For the Love of Waiting Rooms

October 29, 2010
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My grandmother is the kind of person who is never really gone. When I remember her, I may remember all of those awful nights we had to call 911, the awful red puddles on the floor, and the awful, powerless looks on the doctors’ faces, but these are weak and hazy memories. However, I can hear her reaction to learning that she died on my sixteenth birthday as if she were here sitting next to me. Come on God! Any other day! Really, you can have your pick! You can send me back for one more day, can’t you? Oh, Love! You poor thing! You’ll miss your old Grandma, now, won’t you? and I smile.
Yes, of course I cried, but not like I thought I would. I didn’t curl up in the fetal position and attempt to numb myself with copious amounts of chocolate and late-night TV. Instead, I drifted into her room. I unwrapped the many presents and opened the plethora of Hallmark cards she had so neatly stacked in her closet for me. I read her loopy handwriting and sprayed her favorite perfume, the one I had given her only one month before on her birthday. I found an old picture of her as a teenager — a shorter, plumper, happier version of me. Even in black and white, I recognize the same deep, fiery red hair that, here in America, has the power to make strangers stop, stare, and occasionally even pet me, but was practically the norm for her in her native Ireland. I think of her best friend Sheila, whom she has known literally since the day she was born, and my stomach churns at the thought of the letter my mother will have to write. I wonder at the fact that my grandmother sustained a friendship for seventy-eight years, while I have not even sustained one for sixteen. That’s the thing about today — we move away from a place and we move on with our lives, and by the time we remember to cherish our memories and our friends it’s too late. We have already replaced them. Somehow, though, I haven’t lost my memories of my grandmother.
When I close my eyes, I am transported.
I am five years old, sitting in a house lit by candles and flashlights, waiting for a hurricane to pass over us and praying for the power to come back on, while staring her down during an extremely competitive Candy Land tournament.
I am ten years old and have become her little card shark, and again, my mind is thankfully on the game instead of the storm raging outside, ripping out trees and ripping off roof tiles, threatening to break the bowed-in windows.
I am twelve years old and I am standing in her all-white kitchen, watching her meticulously frost one of the many cakes we have baked together, and am then being handed a spoon and the bowl of frosting with the explicit instructions “Don’t tell your mother”. She is grabbing a spoon for herself.
I am fifteen years old and I am standing in the foyer while our neighborhood’s friendly EMTs carry her out on a stretcher again. She is asking them how they liked the cookies she baked for them last week, a genuine smile on her pale face.
I am sitting on the edge of a hospital bed. A rare thunderstorm is brewing, and sheets of rain are hitting the window. I’m glad. A sunny day would be a slap in the face. Fighting back stubborn tears, I plead with her not to leave. I tell her that we need her. I expect her to tell me not to worry, to say that she wouldn’t even consider it. Instead, she offers up a resigned smile and tells me I should listen to my mother and go on home.
My grandma may have been one of the most stubborn people alive, but she was never a coward.
I’ve spent many restless hours in hospital waiting rooms, but I don’t resent all of those hours at all. There is nothing like a hard plastic chair, a freezing cold room, and five year old magazines to force introspection out of a person. I’ve realized that I don’t have to let fear hold me back, because fear is often much worse than what is feared. I don’t have to be afraid of horrible moments, and I don’t have to be afraid of losing wonderful moments either. I can close my eyes and remember. I can let time run through my fingers like sand on the seashore and I won’t lose it. I can live my life and still have the past. I can leave footprints in the life of someone else. I can create moments that go on for forever. I can be someone who is never really gone.





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