep away from her eyes and finally answered, “Let’s not talk about this right now Jamie. You can’t be late to school today.”
    Jamie’s father let out a soft sigh as he said, “We have to talk about this, if we don’t we will keep putting it off until it’s too late.” Jamie had been happy and sad to hear these words coming out of his dad's mouth. He wanted to talk about the subject and help his grandpa, but it was such a terrible way to start a Friday morning.
    “There is an option your dad and I talked about, but it means we can’t see grandpa as much anymore.” His mom reluctantly said, “We could send grandpa to a senior center where he would be cared for, but it would mean giving up hope on him. It would also mean we couldn’t see him too much.” Jamie was conflicted, if there was a place that could care for him and help him, why wouldn’t he let him go? He knew he was just being selfish, and he knew it’s what they should do, but he loved his grandpa and wanted to see him a lot.
    “We should send him to this place, if they can take care of him then he should go,” Jamie muttered, hoping no one would agree. After that Jamie was sent to his room, already late for school his mom decided he could stay home a little longer. After a long debate in the kitchen, his mom drove Jamie to school without saying a word to him. It killed Jamie that he couldn’t know what his parents talked about, but he never asked his mom about it.

    After the longest day of school of his life, Jamie got on the bus and headed home. “Will they ever tell me?” he asked himself, “Will they ever make up their minds?” Jamie knew his questions would be answered soon. As soon as he got home he went right to the kitchen, searched the house for his mom. He found both his mom and dad in their room, they tried to relax during the day, Jamie felt really bad for interrupting them, they had a hard couple of days.  “What did you decide?” Jamie asked them. Their attitude changed tremendously as though they were hoping he would ask.
    “We found a nursing home for him and we decided he is going to go live there for a while. They would care for him 24/7 providing him all that he needs.” She said hopeful Jamie would be positive about the changes that are being made.
    “How often can I visit him?” Jamie asked, expecting to hear bad news come from his parent's mouths.
    “You can visit him three times a week for four hours at most.” His dad said excitedly. This was actually longer that Jamie had been expecting. He walked away with a smile on his face Jamie embarked to his room where he would start his homework.
    “12 hours!” Jamie thought, “That’s about the same as I visit now, not much is going to change!” Jamie knew that wasn’t true, everything was going to change, the things that made his grandpa who he is would be gone, wiped away with the rest of his memories. Jamie tried not to dwell on the thought and got cracking on his homework. Later that night Jamie heard the news that his grandpa was going to be moving into the nursing home in the morning and that they could visit tomorrow after he gets settled. He had been a little afraid of the big new change that mostly just wanted to see his grandpa and try and make things better.

Jamie’s mom picked him up from school today so they could go straight to the new nursing home. Jamie is kind of excited to see his grandpa in this new environment, but he is also a little scared of what this change might do for their relationship. In the driver’s seat, Jamie’s mom was a wreck, wondering if her dad’s condition has gotten worse and if it will change things between Jamie and him. She really just wanted to make sure they have a good relationship, she really felt that it was important that a grandfather and grandson have a strong relationship. As they were pulling up to the Charlottesville Nursing Home anxiety jumped into her chest, this shouldn’t be happening she was thinking to herself. Jamie shouldn’t be seeing his grandpa like this his mom said in her head. As she parked Jamie ran right out of the car, almost before she stopped. What was she going to walk into? Jamie’s mom kept walking though, following the path that her son just ran, the path that would lead her to her dad’s confused side. When they got in there a helpful nurse came and greeted them, told them they had to follow her to the common area. When they got to the large room with comfy sofas Jamie plopped right down and started talking to a group of grandpa’s and grandma’s, this forced a smile on his mom’s face, glad to see what a great son she had raised. He slowly meandered over to a chess table where a white-haired man was sitting patiently. The man was staring at the board wondering what he was supposed to do, looking up only when Jamie said hi and gave him a huge hug. The man smiled ear to ear and went back to looking at the board wondering why he was sitting there. Jamie started setting pieces up on the table, once he was done he moved one of the pieces and said your turn. The white haired man looked quizzically at Jamie and wondered what he did. A tear gleamed in Jamie’s mom’s eye when Jamie started explaining. Today his grandpa was going to learn how to play chess.






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