December 20th, 2009

April 14, 2010
By , Rock Bend Way, KY
The morning of the 20th rolled about after a particularly unsatisfying night of sleep. At around 5:30 I’d awakened regretting the numerous cups of water and milk that I’d had the night before. Upon opening my door I discovered the reflection of my grandmother in the mirror of the bathroom just as she was shutting the door.
She didn’t sleep much anymore and her condition seemed to have worsened since I last saw her.
I stared hopelessly at the bathroom door as I tried to convince myself of the futility of my effort. Finally I abandoned all hope that she would vacate the lavatory and headed downstairs to search for an alternative.

My mother woke me up that morning at 7:30. We were leaving for Scott’s church in an hour. Eyelids heavy, I tried to heave myself off the air mattress, but my but my body resisted for several minutes, still unhappy with me for getting up in the middle of the night.
Despite my weariness I was excited to watch Scott preach. I remembered his Christmas sermon of several years ago reviving my faltering faith and hoped that by some miracle he might be able to do it again.

I took a shower and stopped in front of the mirror, wiping off the foggy mist with a towel to reveal my figure. The first things I noticed were the blackish blue bags under my eyes. They had been the sad companions of my eyes for several months now and I sincerely hoped they hadn’t become permanently embedded there. Perhaps my thoughts of the night before had been a tad hypocritical, I didn’t sleep much anymore either, and my condition had certainly worsened since I’d last seen my grandmother. Red and pink acne devoured my face, although it had been getting better in recent weeks, thank God for medication. My eyes were deeper and darker and bluer now, and they looked incredibly sad. A friend had once told me that a person’s eyes were an insight to their soul and though I didn’t see it then I now perceived that there had never been a truer statement.
I was a shadow of what I’d been when I visited the place 2 years before. A heartbroken, blurry shadow, detached from the object with which it had once belonged. Darkness, lonely in a completely illuminated place, a lone grey cloud on a blue-sky-for-miles day. Hopelessly searching for something within the vast expanse of nothingness.
I dried my hair with the towel, slipped on a shirt and descended the stairs.
Sunlight exploded through the living room. Rays were catching on the dirt clinging to the windows and being turned to some strange gold liquid revealing every dust bunny or dirt particle floating in its diagonal radius to be a tiny glistening, silver air bubble. Protestant or Pagan, to me this would always be a sacred place.

Scott’s service was funny and filled with love but not as convincing as his last. Or perhaps I was less gullible now. I sat awkwardly awaiting its conclusion next to my mother, whom I suspected was nearly as blasphemous as I. We jiggled our legs up and down trying to break the frozen stillness of the air but to no avail. The only relief came when Scott directed us to rise and pray or sing, which I didn’t participate in anyway. These episodes were merely chances to shift positions for 10 minutes before we resumed twiddling our thumbs uncomfortably.
The conclusion of the service, however, brought no end to the awkwardness. I fiddled around for another 45 minutes while my relatives conversed with the church members. Mom now clung to my father’s side, forcing me to wander off alone to dodge both Uncle John, Thomas, and my senile grandmother, all of whom I had no desire to talk to, and my religious relatives and the meaningless salutations and pleasantries that would need to be exchanged with their friends. What was the point? I wasn’t ever going to see their friends again anyway.

Next came lunch. This was to act as our Christmas dinner despite coming 5 days early. The food was excellent, melt-in-your-mouth green beans and exquisite honey-coated ham. But, as it is with most meals, the food was overshadowed by the conversation. Around the table it went, questions posed by Scott and Uncle Ray—the two jolly, bald, round-bellied conversation starters. And the happy answers came from the smiling, toothily disguised talking mannequins placed around the table. They were like the monsters under the bed, surely they weren’t real, surely they weren’t as well off as they assured us they were.
I waited for the dreaded questions to reach me like a boy in the hospital lobby. I knew they were going to stick me with a needle but I was in no great rush to get it over with.

“So how’d your football season go Paul?” came booming, thundering jolly old Uncle Ray’s voice from across the table. It was obvious why we dressed him up in a red and white cloth suit every year at gift opening time.

I put on that same kooky grin everyone else was wearing and answered in my everything’s great voice “Well we started out really well but we ended the year five and six”
“What position did you play”
“Quarterback”. No hesitation. No asterisk next to it. That would only upset their perfect little minds.
“Wow great, we always new you were destined for something special.” He turned to Heather and said “You know this guy (beckoning at me) is one of the smartest, kindest, most amazing guys I know. And he plays a mean game of chess.” He winked at me from across the table.
I forced a smile. The barrage of compliments ripped the disguise off my face. A cocoon of doubt wrapped itself around me. As my questioning continued I sat in stunned silence watching flashbacks play in black and white like from an old fashioned projector somewhere in the back of my skull. Over and over and over again. Tears welled up in my sad, old eyes. I wasn’t these things. Maybe I had been before. 2 years ago when they’d last seen me. But no more.

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