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Spring Break with Grandma MAG
Boring doesn't even begin to describe my spring break. Boring is when there's nothing to watch on TV and your Internet connection is down. Boring is when your history teacher decides to explain the causes of the Cold War in depth. But spending a week at my ancient grandmother's apartment was more than just boring.
Don't get me wrong – I love my grandma, but bunking with a 93-year-old woman is not my idea of a good time. And the apartment building for old people smelled – a mix of stale Doritos and the kind of mall perfume that makes your nose itch. Everything there was just so depressing. Whenever I walked through the halls, I couldn't help wondering how many residents died each week. I mean, really, when you have 256 closet-sized units full of elders, there are bound to be casualties. How many of my grandma's neighbors had been hauled off on a stretcher just that month? My dad advised me not to ask, no matter how curious I was.
The week started off with me complaining, just like I had been since my dad told me I would be forced to spend spring break with Grandma in Florida. My friends oohed and aaahed over the fact that I was going to Florida, even though I would be staying with a lady who was older than Dumbledore in Harry Potter.
“You can sneak out and go to the beach!” “You could get on MTV!”
I informed my friends that a) being 14 and in the foreign land of northern Florida, I would be lucky to find a McDonald's on my own, let alone the nearest beach (which was 57 miles from the apartment – I googled it) and b) If I ever did find this magical beach, the last thing I wanted to do is party with sweaty, belligerent MTVers.
It had been years since I visited my grandma, and the apartment was different than I remembered. It was grimy and in the part of town you try to avoid. I stopped complaining for a minute to let it sink in that this was where my grandma was spending her last days.
After a ridiculously long elevator ride, we arrived at my grandma's room. When the door opened, I had to look down to see the tiny woman before us. Even though I stand a measly five feet, my grandma was a head shorter. She wore her hair in the typical white bob of an older woman, and her pale scalp showed through. Her veiny hands gripped the door to keep her upright. Even though she was approaching her one hundredth birthday, she refused to use a walker.
We exchanged excited hellos and small talk about our flight, working in several awkward hugs. Grandma led us into the apartment and shuffled me to the room where I would be sleeping. It was small and contained a midget-sized bed and a TV that looked so old I wondered if it was black and white. The walls were covered with framed pictures. Familiar faces stared at me as I set my suitcase down.
Every picture was of my family, from school photos of my dad to snapshots of me at the last family reunion. As I scanned them, one caught my eye. It was one of those super-formal portraits from long ago. A woman smiled genuinely at something I couldn't see. Her face was young and her blonde hair (I assumed it was blonde – the picture was black and white) was fixed in a complicated bun. She wasn't breathtakingly beautiful, but something about the way her skin glowed made it hard for me to look away.
A cold hand suddenly gripped my shoulder, and I jumped. My grandma laughed in her gravelly voice. I blushed as I realized that I had been scared by a woman who couldn't sneak up on a blind person.
“Who is this?” I asked.
She was quiet for a minute, and I was afraid that maybe I had done something I wasn't supposed to. Her eyes scanned the picture and she smiled sadly.
“It's me.” Her voice held an emotion I couldn't quite place. “I must have been about your age. I haven't looked at this in a long time.” She stared at it, and I suddenly felt like I was witnessing something deeply personal. I shifted uncomfortably.
As I looked closer, I slowly saw that the young face was in fact my grandma's. She looked so youthful and happy – more like an actual person. I felt a pang of guilt as I realized what an awful thing I had just thought. I quickly broke the uncomfortable silence by saying the first thing that came to mind.
“So what's for dinner?”
You might say that my grandma is a great cook – that is, if you enjoy Brussels sprouts, reduced-fat kugel, and liver. Yes, liver. I've heard that grandmas are supposed to make amazing food from original recipes that have been handed down for generations, but unfortunately this is not true for mine. Although she does have a gift with matzo ball soup, when it comes to everything else we're out of luck.
My dad and I wordlessly moved the food around our plates, occasionally forcing teeny bites into our mouths. When my grandma wasn't looking I glared at my dad. His eyes said, I'll get you pizza later.
My dad was able to keep the conversation going throughout the meal, but he had to talk so loudly that I swore the rest of the building could hear. Not only did Grandma refuse to use a walker, but also a hearing aid.
After dinner, my worst fears were confirmed. Not only did my grandma not have a computer (was that even legal?), but her TV got just 13 channels. As I lay on the midget bed, ankles hanging off the end, I realized that this week would be incredibly long.
“No, I'm in northern Florida. There are no beaches here!”
My friend Bridget sighed dramatically. That was not the answer she expected.
“So, if you're not partying it up at the beach, what're you doing?” I rolled my eyes as I stared at the ceiling. There was a small water stain that looked like the person upstairs had peed on their floor.
“I'm just …” I thought for a second. Bridget's whole family lived in California, and both her grandmas were the type that took you shopping and made you call them mom-mom because they refused to accept the fact that they were actually grandmothers. She wouldn't understand that you can't roam Sunset Boulevard with a woman who can barely get around her apartment.
“Well, we haven't really been doing anything,” I said lamely.
“Oh, Marisa, I'm sorry.”
“Thanks. I mean, it's not like I don't like my grandma, but she's just so … delicate. It's almost like I'm afraid to go anywhere with her,” I continued. “She's so fragile. Just yesterday she was eating and one of her teeth fell out.”
Bridget burst out laughing. “Fell out? You mean it just like dropped onto her plate?”
