Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Ticking Clock

We thought we had won.  We thought that the horrible evils of his disease that had for so long choked at our family's strength, had finally come to an end.   But to our sadness, cancer would have the last laugh.  I remember seeing my father's number flashing across my cellphone that gloomy Sunday afternoon.  But I didn't have to pick up to know what he was going to say, as I mentally prepared to fly home to Boston, to give my final goodbye.  

As I waited for my parents to pick me up at the airport terminal, I stood there alone, engulfed in the bitter Boston air.  And as I lingered there, watching the various cars appear around the corner to pick up their loved ones,  I couldn't help but observe their warm embraces and wet kisses, as I wished my arrival could have been as happy as theirs.   And then my parent's car suddenly appeared, as they greeted me with forced smiles and red faces; the pain of reality finally tearing at my soul like a thousand little needles.   And as we began to ride away from the lights of the terminal,  I remember the unbearable silence that seemed to swallow up the air inside the car; all of us just peering out at the pouring rain that had began to smack at the windows.  We were all hoping for the same thing, that this was just some terrible dream. 

But this was anything but a dream, as we soon pulled up my grandfather's long steep driveway.  The rain now had stopped, and all seemed calm around his hilltop residence.  The only sound you could hear was the creak of the old birches that he and my grandmother had planted a lifetime ago.   And as I got out of the car, and slowly made my journey towards his door,  I started to remember a time when his home had made me feel safe.  Its stiff checkered couch, red floral wallpaper, and multicolor braided rugs, had always been forms of comfort to me.  But now, as I walked inside and saw my grandmother's face projecting the same painful expression as my parent's, I knew that this house would never ever feel the same to me.  

As I walked further into the kitchen towards his room, I remember passing the once calming pendulum clock that had hung on the wall over the table since before I was born.  Its tick after tick meaning something much different to me now.  And as I journeyed closer and closer to the yellow light that glowed from where I knew he was, I couldn't help but remember how I'd played in that very room hundreds of times as a child.   It had once been a source of complete joy to me, but now, as its smell of death and medicine slowly tickled the insides of my nostrils, I knew it would forever be a source of pain. 

And then there he was; a thinner, paler version of the grandfather that I had visited only six months earlier.  But through the weak smile he instantly gave me, I could already tell that he was still as sharp and amazing as he’d always been.   But as I approached his bed, my mind suddenly went blank as I wondered what in the world I should say to him.  I had been rehearsing this very moment for the last few days, but suddenly all that I had planned to say seemed wrong.  I wondered if I should tell him how special he was to me or how he’d been the best grandfather I could have ever asked for.  It was the last three days I knew I would ever spend with him on this earth, and I had to make them great.  But to my dismay and relief, the minute I started to talk about him, he stopped me, insisting that we only talk about me.  It being one of the most compassionate things I had ever witnessed; a dying man trying to make those around him feel more comfortable. 

So then the dreaded day finally came and it was almost time for me to leave.  I really wasn’t sure how to react, although every cell in my body wanted to scream and cry.  I knew I had to stay strong for him though, as I just kept watching my grandfather’s clock, ticking towards the final seconds, taunting me with every swing.  And then there it suddenly was, the worst moment of my life and the one moment that I’ll never forget as long as I live.  I remember going to him in the doorway of his kitchen, with the intention of keeping the conversation light.  I told him that I’d see him at Christmas and that I’d send him some chocolates on his birthday, knowing all too well that he wouldn’t live to see either.  He then put his arms around me in that doorway, hugging me tighter than he had ever hugged me in my twenty-five years of life.  I couldn’t look at his face at that moment for fear I would lose it, as suddenly I felt this tremendous warmth project straight from his body into mine.  It was a mixture of love and sadness and would be our very last connection.

As predicted, my grandfather died a few months later.  I tried to call him immediately on my return back to California, but sadly right after my visit, he had slipped into a state of confusion, and now didn’t even know my name.  At his funeral, I cried more than I had ever cried for anything or anyone else in this world.  He had taught me so much throughout my life and had been there for every second of every accomplishment I had ever had.  And through it all, he had never asked for anything in return.  

