Untainted Memory

April 20, 2011
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Grandma’s worn fingertips gently massage my scalp, soothing away the stress of the day. As her fingers weave and twist my lifeless hair, an ache blossoms in my chest, growing in intensity until my fingers grasp for hands that are no longer there. Wrapping my arms around my abdomen, I lean back, close my eyes, and drift away to a time when death was only a word and not a reality.

I’m five years old again, a dutiful mother of three baby dolls and an Oscar winning actress at playing adorable. His blue eyes shine down on me here, cradled in his arms. My hazel eyes brightly stare back into his, aptly listening to the every word of his childhood tale.

I’m nine years old again, a spy armed with rubber bands and an active imagination. Triumphantly, I place a black ace on top of the growing deck of cards. He gaily pats my head and declares,
“Like I always say, if you can comb your hair, then you can play New Market.” I absently nod my head as I excitedly count my loot of tootsies.
I’m twelve again, a nurse licensed only to pretend. Wrapping the blood pressure cuff around his arm, I stare studiously at the chart in my hand. A machine beeps, flashing numbers that I knowingly stare at without any real understanding.
“Very good Grandpa, but keep on eating more fruit." I confidently state as I hold up my flashlight. “Now, follow my finger with your eyes.”
I'm fourteen again, a teen struggling to walk in stillettos and apply lip gloss perfectly. One flash and then a picture worth a thousand words. My young lips gently kiss his wrinkled cheek, worn soft with age.
“Love you Grandpa." He crookedly grins back at me.
“You know that you are one of my favorites right babe?” Smiling in agreement, I pat his arm. “I have your picture in my car. So that I can flip open the visor...” His tongue clucks while my smile widens in anticipation of the familiar words to come.“...and say 'Hey! There is my Sara Elizabeth saying 'I love you Grandpa.' Intertwining my fingers in his, I gently squeeze his soft hands.
I'm eighteen again, a sapling transforming into a tree. He lies before me, a shell of what he used to be. I search his face for even a glimmer of his previous vitality. Only his blue eyes, now beaten and weak, stare back at me.
“Grandpa, will you tell me about your childhood? How about the story about your Grandpa Bennetts' dog, Betty Lou?” My voice grows more and more desperate as my fingers tighten around his hand. His answer is short but not sweet. He's too tired to walk the trails of his memory.
The silence between us hides my screams inside. He is slipping away with each heartbeat, fading away with each tick of the clock. Suddenly, my legs push me up and my feet carry me to the other side of the bed. Curling into his side, I listen to the rise and fall of his chest, trying not to cry over the truth. He no longer holds me. I am now holding him.
I'm eighteen still, an adult still very much a child. My gaze focuses on the pale face of the figure before me, searching for some form of familiarity.
“It's okay Sara. He's with the Lord.” Dad's words weigh valuable in my mind but fade away to nothing when reaching my heart. My fingertips gently touch his cold hand, feeling only the pastiness of grief. I furiously silence the tears and walk away.
Grandpa smiles back at me. His face, his eyes, his smile, him; frozen in this picture, untouched by death. A single tear trails down my cheek, splashing against my arm with the force of a bullet. Brushing my thumb over his face, I close my eyes and imagine him before me.
“I love you Grandpa.” My whisper caresses the air, searching for a recipient no longer there. Placing the picture back on the shelf, I turn away and walk out the door with the words.
But as the switch clicks and the darkness invades, I can almost hear his voice and feel his hand in mine.

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