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Then and Now This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     Things never used to be like they are now. My eyes weren’t open to what was happening around me. I didn’t understand that suddenly everything could change. When you’re five, you think everything is gumdrops and candy canes instead of broccoli and carrots, but as you get older, you become enlightened. It’s like God has given you a magnifying glass so you can scrutinize everything you thought you knew, to make you realize just how unfair the universe is.

If I still believed in God, I would think He was cruel. No one wants to see someone crumble from the strong rock they were. No one wants to think that someone close is suffering. No one wants to watch another struggle and change into someone they don’t know or don’t want to know.

“Hey, doll,” she would always greet me as I walked into her smoke-filled condo. Pop would be sitting in his mint-green chair watching the New York Yankees show the Boston Red Sox who’s boss. He’d shake his head in disgust at a bad call, or tap his fingers on the arm of the chair, glancing back toward the kitchen to see what his “girls” were up to. Gams’s long, beautifully painted nails would dig into the dough as she kneaded it into a pie crust. I would sit and watch in amazement, hoping that one day I would be able to bake the way she did.

When we weren’t inside cooking, we would sit outside and tan. I remember her thin legs looking as dark as leather. She’d inhale smoke from cigarette after cigarette while looking up at the sky, watching to see which way the sun was moving. I hated her smoking. My brother and I always detested sitting in the house because everything smelled of tobacco. She quit, a few years later when she became bedridden. She never picked up another after that, but I found myself falling into her dropped habit.

Halloween was always a holiday that my brother and I loved because Gams would make us the most intricate costumes. One year I was a leopard, dressed in a jumpsuit of velvety spots. She was handy with the needle. “That’s been a gift God has blessed me with,” she’d say. I have so many memories of her sitting in a nightgown, rollers in her gray locks, working diligently on another masterpiece. The last one she made for me was the Statue of Liberty. It was her idea, not mine.

When I was 14, I overheard that Gams wasn’t as happy as she was letting on and that she felt cheated out of a fuller life because Pop ruled the house with an iron Italian fist. I never thought that such a gentle man could be controlling since Pop never yelled or scolded me. After his heart attack, Gams was given the freedom she had always wanted, but by then she couldn’t use it.

By the time I was 17, things had changed dramatically. Gams was forgetting to feed Pop, which landed him in the hospital. This forced a decision that Mom had been dreading. Her parents no longer could take care of each other, and a month later, they were in a convalescent home.

“This isn’t my home. None of this stuff is mine.” That’s what I heard every day as I walked in. “Lauren, can you drop me by the apartment? I have a few things I need to pick up,” she constantly asked. Every time I have to explain that this is their home now, and that their house has been sold. With that, she lays down in bed and falls asleep.

She’s gained a lot of weight in the last two years. Her hair is never fixed now, but she still has curlers in it. I guess it is out of habit that she continues to wrap each strand in a curler. I have to beg her to get out of bed and let me do her nails, which used to be beautiful but now are always broken.

I visit the home at least three times a week, and there sits Pop, always staring at a blank screen, and Gams, asleep. I turn on the TV and lights, and sit down. She wakes up, but there is no longer anything to talk about. Instead, the same words are exchanged.

“How are you? How’s Kyle?” she asks. I always answer with the same response, “Fine.” Ten minutes later, she asks again, and once again I answer. She no longer remembers what we talk about, or that I even come to visit her. It’s as if once I walk out that salmon-colored door, I’ve walked out of her mind. It won’t be long before she doesn’t know who I am.

After a few minutes, I return to my car in tears. I sit and take puff after puff of my cigarette. It amazes me how I used to hate the way she smelled, and now I probably have that same scent. Cigarettes were her way of coping with Pop, and now they are my way of dealing with her.

The breaking point came one day when Gams said, “You’re such a pain in the ass. You always ask me to get up and out of bed. I’m an old woman, leave me alone!” Before I said something I would regret, I turned around. A second later she called, “Lauren, you never visit me anymore!” I broke.

“What are you talking about?” I yelled. “Get out of that bed! When the hell are you going to wake up? Where is my gams? Where is the woman who was always nicely dressed, who always had something to do? I want her back! I miss her! Don’t you?”

She just looked at me, and said, “Yeah, I miss her,” and then there was a long awkward pause. The silence was broken a few seconds later with, “Hi, Lauren! What’s new?”

It’s moments like today when the sun is shining that I wish I could get them out of that place. I just want to go for a walk with them and talk about where I’m going to college, and what I want to do with the rest of my life. Every day I think it will be different, that somehow she will wake up from the coma she has been in for the last year, and become the woman she was. Do you know how hard it is to see what I see every week?

God? In my eyes there is no God. He’s just a fictional character, with no compassion and no understanding of how much seeing my gams deteriorate every day kills me. If there were a God, then the woman sitting across from me would be someone I know instead of a stranger.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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forgetting.my.flaws said...
Feb. 5, 2009 at 2:33 am
yes, yes, yes. soooo true. my grandpa is in a nursing home. he was a professor. now he sits there, mouth half open and im scared to be with him, cuz im afraid hes gonna kick the bucket while im there. i want to remember who he WAS, not who he IS. you really get at that aspect. thank you.
 
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