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Grandfather

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I listen to the gentle ticks of the miniature green clock, and my eyes bore on to the red, slender, minute hand, praying it would move faster, fast enough for night to come, fast enough so I could escape everything with a dreamless sleep.

A tear rolls down my cheek as my six year old self endures the never-ending screams from the living room. Even with the bedroom door shut tight, I cannot evade the angry words and hysterical sobs that attacked me from all sides even as I covered my ears and wiped my face.

I opened the door just a crack, and peeked through the crevice to see what was going on.

My mother wasn’t the same as an hour ago. An hour ago, we had come home from the bookstore after an afternoon filled with new books, and fun. She was smiling, laughing, worry-free.
~

It’s funny how so much could change in one little hour.

“DAD, you HAVE TO stop. If you drink even one more time, the doctors said you could pass out and NEVER wake up”, I hear my mother scream and cry at my loving grandfather, her face blotched and her makeup smeared.

“I don’t care”, he spits, laughing hoarsely, red faced, with his breath shaking. He was not himself, and I cowered when his glazed eyes landed on me, stealing me from the haven from behind the door. He laughs softly, pointing at me, “You’re making her unhappy!” he slurs, his tone changing once again.

I could see my grandma standing in between them, her arms outstretched, flailing, desperately trying to scream over my mother’s shrill voice, to keep the balance between daughter and father, her voice strained and rough from the crying and yelling.

I couldn’t move. I was held in my place, unsure of what to do. I thought of a hundred possibilities of what to do in that moment, things I could say, things I could’ve done. But in the whim, my throat became parched, as if I had just wandered out of a desert after a week without water. I froze in place, and silently watched, as I always have done.
~

I remember the times when grandpa was normal and when he wasn’t. Alcohol was a concept that did not exist for me. I remembered the days when he knew what he was doing, his mind sharp, his warm brown eyes smiling down at me as he taught me arithmetic, as he commented on my piano playing. He would be lively, full of energy, and never said “no” to the daily strolls in the park.

But then there were days when he did not do all this. There were days when he was lifeless. He would sit alone at the sofa, with his face red as if he had been jogging up a mountain, his breathing heavy, his mood erratic. He would ask me questions, asking me if I loved him, if I was happy, if I was hungry. I would cheerfully answer all his questions and stay by him, but I was afraid. I felt like an adult taking care of a child, for he did not have the energy to do anything except speak in circles I couldn’t really understand. And as usual, I didn’t say anything of these incidents, brushing them off as a bad day, or simply because he was tired. I always ignored the bag of liquid he’d try to sneak past me in the supermarket. I ignored his repeated trips to the kitchen, even when he came back with nothing except a strange, burning smell, a smell that gave me the panicked feeling, a smell that signaled the start of his strange behavior.
~

“Do you have the heart to leave us all behind?” my mother says, a little gentler than before.

“You have to see Ying grow up, to see her off to college, to see ME and your son”, she continues, “You don’t have the right to put us through that, we need you”.

This time, he seemed to have heard her. He looked over to me, his expression serious, and as the cloudiness appeared to recede from his eyes, understanding came to him, “You’re making her unhappy”, he says, this time with pain in his voice.

I sob, running out of the bedroom and straight into his arms.



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