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His bright blue eyes were his only youthful traits left. They seemed to follow you around the room, never stopping, always alert, always in pain. His face was wrinkled, his mouth set deep as though someone had carved it in as an afterthought. His hair was snow-white, and he had grown a beard. He smelled of illness and urine; such was the state that my grandfather, the author John Pullen, had been reduced to.
The room did nothing to try and cheer its occupant. The bed took up most of the space and was covered in a dusty red blanket. Three stiff wooden chairs were lined up against the wall. In them sat my father, mother, and grandmother. They made small talk with my grandfather, trying to pretend that nothing had happened, that his illness would go away in a couple of days. But they knew better. Even I, an eight year old, knew better.
For a couple of minutes, I stood stock still, just staring at my grandfather’s gaunt body. He had been writing his last book, and assorted papers were laid out next to him. Suddenly, he turned to me. “Come and sit on the bed,” he said in a weak voice.
Reluctantly I made my way over. As I drew closer to him, the stench became more powerful. I sat down on the edge of the bed, and busied myself with a piece of paper, trying to avoid inhaling the smell. He turned to me and said in a gentle tone “How are you doing Philip.”
I managed to muster a weak smile and replied in a meek voice. “I’m fine.” I paused for a couple of seconds. “How about you,” I said tears welling up in my eyes making my vision go out of focus.
“I’m good,” he said with all the conviction and sincerity that he could muster. I gazed into his eyes. They still contained all the playfulness and sense of fun that I had seen for years. I could not stand to see the man that I had seen as invincible unable to even control his fluids. I ran out of the room, tears streaming down my face.
I threw myself on the living room couch and tried to remember my grandfather when I had seen him a year before. He had been diagnosed with the cancer a month or so before my last visit, yet he seemed so much stronger. I walked to my room and pulled out an inflatable balloon baseball. I soon was lost in a memory.
It was the end of a long Maine August, and the scorching heat had been replaced by cool winds, which could only mean that fall was right around the corner. The air around the fairgrounds was mixed with the sweet aroma of candy and pie. I immediately started to run around the booths, trying to decide what to spend my fortune of ten dollars on. I spied a game where you must shoot 3 balloons with a BB gun to win a prize. I ran over to it and paid the man that ran the booth three dollars. He in turn handed me a BB gun, which I could barely hold since it was so big. I had four shots to win a prize. I focused all of my energy on hitting the target. I fired, but missed. I was already frustrated, and handed the gun to my dad who in turn shot three of the balloons in a row. He had won me a prize. I chose to get a blow up baseball bat and ball.
Soon after, still holding my hard earned prizes, my dad and I left the fair to return home to my grandparents. We found them sitting outside on the steps of their red house staring out at their yard. They stood up as we ran to them. “Grandpa,” I exclaimed. “Look what I won!”
“That’s great!” he said, staring at me with his deep blue eyes. I quickly convinced my dad to play with my new toys. He threw me the baseball and I in turn hit it right back to him. The next five minutes consisted of me hitting the ball back to my father, but soon after, I hit the ball to the left, and it landed at my grandfather’s feet.
He stared at it for a couple of seconds, and then rose to his feet heavily relying on the assistance of his wooden cane. Then with a tremendous amount of effort, he forced his cancer-ridden body to hit the ball to me using his cane. “Pass it back,” he said, and I obediently obeyed. I knocked the ball back using the bat. He stopped it and stared at it, before raising his cane and striking the ball. It came back to me, and I decided to move the ball around and play hockey. We agreed that the goals were the rocks on either side of the yard. I ran across and sent the ball flying to the right of the goal. He stopped it and slapped it back right into my goal. The next ten minutes consisted of more of the same. By then the sun was setting, casting a fluorescent orange glow onto the oak tree standing in the middle of the yard.
My grandfather said that he was tired and we went inside, both feeling extremely happy. The day after, my family left to return home. My grandpa’s illness became a distant thought lodged deep in the back of my mind. That is, until a phone call from my grandmother came, which urged us to come down to Maine to see my grandfather.
But as I sat on the couch, knowing that his illness was serious, I could not help but feel ashamed for not thinking of him for months. I picked up the ball and brought it into the gloomy bedroom, which had not changed much in my absence. “Grandpa,” I said in a weak voice. “Do you want to play hockey again?”
“No Philip,” he replied. “I am far too weak and tired.” I cast my head down in disappointment, which must have upset him because for a minute his deep blue eyes clouded up like a misty river. I stared at him, wondering how such a proud man could be reduced to this. The smell of urine and illness that was heavy in the room took on a new meaning to me. Instead of just being just a horrible smell, it became the smell of imminent death, but a very peaceful one; while surrounded by one’s family.
Two months later, my mother called me to the kitchen table. “Philip, Grandpa John died yesterday.” The rest of her words were lost to me, for I was in too deep of a sorrow to comprehend them. Tears streamed down my face, the salty drops resting on the edge of my lips. I ran out of the room and jumped on my bed, crying.
Time was lost on me. Whether I cried for two minutes or two hours I do not know. I do not know many things. I do not know why my grandfather died; I do not know why I had not spent more time with him. Time seemed extremely important now. There is always time to tell someone that you love them before they are gone; like a candle blown out by the wind, and all that’s left to remember it is the lingering smoke and smell of burnt wax. The mighty oak tree still stands in the yard of the red house my Grandfather used to live in. It still catches the fading light of a sunset, and the breaking of the new dawn.