About a month after his death, my grandfather appeared to me in a dream.  He was wearing a three-piece suit of shiny white, with a beautiful top hat to match.  As he came toward me, he smiled, simply telling me, “It is so beautiful here.”  I then smiled back at him, as I slowly watched him disappear into thin air.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Forgetting Bentley

For as long as I can remember, my family has always been fortunate enough to have a "close your eyes gift" at the end of each Christmas morning.  This was a present that was always big, no matter what its actual size happened to be, and somehow had a way of keeping those butterflies fluttering, long after you'd stopped believing in the magic of Kris Kringle.  But the December of my seventh year had been much different from the rest; the ice cream sundae that I called Christmas, having this time been topped with a cherry so sweet, nothing could ever again be quite as delicious. 

I remember gathering in my grandparent's living room, my brother and I sitting Indian style on one of their many multicolored braided rugs with our tiny hands clumsily pressed against our pale faces, waiting as patiently as two children can on Christmas morning.  But as I sat there in the darkness of my own adolescent mind, I couldn't help but peek through the tiny slits of my fingers, hoping to catch just a glimpse of the ever-growing excitement forming all around me.  I first remember seeing the back of my eager father as he disappeared into my grandmother's warm kitchen, its mouth-watering aroma of turkey and gravy had been wafting through my nostrils all morning.  And then there was my radiant mother, anxiously staring into the kitchen after my father, the morning sun's reflection onto her face was making her look just like an angel.  And surrounding her were the rest of my crazy family, their toothy grins and wide eyes simply a domino effect of my mom's already contagious enthusiasm.

But not long after I had shut my eyes again in preparation for my father's return, I suddenly heard a mysterious melody; a clicking and clacking of the softest of footsteps playing a gorgeous tune on my grandparent's linoleum.  And then almost on cue, the melody suddenly stopped, replaced by my father's exuberant voice telling us that we could now open our eyes.  But as we did, the magnitude of what sat before us suddenly began to whip us in the face; its vigor that of a violent garden hose.  Our brains were just much too raw to even attempt to wrap around what our eyes thought we were seeing, causing the muscles in our face to instantly tighten into a frozen expression of complete and utter shock.  There he was, a magnificent Shetland Sheepdog named Bentley, just standing there,  ready to love us.  His shiny carpet of kaleidoscope fur swayed back and forth as he panted his tongue in a glorious wet smile.  And it was in this very moment that we both absolutely knew,  that he, was to be the greatest gift of our entire childhood.

And don't get me wrong, Bentley wasn't about to go and rescue us from the bottom of a well or anything.  But none of that seemed to matter to my brother and I, as he somehow just became our everything, walking side by side with us through the maze of juvenescence.  But to me, this isn't a story about my girlhood pet, more as it's a recognition of one of the most terrible parts of growing up. That being, how some of the things that we once loved so much in our youth, can be so easily disregarded later in life.

Bentley was my world for quite some time.  But then one day something changed inside me, and the tempting poisons of all things superficial started to sparkle more than they ever had before.  I just became much too wrapped up in my own little selfish world to want to be part of his anymore.  But why does this have to happen? Why must life force us to bloat in our own self-absorption, even for a moment? I guess it's all about pulling away and rebelling against anything and everything that makes us feel the least bit dependent.  It's just too bad that when maturity finally shakes us awake from our egocentric teenage comas, that sometimes those precious things are gone forever. 

I had always found it sad that my youngest brother couldn't have had more time with him.  But unfortunately, he's the one who found him lying there lifeless, being much too young to even understand what was wrong.  By then I was in college, still more concerned with boys and partying to pay too much attention at all, to the passing of my one-time best friend.   I had changed so much from that innocent seven-year-old version of myself who had adopted Bentley a lifetime ago.  A girl who would have at one time, simply been inconsolable upon the news of his death. 

The thing that I will always remember about Bentley was his unusual, almost non-existent bark.  His former owner had ignorantly removed his larynx in hopes it would silence him, leaving my poor dog with nothing but a raspy sort of cough which would be continually mocked throughout his short life.  But to me, the sound of his voice couldn't have been louder; its beautiful pitch still echoing throughout my mind to this very day, forever reminding me of how influential he truly was.