“Yes! It was sad, though. Bridget, stop laughing! I mean, she was really upset. Can you imagine what it must be like to be that old? Like one day you're eating a Big Mac, and the next you can't eat mashed potatoes without your molars falling out?” I waited until Bridget caught her breath. I knew I shouldn't have brought it up; she was totally missing my point.
“But anyway, today we went to an absolutely disgusting diner and then spent the afternoon just sitting around the apartment. And even that seemed dangerous. I mean, I'm seriously afraid she's going to break a hip or something.”
“Marisa, lighten up. Old people don't just fall apart. I mean, you never hear stories that an elderly person snapping in half in the middle of a bingo game.” I cringed at the visual.
“I know, you're right. I just really miss you. And my mom. But please, never tell her I said that.” Bridget giggled.
I heard my grandma shuffling outside my door and quickly said good-bye to Bridget. Guilt settled into my stomach, but I wasn't sure why. It wasn't like I had said anything bad.
My grandma slowly opened the door and appeared before me in a pink nightgown. I suppressed a giggle as I spotted lace trim along the bottom.
“Just wanted to say good night,” she said as I awkwardly sat on my bed, cell phone still in hand. I got up and gave her a gentle hug, making sure not to squeeze too hard. I was sure Bridget was right about old people not snapping in half, but I didn't want to push it.
By Wednesday I was officially willing to go home and back to school if it meant I could leave the stuffy apartment and get a good night's sleep in my own bed. Stay strong. Only two more days, I reminded myself.
I flipped through the channels and stopped on an episode of “The Price Is Right.” It was the only thing that wasn't in Spanish or deeply religious, and somehow Bob Barker seemed appropriate in this building filled with old people.
“Show us, Mom,” I heard Dad say from the next room.
“No. It's ridiculous. I told you I didn't want one,” Grandma said.
I decided that whatever they were talking about had to be more interesting than “The Price Is Right.”
“What's ridiculous?” I asked as I sat down on the couch.
“For her birthday, your aunt and I got Grandma a very, very nice wig, and she refuses to show me.” My grandma made a hmph noise and tried to cross her arms. She wobbled a bit and had to steady herself on the kitchen table.
“Come on, let's see it,” I gave my grandma a pleading smile. I was in desperate need of some entertainment.
Grandma paused for a minute before scooting over to the closet. She muttered to herself as she opened the door and rummaged around: “I never asked for a wig. Completely unnecessary.” She pulled out a manikin head wearing a perfect bobbed hairdo. It was a deep silver color that was done in the sort of dramatic short style you'd expect to see on Helen Mirren. If I was a balding old lady, I definitely wouldn't mind wearing that.
“Wow, Mom, that's really nice.”
“Really, Grandma, that's a cool wig.”
She grumbled some more to herself and set the head on the counter. My dad and I stared at her in anticipation.
“Well … aren't you going to put it on?”
Her eyes widened like I had asked her to go on a roller coaster. “And mess up my hair? Are you crazy? I just went to the beauty parlor this morning!”
My dad smiled and shook his head. Sometimes I forgot how feisty my grandma was.
“But it's such a shame for it to go to waste,” he said.
My grandma's eyes shot daggers at my dad. “Fine.” She picked the head up off the counter and set it in the middle of the kitchen table. She smiled at herself as she stared at her work. I looked at my dad, but he just grinned like it was normal to use a plastic head as a centerpiece.
I was awakened by the sound of a dog barking somewhere in the distance. The clock read 5:58. I groaned.
It was officially the last day of my vacation, but I hardly felt rested. If anything, I felt even more in need of a vacation. I tried to go back to sleep, but it was no use. The mattress was stiff, and my pillow reeked of moth balls.
I opened the door to my room. My grandma's small body was curled up on the couch. At Grandma's insistence, my dad was sleeping in her room.
I tiptoed over to the doors that led to the small balcony. The glass rattled as I slid them open, but my grandma didn't stir. I plopped down on a mesh chair.
A pinkish light filled the sky, and I realized that I had never noticed what an awesome view the apartment had. You couldn't see the graffiti or the junky old cars. In the distance were trees and a small lake that was probably part of a golf course. A peacefulness filled the air, and I let my shoulders relax. In the light of the approaching sunrise, the view was enchanting.
I heard a muffled snore from the living room and was transported back to reality; I wasn't in an exotic land but rather my grandma's dilapidated apartment. But if I focused on the view, it was like I was in a different world. My grandma snored again, and I wondered if she ever sat on her balcony and took in the sights.
Well, of course she does, I thought. What else can she do? It suddenly dawned on me that I didn't know what my grandma did when we weren't visiting. Her husband had passed away before I was born, and she rarely drove. Most of her family lived in New York, and she had outlived most of her friends.
I suddenly felt cold as the sky's pink became tinted with shades of yellow and orange. Sadness settled into my stomach, but I didn't know why.
My thoughts were interrupted by footsteps behind me. The slow pitter-patter instantly gave away that my grandma had awakened. The glass door opened and she took a seat next to me. Her nightgown was blue this morning, and her hair was sticking out at awkward angles.
We exchanged hushed greetings and then fell silent. It's weird how whenever you're seeing something beautiful, like the sunrise, words don't seem necessary. The air around us was quiet but the silence felt natural, unlike the heavy hushes of an uncomfortable moment. A fly awakened and danced between us.
A hand suddenly came to rest on mine and I startled in surprise. Embarrassment washed over me as I looked down to see her hand embracing mine. Luckily she didn't seem to notice, instead continuing to gaze at the view. Even though this sudden show of affection was unexpected, the warmth of my grandma's hand was genuinely comforting.
The sun crept through the trees and washed the countryside in pale light.